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Truth be told, I have not spent much time in Fort Smith, but as someone who prides himself in covering the great state of Arkansas for OnlyinArk.com, I decided to take a day and visit as many eateries as my sanity would allow.
First stop: Ed Walker’s Drive-In.
The place is an absolute institution, Fort Smith’s oldest restaurant, and fun fact, it is the last remaining establishment to offer curbside beer service in Arkansas. Cheers to that, but at 11:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, I had absolutely no desire to crack open a cold one. I did, however, want to partake in Ed Walker’s pride-and-joy, the French Dip. I mean, the dish’s name is in the signage, so it had to be great, right? Right.
I parked in the back of the restaurant, walked inside, and placed my to-go order at the counter. Within minutes, a delightful employee walked outside with our sandwich. And not just any sandwich. According to current owner Ted Cserna, the French dip has been on the menu since 1943, the very beginning.
“The secret is the slow cooking process, along with our recipe. The combination of the two will make the sandwich melt in your mouth. We serve thousands of French dips every year,” says Cserna.
And I can see why.
For an insanely affordable $10 price tag, you get a fresh, lengthy sourdough bun piled with tender beef and melted Provolone, along with a side of crinkle cut fries that will make you forget about all others of its kind. The fries, which were just as crisp as can be, impressed every bit as much as the sandwich, and that’s saying something because the French Dip lives up to its “World Famous” moniker. Each bite of the sandwich was better than the next, with little bits of beef likely to land on your shirt if you are not careful. The accompanying small tub of au jus ensures moistness and a powerful punch of salty flavor. I split the sandwich with my wife, as we went back and forth exchanging bites and dips with great fervor. I am not ashamed to admit that I also downed the few remaining ounces of au jus like it was a shot of tequila. There was no way I was going to waste that precious elixir.
It is a bittersweet moment after polishing off the French dip at Ed Walker’s, especially when you live nearly three hours away and know that the next one is likely in the far distant future. For folks who live in or near Fort Smith, you have something very special on your hands with this sandwich. It is a true Arkansas classic and one that is sure to delight for many years to come at Ed Walker’s.
Now, if we could just get them to ship. A boy can dream.
Ed Walker’s Drive-In & Restaurant
1500 Towson Ave (Fort Smith)
Hours: Open Daily 10 a.m.-12 a.m.
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Ed Walker’s French dip is revelatory. Did you get to Pho Vietnam? That’s probably my favorite, but there are some good eats in The Fort. I lived there and worked for the CVB. And wrote about restaurants for e-Fort Smith magazine.