While the year 2020 has been full of economic uncertainty and concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the food scene in a small Southern city has surprisingly blossomed.
The 2020 emergence of the coronavirus and the subsequent closing of dining rooms meant North Little Rock restaurants needed to quickly reimagine their business models. Some added pickup and delivery services, others battened down the hatches to weather the economic storm, and still others moved forward with opening new restaurants.
But, according to the North Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau, something curious also happened. Locals rediscovered favorite walk-up dairy bars like Mojo’s or Wink’s with made-to-order burgers and old-fashioned shakes. Restaurants like Flyway Brewing innovated by moving their dining rooms outdoors. People took advantage of patios at Taziki’s Mediterranean Café or Tacos 4 Life to enjoy a meal with friends or family in a safe setting. The social climate raised awareness of and support for excellent Black-owned restaurants like Mr. Cajun’s Kitchen with its “Cajun-ized” shrimp and frog legs and Lindsey’s BBQ and Hospitality House, serving some of the best barbecue in Central Arkansas for more than 30 years. The city’s two craft breweries, Diamond Bear and Flyway Brewing, debuted gorgeous new original exterior murals by local artists.
Despite national economic uncertainty, new restaurants successfully opened in North Little Rock during the pandemic. And not only chains or franchises; chef-driven restaurants like Brood & Barley, which serves beer-centric culinary creations. Cypress Social, an upscale destination restaurant set on a picturesque lake, has doubled as a wedding venue. And then there’s the burgeoning food scene in Park Hill: North Bar, whose vegan-friendly menu and house cocktails were featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives; The Filling Station, North Little Rock’s first food truck court with a steady rotation of the area’s best food trucks, and Dark Side Coffee Co., a drive-through coffee shop with a quirky Star Wars theme.
Perhaps the most talked about change in North Little Rock’s food scene, brought about by the City of North Little Rock, Argenta Downtown Council and North Little Rock CVB, has been the Argenta Outdoor Dining District, open daily for restaurant patrons to enjoy dining and drinks downtown. Every weekend, downtown Main Street closes to traffic, colorful tents pop up, and live music and delicious aromas waft through the air. With more than ten restaurants and bars on Main Street, patrons have plenty of options, including Southern classics at Skinny J’s, gelato and pizza from Ristorante Capeo, Crush Wine Bar’s exceptional wine list, Reno’s Argenta Café famous cheese dip and po’boys, and Four Quarter Bar’s barbecue. Patrons can even dine under the stars in the beautiful Argenta Plaza, with its modern lighted backdrop, front porch with swings, water features and fun multi-color shadows.
If you can imagine a silver lining for restaurants during the pandemic, it may be that people have gained an even greater appreciation for the dining experience: as a grounding comfort when everything else is uncertain; as a welcome distraction, or as a tangible way to support friends in the restaurant industry. For many, especially in North Little Rock, it has been all the above. The future may be unclear, but the desire to share a meal together – even if outdoors or socially-distanced – is here to stay, and North Little Rock continues to serve with a welcoming smile.
Now, as the weather starts to cool and the colors start to change, North Little Rock will be the perfect destination for foodies craving both a culinary adventure and natural beauty. To plan your trip to North Little Rock, visit NorthLittleRock.org.