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Top Picks - Capture Arkansas

SELECTED RESTAURANTS

By The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

This article was published August 1, 2008 at 4:06 a.m.

egyptian-police-officer-tawfiq-sasson-gabai-lightens-up-with-israeli-dina-ronit-elkabetz-in-the-bands-visit

Egyptian police officer Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai) lightens up with Israeli Dina (Ronit Elkabetz) in The Band's Visit.

— About the reviews

This selection of noteworthy central Arkansas restaurants is not intended to be all-inclusive. It aims to reflect a mix of the area's dining possibilities across a spectrum of cuisines, settings and price ranges.

Restaurant reviewers' visits are anonymous and all expenses are paid by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Evaluations are unrelated to advertising. Restaurants are wheelchair-accessible unless otherwise noted.

Be aware that restaurants sometimes change their days or hours of operation. Call before going to be sure your choice is open.

"Reservations" in the listing means the restaurant accepts reservations for any number of diners.

When reservations are taken only for larger parties, that is indicated. "Call ahead service" allows patrons to put their names on the waiting list.

"Corkage fee" indicates customers may bring their own wine for a charge.

"Bargain" in the listings means a meal (without beverage or dessert) is typically less than $12. "Moderate" is $12 to $25. "Expensive" is $25 and up.

To read recent restaurant reviews in their entirety, visit www2.arkansasonline.com/restaurants/.

Acadia 3000 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 603-9630 Three-course dinners at the fixed price of $22.50 on Mondays and Tuesdays are one of the area's top restaurant values at owner-chef James Hale's homelike Hillcrest spot with a creatively eclectic menu and superlative wine list.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Corkage fee.

Moderate.

Alley Oops 11900 Kanis Road, Suite D-10, Little Rock, (501) 221-9400 Easygoing and cheery Alley Oops offers a menu of mostly sandwiches and salads with some standout specialties, such as the cheese-and-bacon smothered Chicken Oops and a well-seasoned Sirloin Strip.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Reservations. Bargain-moderate.

Argenta Seafood Co.

521 Main St., North Little Rock, (501) 375-5800 Eric and Brian Isaac, the brothers who own Old World Ristorante Capeo, have gone contemporary with their New World seafood eatery that features a bold look, festive atmosphere and a bounty of fish offerings.

Dinner Tue-Sat. Full bar. Reservations.

Moderate-expensive.

Arkansas Burger Company 7401 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 663-0600 Still among the top contenders in the best-burger debate. Arkansiana aplenty adorns the walls; the menu includes such carnivore-friendly items as "The Hog" bacon cheeseburger and "The Cap City" mushroom burger.

Lunch, dinner Tue-Sat. Beer, wine.

Bargain.

Arthur's Prime Steakhouse Village at Rahling Road, 27 Rahling Circle, Little Rock, (501) 821-1848 Superbly succulent prime beef is the star attraction at Jerry Barakat's latest endeavor, which ranks as the area's mostexpensive restaurant.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations.

Expensive.

Ashley's at the Capital 111 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 374-7474 Reopened after the Capital Hotel's two-year renovation and reinvented under the aegis of executive chef Lee Richardson, Ashley's focuses on fixed-price menus for elegant dining, complete with the ruffles and flourishes of a restaurant that aspires to rank among the best in the nation.

Breakfast daily, lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations. Expensive.

The Athletic Club Embassy Suites, 11301 Financial Centre Parkway, Little Rock, (501) 312-9000 Swankier than most other sports-themed spots and boasting 12 televisions, this Embassy Suites eatery is an excellent place to watch a game while crunching on chicken tenders or feasting on the Fettuccine Carbonara.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar. Moderateexpensive.

Aydelotte's 5524 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 975-5524 The memberships are now free at the finedining private club (for the purposes of serving alcohol in a dry section of North Little Rock), but Aydelotte's is no less elegant, if sometimes inconsistent, with an upscale menu of lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Lunch, dinner Wed-Sat; brunch Sun. Full bar. Reservations accepted. Moderate-expensive. Bene Vita 3519 Old Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 666-8482 Mark Abernathy's "second-label" restaurant maintains a solid Northern Italian menu, including creative pizzas and seafood appetizers, while growing a little closer to next-door Loca Luna.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily. Full bar.

Corkage fee. Reservations. Moderate.

Bill Valentine's Ballpark Restaurant Dickey-Stephens Park, 400 W. Broadway, North Little Rock, (501) 324-2255 This Italian restaurant has hit the dining equivalent of a grand-slam homer in the first inning with an ambitious and fairly priced wine list, as well as best bets like the Steamed Mussels appetizer, the Veal Chop alla Toscana and the chocolatetopped Cannoli.

Dinner Tue-Sat (Monday when Travelers at home). Full bar. Reservations.

Moderate-expensive.

Boscos Museum Center, 500 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 907-1881 The interesting sandwiches, salads, pizzas, grilled plates and Sunday jazz-brunch fare aren't your regular bar food, but they are meant to be enjoyed with beer at this lively restaurant and brewery that has become a River Market fixture.

Lunch, dinner daily; brunch, dinner Sun. Full bar. Reservations. Moderate.

Boudreaux's Grill & Bar 9811 Maumelle Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 753-6860 The Cajun accent may or may not be real but it's good enough for some decent NewOrleans-style dishes, including Catfish Beignets, a blackened chicken sandwich and the Boudreaux Burger, in a warm, semi-sports-bar atmosphere.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat, open Sunday during football season. Full bar.

Reservations on weekends. Moderate.

Boulevard Bread Co.

1920 N. Grant St., Little Rock, (501) 663-5951; University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Public Health, 4301 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 526-6661; Ottenheimer Market Hall, River Market, 400 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 374-1232 Freshly baked breads and the generous use of fresh herbs help make the panini and other sandwiches a couple of cuts above the ordinary, while the soups and salads are also first-rate at this eatery.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine. (River Market location: breakfast, lunch only Mon-Sat. UAMS location: breakfast, lunch only Mon-Fri, no alcohol.) Bargain.

