Here are the New Restaurants in Central Arkansas This Summer

This summer has turned into a whirlwind of new restaurant openings in Little Rock. After a brief lull for the past several months, we’ve seen more than a dozen new spots that have been announced, had work started, or even opened. So we thought we’d put all those new restaurant openings together in one place for you. Because we’re thoughtful like that. Here they are in alphabetical order:
The Afterthought (closed indefinitely) – Sadly, that means we start with The Afterthought in Hillcrest, which so far has no work being done on it to get the doors open again. The Afterthought closed two years ago, and the lease was picked up by Mylo Coffee Co., which planned to start a new restaurant and bar there. However, plans changed, and now the building owner is actively searching for another tenant to take the spot. It is one of the most premium locations available in Little Rock, so hopefully we’ll see someone bite soon and get the place up and running.
Arkansas Heart Hospital Food Truck (now open) – Arkansas Heart Hospital, the unlikeliest of foodie destinations, is currently on the road in its truck Food From the Heart. Chef Coby Smith has begun bringing his famous ramen to events like Main Street Food Truck Fridays and the Urban Farm Fest this Thursday, where he’ll be debuting his first-ever poke bowl menu option. Of course, the hospital still has ramen days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but having the food truck allows Smith to serve thousands of new customers he might not otherwise have access to.
A.W. Lin’s downtown (construction underway) – One of two new restaurants going into the Rose Building on the 300 block of Main Street, A.W. Lin’s second spot promises to bring its classic and authentic Chinese menus to the downtown neighborhood. Last time we spoke with owner Jenny Liu, she was noncommittal about an opening date, only saying it would happen some time this year. From the looks of progress, I’d say late summer to early fall, but that is just an educated guess.
Casey’s BBQ (now open) – Thirteen years after it closed its location on Reservoir Road, Casey’s Bar-B-Q is back. The restaurant set up new digs on Cantrell Road in the former location of Arkansas Burger Co., which closed in 2017. In addition to the standard pork and beef barbecue fare, Casey’s also serves American diner classics like burgers and tacos.
Cathead’s Diner (opening this month) – One of the most hyped openings of 2018, Cathead’s Diner is just weeks away from its grand opening. Donnie Ferneau and Kelli Marks’s East Village diner will serve Southern-style breakfast and lunch options. The two have some amazing ideas in store for weekend brunch as well. No spoilers yet, but let’s just say mimosa fans are going to be thrilled. Soft openings start as soon as next week, and the public opening should come pretty soon after that.
Dos Rocas Beer and Tacos (opening late summer)  – A street taco and bar focused concept is exactly what South Main needs. This comes from the folks behind the Root Cafe along with Luis Vasquez as the head chef, who has ran the breakfast program at the Root. Not much about the menu is out, but expect a wide variety of latin fare along with a strong Honduran influence (thanks to Vasquez).
Hallin’ Good Food food truck (opening this month) – Look, you aren’t going to find many businesses that just understand Southern food like K. Hall and Sons. The fact that the sons decided to start a new food truck business should only help boost the city’s food truck scene. Serving up Southern soul food classics and some fun twists, like chicken and waffle bites, Hallin’ Good Food is going to be worth seeking out wherever it sets up.
Ira’s (opening this month) – Almost 18 months after closing his Park Hill spot, chef and owner Ira Mittelman is set to open his new restaurant on Main Street. Ira’s looks like it will be a classic Southern restaurant, focusing on technique and quality ingredients, as well as a sophisticated environment. Ira’s will begin holding private soft openings next week in the Rose Building, and should be open for business before the end of the month.
Katmandu Momo Conway (now open) – Conway is the benefactor of Katmandu Momo’s long-awaited expansion. While the food truck and River Market restaurant both serve an extremely limited menu, the Conway location’s menu is comparatively massive, with more than two dozen Nepalese staples that likely have never been served in Central Arkansas. This is a spot worth making the drive to check out.
Poke Hula (open in the Heights, Conway location opening in July) – It’s hard to believe that Poke Hula opened its inaugural location downtown just this year. For one thing, the restaurant runs like a dream already, quickly serving up excellent poke that has fans clamoring for more. For another thing, Poke Hula is about to have three locations in Central Arkansas. The group’s Heights location, in the former Red Mango, is already up and running. And the Conway location on Oak Street is going through its final permitting stages and should be open in early July. Poke mania has officially come to Little Rock, and Poke Hula so far is its biggest star.
Rail Yard (Opening Late Summer) – The next spot in the East Village lineup will be the mixed use Rail Yard. Part restaurant, part entertainment venue, and part food truck park, the Rail Yard pulls inspiration from spots like the Truck Yard in Dallas. Expect a rotating lineup of 3-4 trucks, along with a permanent spot for Count Porkula.
Rock Town Distillery (now open) – Rock Town found their new home in SoMa and with it a massive expansion to the public offerings. We took a look at the new bar a few weeks ago with their initial opening, but rolling out soon should be their full cocktail menu along with several other offerings they are working up like whiskey flights. They brought in veteran bartender Rob Armstrong to create the upcoming cocktail list, so you know it will be solid.
Sauce(d) Bar and Oven (now open) – No restaurant opening this year will feature as big an all-star cast in the kitchen as Sauced. Helmed by Gwen Jones and Amanda Ivy, Sauced is already wowing people around town with excellent plates like a burrata with fennel and terrific pizzas by local Neapolitan master Georges Launet. Sauced just announced it is opening for lunch as well, a sign that the restaurant’s menu has been well-received so far.
TAE (opening this month) – Speaking of awaited openings, the team behind the former Southern Gourmasian this month will open the doors on their new venture. TAE, or “True Arkansas Eatery,” opens in a few weeks at the Hotel Frederica on Capitol Ave. across from the federal building. Justin Patterson and CC Key have been working on a refined Southern menu to follow up on their brilliant success at Gourmasian. With these two at the helm, it is hard to imagine the food will be anything less than excellent.
Unnamed Hillcrest restaurant (likely 2019) – Finally, there’s the as-yet-unnamed spot opening in Hillcrest in the former Helmich’s Auto Service location. Owned by Daniel Bryant (The Fountain, Sauced), the restaurant plan is a Shake Shack-like diner, featuring craft burgers, a soda fountain and ice cream shop. Bryant tells me his final permitting with the city should come later this month, which means we’ll likely see construction getting underway before July.

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