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In my humble option, every restaurant needs to have at least one standout dish–an item that sticks in your head long after leaving the establishment and brings you back through the doors soon after. Mockingbird Bar & Tacos in Little Rock’s South Main District has three: cheeseburgers, fries and smoked wings. It’s a pretty impressive feat, especially for a restaurant that changed ownership last year and is still finding its footing in a growing and competitive food community. And guess what? The tacos aren’t too shabby either, especially the carnitas, which come filled with tender, smoked pork shoulder and a smattering of chopped, raw onion, and cilantro on a corn tortilla. Proteins like chorizo, beef, chicken and vegetarian options of shiitake rajas and street corn are also available.
But back to the stars of the menu.
Let’s start with the smoked wings. They are awesome. How’s that for a formal review? Seriously though, they’re the best I’ve eaten in Little Rock. A bold claim, clearly, but one I stand behind, mainly because of a delicious dry rub and the pitmaster’s perfect smoke job, which is then finished with a flash-frying. The result is a wing with an ideal combination of crispiness and smokiness. Sauces and condiments are available but not needed.
Like the wings, you might not expect to find noteworthy burgers and fries at a taco joint, but Mockingbird is full of pleasant surprises. The cheese-drenched, double patty of deliciousness comes with caramelized onions, lettuce, and chipotle mayo and pairs with hand-cut fries, which are some of the best you’ll find in Little Rock. The beef probably weighs in at a little under a half-pound, so expect a very well-composed burger that’s not sloppy nor needs 20 napkins to wipe yourself down throughout consumption.
The Loaded Nacho Fries will also put a smile on your face, but it’s probably best to split this appetizer with friends. Those hand-cut fries make another appearance here, and this time loaded down with queso (or call it cheese dip if you prefer), pico, guacamole, sour cream, and cilantro.
Go the slightly healthier route with The Fresh Mex Bowl or one of Mockingbird’s three salads. I’ve heard folks rave about the Smoked Carrot Salad, but I can only vouch for the Grilled Chicken. The restaurant wisely marinates the chicken breast, giving it a ton of flavor, but unfortunately, this process imparts a very dark color to the poultry, thus taking a little away from the salad’s overall presentation. No matter, though, as both the taste and texture are spot-on. The inclusion of pepitas and corn help elevate this salad to must-order status.
There’s also a full bar, complete with a seasonal cocktail menu and staples like a pina colada, margarita, and the Frozen Cherry Limeade. The latter is basically a spiked Slurpee with Rock Town Distillery Vodka, lime and cherry juice and simple syrup. Pure joy.
The only negatives from my Mockingbird experiences? Well, I wasn’t a fan of the black beans, a side item with an odd taste due to an ingredient that defies me at the time of this writing. Not a big deal, and I wouldn’t say the beans were bad; just not my preference. Neither were the chosen font and colors on the menu. Both made it difficult for these old eyes to read the offerings. Hey, when a side of black beans and font are my biggest criticisms, I’d say a restaurant is doing a pretty good job.
Did I mention the wings?
Mockingbird Bar & Tacos
1220 S Main St (Little Rock)
Phone: (501) 313-5413
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Closed Sunday & Monday
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