Brave New Restaurant 2300 Cottondale Lane, Little Rock, (501) 663-2677 Chef-owner Peter Brave fulfills his advertised promise of "the freshest and highest-quality ingredients" with an eclectic New American tenor and a spacious deck overlooking the Arkansas River that is one of Little Rock's loveliest dining venues.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Corkage fee. Reservations. Expensive.

Bruno's Little Italy 315 N. Bowman Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-4700 A Little Rock dining institution dating back to 1949, Bruno's dependably dispenses hearty Italian food in a convivial if sometimes hectic setting. The thin-crust pizza is among the city's best, the heaping antipasto plate is a winner, and it's hard to go wrong with any of the 56 main-course choices.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations (10 or more people Mon-Thu).

Moderate.

Buffalo Grill 400 N. Bowman Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-0012; 1611 Rebsamen Road, Little Rock, (501) 296-9535 This unassuming burgers-and-more eatery gives Little Rock diners two outlets for feasting on Chili Cheese Dip, as well as salads, sandwiches and dinner plates.

Lunch-dinner daily. Full bar. Moderate.

The Butcher Shop 10825 Hermitage Road, Little Rock, (501) 312-2748 Reasonable prices add flavor to the redmeat dining at this longtime steakhouse with an informal tone and cheerfully attentive service.

Dinner daily. Full bar. Corkage fee.

Reservations (seven or more people).

Moderate-expensive.

Cafe Bossa Nova 2701 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 614-6682 Diners whose stereotype of Brazilian cuisine envisions hefty chunks of grilled meat will have their eyes opened by owner-chef Rosalia Monroe's varied menu, which is strong on chicken, seafood and vegetarian fare.

Lunch, dinner Tue-Sat; brunch Sun.

Full bar. Reservations (five or more people). Moderate.

Cafe Prego 5510 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 663-5355 Still a popular Heights fixture after 14 years, this funky Italian-focused spot boasts a menu of manageable scope, reasonable prices, consistently satisfactory food and attentive service.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations. Moderate.

Cajun's Wharf 2400 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 375-5351 Everybody's likely to find something on the menu, which never strays too far from the tried-and-true at this seafood restaurant with a lively bar scene, faux Louisiana details and Cannery Row-style decor.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations (eight or more people). Moderateexpensive.

Cancun 2619 Pike Ave., North Little Rock, (501) 771-4262; 105 Gregory Place, Jacksonville, (501) 985-3300 Lively business at both locations attests to the drawing power of an attractive and very Mexican operation with a gracious Hispanic staff serving an extensive menu of reliably standard fare. Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Bargain.

Canon Grill 2811 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 664-2068 A cheerful early evening bar scene featuring Bass ale on draft and colorful margaritas attracts Hillcrest denizens, who often stick around for Tex-Mex dishes as well as pastas, pizzas and burgers.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Bargain.

Capers 14502 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 868-7600 Cooking along in fine form in its 11th year in west Little Rock, this Mary Beth Ringgold operation delivers brisk service as well as inventive seafood dishes the likes of Prosciutto Wrapped Halibut as well as top-drawer steaks and chops.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate-expensive.

Capital Bar and Grill Capital Hotel, 111 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 374-7474 The renovated Capital Hotel's "second" restaurant now has its own kitchen and haute cuisine with an Arkansas accent, including rice-fried catfish, sugar-canebrined pork loin and made-in-kitchen moon pies for dessert.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar. Moderateexpensive.

Capriccio Grill Italian Steakhouse Peabody Little Rock, 3 Statehouse Plaza, Little Rock, (501) 399-8000 This hotel dining room's menu aims with considerable success to please a wide range of appetites, extending from succulent prime beef for big spenders to flavorful pastas and salads for the rest of us.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Expensive (with 4 percent "facilities surcharge" added to bills).

Casa Manana 6820 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 280-9888; River Market, 400 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 372-6637 The salsa dip and the guacamole are topdrawer at this no-nonsense Mexican place that excels at seafood dishes, including a garlicky Catfish al Mojo de Ajo, and offers a fine breakfast on weekends.

Lunch, dinner daily; breakfast Sun. Full bar. (River Market: Breakfast, lunch Mon-Sat. No alcohol.) Reservations Mon-Thu. Bargain.

Casa Mexicana 6929 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 835-7876; 4091 E. Kiehl Ave., Sherwood, (501) 833-2787 Service is swift and portions are plentiful at this dependable eatery with an immense menu of Mexican specialties, ranging from fajitas to the ultra-fiery Camarones al Diablo.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar. Bargain.

Catfish City & BBQ Grill 1817 S. University Ave., Little Rock, (501) 663-7224; 14800 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 868-7171 This 20-year veteran serves catfish as tasty as ever - fried or grilled - plus shrimp, frog legs, hot wings, chicken tenders and barbecue.

Lunch Mon-Sat, dinner Mon-Sat.

Reservations (6 or more people). Beer, wine (Cantrell location). Bargain.

Central Park Fusion Cuisine 200 Park Ave., Hot Springs, (501) 623-0202Chef Matt Fuller does fusion right, with more of a Pacific Rim or international emphasis than strictly Asian. The food is flavorful (try the Tamarind-glazed lollipop pork chop), and Fuller wants to use primarily local produce.

Lunch, dinner Tue-Sat, lunch Sun. Full bar. Reservations (6 or more people).

Moderate.

Charlotte's Eats & Sweets 290 Main St. (U.S. 165), Keo, (501) 842-2123 Delicacies like coconut pie and Italian cream cake lure sweet teeth to an erstwhile pharmacy where owner Charlotte Bowls has preserved the mahogany apothecary cabinets and the soda fountain. Lunch Tue-Sat, dinner Sat. No alcohol.

Reservations. Bargain.

