Cheers & Jeers: From Milford to Meat-fests, El Palenque to Pastes

Food has been good to me lately, and I’m very thankful for it. This week’s round of “Cheers & Jeers” is punctuated by some really spectacular eating from a few of my favorite restaurants in Little Rock. You’ve probably heard us speak about a few of these places before…so let this be a reminder that you owe it to your stomach to stop putting things off and make the trip to some of these wonderful eateries.

Pasta plate from Milford Track
Pasta plate from Milford Track

When it comes to good, clean, delicious eating, there’s really no finer place to have lunch than Milford Track. Perhaps the most hidden restaurant in Little Rock, this lunch-centric cafe survives almost strictly on word of mouth…fortunately, those who’ve eaten there have a lot to say about it. As you may know, It’s tucked away on the basement level of an office building off Executive Center Drive (near the Arkansas Heart Hospital)…not exactly easy to find, but well worth the effort. A recent lunch there reminded me how much I heart their pasta. The owner, Kay, makes every order of pasta from scratch. I’m talking flour to plate every time an order comes in…very impressive. My go-to order is the spinach pasta with parmesan parsley sauce. And for heaven’s sake, DO NOT forget the grilled veggies. They’re sweetly caramelized, soft, and splendid. Cheers to Milford Track…one of the best lunch locations around town.

One visit to the more recently opened Tamalittle off Bowman and Markham left a little to be desired. I’ve not had a lot of experience with their signature “pastes,” but hopefully my next visit will be a bit more impressive. These pastes are a bit like empanadas, with an assortment of fillings stuffed inside a pastry dough shell, then baked in the oven. I sampled a trio of flavors—red mole chicken, chorizo, and beef—but found them to be a bit on the dry side. The flavors were promising, but each desperately needed a soak in some salsa to make them more palatable. I’ve been hearing wonderful things about their tamales, though, but haven’t been back to test that claim myself yet.

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Double Burger from David's
Double Burger from David’s

No matter how you like your burgers—thick, thin, or somewhere in between—you’ll easily find an excellent option in Little Rock. But a few recent burger outings have reminded me just how good we have it. Almost on opposite ends of the spectrum, I’ve come to love both burgers at David’s and Cotham’s equally. While David’s tends to be part of the “thin, flattened” burger camp, it remains a near-perfect specimen in the way of simple yet classic burgers. I find the double-burger with cheese and bacon to be the best way to enjoy David’s…but it’s certainly no light meal. Cotham’s, on the other hand, will probably only be an occasional pleasure of mine, and I’ve only experienced the original Scott location thus far…but I feel the legendary hubcap burgers deserve every bit of praise they’ve received over the years. I love the thick, fresh, juicy beef patties, which are best when ordered “medium” and covered in cheese. It’s a gut buster to be sure, but something any respectable central Arkansas resident needs to consume at some point. Cheers to both of these wonderful burgers.

Huarache from El Palenque
Huarache from El Palenque

Is there a better Mexican restaurant in Little Rock than El Palenque? Nothing that I’ve found. The place has so many wonderful things going for it. Great location, friendly staff, dirt-cheap prices, and delicious food. I’ve literally never had a bad experience there. I’ve probably snagged take-out from them more often than I’ve actually sat down to eat, but it makes for a marvelous lunch on the go…one that I recommend anytime Mexican food is mentioned in my conversations. My go-to order remains the carne asada chimichanga…filled with flavorful steak, pico de gallo, and queso fresco, in a crispy shell that comes smothered with a white queso sauce. Believe you me…this thing is good. Recently I enjoyed my first “huarache” there…a thick block of fried masa dough, covered is meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, sour cream, and pico…a sort of open-faced taco or a thicker version of a tostada. If you haven’t been yet, get on that. Cheers to some of the best and most consistent Mexican in town.

And a last mention and tiny “cheers” to one of life’s simple pleasures…the apple fritter from Shipley’s. Perhaps one of the most unhealthy things you can shove in your face at 7 a.m. on your way to work, but I still find it necessary to pick one up at least once a month. At only $1.25, this large, greasy hunk of fried dough and sugar should easily appease your appetite until the lunch hour rolls around.

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Cheers & Jeers: From Milford to Meat-fests, El Palenque to Pastes