Wondering what to eat in Arkansas? The state is home to a wonder of natural beauty and adventure, but the state also claims home to many unique Arkansas dishes and drinks that travelers will enjoy.
From the classic southern delicacies of fried pickles and chocolate gravy to the unique flavors and experiences of the duck gumbo in Stuttgart during the Duck Festival or the Squirrel Cookoff in Bentonville, foodies of all ages will find something to love in the best of Arkansas food and drinks.
But let’s not forget about the forty local breweries that call Arkansas home, crafting regular and seasonal brews to enjoy while fishing on the many lakes and rivers found in the state or while taking a break from the downtown adventures that can be found in places such as Little Rock.
These 25 Arkansan dishes are just the tip of the iceberg for the variety of flavors travelers can find when visiting Arkansas.
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The Best of Arkansas Food & Drink
This is my list of the best Arkansas dishes, and where to find them. Feel free to add your own in the comments below.
The Garden Sandwich (Jimmy’s Serious Sandwiches
The Garden Sandwich is a Central Arkansas favorite that needs little introduction for the locals to know what you are talking about.
The Garden Sandwich heralds its popularity from back in 1979 when it won first place in the National Sandwich Contest. This hearty sandwich is comprised of a variety of vegetables, such as spinach, green bell peppers, and alfalfa sprouts, along with mayo and three different types of cheese all on pumpernickel bread.
Chocolate Gravy (Gadwall’s Grill)
Chocolate gravy is a staple for any Arkansan. Everyone’s family has their specific recipe that they think is best, but if you are not blessed with a family chocolate gravy recipe, going to Gadwall’s Grill for biscuits and chocolate gravy will still suffice for your Arkansas culinary experience.
In the south, biscuits are made to be fluffy and buttery, and chocolate gravy is made of some fat, cream, and cocoa. The combination of a fluffy biscuit with the warmth and comfort of chocolate, the house chocolate gravy from Gadwall’s Grill is a must when coming through Arkansas.
Purple Cow Milkshake (The Purple Cow)
The Purple Cow started in Little Rock in 1989 as a nod to the diners of the ’50s. There are now 5 different locations within Central Arkansas where you can find The Purple Cow.
All of them feature the nostalgic décor and atmosphere of the 1950’s diners we have all seen before. While the food is fantastic nostalgic diner food, the must-have from The Purple Cow is their signature purple milkshake. There is nothing quite like washing your burger down with a fun purple shake straight from the Purple Cow.
Fried pickles are something that can be found across Arkansas. There are no places in particular that have a must-eat fried pickle, but there are plenty of restaurants that feature these fried treasures as appetizers.
There is something about the combination of the salty pickle and fried batter that mesh well, especially when dipped in a creamy ranch dressing. Ask any Arkansan and they are sure to give you the rundown on their favorite places to find fried pickles.
Any small restaurant throughout the state of Arkansas is bound to have its own take on a Possum Pie. This state-wide favorite is a shortbread crust layered with a cream cheese mixture, chocolate pudding, and topped with whipped cream.
While many places would simply call this a chocolate pie, the name of a “Possum Pie,” comes from the idea that the pie is playing opossum and deceiving you into thinking it is something different with the large layer of whipped cream hiding the rest of the pie.
Delta tamales differ from the typical Latin-style tamales. Delta tamales are smaller, made using cornflour, have more spices, and are simmered rather than steamed.
There are several small, family-run restaurants that have their own take on the Delta Tamale. Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village, Adriana’s in Walnut Ridge, and the Tamale Factory in Augusta are a few of the most popular restaurants to visit to find Delta tamales in the Northeastern region of the state.
Fried Chicken (Mount Nebo Chicken Fry)
The south is a place known for its love of frying just about every food imaginable, but one of the most recognizably southern fried comfort foods is fried chicken.
The Mount Nebo Chicken Fry is an annual event made to raise money for the Dardanelle community, featuring a 10k race, horseshoe pitching, log sawing, pageants, and, of course, chicken prepared by Tyson’s award-winning cooks.
