Arkansas, often referred to as “The Natural State,” is not only known for its scenic beauty but also for its rich culinary heritage. While it might not have gained the same notoriety as some of its Southern neighbors, Arkansas boasts a diverse array of must-try foods that showcase the state’s unique flavors and traditions. From delectable barbecue to comfort food classics, this article is your in-depth guide to the must-try foods and where to find them in Arkansas.
Must-Try Foods in Arkansas
Classic Southern Barbecue
Arkansas is a barbecue lover’s paradise, and you can’t visit without indulging in some mouthwatering smoked meats. Must-try foods here include tender pulled pork, savory ribs, and the distinctive Arkansas-style barbecue sandwich. Cooks typically slow-cook the meat, often pork, to perfection, imparting a smoky, melt-in-your-mouth quality. The unique vinegar-based sauce is what truly sets Arkansas barbecue apart, imparting a tangy and slightly spicy flavor profile.
For an authentic barbecue experience, head to Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna, recognized as the oldest black-owned restaurant in the United States. Here, you can savor their legendary smoked meats, slowly cooked over a pit of hickory wood, and served with a generous drizzle of their famous sauce. It’s a culinary journey through history and flavor.
Catfish Done Right
Catfish is another must-try food in Arkansas, and when done right, it’s a true delicacy. Known for its mild and slightly sweet taste, catfish is often fried to crispy perfection, and served with hushpuppies, coleslaw, and a side of tartar sauce. The key to exceptional catfish lies in the preparation – it should be fresh, flaky, and perfectly seasoned.
One of the best places to savor this iconic dish is at McClard’s Bar-B-Q in Hot Springs. Known primarily for their barbecue, McClard’s also offers a fantastic fried catfish, often touted as the best in the region. It’s a harmonious blend of Arkansas’s love for both barbecue and fried catfish.
Biscuits and Gravy for Breakfast
For a hearty breakfast or brunch, don’t miss out on biscuits and gravy, an Arkansas classic that can set the tone for a delightful day. This comforting dish consists of fluffy biscuits smothered in creamy sausage gravy. It’s a dish that encapsulates the essence of Southern comfort food, rich, satisfying, and brimming with flavor.
The Root Café in Little Rock is a local favorite for their delectable biscuits and gravy. The twist here is that The Root Café actively commits to using locally sourced ingredients, providing a farm-to-table experience that enhances the flavors of this beloved classic.
Fried Pickles – A Unique Delight
Fried pickles might sound unusual, but in Arkansas, they’re a beloved snack that adds a unique twist to the culinary scene. Sliced pickles are coated in a seasoned batter and deep-fried, resulting in a delightful combination of crispy and tangy flavors. It’s a unique and irresistible treat that showcases the creativity of Arkansas’s culinary traditions.
You can find these delectable treats at many local diners and sports bars. However, one of the best places to enjoy fried pickles is the Flying Fish restaurant in Little Rock. Known for its laid-back atmosphere and fantastic seafood, they serve up some of the best-fried pickles in the state.
Chocolate Gravy – A Sweet Morning Treat
Chocolate gravy is a distinctly Arkansan dish and a sweet sauce poured over warm biscuits for a unique and delightful breakfast. It’s a comfort food that’s both indulgent and nostalgic, a morning delight that’s as much about nostalgia as it is about flavor.
For a taste of this sweet morning treat, visit the pancake house at Ozark Café in Jasper. They’ve perfected the art of creating a velvety chocolate gravy that pairs perfectly with their biscuits. It’s a delightful way to start your day in Arkansas.
Gumbo with a Southern Twist
Thanks to its proximity to Louisiana, Arkansas offers a delightful twist on Cajun cuisine, and gumbo is a prime example. This spicy stew often features seafood and is served over a bed of rice, offering a medley of flavors and textures.
For some of the best gumbo in the state, head to Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village. Alongside their famous hot tamales, they serve up a gumbo that captures the essence of Louisiana with an Arkansas twist. It’s a dish that speaks to the state’s multicultural culinary influences.
Soul Food at Its Finest
Soul food is a cherished culinary tradition in Arkansas, characterized by rich, flavorful dishes like collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken. The essence of soul food is about comfort and connection, and you’ll find it in abundance in Arkansas.
For a soulful experience, visit Sims Bar-B-Que in Little Rock. Known for their impeccable fried chicken, Sims Bar-B-Que brings the flavors of the South to your plate. The fried chicken is crisp and flavorful, the collard greens cooked to perfection, and the macaroni and cheese rich and satisfying.
In Arkansas, there’s a growing emphasis on farm-to-table dining. Many restaurants actively dedicate themselves to sourcing local, fresh ingredients, enabling you to experience the true flavors of the state. The Hive, located in Bentonville, stands as a prime example of an establishment that demonstrates Arkansas’s culinary potential by utilizing locally grown produce.
At The Hive, the farm-to-table philosophy isn’t just a trend; it’s a way of life. The menu changes with the seasons, ensuring that diners experience the freshest ingredients that Arkansas has to offer. From locally sourced meats to vegetables, you can taste the difference that farm-to-table dining makes.
Delicious Delta Tamales
Tamales are a popular food in the Arkansas Delta region, with their own unique spin on this beloved Latin American dish. Local cooks fill flavorful bundles of masa (corn dough) with a variety of ingredients and wrap them in corn husks to create tamales. In the Arkansas Delta, tamales have a distinct style that sets them apart.
Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, mentioned earlier for their gumbo, is a must-visit for authentic Delta-style tamales. Local cooks often season these tamales with a unique blend of spices that offers a taste of Arkansas’s multicultural culinary influences.
Arkansas, often referred to as “The Natural State,” also awaits exploration as a culinary treasure trove. From the smoky aroma of barbecue joints to the cozy comfort of biscuits and gravy, the state offers an array of must-try foods that reflect its Southern roots. Whether you’re a food enthusiast or just seeking a taste of genuine Southern hospitality, Arkansas has something to satisfy every palate. So, embark on a culinary journey, savor these must-try foods, and experience the rich and diverse flavors of the Arkansas dining scene. Your taste buds will thank you for it. In Arkansas, it’s not just about the food; it’s about the stories, traditions, and flavors that make each bite a delightful journey through the state’s history and culture.