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The Ultimate Hidden Gem – El Palenque in Little Rock

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I had a good feeling about El Palenque before even stepping foot in the tiny taqueria tucked back off of Rodney Parham. Any place with that many cars in front of it, while being half-hidden from a major road must be great. 

Turns out, I was right.

What the restaurant lacks in exterior aesthetics, it certainly makes up for with an inviting atmosphere filled with two handfuls of vibrantly colored booths and tables. El Palenque is small, borderline tiny, so it doesn’t take many folks to fill up the establishment. 

But that’s all part of the magic.

Food flies around the open kitchen and hits the table within a few minutes. The expansive menu means there is no shortage of options, and while just about everything at El Palenque is fantastic, several items stand out more than others.

 

Hungry folks should consider starting with an order of chicken nachos, a plateful of thin tortilla chips topped with chicken, smooth cheese sauce, cilantro, tomatoes, and sour cream. While these nachos can be eaten as an entree, I find it’s best to split an order with tablemates, which saves a little room for some of the other offerings. Some suggestions for those include the gorditas, cornmeal pockets filled with your choice of meat, as well as the popular huarache, a handmade, oval tortilla topped with beans, lettuce, onions, cheese, cilantro, sour cream and meat. The huarache is thicker than most tortillas, so you will need a knife and fork to enjoy the experience.

However, my favorite item on El Palenque’s menu is the Burrito de Camaron, a flour tortilla filled with shrimp, beans, cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce and sour cream. It is a simply-executed, no-frills burrito that travels well and never disappoints. El Palenque uses bigger, plumper shrimp than most taquerias, which makes a big difference in the burrito, as well as another popular dish, the Camarones a la Plancha. This plate of beautifully grilled shrimp and onions with rice and refried beans is a must-order, as are any of El Palenque’s enchiladas. Their version of the latter doesn’t include your typical melted cheese-drenched tortillas, but rather, ones dipped in a mild green or red sauce and covered with a light amount of shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and tomatoes.

Are you hungry yet?

By now, most Little Rockers are well-aware of the wonderful food at El Palenque. It’s really no secret. With that said, I doubt the rest of Arkansas knows much about the restaurant half-hidden in the corner of a strip center in the heart of town. 

Maybe that’s a good thing, at least for the wait time.

Did You Know?

The restaurant does a great takeout service, so do not hesitate to call in a to-go order. The food travels well. Also, El Palenque has some new menu items, including the Nachos Mix, Carne Asada con Camaron, Taco Supreme, and Huevos en Salsa Verde.

El Palenque
9501 N Rodney Parham Rd (Little Rock)
Phone: 501-312-0045
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Closed Monday

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Kevin Shalin is a food writer living in Little Rock with his wife, Sara, and two daughters, Natalie (12) and Sydney (7). He started his own blog, The Mighty Rib, seven 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 almost five years. During that time, he’s written for Little Rock Soiree, Rock City Eats, Treatsie, and Bourbon and Boots.

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