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Ray's gets a loud, 'Ole, y'all!'

By Jennifer Christman

This article was published August 7, 2014 at 2:32 a.m.

Dinner and a show: Chef Jimmi sets the Fundido appetizer aflame at Ray’s More Than Mex.

Ray’s More Than Mex Family Dining

Address: 10815 Colonel Glenn Road, Little Rock

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cuisine: Mexican, sandwiches

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Reservations: Yes

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes

(501) 228-4089

"We won't have to sneak food in our purse anymore!"

It was our first thought when we heard an actual restaurant had opened near the Cinemark Colonel Glenn 18 + Xtreme theater. Finally.

Since the theater opened as Rave Motion Pictures in 2002 -- a long 12 years ago -- there has been no nearby restaurant. Oh sure, there's Wendy's. And Playtime Pizza. And a new Sonic. But nowhere to be waited on and dine with a date before a movie, and no place to relax and discuss sweet special effects and bad British accents after a movie.

Enter Ray's More Than Mex Family Dining, which is more than a mouthful to say. The casual spot with a quirky menu and cheerful staff recently opened in a new strip center near Steve Landers Toyota, across from the The Metroplex event center. And it's a ray of sunshine, figuratively. And literally -- there's a patio, in addition to the calm, inviting dining room of booths and tables and artwork listing Bible verses.

Twice we sat across from a picture labeled Deuteronomy 5:33 and felt led to look it up: "Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess."

Live and prosper. Hmm. We took that to mean "Order dessert."

The namesake of Ray's More Than Mex is Ray Hamilton, the owners' father and grandfather and "an Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame football player who played for the Razorbacks in the late '30s and then continued to play professional football before and after World War II," according to the restaurant's website. That explains the presence of Arkie items -- like the Woo Pig Sooie! pulled pork sandwich ($11.50) with a fried egg, black pepper bacon and Swiss cheese, and creamy Lonoke Slaw ($2.50) -- among the Mexican items like tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tamales and chimichangas on the two-sided paper menu.

While the lunch and dinner fare is Southern and Mexican, the desserts veer toward Italian. Definitely save room. More on the Ray's More Than Mex sweets in a minute.

We never got back to the Razorback Back (smoked and fried pork skins, $3.75) on the pork-heavy appetizers menu, but did sample the pleasing Pork Fritters ($5.75), an artistically sauced platter of three sweet fried corn fritters and pulled pork with cheese and a habanero-peach jam.

Our favorite was the Fundido ($8.95), a spicy skillet of chorizo sausage, onion, peppers and cheese, served with fresh tortillas made right there in the press, visible in the dining room. That it was set aflame tableside and finished with lime made it all the more special.

If the guacamole ($6.50), a mild premixed avocado dip topped with pico de gallo and served with chips, included a similar tableside show, we would have been more wowed.

All tables are served complimentary tortillas to enjoy, they suggest, with the red chili honey on the table in a syrup dispenser. We loved the tortillas, the discordant condiment not as much.

Another worthy appetizer/side to sample are the empanadas, fried pies of fillings that change regularly (one visit the choices were beef and shrimp). While the beef empanadas were maybe a bit dry, they were served with a tasty chimichurri sauce, and they were still a bargain at $1.50 each.

The same menu is in place all day, with prices ranging from $5.75 for a Caesar salad with cornbread croutons up to $20 for combination fajitas at dinner (a lunch portion is $14.99). And there are daily specials that your server or Chef Jimmi will be happy to tell you about. Actually, Chef Jimmi is happy to tell you about anything and everything -- the food, his travels, even relationships. Maybe too happy. (Hey, a workday lunch break is only so long.)

My date selected an evening special -- the Ribeye Sandwich with house-made potato chips ($11.50) -- on our first visit. The roll could barely contain the thick, juicy medium-rare meat topped with melted cheese and the aforementioned chimichurri sauce. Here's hoping the house makes this special a mainstay.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the BOB ($13.50), aka the Big Ol Burrito, not just by the size, but by the amount of cilantro-lime rice packed in the tortilla with hidden bits of chicken (shredded beef is another option). As if there wasn't enough rice inside the burrito, topped with white queso, black bean chili, creme fraiche and avocado cream, there was another unexpected helping on the side. (A smaller version of the burrito "portioned for the average person" is $7.75.)

For a second dinner visit, my date settled on the tamales ($8.75 for two; fillings change regularly). Moist and fat, the flavorful chicken tamales, served with a surprise side of rice, were filling.

While Ray's Burger ($12.95; chips included) might be one of the most expensive burgers I've had, it's also one of the more memorable. The bulky burger, featuring 10 ounces of beef, was topped with a sweet-smoky muddle of what the menu listed as herb cheese, bacon caramel, tomato marmalade and fresh greens. It was as splendid as it was sloppy. (A smaller, less expensive house burger is $7.50.)

I ordered mine with a side of fries ($1.95 extra), a pile of twice-fried potatoes tossed with pungent garlic, shallots and herbs. Delicious, but not date food. We can't imagine further embellishing the fries, but those seeking an upgrade can have duck fat and truffle salt added for $1.50.

For adults, there is a full bar and specialty cocktails menu (a spirited house frozen margarita is $5.75). For kids, a special paper menu for coloring includes $4.95 options like a quesadilla, chicken tenders, a slider, a "Pig Slider" and queso/fries/chili/fruit.

With much of the varied menu left to try, two girlfriends assisted with a lunch visit.

I sampled three of the restaurant's six tacos in a mix-and-match combo with two sides ($7.50; $6.50 if you stick with one "flavor"; $2 per taco a la carte) -- the zesty chorizo with black bean and roasted corn salsa; the lively shrimp with jicama slaw and pineapple/mango salsa; and the appetizing grilled fish on jicama slaw with remoulade and creme fraiche. I wasn't paying enough attention to the taco ingredients and ordered yet more tart jicama slaw as a side, along with grilled vegetables.

The low-carber chose the Not a Taco Salad ($8.50), which usually features chicken, pork or shredded beef, as well as greens, salsa, tortilla strips, avocado cream, creme fraiche and a "house blend of cheese." Only she ordered hers with shrimp ($3), and it came without cheese, which she missed. "I really like cheese," she later lamented.

The high-carber chose the Papas Bravas ($8.25; add chili verde for $2.75), a plentiful platter of seasoned, crisp diced potatoes, topped with white queso and creme fraiche and choice of chicken or shredded beef. Her description: "Of course, chicken, crispy potato chunks and white cheese dip is pretty much what they serve in heaven. While I knew it would be heavy, I didn't expect it to be so extra flavorful. The leftovers were perfect, too. Just a little less crispy."

For dessert, Mexi-Arkie Ray's takes pride in its gelato (feel free to sample at the counter before you order), and a scoop of creamy, crunchy pistachio proved why.

Still, nothing compares to the Zeppoles ($6.50), a sack of fried Italian doughnutlike ricotta pastries served hot and smothered in confectioners' sugar. Not hungry after dinner? Take some home for breakfast.

Just don't sneak them into your purse for the movies. Too messy.

Weekend on 08/07/2014

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