8 Signature Dishes in Little Rock

To get a sense of Little Rock’s culinary identity, it is important to reflect on the past while also keeping an eye toward the future. Certain dishes — whether it’s a simple, yet perfectly cooked steak or an inventive take on a regional staple — are not only popular, but also truly represent our food scene as a whole.

What is Little Rock food? Let us show you.

1. Trotters | South on Main

Downtown’s South on Main specializes in elevating Southern fare through creative cooking methods and ingredient combinations. No dish is more reflective of this than the trotters, an appetizer that — once you get past its name — is quite tasty. “We use ham hocks, pig feet, shallot, parsley, chive, tarragon, smoked vinegar and mustard. It’s really about finding a counterpoint to the richness of pork,” says chef Matthew Bell. “We change the setup on the trotter with every menu change, but have made it a staple because it’s so unique. It’s something that no one else in town does, and we love that it uses a less-sought-after cut of meat.”

2. Three-Pound Porterhouse | Doe’s Eat Place

Credit: Dean Wheeler

We always enjoy a great steak, and none is more reflective of our no-frills mentality than the three-pound porterhouse at Doe’s. The steak, which comes with fries, buttered toast and soaked salad, is served family-style, and along with the accompanying side dishes, can comfortably feed a table of four. It’s broiled and then brought to the table soaking in its own fatty juices. The combination of the charred crust and tender, medium-rare meat is what gives this steak such a unique flavor.

3. The Pantry’s Board // The Pantry

Credit: Dean Wheeler

Meat eaters know a visit to The Pantry without ordering The Pantry’s Board is a mistake. A huge platter is filled with house-made meats, including smoked turkey, pork rillette, country terrine, pâté and bratwurst, along with cheese, bread and mustard. While it can serve as an individual entrée, The Pantry’s Board is best split between two-to-four people as an appetizer. It also pairs well with a variety of beers on tap at the restaurant. “I think that we prepare absolutely everything but the cheese. It’s without a doubt not a money maker, but we want folks to try different foods,” says owner Tomas Böhm.

4. Biscuits and Gravy | The Root Café

Think of all the wonderful, signature Southern dishes, and surely biscuits and gravy comes to mind. No restaurant does a better version than The Root Café. “We want to offer items that are familiar and accessible to everyone, as well as delicious and locally sourced. So for a traditional Southern breakfast, biscuits and gravy is a pretty easy one. We make it from scratch, the way your grandmother would have made it,” says co-owner Corri Sundell. The biscuits are made daily and the gravy incorporates local, pasture-raised pork sausage from Falling Sky Farm, bacon grease saved from Falling Sky bacon, onions and half and half. “We let it cook down slowly for about an hour,” says Sundell.

5. Spaghetti alla Chitarra | Vesuvio Bistro

We adore our cheese here in Little Rock, and nothing says cheese like an 88-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. At Vesuvio Bistro, the chef will bring the enormous wheel to your table, shave off some layers, and toss the homemade egg noodle pasta and shiitake mushrooms around in it. It’s a food memory you won’t soon forget. Each wheel lasts about four weeks and there are two wheels in the restaurant going at once. Vesuvio has been whipping up this iconic dish for years, and while the linguini is a personal favorite, it’s tough to resist the spaghetti alla chitarra.

6. Spicy Chicken and Dumplings | The Southern Gourmasian

Credit: Dean Wheeler

No dish better symbolizes culinary fusion like The Southern Gourmasian’s spicy chicken and dumplings. Tender chicken, slightly crispy, yet spongy rice cakes, shiitake mushrooms and onions are all mixed together to form this spicy masterpiece. “David Chang’s book Momofuku introduced me to the rice cake that we use as dumplings and when I tasted one, I fell in love with the texture and knew that I had to create something using it. One of the best ways I could relate to the rice cake after it was cut and sautéed was a dumpling, so that’s how the dish was born,” says chef/owner Justin Patterson.

7. Key Lime Pie | Trio’s

Credit: Dean Wheeler

Pie is another Little Rock staple, and Trio’s classic version of Key lime pie truly stands out, even in such a crowded field of great offerings. “We have made our Key lime pie for approximately 25 years. We have so many fabulous desserts that we rotate in and out, but the Key lime is almost always available because of its popularity. I think people love it because it’s so light and refreshing, almost a palate cleanser. That makes it a wonderful choice whether you’ve had a light lunch or a big fat steak with truffle macaroni and cheese,” says co-owner Capi Peck.

8. Queso Blanco | Local Lime

Credit: Dean Wheeler

Ask just about anyone and they’ll tell you cheese dip is Little Rock’s signature dish. At Local Lime, they call it queso blanco, and with a mixture of cheeses, tomatoes, poblano peppers, fresh corn, onions and jalapeño, it truly is some of the best you’ll find. The secret is in the high-quality ingredients and attention to detail. “Our queso at Local Lime uses five different white cheeses as opposed to simply processed cheese. Also, we sauté all of the fresh vegetables before we add the cheese and milk, as opposed to using canned vegetables. These two seemingly subtle differences really help our cheese dip define itself from others around town,” says chef/proprietor Ben Brainard.

Related Articles