Cheers in the Heights, Cheers in Maumelle 2010 Van Buren St., Little Rock, (501) 663-5937; Cheers in Maumelle, 1901 Club Manor Drive, Maumelle, (501) 851-6200 The enduring Heights neighborhood eatery pays as much attention to the appetizers and side dishes as it does the excellent entrees, many with a New Orleansflair. Also try its big, bustling sibling in Maumelle.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Reservations (six or more, Maumelle location). Full bar. Moderate.

Ciao 405 W. Seventh St., Little Rock, (501) 372-0238 Hearty Italian specialties, European flair and charming, seedy elegance await diners at this downtown eatery suitable for a business lunch or dinner before the show.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Thu-Sat. Beer, wine. Corkage fee. Reservations.

Moderate.

Ciao Baci 605 Beechwood St., Little Rock, (501) 603-0238 This stylish Hillcrest nook is still the place for the young and well-heeled to see, be seen and munch on Chef Greg Loyd's inventive, if increasingly expensive, menu.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations (eight or more people). Moderate-Expensive.

Cock of the Walk 7103 Cock of the Walk Lane, North Little Rock, (501) 758-7182 Substantial dinners of grilled and fried catfish, shrimp and chicken served on metal pie pans are the attraction at this folksy family restaurant, as are the showstealing sides of hush puppies, skillet bread and coleslaw served family-style and appetizers like the slick, salty fried dill pickles.

Lunch Sun, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations (10 or more people).

Moderate.

Community Bakery 1200 S. Main St., Little Rock, (501) 375-7105; 270 S. Shackleford Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-1656 Lunch can get wild at the original Main Street location, where the tarragonlaced chicken salad merits praise, but breakfast is peaceful and heavenly amid the temptations of croissants, doughnuts and bagels.

Breakfast and lunch Mon-Sun at Main Street location; pastries only Mon-Sun at Shackleford location. No alcohol.

Bargain.

NEW! Copeland's of New Orleans 2602 Shackleford Road, Little Rock, (501) 312-1616 The Brioche Crusted Redfish and cheesecake that can be topped a seemingly limitless number of ways are highlights at the New Orleans-fashioned eatery where the food can be inconsistent but deserves credit for being more bold than most chain fare.

Lunch, dinner daily, brunch Sun. Full bar.

Moderate.

Copper Grill and Grocery 300 Third Tower, 300 E. Third St., Little Rock, (501) 375-3333 Capers and Cajun's Wharf magnate Mary Beth Ringgold has struck culinary gold with an eclectic, slightly eccentric menu in a copper-dominated decor.

Lunch, dinner Monday-Saturday. Full bar. Reservations. Moderate-expensive.

Corky's Ribs & BBQ 12005 Westhaven Drive, Little Rock, (501) 954-7427; 2947 Lakewood Village Drive, North Little Rock, (501) 753-3737 This nice, polite, suburban Memphisbased franchise barbecue operation, whichserves well-smoked ribs, wet and dry, and some of the best baked beans, takes no risks but also threatens few surprises at its two central Arkansas locations.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations (8 or more people).

Bargain-moderate.

Cotham's Arkansas 161, Scott, (501) 961-9284; 1401 W. Third St., Little Rock, (501) 370-9177 The original Cotham's Mercantile in Scott offers the full down-home atmosphere, while both locations offer the humongous Hub Cap burger along with laudable chicken-fried steak and divine fried green tomatoes.

Scott: lunch Mon-Sat, dinner Fri-Sat.

Third Street: lunch Mon-Fri. No alcohol.

Cotija's Mexican Grill 406 Louisiana St., Little Rock, (501) 244-0733 A close relative of the La Hacienda minichain, Cotija's serves up fast, authentic Mexican food to the downtown Little Rock lunch crowd.

Lunch Mon-Fri. Reservations.Bargainmoderate.

Crazy Hibachi Company 2907 Lakewood Village Drive, North Little Rock, (501) 812-9888 Stylish, spacious and more subdued than similar eateries, Crazy Hibachi offers fine Japanese fare and three different dining experiences at its teppanyaki tables, Mongolian grill and sushi bar.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations (six or more). Moderate.

Damgoode Pies 2701 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock;

6706 Cantrell Road, Little Rock; 10720 Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock (pickup and delivery only, (501) 664-2239 (all locations) Not the most demure of pizza places - in name, spirit or in menu - Damgoode Pies serves perhaps the best and definitely the most interesting pies in Little Rock, offering diners not only a wide variety of toppings, but choice of crust, cheese and sauce.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine. Bargain. Dave's Place 201 Center St., Little Rock, (501) 372-3283 On weekdays, owner and chef Dave Williams turns out sandwiches for the downtown office crowd, but on Friday night he really gets to show what he can do in the kitchen.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Fri. No alcohol.

Reservations (six or more). Bargain.

D'Carlo 12325 Stagecoach Road, Little Rock, (501) 407-0400 An excellent sweet basil marinara sauce continues to be the foundation of fine pasta dishes and tasty pizza in this quaint, exuberantly decorated southwest Little Rock Italian eatery.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine. Moderate.

Delicious Temptations 11220 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 225-6893 The extensive menu at this clean, bright and family-friendly bistro features a variety of breakfast items, including a variety of Benedicts, served into midafternoon alongside stylish sandwiches.

Breakfast, lunch daily. No alcohol.

Bargain.

Denton's Trotline 2150 Congo Road, Benton, (501) 315-1717 Satisfying Saline County catfish devotees for two decades has earned heavy traffic for this buffet eatery that dishes up shrimp, chicken, gumbos and - for an extra charge - snow crab legs.

Dinner Tue-Sat. No alcohol.

Reservations. Moderate.

UPDATE! Doe's Eat Place 1023 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 376-1195 This resolutely cluttered steak joint with flooring worn near exhaustion continues to deliver year after year on its basic premise of flavorful beef cuts big enough to feed a family.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations (eight or more people).

