6 a.m. – 9 p.m., daily
Fried mushrooms, fried pickles, Hooshburger with home fries, chicken-fried steak, chicken enchiladas.
Hooshang Nazarali, proprietor of the Pig Trail Bypass Country Cafe, won’t divulge the combination of Persian spices he mixes into the local ground beef he uses to make his infamous “Hooshburger.” But he is willing to provide some insight into the inspiration behind it.
“In Iran, I love kebab, and here in the United States, I love cheeseburgers, so I thought, why not combine the two?” he explains. “And the people, they like it.”
The people do like it, so much so that online travel and food website Thrillist.com named it the best burger in Arkansas on its “Best Burger in Every State in America” list.
How it earned the designation is no mystery to me after I take a bite of my own Hooshburger on a bright Wednesday afternoon. Those secret Persian spices give the nicely caramelized made-to-order patty a subtle smoky flavor—is that turmeric I taste? onions?—while melty American cheese and an uber-fresh bun, lettuce and tomato give the burger a decadent, yet wholesome quality.
But while the Hooshburger is certainly a draw, it’s not the only reason to drop in to the roadside cafe-slash-convenience store on Arkansas Highway 16 in rural Crosses, an unincorporated community in Madison County. (If you see a thriving cactus garden out front, you’re in the right place.) Aside from the snacks and such you’d find at any ol’ convenience store, here you’ll be able to grab last-minute fishing gear before heading out to the nearby White River for the day. Not to mention that the cafe’s menu serves up a wide variety of hearty American fare, like biscuits and gravy for breakfast and a Sunday special of chicken-fried steak that the locals swear by (and a group of Bella Vista regulars make the trek out every week for). Plus, the Americana bric-a-brac that fills the cafe—think Elvis busts, dated license plates and faded adverts for old-timey products—are a hoot.
But as I take my time putting away my burger and house-cut fries, I suspect that Hooshang (or “Hoosh” as the locals call him) is the biggest draw. Darting about here and there making lunch, waiting tables and tending to convenience-store clientele, he addresses each and every customer by name and earnestly asks after expected grandkids and ailing relatives—and he’s been doing so for more than three decades.
Hooshang’s path to this small Ozark hamlet was every bit as winding and dramatic as the Pig Trail Bypass that threads its way through it. Born in Southwest Iran, in a town called Shiraz, he traveled to the United States in 1977 on a student visa to study in Texas. But after the Iranian Revolution began about a year later, at his mother’s insistence, he chose to remain in the U.S. Three years later, he found himself in Madison County, close to his new bride’s family. Since then, not only has he built a thriving business; he’s raised four children and become a revered member of the community. In 2004, for instance, he was elected justice of the peace.
“I love it here,” he says of his adopted homeland. “The pace is slower here, and the people, they care for each other.”
Best in Burgers
Because sometimes you just need a good hunk of beef
The Back Forty This family-owned spot has been churning out the same legendary burger for upwards of 37 years: the half-pound Barnbuster, a juicy griddled number that tastes like the ones Dad used to flip on the backyard grill. (1400 Arkansas 62 E., Mountain Home; (870) 425-7170)
Cotham’s Mercantile Sure, there’s a Cotham’s in the City in downtown Little Rock. But for some reason, those Hubcap Burgers and (those onion rings) just taste better when devoured at the original location in rural Scott. (5301 Arkansas 161, Scott; (501) 961-9284)
Dairyette This Ouachita mountain hamlet on the western shores of Lake Ouachita is home to one of the state’s most beloved dairy bars—which is home, in turn, to one of the state’s finest burger-and-shake combos. It’s the stuff of summer dreams, folks. (717 U.S. Highway 270, Mount Ida; (870) 867-2312)
Morrilton Drive Inn With names like the “Triple Super Double Cheese,” these monstrosities aren’t for the faint of heart. They are, however, exactly what you need after a long Petit Jean hike (or a long I-40 haul). (Note: For the less hungry, there are almost-regular-sized burgers on offer, too.) (1601 N. Oak St., Morrilton; (501) 354-8343)