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Statewide Booneville Cabot Clarksville Conway Crossett Dumas Edgemont Hot Springs Johnson Judsonia Leslie Lonoke Mayflower McGehee Russellville Searcy Wilson
Statewide Food 0

The Mighty Rib’s 20 Favorite Dishes from 2022 Travels

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I’ve traveled a fair amount throughout the great state of Arkansas in 2022, all in the name of finding great food. Below are my 20 Favorite Dishes in 2022. A few things to keep in mind. I am not saying these are the 20 best dishes in the state, but rather, the 20 best dishes I ate this year. Also, I live in Little Rock and only wanted to feature dishes from my “travels.” The restaurant must be at least 30 minutes from the capital city to qualify.

1. Mac & Cheese at Cook’s Hook (Cabot)

Did someone say cheese? To be clear, I rarely order mac & cheese at restaurants. Most disappoint, but this one at the Cabot-based food truck was just too tempting not to try. I mean, just look at that ooey, gooey combo of cheese dip, a Mexican cheese blend, and mozzarella melding with the elbow noodles.

2. Cheese Dip at Jackrabbit Dairy Bar (Lonoke)

This is Arkansas, where cheese dip is king, and we’re all loyal followers to the throne. Hundreds, if not thousands, of amazing versions abound throughout the state, but the one at Jackrabbit Dairy Bar in Lonoke caught my palette. I fancied its consistency and nice use of cumin.

3. Chocolate Cake at Janssen’s Lakefront Restaurant (Edgemont)

Janssen’s insane 6-layer chocolate cake with chocolate icing is the rare dessert that is every bit as striking in appearance as it is delicious in taste. Simply put, if you go to this restaurant and do not order dessert, then you’re making a tremendous mistake. Heck, get it to-go and eat the cake as a late-night snack.

4. Club Sandwich at Pea Farm Bistro (Cabot)

Pea Farm Bistro’s club is the first of several sandwich mentions on this post. Sorry folks, I love a good sandwich. It’s not easy to stand apart from other clubs, but Pea Farm’s meticulous construction, including lightly toasted bread, shaved ham and turkey, and crispy bacon, manages to do so.

5. Pork Ribs at Ridgewood Brothers BBQ (Russellville)

I could have easily selected Ridgewood’s smoked turkey or sliced brisket to include on this list, but instead landed on those perfectly–and I mean perfectly–cooked pork ribs. Seasoned just right, these ribs should do their part in helping draw crowds to the restaurant’s new brick-and-mortar location.

6. Cheeseburger at Hugo’s (Fayetteville)

My first cheeseburger at Hugo’s finally happened in 2022. Are you proud of me? This one lived up to the hype. Just a classic, grilled cheeseburger dripping with cheddar, along with lettuce, tomato, mayo and mustard. It’s best eaten at the bar to get the full Hugo’s experience.

7. Pizza at Pizzeria Ruby (Johnson)

If I go to Pizzeria Ruby, there is a pretty safe bet that the pizza will land on my end-of-year Best Of list. The pie harkens me back to my Boston days when our family would polish off something similar every Friday night. Large in size, crisp on the outer edges with occasional, slightly charred dough bubbles that beg to be ripped open with your fingers, this pizza is worth the drive from every corner of the state.

8. Pork Ribs at Reid’s Hometown Barbecue (Booneville)

More ribs? Yup. Hey, when they’re this good (see Ridgewood Brothers), an inclusion is well deserved. Reid’s spareribs are simple, with a good smattering of salt and pepper to compliment that smoke ring. The pork pulls away from the bone just right, resembling and tasting competition quality, a rare feat for most restaurants.

9. Sesame Chicken at Bulgogi Korean BBQ (Conway)

Sesame chicken is one of those nostalgic comfort food dishes that I truly crave from time to time. When it happens, a trip to Bulgogi Korean BBQ in Conway soon follows. The fried chicken is always super crisp and smothered in a deliciously sweet and tangy sauce, along with those sesame seeds.

10. Oatmeal Crème Pie at Kassi’s Cookies (Conway & Mayflower)

Eat your heart out, Little Debbie. Kassi’s puts out an oatmeal crème pie each Wednesday that is a Hump Day guilty pleasure like none other. Two soft, buttery oatmeal cookies are held together by a pile of crème frosting, forming a decadent handheld dessert that you’ll slowly take down throughout the day.