Expensive.

Downtown Deli 323 Center St., Little Rock, (501) 372-3696 Flocks of noontime customers testify to the steady quality of the sandwiches, salads, soups and football-size baked potatoes at a breakfast-also place that thrives on clever menu names like Fists of Fury wrap.

Breakfast, lunch Mon-Fri. No alcohol.

Bargain.

El Dorado 5820 Asher Ave., Little Rock, (501) 562-1025 The place is becoming comfortably shabby, but you can still get good, authentic Mexican food at very reasonable prices, ranging from standard (guacamole, Tacos de Asada) to slightly exotic(Camarones al Tequila).

Lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Bargain.

El Porton 12111 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 223-8588; 5021 Warden Road, North Little Rock, (501) 753-4630 A second location of this popular Mexican restaurant has opened in North Little Rock, offering a vast array of appetizers, soups and salads, burritos, vegetarian dinners, pork/beef/chicken dishes, enchiladas, grilled plates, seafood plates, fajitas and specialties that are served hot, fresh and fast.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar. Bargain.

UPDATE! Faded Rose 400 N. Bowman Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-3377; 1619 Rebsamen Road, Little Rock, (501) 663-9734 The good times are rolling these days for fans of Creole and Cajun dishes as well as steaks at the two locations of this amiable Louisiana-oriented operation in business since the 1980s.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar. Moderate.

Fantastic China 1900 N. Grant St., Little Rock, (501) 663-8999 With an emphasis on quality ingredients and special touches (like a tableside Moo Shu show), Fantastic China's food is much like its contemporary decor - interesting and bold, yet soothing and not the least bit intimidating.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Bargain.

Ferneau 2601 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 603-9208 Chef Donnie Ferneau has added lunch three days a week, with one of the best burgers locally, to his operation, which continues to offer big, bold flavors on his frequently changing dinner menu, and now he offers a simple but excellent Saturday/ Sunday brunch.

Lunch Wed-Fri, dinner Tue-Sat, brunch Sat-Sun. Full bar. Corkage fee.

Reservations (six or more people).

Moderate at lunch and brunch, expensive at dinner.

Flying Fish 511 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 375-3474 There are no waiters and no napkins, but an array of delectable seafood fare (served fried, grilled or boiled) draws the swarms of stand-in-line customers who pack this good-value River Market District eatery.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine, margaritas. Bargain-Moderate.

Flying Saucer Draught Emporium 323 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 372-8032 The food is definitely better than it needs to be at this self-proclaimed "beer joint," where the Milwaukee-made Usinger brats are top-drawer and the Chicken Quesadillas outperform some proffered at full-fledged Mexican restaurants.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine, limited liquor. Bargain.

Fu Lin Restaurant 200 N. Bowman Road, Little Rock, (501) 225-8989 Able and amiable, Fu Lin offers a lengthy and familiar menu of Chinese dishes, like a truly hot and sour Hot and Sour Soup and zesty Chicken With Orange Peel, at its long-standing, subdued west Little Rock location.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate.

Fuji Japanese Seafood Steak House and Sushi Bar 1260 U.S. 64 (Ridge Plaza), Conway, (501) 328-5888 Sushi offerings and hearty hibachi dinners are specialties at this Conway Japanese restaurant.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate.

Gadwall's Grill 7311 North Hills Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 834-1840; 14710 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 868-4746 Heavenly home-cut fries, including sweetpotato fries, are a magnet for faithful patrons of these extremely casual eateries where the white chili (made with chicken breast, Great Northern beans and green chilies) is another wonder.

Lunch, dinner daily (Mon-Sat Cantrell location). Beer, wine. Reservations (Cantrell location). Bargain.

Gaucho's Grill 11 Shackleford Drive, Little Rock, (501) 821-2818 The specialty of Jerry Barakat's South American barbecue restaurant is the churrasco, various grilled meats that are brought table-side for an all-you-can-eat sampling for $24.95.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar. Call-ahead seating, reservations for 10 or more.

Moderate-expensive.

Gina's Chinese Kitchen & Sushi Bar 14524 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 868-7775 At its new west Little Rock site, Gina Wu's cozy eatery combines a full sushi menu with an array of Chinese dishes to satisfy a wide range of tastes for Far Eastern fare.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine.

Reservations. Moderate.

Grampa's 100 Shadow Oaks, Sherwood, (501) 834-5400; 9219 Stagecoach Road, Little Rock, (501) 407-0000 While best known for its crisp, golden, all-you-can-eat catfish, homey Grampa's also offers a variety of steak, chicken and seafood selections.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine.

Reservations (six or more). Moderate.

Graffiti's 7811 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-9079 The menu at this longtime favorite continues to expand throughout the Mediterranean and now even to the Caribbean, whether you're talking about familiar favorites like lasagna or more interesting items such as Linguine With Escargot and Tilapia Caribbean.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Corkage fee.

Reservations (six or more people).

Moderate.

Gusano's Chicago-Style Pizzeria 313 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 374-1441 Gusano's might be best known for being a River Market watering hole, but the Chicago-style pizza, sandwiches and salads are quite satisfactory at this congenial sports bar.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Bargain-moderate.

Gypsy's Grill & Bar 11401 Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 225-4152Years after recasting Alouette's Frenchfocused cuisine as "casual world," the estimable Denis Seyer and chef Chuck Menefee are successfully returning Gypsy's to its more elegant Gallic roots.

Dinner Tue-Sat. Full bar. Reservations.

Corkage fee. Expensive.

Hanaroo Sushi Bar & Japanese Restaurant 205 W. Capitol Ave., Little Rock, (501) 301-7900 Sushi rolls and nigiri are excellent, and seafood entrees are among the best catches on the lengthy menu at this downtown restaurant.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat. Beer, wine. Moderate.

