The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of outdoor dining. Last spring, around the same time restaurants started opening up with phased restrictions, studies started to come out suggesting that the coronavirus didn’t spread as easily outdoors. Restaurants already equipped with patios had an advantage, as many noted when driving past Hill Station’s lawn-style patio on Kavanaugh Boulevard last summer. Last June, the city of Little Rock announced an outdoor dining initiative allowing restaurants to expand outdoor dining into parking lots, sidewalks and lawns. Some restaurants started thinking outside the box.
Flyway Brewery in Argenta lined its parking lot with tents and tables along West Fourth and Maple streets. Soon after, the Argenta Downtown Council took advantage of a law passed the year before allowing the establishment of entertainment districts to section off blocks on Main Street for an outdoor dining district to increase business for local restaurants. Jack Sundell, owner of The Root Cafe, along with help from the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, turned the parking lot at 1301 Main St. into the SoMa Outdoor Dining Room. A year later, give or take, even though many Arkansans have been vaccinated, some still are not ready to fully embrace our pre-pandemic social lives. Dining al fresco, whether it be on a veranda overlooking the Arkansas River or in a parking space, is still very much in demand.
We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite outdoor dining spots. Please remember that many restaurants are understaffed now and trying desperately to hire; be patient and tip generously. Unless otherwise noted, wear your mask until you’re served and leave the dog at home.
River Market District
@ The Corner
@ The Corner greatly expanded its outdoor dining during the pandemic. On most weekends now, there’s a line to grab brunch at one of the 12 tables skirting the entire front entrance of the same building that houses the Arkansas Times at 201 E. Markham St. The entryway patio is covered, and it was heated in the wintertime with several propane gas patio heaters. And the frigid temperature this past winter did not stop people from brunching. The staff at @ The Corner has to break down the entire set up daily. 201 E. Markham St. Dog friendly.
42 Bar & Table
This large and posh patio is situated directly under the Clinton Presidential Center, and its comfy chairs, gas firepit tables and Arkansas River views always make me wonder why it’s not always packed and why more people aren’t texting me to meet them down there. 1200 President Clinton Ave.
Buenos Aires Cafe
Located in the former Juanita’s space, this below-street-level brick patio sits under a bridge connecting President Clinton Avenue to the top level of the building, which is home to weekend tango nights at Club 27. It feels nice and secluded if you’re taking a lengthy lunch break. This patio is dog friendly and smoking is permitted. 614 President Clinton Ave.
Sticky Fingerz Rock ’N’ Roll Chicken Shack
This colorful patio that sits alongside President Clinton Avenue has a slatted roof, umbrellas, benches along the wall and a small covered gazebo. Whether you’re eating an order of Sticky Fingerz or having a drink between bands, it would surprise no one if you were to say, “This is a really nice patio.” Dogs and smoking are welcome. 107 River Market Ave.
In addition to its contemporary two-level interior, Cache has a second-floor patio balcony overlooking the River Market and President Clinton Avenue and two ground-floor patios covered by awnings that skirt the north and east sides of the Arcade building. 425 President Clinton Ave.
Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom
You haven’t left your house for a year, so don’t blow this one, OK? Strawberry pudding, burrata and sourdough, salsiccia pizza and a “Date Night” salad split between friends on the teeny tiny patio at Raduno’s is your move. People you know may walk by on the sidewalks of Main; pretend you remember how to greet acquaintances, raise whichever of Raduno’s 20-ish tap beers is in your glass and say, “Oh, HEY!” It’s OK if it feels weird; post-pandemic re-emerging is a marathon, not a sprint. 1318 S. Main St.
The Root Cafe
The Root Cafe, known for its farm-to-table approach and excellent weekend brunch, has a comfy covered patio at the building’s entrance that overlooks South Main. It also has a quirky dog-friendly courtyard-style patio. The Root has more open-air seating than most Little Rock-area restaurants, but it’s also very popular, so you’re still advised to come at off times to ensure you get a seat. 1500 Main St.