Not only does this event bring you some of the best chicken you can find, but this event also brings visitors to the beautiful Mount Nebo State Park, one of Arkansas’s hidden gems.
Buffalo Fish Ribs (Lassis Inn)
The Lassis Inn is one of the oldest restaurants in the state of Arkansas. This restaurant has stood throughout the Civil Rights Movement and played a role as a safe space for African Americans within the community.
The Lassis Inn has set itself apart not just with its open, accepting atmosphere, but also with its variety of fish and catfish dishes. One of the most popular being the Buffalo Fish Ribs.
Duck Gumbo (Stuttgart)
Every year, the town of Stuttgart hosts the World Championship Duck Calling Contest. Outdoors enthusiasts of all walks of life come together for the Duck Festival and enjoy all things duck-related.
The events last the entire week of Thanksgiving, finishing off with the championship duck calls and duck gumbo cooking contests. There is no better opportunity to try the best duck gumbo around than with a trip to Stuttgart for the Duck Festival.
Potato Doughnuts (Spudnuts Shop)
Spudnuts was originally started in Utah by brothers Al and Bob Pelton. Over the last 75 years, several Spudnuts shops have opened across the United States, but Arkansas holds claim to the most shops, even though the original parent company went out of business.
These doughnuts are unique because of the use of potato flour instead of traditional wheat flour. The use of potato flour gives the doughnut a more light, fluffy texture in comparison to a traditional doughnut.
In the south, eating squirrel is about as common as eating deer. So, it should come as no surprise that Arkansas would host a World Championship Squirrel Cookoff.
For the past 8 years, crowds have gathered to test the best of the best in squirrel preparation. This event brings the opportunity to try a variety of squirrel foods guests would not experience anywhere else, such as squirrel sushi and squirrel pizza!
Fried Hand Pies (Morrison’s)
Morrison’s is a food truck that can be found in Hot Springs, created by the entire Morrison family in 2017.
Patriarch of the family, Edgar Morrison, is the talent behind the pies. He has worked for years to discover what makes a delectable fried pie. From having plenty of filling to learning to keep the pies from becoming too greasy, to creating the perfect pie-like crust for the outside, Morrison’s fried hand pies are unique and delicious.
Fried Green Tomatoes (Maddie’s Place)
Maddie’s Place is a locally owned restaurant in Little Rock that brings the flair of New Orleans Cajun food a little further north. Chef Brian Deloney has worked in many restaurants across the country, but he eventually found his way back to Arkansas and wanted to bring his knowledge and culinary experiences to his home state.
At Maddie’s Place, Deloney takes the classic southern fried green tomato and adds a little Cajun twist with the addition of crabmeat and Remoulade sauce to add an extra kick.
Fried Catfish (Dondie’s White River Princess)
Arguably, Dondie’s has the best fried catfish anyone will find in Arkansas.
Dondie’s White River Princess was awarded the 2019 Reader’s Choice Award for best fried catfish. The small restaurant located in Des Arc uses only farm-raised, U.S. sourced catfish for their menu.
Guests are drawn in by the promise of great catfish, but the menu is full of quality items and presented by a friendly, cheerful staff that will make anyone feel like part of the family.
Kyya is a one-of-a-kind, bean to bar chocolate company that was born from working with a small non-profit at a Uganda orphanage during Christmas. The company works to make small batch chocolate that has no artificial flavors or sweeteners.
Kyya has worked to establish its own supply chain and try to work directly with farmers when they can. Kyya chocolate has locations in the Northwest region of the state in Springdale and Bentonville.
Homemade Doughnuts (Mark’s Do-Nut Shop)
Mark’s Do-Nut Shop is a small bakery in central Arkansas known for its variety of homemade doughnuts. The shop has been around since 1978, serving visitors with fresh, somewhat dense doughnuts that will satisfy your sweet tooth craving without overwhelming you with a sweet flavor.
Mark’s Do-Nut Shop is an ode to the classic doughnuts and a reminder that the flash and gimmicks of designer doughnut shops do not outdo or outshine the classics of a small bakery.
