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Come for the tacos and tamales, and stay for a famous cheese dip that settled a Senate debate of queso versus cheese dip – once and for all.
If you’ve never been given this sage advice, let me be the first to say it: If a restaurant has a type of food in its name, order that type of food.
I did that the first time I went to Bentonville Taco & Tamale in historic downtown Bentonville. “Tacos and Tamale, please,” I eagerly and happily chirped to the server as I sat down. We laughed because that was the easy part. Deciding which taco and tamale to order was another thing because my eyes were bigger than my stomach. Believe me, you’ll want to taste the entire menu.
The menu is abbreviated for a reason. They’re not trying to offer everything to everybody. Bentonville Taco & Tamale (and their sister restaurant in Little Rock, Heights Taco & Tamale) desire to interpret tacos and tamales… their way.
And their way is Ark-Mex.
Bentonville Taco & Tamale says their Ark-Mex style blends their favorite Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes served with signature Arkansas style.
Amber Brewer, one of Bentonville Taco & Tamale’s owners, explains the Ark-Mex culinary style in more detail.
All locations are inspirations of the tamale’s journey through the Arkansas delta. From roadsides to drugstore varieties, we give it our style. It’s simple ingredients. Thoughtful, comforting and delicious. As owners, we grew up eating Mexican food because we grew up in the South, and we show our love with our flare, using local ingredients when we can and when seasonally available.”
You HAVE TO order the Melting Pot Cheese Dip, inspired by five of Arkansas’s most famous cheese dips. It’s their number-one-of-all-time-best-selling cheese dip, created by Head Chef Scott McGehee.
This is THE cheese dip that settled a Senate debate between Arkansas and Texas Senators on whether Arkansas cheese dip or Texas queso was better. A blind taste test revealed that Arkansas cheese dip was the clear winner! And whose cheese dip was chosen to represent the state of Arkansas? Heights Taco & Tamale in Little Rock, the sister restaurant of Bentonville Taco & Tamale.
Pair the chips and dip with their award-winning and freshly-made Margarita. Nothing artificial. Fresh limes squeezed all day long, a simple syrup, really good tequila and some salt. The end. It’s all it needs to be.
Bentonville Taco & Tamale is about maintaining a simple and consistent menu that people can expect. Amber says it’s vital that they use menu creativity and experimentation with specials and seasonal cocktails. And keep the main menu simple, approachable and reliable.
That’s our whole deal. We like being here for everybody – all the time. We’re open daily, always have a great menu, crazy delicious food, and want everybody to feel welcome.”
Their biggest taco seller is the Pickled-Fried Chicken Tacos, one of the “most beloved” items on the menu. Marinated overnight in pickle brine, this taco is fried in buttermilk and topped with red pepper chow-chow, pico de gallo, cilantro and Habanero Ranch.
It is also served with two side dishes: Green Chile Tomato Rice, House Black Beans, Smashed Smoky Pinto Beans or a Tomato, Cucumber and Mint Salad.
The Classic Delta Tamale is the top-selling tamale. I went with the vegetarian option, the Sweet Potato Delta Tamale, filled with sweet potatoes, black beans, chipotle, and corn and topped with an insanely delicious Tomatillo-Lime Broth. This is also a vegan tamale based on a style of tamale the team experienced in Texas and Mexico.
If you’re in the mood, try the Chile-Citrus Salmon Salad, Nacho Skillets and Chargrilled Ribeye Fajitas, and when it’s time to end the meal, go with a homemade soda or a sweet hand pie.
Wait, there’s more – I almost forgot the most exciting detail about Bentonville Taco & Tamale!
From their first Taco & Tamale location in Little Rock to Bentonville and to the highly-anticipated location opening in Fayetteville this summer, each restaurant is housed in a historical location, and the restaurant décor is built around the history of the building.
The Bentonville location is in the old Peoples Bank Building from the late 1880s. It was robbed by one of the most famous horse thieves and robbers of the era, Henry Starr. Bentonville was experiencing a bumper crop of strawberries at the time, and Henry Starr got wind that it was happening. So, he robbed the bank, got shot at from across the street, and got away!
Bullet holes are still visible in the columns, accurate pistols are the door handles (the kind that Henry Starr used), and the vault with the original door is available for private party reservations of 6-8 people. The dining room has a giant horse statue, which is a reference to Henry Starr. The archways in the center were designed to mirror bank teller windows based on historical documents and photos. The bar designs in all three restaurants have an apothecary drugstore counter, based on a little nod to the journey of tamales through the Arkansas delta.
Bentonville Taco & Tamale has some regulars, but many customers come through town to ride the bike trails and see our first-class museums. And then, they pop into the cute restaurant on the corner of The Square and experience a taste of Ark-Mex.
We get to be part of their trip. It’s been cool,” Amber shared. “We get to meet people worldwide and country and help them learn a little about Arkansas. We treasure being a local business. And we think that’s part of being a good host to Bentonville. We never want to take for granted that people are piling in. Bentonville Taco & Tamale is where you can go dressed up or down, have a party, a meal, a cheat meal, a night with friends, or whatever.”
Bentonville Taco & Tamale
101 W. Central Avenue
Bentonville, AR 72712
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fayetteville Taco & Tamale
(opens Summer 2023)
South Yard on MLK Boulevard
Heights Taco & Tamale Co
5805 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Little Rock, AR 72207
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