How to eat Latin
El Camino Real
815 S. School Ave., Fayetteville; (479) 521-6268
Hey there, reader: We’ve got a confession. When it comes to Tex-Mex—bottomlessly plated fare where cheese plays a leading role in virtually every dish across the menu—we largely tend to turn a blind eye and tongue, opting instead for our taco trucks and Spanish-language menus. But—yes, but—we know a damn-good meal when we see one. And at Camino Real, where tacos are made with care (our server asked that we please eat the pork taco first, as it’s really best “right out of the kitchen”) and a vegetarian menu some 11 items strong … well, it’s good. And it’s likely you’ll see us making the drive.
You’re getting: The chicken enchiladas, because with their freshly made tortillas and well-seasoned chicken, these are much more than just vehicles for cheese.
7700 Baseline Road, Suite 800, Little Rock; (501) 539-5355
As is so often the case with holes in the wall, the sparse décor at Eliella—the concrete floors and cardboard pallets of unpacked drinks of a place just starting out—relates inversely to the quality of the food. Because holy god, this food. Specifically, the pozole. You’ve never had pork until you’ve fished a piece from the spicy, unctuous red broth and let it melt on your tongue. Seriously. No chewing required.
You’re getting: Pozole. Because at $5.25 for a “half order” (not listed on the menu), there have got to be few better deals in the city. Also: Please, please get the tacos de cabeza. We’re not sure we’ve had better. Especially for $1.25.
El Pollo Rico Grill
1008 W. Sunset Ave., Springdale; (479) 927-6363
So look: When someone like Jason Paul, mastermind of Rogers’ objectively excellent Heirloom, describes a place’s grilled chicken (aka pollo asado a la parrilla) as “legit,” “delicious” and “killer,” dang it, you listen. And then upon eating the combo plate (ideally sided with charro beans) and walking out for, like, five bucks, you wonder if maybe it’d be better to keep it to yourself and Mr. Paul.
You’re getting: A darn-good deal on grilled chicken, especially on Tuesdays, when a two-piece leg-and-thigh combo with two sides, tortillas, chips and salsa goes for … $5. Yep.
3140 Central Ave., Hot Springs; (501) 609-9988
Really, it’s kind of an odd place. Its façade is painted Creamsicle orange. Halo’s played on the television. Light bulbs and fancily beaded and bedazzled wallets are sold alongside Western wear and dried pinto beans. But none of that matters because from the creamy, literally good-on-anything tomatillo salsa to the ridiculous chile relleno topped with what our server would only deign call “salsa de tomate,” all that matters is the food.
You’re getting: The chile relleno meal (with rice and beans), which at $6 is a steal.
7414 Baseline Road, Little Rock; (501) 565-4440
Really, this southwest Little Rock taqueria-slash-full-blown-grocery could have capped the list of our favorite tacos—and, full disclosure, it does. Indisputably. Sin duda. But seeing as this favorite among favorites is not only home to some of the finest tacos around, but also remains the only market we know of to score Lizano, aka our Sriracha-caliber Costa Rican sauce obsession, we thought y’all would like to know.
You’re getting: Tacos (specifically, the lengua ones), a bottle of Lizano—and another for us, please and thank you.
Lulu’s Latin Rotisserie & Grill
315 N. Bowman Road, Little Rock; (501) 228-5564
After leaving Bolivia a few years ago, I bid what I thought would be a final farewell to one of my fondest friends, South American-style rotisserie chicken. And then earlier this year, I had Lulu’s chicken, and everything was beautiful again. A few notes: 1. Get the empanadas—and all of the sauces. 2. You’re really, really going to want the white meat. Really.
You’re getting: A whole chicken. Yes, really, because at $18.50 for the bird and two sides, why the heck would you not?
Pupuseria “La Salvadoreña”
416 S. Knoxville Ave., Russellville; (479) 747-7936
Yes, it’s a little rough on the eyes—in the words of a co-worker, “ugly both inside and out.” But in keeping with the well-worn truism, you cannot, in fact, judge a book by its cover, particularly once you scarf down one of the eponymous pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. (The “Salvadoreña” in the name is no coincidence because these are, indeed, legit.)
You’re getting: Um, pupusas—specifically, pork and cheese, or bean and cheese. And heck, seeing as they’re under $1.50, eat your fill—and then get more to share.
Rosalinda Restaurante Hondureño
900 W. 35th St., North Little Rock; (501) 771-5559
You see how each of these blurbs has a “you’re getting” just below it? Well, that’s not gonna work here because with a veritable laundry list of Honduran dishes—some 82 numbered items strong—ranging from carne asada to albondigas (meatballs—no joke) to mouthwatering chicharrón (bite-sized pieces of succulent pork) plated with yucca and plantains, the folks at Rosalinda’s have made that task near impossible. And for that, we’re eternally grateful.
You’re getting: Everything mentioned above, plus the fried plantains. And the pupusas con queso de loroco. And a glass of ice water, so as not to bust your belt.
Taqueria Karina Cafe
5309 W. 65th St., Little Rock; (501) 562-3951
FYI: There’s a lot. Although Karina’s has long been a personal favorite, we’ve yet to visit when the menu failed to overwhelm. But, mind you, it can be managed. Start with the tortas (specifically, the carnitas or lengua), jump to the lunch specials on the back page, and just work your way down (paying special attention to the chilaquiles). Also, on the very outside chance your appetite’s gone unsated—or in anticipation of future cravings—there are corn tortillas at Brenda’s next door that go 5 pounds for $3.50. And they’re fresh.
You’re getting: Everything. But especially that torta ($7.25 for the massive sandwich and fries).
Taqueria Samantha II
7521 Geyer Springs Road, Little Rock; (501) 744-0680
On the surface, it might seem like a place of last resort—an elongated white truck with hand-painted lettering that has been parked, seemingly, for all of eternity in the lot of a Mexican sweets shop. But, and you’ll have to trust us on this, with mind-bending tacos (try the lengua and al pastor for starters, before ordering the rest of the menu), this place has every right to be a destination.
You’re getting: Tacos. All of the tacos. (Although you may also want to take a cue from The Root’s Jack Sundell on page 37.)