South on Main
You can sample South on Main’s new menu of elevated Southern cuisine on its large back patio. There’s plenty of plants and it’s surrounded by a high fence that makes you feel tucked in amid the hustle and bustle of SoMa. 1304 Main St.
You have to walk through the dry storage area at Vino’s to get to its courtyard-style patio, which makes me feel special and important. The patio has picnic-style tables, stadium seats from Ray Winder Field and a two-story covered gazebo that feels like a clubhouse. It’s a perfect spot for a New York-style slice with a Firehouse Pale Ale. Smoking is allowed. 923 W Seventh St.
Doe’s Eat Place
Split your porterhouse steak and tamales outside at Doe’s. Fenced in and surrounded by plants and trees, this courtyard-style patio is an ideal spot to act like a wheeler-dealer whether you are or not. 1023 W. Markham St.
Brave New Restaurant
If someone were to ask which Little Rock restaurants have the best sunset views, Brave New Restaurant would probably sit atop that list. The restaurant is widely known for chef Peter Brave’s cuisine, which has had a lasting impression on Arkansans, having won the best overall restaurant in the Arkansas Times annual Readers Choice Award 14 times. The handful of patio seats overlooking the Arkansas River are highly coveted when the weather is nice and when the sun is setting. 2300 Cottondale Lane.
Mark Abernathy’s Riverdale neighborhood bistro has a New Orleans-style brick patio shaded by trees, umbrellas and an awning covering the tables that sit directly beside the building. Partially covered, it has a secluded, courtyard feel and is a perfect spot for cocktail hour, lunch or dinner. In my experience, it’s a comforting place to pre-game before your 20th high school reunion. 3519 Old Cantrell Road.
The Fold Botanas & Bar
During the pandemic, The Fold added a parking lot veranda to the east side of the building in addition to its covered garage patio in front of the restaurant, which used to be a service station. It’s an ideal location for some of the best margaritas in town. Dogs are welcome and make frequent appearances on The Fold’s Instagram page. 3501 Old Cantrell Road.
Buffalo Grill’s covered deck stretches alongside the south side of the building. Enjoy your burger or tortilla flats with relaxing views of Botanica Gardens next door. 1611 Rebsamen Park Road.
Maddie’s Place, chef Brian Deloney’s New Orleans-style restaurant, has a small covered patio in front of the restaurant with about four tables. If dining outside is imperative, you might want to go at a nonpeak time or try to beat the rush. 1615 Rebsamen Park Road.
The Faded Rose
You can wave at customers sitting on Maddie’s patio and enjoy a soaked salad and shrimp tchoupitoulas on The Faded Rose’s small but cozy patio, which sits in front of the building and is covered by an awning. 1619 Rebsamen Park Road.
Kick back on Pizza Cafe’s deck and enjoy some of the coldest draft beer in town. The restaurant’s patio is the only one in town that I know of that sits directly underneath a beautiful catalpa tree. Three or four times a year, customers either ask: “What kind of tree is this?” or “Is this a catalpa tree?” 1517 Rebsamen Park Road.
About six months ago, Ciao Baci safely upped its outdoor dining capacity by adding four open-air tables to its driveway space adjacent to the building. Owner Blair Wallace said the addition will be a permanent fixture. Ciao Baci also has a cushy covered patio that stretches alongside the south side of the building and is one of my favorite spots in town for cocktails and shared appetizers. Ciao Baci can accommodate smokers on the front porch area and dogs are welcome on the new driveway patio. 605 Beechwood St.
La Terraza Rum & Lounge
La Terraza Rum & Lounge, Hillcrest’s fantastic Venezuelan restaurant in the former Acadia space, has a three-tiered wooden deck that overlooks Kavanaugh. It’s partially covered, there are brick columns on the lower level and large dungeon-style double doors — all of which make for a truly unique Little Rock outdoor dining experience. 3000 Kavanaugh Blvd.