The Hop 201 E. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 244-0975 A venerable institution on Cantrell Road for years has moved into what started out as a second location, offering the same menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, ice cream and shakes, footlong dogs, fried stuff and frito chili pie, but now surrounded by '50s and '60s paraphernalia designed to give it that baby-boomer-nostalgia feel.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Bargain-Moderate.

Hunan Oriental Cuisine 11600 Pleasant Ridge Drive, Little Rock, (501) 223-9966 With the understated grace of a highend restaurant, the encyclopedic menu of the generic mall Chinese and prices squarely in the affordable range, this west Little Rock shopping-strip anchor is approachable and reliable.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate.

Igibon Japanese Food House 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 217-8888 With a friendly staff and a user-friendly menu with pictures, subdued Igibon is welcoming to Japanese food beginners as well as experts, serving traditional entrees, sushi and sashimi and more exotic fare than is typically served in showy steakhouses.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine.

Reservations. Moderate.

Iriana's 201 E. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 374-3656 Iriana's, a contender for the state's best pizza, also serves simple salads and grinders and Paisano chianti in its casual downtown digs.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine.

Bargain.

Izzy's Place 5601 Ranch Drive, Little Rock, (501) 868-4311 Terrific tamales, spicy enough to tickle taste buds without anesthetizing them, highlight a menu also strong on burgers and pizza, with helpful servers and aim-toplease prices.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine.

Reservations. Moderate.

Jim's Razorback Pizza 16101 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 868-3250; 10900 Stagecoach Road, Little Rock, (501) 407-9800;

20608 Arkansas 365 North, Maumelle, (501) 851-4120 Let out a Woo Pig! as a Northwest Arkansas pizza palace moves to central Arkansas in a big way. Those who claimpizza as a way of life might move Jim's pies - whether the crust be thin or regular or whole wheat (yea!) deep dish - to the top of their cherished list.

Cantrell Road location has great, sports bar-ish atmosphere.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar (Maumelle site), beer and wine (Cantrell, Stagecoach). Bargain.

Jimmy's Serious Sandwiches 5116 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 666-3354 Sandwich savant Jimmy Weisman takes seriously indeed his crusted creations, such as The Garden: fresh spinach spread, mushrooms, sprouts, sunflower seeds and three kinds of melted cheese on pumpernickel.

Lunch Mon-Sat. No alcohol. Bargain.

Juanita's 1300 S. Main St., Little Rock, (501) 372-1228 Fajitas and Flautas are among the Tex-Mex best bets at this convivial (i.e., noisy) spot in business for 22 years and serving Margaritas as well as main courses in generous proportions, along with first-rate salsa and delectable cheese dips.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Reservations (six or more people).

Moderate.

Kanpai Japanese Steak & Sushi 4120 E. McCain Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 945-9494 This North Little Rock Japanese restaurant offers sushi, traditional dinners and pleasant, if predictable, hibachi suppers and shows.

Lunch, daily; dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate.

Kebab & Curry Market Place Shopping Center, 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 978-8920 Lively competition for Star of India, with experienced chefs and a wide variety of northern and southern Indian dishes. Plate presentation is secondary to taste; the spicier dishes, even ordered mild, have quite a kick.

Lunch, dinner Tue-Sun. No alcohol.

Reservations. Bargain.

Kobe Japanese Steakhouse 11401 Financial Centre Parkway, Little Rock, (501) 225-5999 Close seating spurs togetherness at the teppanyaki grills, where the chefs put on deft shows and The Feast (featuring filet mignon, shrimp, scallops and chicken) is the priciest extravaganza. But don't pass up the sushi bar.

Dinner daily. Full bar. Reservations.

Moderate-expensive.

Koto 17200 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, (501) 821-7200Former Chi's owner Lulu "Mama" Chi has outdone herself with this upscale "Bistro-Teppanyaki-Sushi" restaurant, offering excellent Japanese fusion dishes at reasonable prices, in addition to hibachi grills and New York-imported sushi chefs.

Lunch Sun-Fri, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate-expensive.

La Hacienda 3024 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 661-0600; 12315 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock (501) 223-2716 The family-owned restaurant's fast, fresh, efficiently served brand of authentic Mexican cooking has inspired a cult following.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations (six or more people).

Moderate.

La Palapa 18321 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 868-8822 Portions are generous even by Arkansas standards at this Casa Manana spinoff where the focus is on seafood, mainly shrimp and tilapia, but beef, pork and chicken dishes are also first-rate.

Lunch, dinner daily; breakfast Sat-Sun.

Full bar. Reservations Fri-Sun (15 or more people). Bargain-moderate.

Larry's Pizza 12th and Center streets, Little Rock, (501) 372-6004; 10310 Chicot Road, Little Rock, (501) 565-6006; 4500 Arkansas 5 North, Bryant, (501) 847-5003; 12911 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-8804 Pizza entrepreneur Larry White has opened a west Little Rock location of his popular pizza-and-salad buffet restaurant, which features regular (pepperoni), specialty (including Steak Alfredo and Cheeseburger) and dessert (including peach, chocolate, berry and apple) pies.

Downtown: Lunch Mon-Sat; Chicot Road: Lunch Mon-Fri; Bryant: Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Cantrell Road: Lunch and dinner daily.

Las Palmas 4154 E. McCain Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 945-8010; 10402 Stagecoach Road, Little Rock, (501) 455-8500; 786 Elsinger Blvd., Conway, (501) 329-5010 Don't miss the top-notch tamales on the huge menu of this Mexican restaurant, where service is swift and systematic and prices are low.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar at North Little Rock, Little Rock sites.

Reservations vary by location. Bargain.

Layla's Restaurant, Grocery & Halal Meat 9501 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 227-7272 Believe the poster offering better gyros.

The area's Middle Eastern offerings rise to a new level with this essentially one-man operation (the owner-chef cooks, serves and even butchers his own meat).

Lunch, dinner daily. No alcohol. Bargain-Moderate.

