Soul Fish Café, a small chain out of Memphis, recently expanded to include a location at 306 Main Street in Little Rock. The spot boasts a large seating area, including a small patio ideal for the temperate days on the horizon.

When I go to an establishment famous for fish, there are a few staples by which I judge the entire menu: fried catfish, hush puppies, slaw and how cold their beer is. Soul Fish Café wins on all counts.

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When we arrived to meet the other group in our party, they had already ordered the Smoked Catfish Dip. I hadn’t read the menu in advance, and so had no idea what to expect, but the dip was every good thing you might imagine it to be. It was blended well enough to warrant the term “dip,” yet each bite contained distinct pieces of fish. The chips were fresh, but instead of standing out, they really served as a blank canvas against which to taste the complex, smoky flavors.

I ordered the classic Catfish Basket with coleslaw and sweet potato fries. The coleslaw was diced instead of shredded, which we don’t often see around here, but I prefer. The flavors were subtle, and its crisp, fresh texture complemented the fish well.

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In college, my friends would fish and then have groups over to fry and eat the catch that same night. Soul Fish Café’s fried fish was as close as I’ve come to purchasing that same experience. Each piece was thick and substantial—none of those thin-sliced fillets here. The fry-time must have been counted to the second, as each piece had a crispy exterior, but was still moist on the inside. Of course, no meal of fried fish is complete without the aforementioned hush puppies. They too, were little bites of deliciousness. The outside was crispy, but not cooked to overdone as is so common. Inside, the softer cornmeal was fluffy and flavorful. The sweet potato fries were similarly perfected.

One of my friends had fried crawfish on his plate, and I must admit I helped myself to more than a couple. I was born in south Louisiana, you see, and crawfish was my first solid food, so I’ve had a taste for it since my early days. So often frying crawfish covers its inherent flavor while making it chewy, but frying this crawfish only brought out that flavor, and there was no chewiness to be found.

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If, by some some chance, you’ve left a little room for more, Soul Fish also has an exceptional dessert menu. Like everything else I tried, the desserts were a win—and between the five of us, we tried nearly all of them. The cakes are made at their bakery in Memphis and shipped over, while their pies are made in-house. The chocolate cake, in particular, was big enough to split, with multiple layers of cake and frosting. The caramel-pecan pie made my eyes roll back in my head. Though I’m typically a pecan pie purist, the Café substitutes brown sugar for Karo syrup—and it’s a good substitute.

The name of the game at Soul Fish Café is fresh, well-cooked, and substantial. Between the food, atmosphere, and friendly staff, you’ll return again and again.