LITTLE ROCK Correction: This review incorrectly listed the restaurant’s days of operation. The restaurant (open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday and 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday) is closed Mondays. The review also omitted co-owner Ben Brainard’s name.
Restaurateurs Scott McGehee, John Beachboard and Herren Hickingbotham have succeeded beyond expectations with their new Local Lime, using a similar formula that has succeeded with their Big Orange and McGehee and Beachboard’s ZaZa Fine Salad & Wood Oven Pizza Co.: Taking standard dishes and giving them a good, gourmet twist, plus quick and friendly service in darned pleasant settings.
Local Lime sits just opposite the Chenal 9 movie theater in west Little Rock’s Promenade at Chenal, barely a block away from Big Orange, which battle-tested the gadgetry, including the order system and the iPad the hostesses use to track and notify folks waiting for tables.
The Southwestern/Mexican food is superb. Everything bursts with flavor; nothing bland or wishy-washy comes out of the partially open kitchen. Everything on the menu comes with a complete fillin on what’s in it, and yes, it’s a minor quibble, but we did find a couple of dishes with one flavor/item too many to achieve pure perfection.
Diners should be aware, however, that as with Big Orange, where burgers start at more than $7 and everything is a la carte, dinner at Local Lime is going to set you back a bit if you’re not careful.
No single item on the menu is terribly expensive (top entree price is a fairly modest $14.95), but adding in a small plate/appetizer, an entree or taco plate, a dessert and a couple of high-end margaritas (and there are no low-end margaritas) per person, dinner for two cost us as much as it did at new top-line competitors 1620 Savoy and the Packet House, and older top-line competitors Twenty-One (formerly Ferneau) and So.
We are without doubt paying a premium for fresh ingredients, including and especially the fresh-squeezed lime juice that is an ingredient in many of the plate items and virtually all of the drinks. (Among the other price build-ins: available $5 valet parking.)
Long waits for tables are par for the course for a new restaurant, and Local Lime is no exception. We’ve heard reports of waits of more than an hour, most likely during peak periods. Even early on a “slow” weeknight we were told by the young lady with the iPad we’d have to wait at least 15-30 minutes — but we could order food at the bar, which dominates the restaurant’s center (a taxidermied bull’s head dominates the bar).
It turned out to be a wise choice for a single diner — a bartender had taken his order within two minutes; his $8 Local Lime Frozen Margarita arrived less than two minutes after that. An appetizer was out of the kitchen and on the bar in front of him within five minutes, and the taco plate he ordered was at his elbow 90 seconds after that.
In, seat, drink, eat, out in about 35 minutes.
That wouldn’t necessarily be typical, and there are distinct disadvantages to eating at the bar — the seats, while comfortable for bar stools, aren’t really meant to fit your bottom for the longer haul. And you’re subject to crowding by other people who are waiting for tables, because the waiting area is very small and, yes, the suggestion from the young lady with the iPad is to wait at the bar. (Bar tabs are transferable to your table, by the way.)
Outside the bar, dining is in a main room, in a sort of ell where the windows face the movie theater and a heated, but still slightly drafty, indoor-outdoor patio, at hardwood tables and in either light aluminum or wood-and-wicker chairs. The main dining area has a back wall of exposed brick with a Local Lime logo emblazoned on it (not quite the same version of the scorpion logo that appears on waiters’ T-shirts or on the website).
There’s no complimentary salsa at Local Lime (water is about the only complimentary thing here), but we recommend it as a starting point. For $2.50 you can get three salsas fresca (out of a choice of seven) on a tripartite, lazy Susan-like salsa server and big aluminum bowl of thirdof-a-tortilla, spanking-fresh, salt-free chips.
We chose the House Tomato (with onion, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro) as a benchmark. It was mild but still zippy and plenty chunky, but it was easily eclipsed by the warm, dark brown Tres Chilies (pasilla, ancho and arbol, to be specific, with garlic, charred onion and charred tomato) and especially the mouth-tingling Verde Tomatillo (tomatillo, fresh jalapeno, garlic, fresh poblano, green habanero and, of course, lime).
For seafood fans, the best choice among the appetizers, billed on the menu as “small plates,” is the Local Ceviche ($10.50), a goodly portion of sushi-grade ahi tuna marinated and served in a citrus vinaigrette with a citrus mango-papaya salsa, cilantro and ginger topped with crossed slices of fresh jalapeno for garnish. It comes on a glass plate over a bowl of ice to keep it chilled, and it’s delicious.