I just realized that I’ve never had sushi outside before, which is a problem I can soon remedy at Kemuri, located in the Ice House Revival Building on Kavanaugh. It has a covered patio out front and uncovered tables along the side of the building. 2601 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Leo’s Greek Castle
Leo’s is probably the smallest restaurant in Hillcrest but it’s been around for decades. I tried hummus for the first time on the patio there in the late ’90s. The interior space is minimal and quaint. Remember Phase I when restaurants could only open up to 33% capacity? That’s like telling a place like Leo’s to just stay closed. In addition to the few tables on Leo’s covered patio, there are now a few picnic tables in the parking lot where you can enjoy a delicious gyro or 75-cent PBR and wave at people on Kavanaugh. 2925 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Hill Station has a really nice interior but is known for its spacious courtyard patio that seemed to be filling a need for wide-open outdoor dining in Hillcrest from the time it opened last February until the shutdown in mid-March. Demand for tables at Hill Station seems to only grow as the pandemic lingers on, even as other restaurants open up. Expect lines and crowds. 2712 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Cheers in the Heights
When I sit on Cheers’ patio in wintertime, I often pretend that I’m not in Little Rock, but at a ski lodge. With its brick and rock fireplace and wood-paneled ceiling, I can’t help myself. In the warmer days the windows open up and the patio extends outside the building and is covered. During the pandemic, owner Chris Tanner started setting up tables in the parking lot, which provided my first outdoor anxiety-ridden pandemic dining experience last October. 2010 N. Van Buren St.
People don’t talk about Scallions’ patio enough, even though the restaurant has been around for over 30 years. Its patio is below street level, sunken and secluded from all the intense mid-day Kavanaugh traffic. The space is filled with colorful chairs and umbrellas where you can order classic lunch staples like chicken salad, cheese soup and quiche. 5110 Kavanaugh Blvd.
West Little Rock
Petit & Keet
Petit & Keet’s contemporary patio has a stone waterfall fireplace, heaters, a detachable roof and a service window attached to the bar. Made up of shades of gray and red, it’s a solid choice for happy hour, date night or trying every cocktail on the menu in the name of service journalism. Dogs are allowed and must be on a leash. 1620 Market St.
Capi Peck and partner Brent Peterson opened Trio’s at Pavilion in the Park in 1986. During the pandemic, Peck used her experience in catering to turn it into a premier location for curbside pickup along with patio dining. 8201 Cantrell Road.
Crush Wine Bar
Like many things, wine tastes better outdoors. As it turns out, my co-workers just informed me this week in a Google Hangout meeting that Crush Wine Bar has an excellent courtyard patio. This is likely the last patio I’m going to find out about in a Google Hangout meeting; RIP remote work. 318 Main St.
Four Quarter Bar
Four Quarter Bar has some of the best bar food in the city. Try the smoked wings, the pork hash or the Cuban sandwich on the patio out back or out front in the dining district. If you’re low on funds, Four Quarter offers 7-ounce Miller High Life ponies for 75 cents. There’s nothing quite like the flavor of bargain beer on a patio with friends after not seeing them for a year. 415 Main St.
The success of Flyway’s “Tent City,” two parallel rows of tented tables lining its parking lot along West Fourth and Maple streets, was the inspiration for the Argenta Downtown Council to take the idea of an entertainment district — emphasizing the freedom to walk around with a drink in hand — and rebrand it as an outdoor dining district. 314 Maple St.
Brood & Barley
Brood & Barley, Flyway’s sister restaurant, opened last year when restaurants were operating under Phase 1 directives allowing just 33 percent capacity. A year later, the restaurant’s going strong and just opened its brand new patio behind the restaurant. Partially covered by a roof with string lights, there’s a few four-top tables and a row of booths that line a chic rock wall. 411 Main St.
Jim Keet’s destination restaurant, Cypress Social, opened last August in the former Cock of the Walk space, and has a tri-level deck that overlooks the lake behind the building. Tables have also been added to the courtyard adjacent to the building. 7103 Cock of the Walk Lane.