Eat Your Way Through Arkansas

Rex Nelson's Must-Try Arkansas Restaurants

A beautiful three-hour drive from Little Rock to Bentonville traverses the Arkansas River Valley and the Ozark Mountains. These restaurants between the two cities will give a visitor a sense of the state's food, history, and culture. None of these establishments would be considered fine-dining or cutting edge. But all of them will give you a feel for how Arkansans live, socialize, and eat. Take this restaurant tour and join us in Bentonville for our 2019 Summer Field Trip.

Bob’s Grill in Conway

Every small town used to have one of these places — the diner where people gather for coffee and solve the world’s problems. Bob’s opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 2 p.m. Breakfast is the best time to eavesdrop on the regulars. Its motto is: “If it happens in Conway, it’s talked about at Bob’s Grill.”

Morrilton Drive In in Morrilton

Again, this is the type of non-chain establishment that once could be found in small towns across America. The barbecue, hamburger steaks, chicken fried steak and fried catfish are all equally good here. This is yet another place to eavesdrop and get a sense of what’s on the minds of rural Arkansans.

Oark General Store in Oark

Take a short side trip off Interstate 40 at Clarksville and head north into the mountains. At the small community of Oark, there’s a general store that opened in 1890. A young couple bought it a few years ago, and it’s mostly a restaurant these days, serving wonderful burgers and homemade pie. It’s popular with bikers.

Catalpa Cafe in Catalpa

Leaving Oark, head a few more miles along the Mulberry River to where the asphalt ends at Catalpa. Here the visitor will find surprising upscale dining from a trained chef at a small establishment in an isolated part of the Ozark Mountains. Just as is the case at the Oark General store, the homemade pies are outstanding.

Wiederkehr Weinkeller at Wiederkehr Village

Take the Altus exit off Interstate 40 and find something that most aren’t expecting in Arkansas — the wine country. And it’s not a Johnny come lately attraction. Settlers from Germany and Switzerland began growing grapes and producing wine here in the 1800s. Within a few miles of each other, one can visit tasting rooms for Chateau Aux Arc, Wiederkehr, Post and Mt. Bethel. Lunch and dinner are served at Wiederkehr in the winery’s original wine cellar, dug by hand by Johann Andreas Wiederkehr in 1880. It has been a restaurant since 1967.

Herman’s Ribhouse at Fayetteville

Herman Tuck opened his now iconic restaurant on New Year’s Day in 1964. It quickly became a favorite of chicken titan Don Tyson and generations of University of Arkansas students. It also became known among sportswriters and sportscasters who came to Fayetteville to cover football and basketball games. Go for the steaks rather than the ribs in this restaurant, which one can spot being used as a location in the current season of “True Detective.”

Venesian Inn at Tontitown

Just a few miles off Interstate 49 at Springdale is an Italian restaurant opened in 1947 by Germano Gasparotto. The inside of the building hasn’t changed much since then. Combine the best of Arkansas and the best of Italy by ordering fried chicken and spaghetti. The Venesian Inn has been inducted into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.

A.Q. Chicken House at Springdale

A.Q. stands for “Arkansas Quality.” The restaurant was opened in 1964 on what was then the main highway by chicken grower Roy Ritter. This is the last remaining location for a restaurant group that once had a presence across the state. Homemade rolls with honey are a must before the main course arrives.

Monte Ne Inn at Monte Ne

Just outside of Rogers on Beaver lake is an establishment that serves family style. It’s all you can eat starting with bean soup followed by fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, coleslaw and rolls with apple butter. Call in advance and let them know how many are coming.

Rex Nelson is senior editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sharing food stories of Arkansas is his avocation.

Featured photo by Sherri Sheu.