Little Red Strawberry Lager (Diamond Bear Brewing Co.)
Diamond Bear Brewing Company was founded in 2000 and is the oldest commercial brewery in Arkansas.
They have won many national and international awards for their beer, and the company has even been able to expand to more states throughout the south.
When it comes to drinks to try from the Diamond Bear Brewing Company, a great one to try is the Little Red Strawberry Lager. The lager has a light feeling to the drink with a refreshing hint of strawberry that makes it perfect for kicking back next to a bonfire for an evening under the stars.
Local Craft Beer (The Flying Saucer)
The Flying Saucer has several locations throughout the south, including a location in downtown Little Rock. The Flying Saucer is a great place to go to experience local craft beers you may not know how to find when visiting Arkansas.
The food is your typical bar food to complement the drinks, but visitors come to try the variety of drafts that come from all across the state.
Love Honey Bock (Lost Forty Brewing Company)
Lost Forty Brewing is a microbrewery located in downtown Little Rock that serves only the state of Arkansas. Lost Forty seeks to contribute to the survival of the natural beauty of Arkansas for many years to come.
Choosing a favorite, must-try beer from a microbrewery is hard because seasonal beers come and go on a regular basis from the menu. One of the year-round staples that is a favorite amongst regulars, though, is the Love Honey Bock.
The use of Arkansas honey in the brew creates a sweet flavor paired with hints of caramel and toasted bread, Love Honey is one to try at any time, but do adventure and try their wonderful seasonal brews, too.
The Coffee and Cigarettes (South on Main)
South on Main is a café in Little Rock that is known just as much for its variety of cocktails and drinks as its food.
The Coffee and Cigarettes has been toted as a must-try drink made with rye and cognac, topped with caffe amaro for a coffee flavor, and tobacco infused sugar around the rim to give the drink a smokey, cigar flavor. This drink will transport you to the hazy, music-filled bar scene of your dreams.
Buttery Perfection (Table 28)
Table 28 is a fine dining restaurant that can be found in the Burgundy Hotel in Little Rock. The menu puts a Southern flair to modern American dishes. Table 28 is also known for using locally grown produce for their meals, but most importantly, Table 28 is known for their unique spins on cocktails.
The Buttery Perfection is the Southern spin on a very classic Manhattan cocktail, adding in the favorite ingredient of so many Southern chefs, brown butter. The extra fat of the butter adds another dimension to the classic Manhattan.
Onyx Coffee Stout (Ozark Beer Company)
The Ozark Beer Company is a has been serving beer around Arkansas since 2013. Located in Rogers, the Ozark Beer Company prides itself in living from the land and making hard work part of who they are as a company.
The Onyx Coffee Stout is a year-round stout in collaboration with Onyx Coffee Labs. This a milk stout with a French Roast that has been cold extracted to bring out the rich flavors in the stout.
Bluewing Berry Wheat (Flyaway Brewing)
Flyaway Brewing Company is a ten-barrel microbrewery in North Little Rock. Flyaway Brewing prides itself in including native flavors found in Arkansas.
The Bluewing Berry Wheat is a classic American wheat beer infused with blueberries. There is a balance to the flavor of the berries with the wheat beer that make it an easy, refreshing drink.
Mayan Mocha (Mugs Café)
Mugs Café is a local café in Little Rock that is dedicated to creating hand-crafted drinks made to provide their customers with coffee to fit their day. The Mayan Mocha is a kick-starter of a coffee with a pairing of dark chocolate and cayenne pepper with an espresso and milk.
The combination of cayenne and chocolate balance each other out in a way that allows for the natural flavors to work together and create an all-new flavor unique to this mocha.
Arkansas Travel Resources
Don’t Forget About Travel Insurance!
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Getting coverage is important whenever you’re more than a hundred miles from home in case of an accident, sickness, theft, etc.
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Kirsten Hazlewood is from Paragould, AR and graduated from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, AR. She still remains in Paragould with her husband, two stepchildren, and their clowder of cats and raccoons.