11. Strawberry Pie at Skylark Café (Leslie)

I literally make the 1.5-hour drive (each way) for Skylark’s strawberry pie every year, so you tell me if it belongs on this list. Heck yeah, it does. The pie–with its fresh, local strawberries and thick graham cracker crust–is an absolute vision and proof that nothing beats the taste of an Arkansas strawberry.

12. Daniel’s Taco at Melinda’s Coffee Corner & Café (Hot Springs Village)

I am from Texas (*ducks*), which also means the all-mighty breakfast taco is a part of my DNA. But in Arkansas, you had a better chance of a Bigfoot sighting than coming across a fluffy flour tortilla with house-made, smoked chorizo, bacon, potatoes, caramelized onions, eggs, cheese, and salsa. Then Melinda’s came along. This is a real-deal breakfast taco, folks.

13. Pork Tender Sandwich at Crooked Gate Café (Leslie)

The hours can be a little tricky at the Crooked Gate Café in Leslie, so always check before heading out. On my visit, I loved the Pork Tender Sandwich with its thick slab of insanely fresh and tender pork meat. How do they achieve such greatness? The restaurant has a farm and raises its own pigs. I mean, who does that? Crooked Gate does that.

14. Ham & Spicy Pimento Melt at KJ’s Market & Sandwich Shop (Judsonia)

The Ham & Spicy Pimento Melt at KJ’s in Judsonia tasted every bit as good as it sounds. That happens when you combine shaved deli ham with house-made pimento cheese and strawberry jam. Yes, strawberry jam! Two slices of grilled sourdough help seal the deal on one of the better sandwiches I’ve eaten in a long time.

15. Pork Candy at KnightFire BBQ (Searcy)

Pork candy. I mean, do I even need to write anything else? Ok, how about thick cubes of glazed pork belly that practically melt in your mouth? Are you sold yet? KnightFire is one of the best BBQ joints in the state, and Matthew Knight’s pork candy, as well as his sliced brisket and smoked cheeseburgers are a big reason why.

16. Chicken Fried Steak at Kasper’s (Clarksville)

Finding a legit chicken-fried steak with real cubed beef and scratch-made cream gravy is getting increasingly difficult to find nowadays, but Kasper’s in Clarksville (right across the street from the University of The Ozarks) has one. Those mashed potatoes and green beans were no joke either.

17. The “BLT” & Fries at Wilson Café (Wilson)

I know it can’t be true, but it felt like a pound of bacon resided on Wilson Café’s BLT. Seriously, like 1 pound of crispy, hickory-smoked bacon. The garlic aioli was a nice touch, as was the lightly toasted white bread. Did I mention the bacon?

18. Porterhouse at Taylor’s Steakhouse (Dumas)

My annual visit to Taylor’s typically has me ordering a dry-aged, 20+-ounce, bone-in ribeye, but I opted for the porterhouse this year. My wife and I ended up splitting this massive steak–which includes a filet and strip. In the end, I’m still Team Ribeye, but this one was delightful as well.

19. Fried Pickle Chips at Hoots BBQ (McGehee)

Make no mistake, the BBQ at Hoots in McGehee is excellent, especially the pulled pork and ribs, but I can’t get the fried pickle chips appetizer out of my head. They come chicken fried in a light flour batter and are the best I’ve come across in Arkansas, which is saying something. I eat a lot of fried pickle chips. Some would say I’m an expert on the topic.

20. The Soignier Cheesesteak Po’Boy at Beech St. Bistro (Crossett)

This mountain of a sandwich at Beech St. Bistro is best split between two people. Roast beef, grilled onions, cheese, and gravy, and I mean a lot of gravy, make up The Soignier Cheesesteak Po’boy. If beef isn’t your thing, just know that the restaurant has a fairly expansive menu and lots of other options to sink your teeth into.

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Kevin Shalin is a food writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Sara, and one daughter, Sydney. His oldest daughter, Natalie, is a freshman at Loyola University in Chicago. He started his own blog, The Mighty Rib, twelve years ago while living in Houston. Six months later, he began writing for Eating Our Words, a Houston Press food blog. After a year in Boston, he moved to Little Rock, where he’s been for ten years. During that time, he’s written for publications like Little Rock Soiree, Arkansas Times, AY Magazine, and The Local Palate.

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