Leo's Greek Castle 2925 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 666-7414 This idiosyncratic Hillcrest haunt looks more like a gas station robbed by Bonnie and Clyde than a castle, but it serves a good breakfast and later offers Greek/ Mediterranean staples like spanakopita, hummus, gyros and especially moussaka.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. No alcohol. Bargain.

Lilly's Dim Sum Then Some 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 716-2700 Owners Kathy Webb and Nancy Tesmer widen local dining horizons with commendable Pan-Asian food ranging from Pad Thai to Korean Bibim Bop with grilled steak to Japanese noodles sukiyakistyle.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine.

Reservations (six or more people).

Bargain.

Loca Luna 3519 Old Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 663-4666 Uber-foodie Rachael Ray acclaims this as "one of America's best neighborhood restaurants," where the quasi-eclectic menu has gone a little more upscale,but you can still get the fabulous cheese dip and brick-oven-baked pizzas along with filet mignon and some first-rate fish dishes.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily, brunch Sun. Full bar. Reservations (seven or more people). Moderate.

Luigi's Pizzeria 8310 Chicot Road, Little Rock, (501) 562-9863 It must be impossible to leave Luigi's without a contented smile, thanks to the nicest people who serve some of the nicest pasta (solid staples like baked lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs) at the nicest prices.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine.

Bargain.

Lulav 220A W. Sixth St., Little Rock, (501) 374-5100 After some rocky passages, Lulav has settled down and hit its stride with Executive Chef Brian Cochrane shifting the Mediterranean-California fusion concept in a Mediterranean direction.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Tue-Sat. Full bar Moderate.

Middle Eastern Cuisine River Market, 400 E. President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 372-1662 Proprietor-chef Wael Abdin's flavordrenched daily selection of six to eight Middle Eastern entrees - always gyros and at least one vegetarian offering - is drawn from his repertoire of more than 100 recipes.

Lunch daily. No alcohol. Bargain.

Mike's Place 808 Front St. in downtown Conway, (501) 269-6453 Serving New Orleans-style cuisine (and alcohol in dry Faulkner County; $5 yearly membership is required) in a setting that is nice enough for a special-date place but relaxed enough for cargo pants and flip-flops, Mike's Place already has the gently-worn-around-the-edges charm of a well-established landmark.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate.

Mount Fuji 10301 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 227-6498 Other newer, bigger, flashier Japanese restaurants may have mobbed the metro area, but sturdy Mount Fuji still stands, with varied sushi and entree menus offering traditional teriyaki, sashimi and tempura, as well as more exotic selections.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations (five or more people).

Moderate.

My Big Fat Greek Cafe 612 Office Park Drive, Bryant, (501) 847-8974 The accent is more Turkish than Greek, but the Mediterranean menu offers some fabulous appetizers, including two excellent types of hummus, spanakopita and dolmas. Most of the entrees are gyros-based.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Reservations for large parties. Bargain-Moderate.

Old Mill Bread and Flour Co.

12111 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 228-4677 Old Mill is a firmly established stop for the roving band of Ladies Who Lunch - thanks to a sunny interior and the scrumptious breads baked for its small but superior sandwich selection.

Breakfast, lunch Mon-Sat. No alcohol.

Bargain.

Osaka Japanese Restaurant 5501 Ranch Drive, Little Rock, (501) 868-3688 The subdued, pleasant Japanese restaurant tucked in a west Little Rock shopping center is not the newest or flashiest place offering a good variety of sushi rolls, traditional tempura and teriyaki dishes and a Mongolian Grill, but it might be the fastest.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine, cocktails. Reservations. Moderate.

Oyster Bar 3003 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 666-7100 New Orleans-worthy po' boy sandwiches are served on crusty hoagie rolls at this welcoming neighborhood eatery, whose kitchen also knows its way around shrimp dishes (etouffee, gumbo, Creole).

Lunch-dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine.

Bargain-moderate.

Ozark Mountain Country Restaurant 201 Keightly Drive, Little Rock, (501) 663-7319 Popular hide-out for the hungry has a friendly regular clientele that savors the hearty, old-fashioned breakfasts. The vegetarian Garden Omelet is a crowdpleaser, as are the pancakes as big as hubcaps and the huge ham steak.

Breakfast Tue-Sun, lunch Tue-Fri. No alcohol. Bargain.

The Pasta House Restaurant 2751 Dave Ward Drive, Conway, (501) 764-0032; 1900 Club Manor Drive, Maumelle, (501) 803-3225 From the nondescript outside, you'd certainly never guess what wonderful things were going on inside The Pasta House, where the tiny kitchen cooks up plentiful portions of pasta and fine Italian food.

Lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine in Maumelle. Moderate.

Purple Cow 8026 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 221-3555; 11602 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock, (501) 224-4433 Both locations of this family favorite start the day with top-flight breakfasts, then move on to juicy burgers as well as soul-satisfying milkshakes and malts - including adult shakes with a pop of, perhaps, amaretto.

Lunch, dinner daily at both locations, brunch Sat-Sun at Cantrell location, brunch Sun at Chenal Parkway location.

Beer, wine, limited liquor. Bargain.

Reno's Argenta Cafe 312 Main St., North Little Rock, (501) 376-2900 Out of the split between partners in the former Cornerstone Grill comes a more upscale menu that includes fine specialty sandwiches and gourmet pizzas at this 21-and-up smoking restaurant.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Moderate.

Ristorante Capeo 425 Main St., North Little Rock, (501) 376-3463 Four years since its opening, this coy, cozy Northern Italian restaurant is still serving some of the best cuisine - in the form of sumptuous pasta dishes, hearty grilled meats and rich desserts - that North Little Rock has to offer.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Corkage fee.

Reservations. Expensive.

Riverfront Steakhouse Riverfront Wyndham Hotel, North Little Rock, (501) 375-7825 With a menu that extends more variety and larger portions at lower prices than some of its estimable competition, the Riverfront serves steaks that are quite succulent and tender in a tastefully appointed atmosphere.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations.

