Brian Chilson
AT BRUNO’S: Maciej Jastrzebski slurps spaghetti like a true Italian.

Our annual Readers Choice issue that celebrates the best in food in Arkansas is not a beauty contest. Good dining is about substance as well as ambiance. Kitchens are beehive-busy with battle plans, where great creativity meets vigorous chopping and stirring and strategic use of the stove. Some of the oldest eateries have taken their place not just in Arkansas history, but in America’s, like Doe’s Eat Place: Find an oral history of that famed steakhouse here. We also talk to the minds behind two restaurants and a bakery: the owners of WunderHaus, in Conway; Tusk and Trotter, in Bentonville (and North Little Rock later this year); and Serenity Farms, in Leslie. They tell us why they got into the notoriously difficult food business, the techniques they bring to their cooking and baking, and their philosophies about feeding body and soul. Read on and be nourished. 

Overall  

LITTLE ROCK

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Winner: Table 28

Finalists: The Pantry, Petit & Keet, Copper Grill

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AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Taco Mama (Hot Springs)

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Finalists: The Ohio Club (Hot Springs), Mike’s Place (Conway), WunderHaus (Conway)

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LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Mockingbird Bar & Tacos

Finalists: Blue Sage Vegan, Ester’s SoMa, Allsopp & Chapple

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AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Taco Mama Side Town (Hot Springs) 

Finalists: In the Raw (Hot Springs), Lost Creek Grill (Hot Springs), Wright’s Barbecue (Johnson)

Chef

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Scott Rains (Table 28)

Finalists: Scott McGehee (Big Orange, Heights Taco & Tamale Co., Local Lime, Lost Forty Brewing, ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co.), Matthew Bell (South on Main), Steven Binotti (Petit & Keet)

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Diana Bratton (Taco Mama, Hot Springs) 

Finalists: Matthew Cooper (The Preacher’s Son, Bentonville), Jacqueline Smith (WunderHaus, Conway), Matthew McClure (The Hive, Bentonville)

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Bakery

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Community Bakery

Finalists: Boulevard Bread Co., Dempsey Bakery, Rosalia’s Family Bakery

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Ambrosia Bakery (Hot Springs) 

Finalists: PattiCakes Bakery (Conway), Ed’s Bakery (Conway), Serenity Farm Bread (Leslie)

Barbecue

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Sims Bar-B-Que

Finalists: Lost 40 Brewing, Count Porkula, Whole Hog Cafe

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: McClard’s Bar-B-Q (Hot Springs)

Finalists: Craig’s Bar-B-Que (DeValls Bluff), Wright’s Barbecue (Johnson), Jones Bar-B-Q Diner (Marianna)

Brunch

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: The Fold Botanas & Bar

Finalists: Lost Forty Brewing, Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom, The Root Cafe

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: WunderHaus (Conway)

Finalists: Taco Mama (Hot Springs) ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co. (Conway), Tusk & Trotter (Bentonville) 

Buffet

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Star of India Restaurant and Bar

Finalists: Tokyo House, Taj Mahal Indian Kitchen, Cathead Diner

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Dondie’s White River Princess (Des Arc)

Finalists: Hibachi Sushi Buffet (Hot Springs), Abe’s Ole Feed House (Benton), Brown’s Catfish (Russellville)

Burger

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Big Orange

Finalists: The Root Cafe, The Pantry, Doe’s Eat Place

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Hugo’s (Fayetteville)

Finalists: The Ohio Club (Hot Springs), Oark Burger Co. (Clarksville), WunderHaus (Conway)

Business lunch

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Allsopp & Chapple

Finalists: Capital Bar & Grill, Samantha’s Tap Room & Wood Grill, Trio’s Restaurant

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Mike’s Place (Conway)

Finalists: Big Orange (Rogers), The Hive (Bentonville), Rolando’s Restaurante (Hot Springs)

Butcher

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: HAM Market

Finalists: Edwards Food Giant, Fresh Market, Hogg’s Meat Market

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Weldon’s Meat Market (Hot Springs)

Finalists: Clampit’s Country Kitchen & Meat Market (Hot Springs Village), Paul’s Meat Market (Fort Smith), Richard’s Meat Market (Fayetteville)

Catfish

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Eat My Catfish

Finalists: Flying Fish, Lassis Inn, Soul Fish Cafe

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Eat My Catfish (Benton)

Finalists: Bubba’s Catfish (Hot Springs), The Catfish Hole (Fayetteville), Flying Fish (Bentonville)

Cheese Dip

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Heights Taco & Tamale

Finalists: The Fold Botanas & Bar, Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro, La Hacienda

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Stoby’s (Conway)

Finalists: Taco Mama (Hot Springs), Rolando’s Restaurante (Hot Springs), Local Lime (Rogers) 

Chinese

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co. 

