Typically, a perfect meal starts with that perfect appetizer. And whether you’re scarfing down a plate all by your lonesome or splitting with a group of friends, just know that a great meal starter is never far away in Little Rock. Here we present the 10 best appetizers we’ve eaten around town…dig in, folks.
Quail Bird Lollipops at Table 28: In all honesty, Table 28 is a place that one could sit down and order nothing but appetizers and be completely satisfied with his or her meal. Chef Scott Rains has made every effort to make the appetizer (or small plates) portion of the menu exciting, interesting, and even a little playful. Luckily, he’s doing a fabulous job. The quail lollipops have become a signature dish on his menu for good reason…they’re completely addictive. Ground quail—tender and not too gamey—rolled into a meatball-like shape, coated in a slightly spicy Tabasco butter buffalo sauce, and served with a side of creamy gorgonzola fondue. You’ll only wish they were serving three dozen to an order.
Chips and Salsa at Local Lime: Goodness, where do we begin? Well, you get to select three salsas from this group of six: tres chilies, chipotle, verde tomatillo, house tomato, zucchini and mango papaya. You really can’t go wrong with any selection, but the absolute best is the chipotle. It’s warm, sweet and smoky and pairs wonderfully with the strips of fried tortilla chips. And the best part? There’s usually a little leftover salsa for your entrée. Any of them pairs well with the tacos.
Mixed Antipasti at Bruno’s Little Italy: It’s a large plate, filled with an exciting variety of items, and it’s probably the best way to start a meal at this stand-out Italian restaurant. You’ll find rolled slices of prosciutto and salami, salty anchovies, and pepperoni. You’ll get cheeses—Manchego and gorgonzola—but also briny caper berries, marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and sweet peppers. It’s a whole array of flavor and texture, perfect for sharing with friends…unless you decide to hoard it all to yourself…which is also totally understandable.
Truffled Deviled Eggs at The Pantry: These are about as beautifully presented and delicious as deviled eggs get. The soft, creamy filling is piped into the hollowed out egg and topped with a wonderful Parmesan crisp. The Pantry has a menu filled with fantastic appetizers, and the deviled eggs are head and shoulders above the rest, which is really saying something.
Meat Pies at Maddie’s Place: Stuff fried dough with tender braised ribeye and tangy blue cheese and you’ve already got a winning dish. And of course, dipping it into their house-made jalapeño ranch does not hurt, either. But it’s Chef Brian Deloney’s accompanying spicy carrot slaw that makes the whole dish sing, adding a bit of crunch, a hint of spice, and a touch of sour. It’s altogether delightful.
Duck Wings at South on Main: These are only found at times on the bar menu, but be sure to ask your server if they are available. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did. These wings are longer and leaner than their chicken counterparts. Chef Matt Bell fries them to perfection, then tosses with some Buffalo sauce. One bite will make you wonder where these suckers have been all your life.
Kennebec Chip Bucket at Big Orange: With a menu that’s chock full of standout items, we still find Big Orange’s chip bucket something irresistible each time we sit down. High quality potatoes, sliced thin, and fried up crisp. They’re dusted with a proprietary blend of spices and seasonings—slightly spicy, perhaps with a touch of citrus—and accompanied by a delightful chipotle-red pepper mayo. They’re sure to go quickly as soon as they hit the table.
Cheese Pupusa at Rosalinda: A pupusa is a traditional dish made with a thick, corn tortilla and filled (in this case) with queso. It’s then fried and served up as this greasy, gooey mass of deliciousness. Get one or two at Rosalinda in North Little Rock, cut into 4’s and let the pigging-out commence.
Squid Filet at Table 28: From the moment we first sunk our teeth into this unexpectedly good starter, we knew Table 28 had created something special. There’s a certain softness, a delicateness, almost creaminess to the squid that makes it unlike any we’ve ever had. It’s perfectly fried, light and crispy, and served with a wonderful ginger-chile dipping sauce. Another “can’t miss” at this exemplary restaurant.
Rose’s Famous French Fries at The Faded Rose: These thick-cut wedge fries are served with a small bowl of buttermilk dressing and best eaten while downing a cold Abita beer. Seriously, we could just order these two things at The Faded Rose and be perfectly content with life, but you may want to save room for the red beans and rice.