Expensive.

Rocky's Pub Indian Hills Shopping Center, 6229 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 833-1077 Finding an authentic Philadelphia cheesesteak around here is like finding the Holy Grail. The expatriate Philadelphia owners also offer an Italian menu with homemade meatballs, ravioli and lasagna, all with a tasty homemade marinara.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Bargain.

Rumba 300 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 823-0090 Lively music and mojitos lend a breezy island vibe to this downtown Cuban-Mexican restaurant where everything - from the Cuban sandwiches to the enchiladas, to the warm, red spiced chips that accompany dips - is served with plenty of flavor and flair.

Lunch Fri-Sun, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Bargain to moderate.

Saddle Creek Woodfired Grill 2703 Lakewood Village, North Little Rock, (501) 812-0883 A broad all-day menu of chicken, ribs, seafood, pasta, burgers, sandwiches, pizza and salads awaits diners at this Montanafashioned restaurant where the charm falls somewhere between elegant lodge and hunter chic.

Lunch Sun, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations, call-ahead seating.

Moderate to expensive.

Sai Gon Cuisine 6805 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 663-4000 The Vietnamese dishes outshine the menu's Thai and Chinese fare at this Cantrell Road restaurant, where top choices include noodle-filled soups to which meats can be added, like Pho and Bun Bo Hue.

Lunch, dinner Tue-Sun. Beer, wine.

Reservations. Bargain.

Sakura 4011 E. Kiehl Ave., Sherwood, (501) 834-3546; 7307 Alcoa Road, Bryant, (501) 778-9585 An upscale dining experience can be found at the original location and Bryant location of this multitasking Japanese restaurant offering sushi and hibachi specialties.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine at Sherwood location. Moderate.

NEW! Salut at Prospect Place Prospect Place Building, 1501 N.

University Ave., Little Rock, (501) 660-4200 This collaboration between veteran restaurateurs Chris Tanner, Dave Bisceglia and two former New Orleans chefs is holding its own against stiff Hillcrest-Heights competition with a menu of "contemporary cuisine with a Southern accent." Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Wed-Sun. Full bar operating temporarily under private club license. Moderate.

Sashimi Japanese Steakhouse 1900 Club Manor Drive, Suite 108, Maumelle, (501) 851-4700 A cut above the ordinary for hibachi dining - each entree item actually has its own flavor and a large portion of excellent hibachi-fried rice is part of the price. The sushi bar has tasty nigiri and inventive rolls.

Lunch, dinner Mon.-Fri., dinner Sat. Full bar. Reservations (6 or more). Moderate. Satellite Cafe 5923 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 663-6336 Melt-in-your-mouth french toast and freshly squeezed orange juice are breakfast triumphs at this hip spot where soups and salads come to the fore at lunch - and the espresso bar always satisfies.

Breakfast, lunch daily. Full bar.

Reservations (7 or more people).

Moderate.

Sekisui 219 N. Shackleford Road, Little Rock, (501) 221-7070 Although we've had better in central Arkansas, the sushi is probably the best bet at this popular west Little Rock spot, and the hibachi can be fun to watch.

Lunch, dinner daily. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate.

Shogun Japanese Steakhouse 2815 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 666-7070 That Shogun has been around a long time is evident in its consistent sushi and hibachi dinners, as well as its cozyto-cavelike atmosphere that doesn't possess the light, airy openness of newer competitors.

Dinner daily. Full bar. Reservations.

Moderate.

Shorty Small's 11100 Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-3344; 4317 Warden Road, North Little Rock, (501) 753-8111 There's nothing short about the menu or small about the portions at lively shackstyled Shorty Small's, where substantial dinner platters, sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes, ribs and steaks can be preceded by fried appetizers and followed by deepfried Twinkies.

Lunch, dinner daily (Little Rock location: brunch Sun). Full bar. Call-ahead seating. Bargain-moderate.

Sims Bar-B-Que 716 W. 33rd St., Little Rock, (501) 372-6868; 1307 John Barrow Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-2057; 7601 Geyer Springs Road, Little Rock, (501) 562-8844 The reopened John Barrow location might have been remodeled after a fire, but it's still the same old-school Sims selling the same solid, messy and no-frills barbecue.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer. Bargain.

1620 Restaurant 1620 Market St., Little Rock, (501) 221-1620 Amiable service and eye-appealing presentations complement the reliably bold cooking of owner/executive chef Evette Brady and chef Timothy Morton, her nephew, in a comfortably stylish setting with low lighting and distinctly upscale prices.

Dinner daily. Full bar. Corkage fee.

Reservations. Expensive.

So Restaurant Bar 3610 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 663-1464 This relatively recent arrival in Hillcrest's Kavanaugh entertainment district hasestablished itself on the top rung of Little Rock restaurants with a varied menu (including raw bar) canted toward seafood with a Louisiana - but not necessarily New Orleans - flavor, unfussy elegance, extended hours and a top-notch Sunday brunch.

Lunch, dinner daily, brunch Sun. Full bar. Corkage fee. Reservations (six or more). Moderate to expensive.

Sonny Williams' Steak Room 500 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock, (501) 324-2999 Along with its signature prime beef and impressive wine list, Sonny's does a commendable job with such seafood dishes as Cioppino, in a spacious and subdued white-tablecloth setting complete with a piano bar and expense-account prices.

Dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Corkage fee.

Reservations (five or more people).

Expensive.

Star of India 301 N. Shackleford Road, Little Rock, (501) 227-9900 In addition to incorporating every customer into his circle of friends and relations, proprietor Sami Lal has practically doubled the number of menu offerings - superlative curries, tandoori dishes and a wide range of vegetarian entrees, plus a super-value lunch buffet.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine.

Reservations (large parties). Moderate.