Finalists: Fantastic China, Mr. Chen’s Authentic Chinese Cooking, A.W. Lin’s Chinese Cuisine

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Jade China Restaurant (Conway)

Finalists: Madame Wu’s Hunan Restaurant (Russellville), Mong Dynasty (Fayetteville), Lin’s Garden (Bentonville)

Coffee

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Guillermo’s Coffee, Tea & Roastery 

Finalists: Boulevard Bread Co., River City Coffee, Mylo Coffee Co.

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Blue Sail Coffee (Conway) 

Finalists: Arsaga’s Fayetteville Coffee Roasters (Fayetteville), Onyx Coffee Lab (Fayetteville), Red Light Roastery (Hot Springs) 

Deli/gourmet to go

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Boulevard Bread Co. 

Finalists: HAM Market, Community Bakery, The House of Mental

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Cafe 1217 (Hot Springs)

Finalists: Crepes Paulette (Bentonville), In the Raw (Hot Springs), Pea Farm Bistro (Cabot)

Desserts

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Loblolly Creamery

Finalists: Honey Pies, Petit & Keet, Trio’s Restaurant

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: PattiCakes Bakery (Conway)

Finalists: Taco Mama (Hot Springs), Rolando’s Restaurante (Hot Springs), WunderHaus (Conway)

Dog friendly

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Bark Bar

Finalists: Fassler Hall, The Fold Botanas & Bar, The Root Cafe

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co. (Conway)

Finalists: Apple Blossom Brewery (Fayetteville), Crepes Paulette (Bentonville), The Farmer’s Table Cafe (Fayetteville)

Food truck

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: El Sur Street Food Co. 

Finalists: Low Ivy Catering, Dem Dam Wingz, Taqueria Samantha II

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Crepes Paulette food truck (Bentonville)

Finalists: YGFBF Kitchen (Conway), Truckin’ Delicious (Fort Smith), Wild Ginger (Conway)

French fries

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Big Orange

Finalists: @ the Corner, Ester’s SoMa, The Pantry Crest

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Tusk & Trotter (Bentonville)

Finalists: Big Orange (Rogers), Feltner’s Whatta-Burger (Russellville), Hugo’s (Fayetteville)

Fried chicken

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Haybird

Finalists: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, Cathead’s Diner, Maddie’s Place

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Oven & Tap (Bentonville)

Finalists: Holly’s Country Cooking (Conway), A.Q. Chicken House (Springdale), Monte Ne Inn (Rogers)

Fun

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Dave & Buster’s

Finalists: Fassler Hall, Ester’s SOMA, Lost Forty Brewing

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Big Orange (Rogers)

Finalists: The Hive (Bentonville), The Ohio Club (Hot Springs), Superior Bathhouse Brewery (Hot Springs)

Gluten-free

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Dempsey Bakery

Finalists: Big Orange, The Root Cafe, Loblolly Creamery

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co. (Conway)

Finalists: The Preacher’s Son (Bentonville), Rolando’s Restaurante (Hot Springs), Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe (Bentonville)

Healthy

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: The Root Cafe

Finalists: Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, Kemuri, ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co.

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co. (Conway)

Finalists: Cafe 1217 (Hot Springs), Pea Farm Bistro (Cabot), In the Raw (Hot Springs)

Home cookin’

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: BJ’s Market Cafe

Finalists: Gadwall’s Grill, Cathead’s Diner, Homer’s Restaurant 

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Holly’s Country Cooking (Conway)

Finalists: Sunshine Store & Cafe (Royal), Grandma’s House Cafe (Winslow), Wagon Wheel Restaurant (Greenbrier)

Ice cream/cool treats

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Loblolly Creamery

Finalists: Kilwins; ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co.; The Original Scoopdog Inc. 

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co. (Conway)

Finalists: Scoops Ice Cream (Hot Springs), Daisy Queen (Marshall), Las Delicias (Conway)

Indian

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Star of India Restaurant and Bar

Finalists: Banana Leaf Indian Cuisine, The Indian Feast, Taj Mahal Indian Kitchen

Italian

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Bruno’s Little Italy

Finalists: Zaffino’s by Nori, Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom, Ristorante Capeo

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Pasta Grill (Conway)

Finalists: Deluca’s Pizzeria (Hot Springs), Ermilio’s Italian Home Cooking (Eureka Springs), Luna Bella (Hot Springs)

Japanese

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Kemuri

Finalists: Aji Ramen Bar, Mt. Fuji Japanese Restaurant, Sushi Cafe

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Umami Sushi Lounge & Grill Fusion (Conway)

Finalists: A1 Sushi (Hot Springs), Fuji Steakhouse (Conway), Meiji Japanese Cuisine (Fayetteville)

Mexican

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Local Lime

Finalists: The Fold Botanas & Bar, Heights Taco & Tamale Co., La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Local Lime (Rogers)

Finalists: Table Mesa (Bentonville), Taco Mama (Hot Springs), Colorado Grill (Hot Springs)

Other ethnic

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: kBird

Finalists: Buenos Aires Grill and Cafe, La Terraza Rum & Lounge, Zangna Thai Cuisine

