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Not to sound like a broken record, but I think we can all agree that 2020 was a strange year to say the least. And while the pandemic definitely had a profound effect on my food coverage for OnlyinArk.com, I was still able to visit some great towns and restaurants throughout Arkansas. Here are my 10 Favorite Restaurants in 2020. Please keep in mind that these are just the 10 favorites from the restaurants I actually visited through my travels outside of Little Rock.
Come strawberry season, you better get yourself up to Leslie for one of Skylark Café’s strawberry pies. An irresistible graham cracker crust is filled with a layer of sweetened cream cheese, then topped with fresh strawberries immersed in a glaze-like gelatin coating. The entire thing just bursts with sweetness and is as beautiful as it is tasty.
Steaks are prominent on Omar’s menu, so I opted for the Hawaiian Ribeye on my visit last January. Truth be told, this was probably my first marinated ribeye and it did not disappoint. Chalk that up to the combination of sweet and tangy flavors, coupled with a wonderful charbroil, yielding grill marks and a perfect, medium-rare center. I imagine this is one of the better steaks in all of Arkansas. The sides of twice baked potato and grilled asparagus were also met with favorable results.
We had such a fun, family, parking lot lunch at Suttle’s, one filled with pulled pork and chopped beef sandwiches, pork ribs, sides of slaw, beans, potato salad, and the signature item, Road Hog Potatoes. These super cheesy smashed potatoes are topped off with a dry rub that will send your taste buds through the roof.
Looking for downhome, Southern eats in the heart of Hot Springs? Then Emma Lee’s is the spot for you. We sampled a little bit of everything, from the fried catfish and pork ribs to side items like macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas, stewed cabbage, baked beans, coleslaw, and hush puppies.
If only Bulgogi was located in Little Rock rather than Conway. I say those words to myself a hundred times a year, mainly because I’m enamored with the restaurant’s straightforward approach to Korean cuisine. The rice and noodle bowls with spicy pork always delight, as do the wings and dumplings. At Bulgogi, consistently good food is king, as is the warm service.
I was fortunate enough to make two visits in 2020 to Knightfire BBQ, the Searcy food trailer headed up by pitmaster Matthew Knight. Simply put, it’s some of the best barbeque I’ve come across in Arkansas. The sliced brisket is moist and flavorful, while the pork candy (pork belly) practically melts in your mouth. The other huge hit? The smoked brisket patty burger.
This past year proved to be an excellent opportunity to check out a few of the popular dairy bars still operating throughout Arkansas. One of those was the iconic Yellowjacket Drive-In in Sheridan where I was able to try the burger, onion rings, fried pickles, and, of course, my favorite guilty pleasure item, the Butterfinger Cyclone.
Speaking of iconic, I doubt any adjective better describes Venesian Inn in Springdale. My first visit to the NWA mainstay saw us order the fried chicken with spaghetti, Fettucine Alfredo, lasagna, and chicken Parmesan. Yes, it was carb heaven, and the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame restaurant has now made me a fan of eating fried chicken with pasta. Who knew?
Not only did I fall in love with the town of Siloam Springs after walking around its beautiful downtown area, but I also had a wonderful, sidewalk lunch at ziggywurst. If you love sausages and mac & cheese, this is the place for you. A bite of the chicken jalapeno sausage with a little grilled onion and mustard is pure heaven.
Truth be told, I went through a burger phase for about a month in 2020, doing my best to find all the great options within an hour’s drive of Little Rock. The double cheeseburger at Morrilton Drive Inn was recommended to me by a trusted confidant. Speaking from personal experience, the greasy, juicy, cheese-soaked burger is one you will want to eat in the parking lot, and not while driving.
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