Sushi Cafe 5823 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 663-9888 Cozy and creative, this Heights Asianfusion eatery serves cuisine that goes way beyond its namesake and includes everything from savory Sake Mussels and a proud miso-marinated Chilean Sea Bass, to grilled Rack of Lamb and a Tokyo Cowboy Burger.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Reservations (Mon-Thu). Moderateexpensive.

Terrace on the Green 2200 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 217-9393 Around since 1981 and now managed by a Jerry Barakat nephew, this reliable spot presents flavorful appetizers, soups, veal and fish dishes - mostly with Mediterranean lineage. Service is able and good-humored.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations. Moderate.

Thai Taste 1516 W. Main St., Jacksonville, (501) 985-1854 Central Arkansas' last surviving Thai restaurant offers delicious dishes deftly seasoned to the customer's taste in a homey storefront. Stick to the menu rather than the buffet.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat.

No alcohol. Reservations. Bargainmoderate.

Trio's Pavilion in the Park, 8201 Cantrell Road, Suite 100, Little Rock, (501) 221-3330 After two decades of pleasing Ladies Who Lunch and an amiable mix of other dining demographics, Trio's manages the tightrope act of being predictable andsurprising with as much agility as any restaurant in central Arkansas.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate.

U.S. Pizza 2814 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 663-2198; 5524 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 664-7071; 9300 N.

Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock, (501) 224-6300; 3324 Pike Ave., North Little Rock, (501) 758-5997;

4001 McCain Park, North Little Rock, (501) 753-2900; 650 Edgewood Drive, Maumelle, (501) 851-0880 The din of happy chatter generated by the day-in, day-out throngs of customers at all U.S. Pizza locations speaks to brand loyalty - and to the steady quality of the minichain's thin-crust pizzas.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine (full bar at McCain location). Bargain-moderate.

Vanlang 3600 S. University Ave., Little Rock, (501) 570-7700 The Vietnamese eatery draws a good many Asian customers, perhaps a testament to the authentic nature of its seafood dishes and other fare, which come in formidable portions at low prices.

Lunch, dinner Wed-Mon. Beer, wine.

Reservations. Bargain.

Vermillion Water Grille 200 Commerce St., Little Rock, (501) 371-9600 Chef Michael Selig's seafood, flown in daily, is as good as it gets in a landlocked state, especially since the addition of the raw bar, in what is still one of the most civilized and appealing places in town.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar. Reservations. Moderate-expensive.

The Victorian Garden 4801 North Hills Blvd., North Little Rock, (501) 758-4299 As the name implies, Victorian Garden offers refined, quiet dining, as well as excellent and hearty food, especially the fresh beer bread.

Lunch Tue-Sat, dinner Thu-Sat. Beer, wine. Reservations. Moderate.

Vieux Carre 2721 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 663-1196 A fine-dining restaurant in the Hillcrest neighborhood, Vieux Carre offers a succinct selection of cosmopolitan entrees, salads and appetizers with a hint of New Orleans seasoning.

Lunch Mon-Fri, dinner Mon-Sat, brunch Sun. Reservations accepted. Full bar.

Moderate.

The Villa 12111 W. Markham St., Little Rock, (501) 219-2244 Desserts are the highlight at one of Little Rock's oldest Italian eateries, now in its third location and still pleasing faithful regulars with stylish and/or tried-and-true pasta dishes, hand-thrown pizzas and other filling fare.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Reservations (Mon-Thu). Moderate.

Vino's Pizza Pub & Brewery 923 W. Seventh St., Little Rock, (501) 375-8466Quickly back in action after an October fire, Vino's continues to dish up some of the best thin-crust pizzas in town, plus delicious calzones and several new sandwiches, along with flavorful beers and ales brewed on the premises.

Lunch, dinner daily. Beer, wine. Bargain.

White Pig Inn Barbecue 5231 E. Broadway, North Little Rock, (501) 945-5551 Hand-cut meats and rich, honest hickory smoke make this a barbecue standout despite its out-of-the-way location, with the sliced pork a top choice and the table service friendly in a "how-ya-doin'" manner.

10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Tue-Thu, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. Beer. Bargain.

Whole Hog Cafe 2516 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, (501) 664-5025; 5107 Warden Road, North Little Rock, (501) 753-5228 Sweet and sticky ribs, savory beef brisket and plush sour-cream potato salad are some of the rewards awaiting diners who drive a bit out of the way to visit the award-winning barbecue restaurants' newer, cheery North Little Rock outlet that has the same menu and casual counter setup as the original Little Rock location.

Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Beer, wine.

Bargain.

Your Mama's Good Food 220 W. Fourth St., Little Rock, (501) 372-1811 Like a comfortable pair of shoes, Your Mama's fits the noontime routine of loyal downtowners, who can count on the same daily specials week after week, top-notch meatloaf every day, and high-hat rolls to die for.

Breakfast, lunch Mon-Fri. No alcohol.

Bargain.

Zaffino's 2001 E. Kiehl Ave., Sherwood, (501) 834-7530 There is a decidedly casual feel about this ambitious Sherwood eatery specializing in unpretentious and substantial Italian dishes, like pasta with rich sauces.

Dinner Tue-Sat. Beer, wine. Corkage fee.

Reservations. Moderate.

Zapata Grill 4305 Warden Road, North Little Rock, (501) 753-8129 An upscale Mexican restaurant (with upscale prices), Zapata Grill offers highquality ingredients and an interesting menu with unusual choices like Crawfish Quesadillas, Mesquite-Grilled Quail and Puffed Crispy Tacos.

Lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat. Full bar.

Reservations. Moderate-expensive.

ZaZa 5600 Kavanaugh Blvd., Little Rock, (501) 661-9292 An instant hit, Scott McGehee and John Beachboard's stylishly casual new enterprise quick-bakes splendid Napoli-style pizza in a wood-fired oven, plus an array of salads made to order and superb gelato. Lunch, dinner Mon-Sat. Wine and beer.

Bargain-moderate.

Weekend, Pages 58, 60, 61, 63 on 08/01/2008

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