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: WunderHaus (Conway)

Finalists: A Taste of Thai (Fayetteville), Chang Thai & Asian Cuisine (Sherwood), Rolando’s Restaurante (Hot Springs) 

Outdoor dining

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Petit & Keet

Finalists: U.S. Pizza Hillcrest, La Terraza Rum & Lounge, Copper Grill

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Grateful Head Pizza Oven and Beer Garden (Hot Springs) 

Finalists: Local Flavor (Eureka Springs), Rolando’s Restaurante (Hot Springs), WunderHaus (Conway)

Pie

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Honey Pies

Finalists: Community Bakery, Petit & Keet, Soul Fish Cafe

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets (Keo)

Finalists: Fork and Crust (Rogers), Shangri-la Resort (Hot Springs), PattiCakes Bakery (Conway)

Pizza

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co.

Finalists: Vino’s, Raduno Brick Oven and Barroom, Pizza Cafe

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Deluca’s Pizzeria (Hot Springs)

Finalists: U.S. Pizza (Conway), Rocky’s Corner (Hot Springs), SQZBX (Hot Springs)

Place for kids

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: All Aboard

Finalists: Big Orange, Dave & Buster’s, The Rail Yard

Sandwich

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Boulevard Bread Co.

Finalists: Paninis & Co., HAM Market, Jimmy’s Serious Sandwiches

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Cross Creek Sandwich Shop (Conway)

Finalists: Cafe 1217 (Hot Springs), Pressroom (Bentonville), Pea Farm Bistro (Cabot)

Salad

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: ZAZA Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza Co. 

Finalists: Big Orange, Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, The Faded Rose

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: ZAZA Fine Salad + Wood Oven Pizza Co. (Conway)

Finalists: WunderHaus (Conway), SQZBX (Hot Springs), Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe (Conway)

Seafood

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Flying Fish

Finalists: Kemuri, Petit & Keet, Brave New Restaurant

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Eat My Catfish (Conway)

Finalists: Luna Bella (Hot Springs), Mike’s Place (Conway), 501 Prime (Hot Springs)

Soup

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Boulevard Bread Co.

Finalists: Community Bakery, Aji Ramen Bar, Three Fold Noodles + Dumpling Co. 

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Pea Farm Bistro (Cabot)

Finalists: Rolando’s Restaurante (Hot Springs), WunderHaus (Conway), Cafe 1217 (Hot Springs)

Steak

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Doe’s Eat Place

Finalists: Arthur’s Prime Steakhouse, Petit & Keet, Sonny Williams’ Steak Room

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Mike’s Place (Conway)

Finalists: Herman’s Rib House (Fayetteville), 501 Prime (Hot Springs), Tamale Factory (Gregory)

Tacos

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: The Fold Botanas & Bar

Finalists: Local Lime, El Sur Street Food Co., Heights Taco & Tamale Co. 

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Taco Mama (Hot Springs)

Finalists: Aquarius Taqueria (Eureka Springs), Local Lime (Rogers), Capo’s Tacos (Hot Springs)

Vegetarian/vegan

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: The Root Cafe

Finalists: Ester’s SOMA, Blue Sage Vegan, ZAZA Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co.

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: In the Raw (Hot Springs)

Finalists: The Farmer’s Table Cafe (Fayetteville), The Preacher’s Son (Bentonville), Local Flavor Cafe (Eureka Springs)

Wine list

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Petit & Keet

Finalists: SO Restaurant, Table 28, Samantha’s Taproom and Wood Grill

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: Luna Bella (Hot Springs)

Finalists: The Hive (Bentonville), The Vault (Hot Springs), The Preacher’s Son (Bentonville)

Yogurt/smoothies

LITTLE ROCK

Winner: Paninis & Co./I Love Juice Bar

Finalists: Scoop Dog, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Yogurt Mountain

AROUND THE STATE

Winner: In the Raw (Hot Springs

Finalists: The Healthy Spot (Greenbrier), Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt (Bryant), Creme & Sugar (Searcy)

Best restaurants in areas around the state

Benton/Bryant

Winner: Eat My Catfish

Finalists: Brown’s Country Store and Restaurant, La Hacienda, Riviera Maya

Conway

Winner: Mike’s Place

Finalists: Pasta Grill, WunderHaus, Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

Eureka Springs

Winner: The Grotto

Finalists: Local Flavor, Mud Street Cafe, Ermilio’s Italian Home Cooking

Fayetteville/Springdale/Johnson

Winner: Rolando’s Restaurante (Fayetteville)

Finalists: The Farmer’s Table Cafe (Fayetteville), Hugo’s (Fayetteville), Taste of Thai (Fayetteville)

Hot Springs

Winner: Deluca’s Pizzeria

Finalists: In the Raw, 501 Prime, SQZBX

Rogers/Bentonville

Winner: Local Lime (Rogers)

Finalists: The Hive (Bentonville), The Preacher’s Son Cafe (Bentonville), Tusk & Trotter (Bentonville)