Second choice for seafood fans would be the Mexican Shrimp Cocktail ($9.50), three humongous prawns, each with a generous slice of avocado, plus onion, tomato, garlic, fresh jalapeno, cilantro and lime. Do ask for the house two-pepper hot sauce, which comes in an unlabeled bottle and adds zip but not fire to the house-made cocktail sauce.
The Made-to-Order Guacamole ($5.50 small, $8.50 large) isn’t made at the table, but it is fresh. We’d recommend it if you like your guac chunky and tasting like avocados; however, there wasn’t enough garlic if you like yours garlicky. For $2 you can get it with jicama and cucumber dipping slices instead of chips.
Local Lime’s Queso Blanco ($4.50 small, probably plenty for two, $6.50 large if you’re feeding a bunch) incorporates chunks of tomato, poblano and fresh jalapeno peppers, corn and onions. It’s tasty but not especially impressive, and it’s one of those items we felt had one ingredient too many.
Tacos are the menu’s main focus; Local Lime offers eight taco plates, each with three tacos, some on corn tortillas, some on flour, and most garnished with cilantro, plus a lime wedge and choice of two sides.
Top choices include the superb Local Chorizo tacos ($10) with spicy sausage chunks, caramelized pineapple and Jack cheese; Grilled Chicken ($9.50), with guacamole, pico de gallo, queso fresco and Mexican crema (sour cream if you’re a gringo); the Grilled Skirt Steak ($11) with Tres Chilies sauce, onion and Manchego cheese; and the Beer Battered Fish ($10.50), with cabbage, pico and red pepper crema.
We enjoyed the Local Carnitas tacos ($10) — slowroasted and marinated pork chunks, pickled onions, Cotija cheese and red pepper crema — but there was just a bit too much of something. Might have been the crema or perhaps the pickled onions.
Our top side options: The drunken beans with smoky bacon, the piquant black beans, the zippy Jicama Jalapeno Slaw and the surprisingly flavorful cilantro lime rice.
Tacos are also available a la carte, $3.75 per.
Make sure you also check out the back of the menu — that’s where you’ll find the seven varieties of margaritas, the six exotic cocktails and the dozen and a half varieties of beer, including eight from Mexico, two from Honduras, two U.S. commercial offerings (Michelob Ultra and Bud Light), a handful of U.S. craft beers and one local brew (Diamond Bear Paradise Porter).
But it’s also where you’ll find three salads and five entrees, and we can certainly recommend the Chicken Mole Enchiladas ($12.50), three wraps around grilled chicken and Jack cheese, topped with a rich and slightly gooey mole sauce, more cheese and chunks of bell pepper (we liked the nice change of texture, but we could probably have done without the flavor distraction), served with sides of black beans and lime rice.
Oh, and you’ll also find the desserts, including the 3 Rums Tres Leches cake ($6.50); what we thought was a slightly gummy texture in the first bite turned out to be the soaking of rum that became increasingly evident the further in we went. The fluffy frosting could have used more cinnamon than the meager amount that was sprinkled on, but the cherry on top, not a mere maraschino, was dark, tart and brandied. We liked the hot apple pie dessert special (also $6.50), but the longer it sat, the chewier the crust became.
Even the “lowly” Local Lime Margarita ($8 frozen, which we preferred, or on the rocks) is made with a namebrand Reposado tequila along with simple syrup, a namebrand triple sec and absolutely fresh-squeezed lime juice. The end gets higher from there, culminating in the Heirloom ($14, higher than most of the entrees), featuring lime juice, Don Julio Anejo Tequila, Cointreau and Grand Marnier.
And if you’re not into alcoholic beverages, despair not: in addition to the usual soft drinks and ice tea, you can order Mexican Coke and Fanta in one-liter, shareable bottles. And there’s a fruit punch ($3), made with freshsqueezed juices, including enough lime juice to make it pretty tart.
Service was excellent; there’s a back-up crew of bus people and semi-servers that follows behind (and in one case completely took over for) your waiter to make sure you have what you need when you need it, if not sooner.
Address: Promenade at Chenal Shopping Center, 17815 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday Cuisine: Mexican/Southwestern Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 448-2226
Weekend, Pages 31 on 12/06/2012
Print Headline: Local Lime is a zesty success