LITTLE ROCK There are bunches of buffets.
American. Breakfast. Brunch. Chinese. Pizza. Seafood. Southern. Even sushi.
We had never seen an all-you-can-eat taco, burrito and tamale buffet (although we’re told others exist) until visiting La Salsa, the new casual, reasonable Mexican restaurant replacing Las Palmas in North Little Rock’s Lakehill Shopping Center. The buffet — $6.50, drink not included — is offered at lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday in the serviceable strip center spot still wearing signs from the previous tenant.
Now, we probably were supposed to be more intrigued by the second part of the restaurant’s name: La Salsa Mexican & Peruvian Cuisine Like a Mexican buffet, Peruvian food also is something we haven’t experienced in central Arkansas.
And we still have not experienced it.
The day we planned to order from the Peruvian menu (which was not a separate menu but rather one special on the board), the cook who prepares such cuisine was out. Which was OK with us. The special that day was beef heart. We’re not sure we would have “heart”-ed beef heart.
La Salsa, which spans several storefronts, has two dining rooms (although we’ve seen only the main in operation; the second has a bar). Seating is at booths or cushioned cafeteria chairs. We think there might be some artwork; all we remember is the walls’ sunny, blinding paint color. Service is friendly.
Back to the buffet.
There are two sides: the hot side with two chicken dishes, tamales, beef burritos, rice and beans and ground beef (to be put in taco shells or taco salad shells that are perched on a separate table across from the buffet). And then there’s a cool side with fixings: lettuce, peppers, pico de gallo, onion, tomato, cheese, jalapenos, sour cream and salad dressing.
Missing from the buffet: chips and cheese dip. We also were not served chips and salsa with lunch.
The best of the buffet: an unlabeled dish (actually, they all were unlabeled) that a staff member called “salsa chicken.” Cooked with onions and tomatillo salsa, the tender chicken chunks were tart and tantalizing. The other chicken dish — well-spiced fajitas cooked with onions, peppers and tomatoes — was missing one thing: flour tortillas. Ooops. They were hidden in the adjacent lidded unlabeled tray.
The tamales, moist cornmeal stuffed with shredded meat, were top-notch. And the seasoned ground beef made a fine foundation for tacos and bountiful salads that tested the heft of the fried shell bowls. For dessert, there were cinnamonand-sugar dessert tortillas.
La Salsa also offers a menu at lunch (with specials including rice and beans) ranging from $4.69 for a taco up to $6.99 for fajitas.
La Salsa’s dinner menu is a half-dozen colorful pages of appetizers, quesadillas, nachos, soups, salads, combinations, specialties, fajitas, seafood, burritos, vegetarian plates, desserts, a la carte items, kid’s plates and side orders. As for the drinks, only virgin are listed on the regular menu, but there’s a full bar available. Despite La Salsa’s location in dry Park Hill, it is a private club for the purpose of serving alcohol. Just be prepared to sign up for a free membership if you want a cerveza.
A flask of pulpy, perky salsa and a basket of tortilla chips comes complimentary with dinner. A slightly peppery white cheese dip (from $2.99 small to $5.99 large; take-out prices higher than dine-in) with the right creaminess and cling is a worthy upgrade.
The Shrimp Chimichanga ($8.99), served with rice, beans and salad, was a plump deepfried tortilla pocket of grilled shellfish and vegetables taken over the top by a veiling of cheese sauce.
Speaking of over the top, for those who don’t know what they want or for those who want everything, there’s the Special Dinner ($9.49). So special — or sizable — is the combination of chalupa, taco, chile relleno, tamale, enchilada and rice and beans that it requires two plates. My dinner date couldn’t always tell where one item ended and another began, but he reported everything — not that he could finish everything — was pleasing.
A take-out order of the $10.99 Fajitas Palmas (the signs aren’t the only things left from the previous tenant) and cheese dip was perfectly packaged: the copious portion of chicken, large shrimp, beef, chorizo and vegetables in one container; the beans, rice and salad in another container; the salsa and cheese dip secured in a stadium-style drink holder and the order of extra tortillas represented.
In addition to flan and sopapillas, La Salsa’s desserts ($1.49-$4.29) include cheesecake and ice cream. Can’t decide? There’s Xango — fried cheesecake with ice cream.
La Salsa Mexican
Address: Lakehill Shopping Center, 3824 John F. Kennedy Blvd., North Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday Cuisine: Mexican Credit cards: V, MC, D Alcoholic beverages: Full bar Reservations: Large parties Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 753-1101
Weekend, Pages 31 on 12/13/2012
Print Headline: A Mexican buffet? Ole!