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story.lead_photo.caption A Triple Dipper appetizer sampler features Southwestern Eggrolls, Boneless Buffalo Wings, Big Mouth Bites and dipping sauces at Chili’s in west Little Rock. - Photo by Jennifer Christman

We have now visited the relocated west Little Rock Chili's Grill & Bar on West Markham Street near Chenal Parkway twice.

Which is two more times than we can remember visiting the old one -- tucked back in the Village at Pleasant Valley on Rodney Parham Road.

Chili’s Grill & Bar

Address: 12505 W. Markham St., Little Rock

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

Cuisine: American

Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V

Alcoholic beverages: Full bar

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Carryout: Yes, with a separate takeout entrance

(501) 404-9700

That's partially because we forgot it was there. And partially because we're content to get our Chili's fix during airport layovers all year long.

And aren't you? Who isn't greatly soothed to see their gate is within close proximity to Skillet Queso and Presidente Margaritas?

Speaking of which -- breaking news, air travelers! -- the Chili's at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport was scheduled to open Wednesday.

Gallery: Chili's

A new construction that replaced the former Luby's (RIP, Lu Ann Platter) and sits closer to the actual road, the West Markham location of the Brinker International Restaurants outlet has a more modern feel, thanks to an open design, tall ceilings and exposed bulb lighting. There are several TV screens in the bar that dominates one end, as well as in the minimalist dining room of wooden tables, padded chairs and booths. Each table comes with its own screen -- a Ziosk restaurant tablet on which diners can do everything from play games to pay tabs.

Our first visit, I was determined to order the $25 meal for two special, which includes one appetizer, two entrees and one dessert from a select list. So determined that I insisted we order water and wouldn't even let my pouting date upgrade our half portion of Texas Cheese Fries (regularly $4.99) with chili ("But it's only $1.50! I'll pay for it!"). Nope. We were sticking to the promotion!

It took awhile on this busy weekday to receive our food, but we didn't mind. We kept busy playing trivia on the Ziosk. We somehow missed the fee warning, so it was only after playing multiple rounds that we wondered if there was a charge. So much for our $25 night! Our bill reflected that unlimited games cost $1.99, so it was a $26.99 night. Well, a $35.69 night with tax and tip. That's still a good value, considering ordering the same items separately would cost $34.86 -- before games, tax and tip and still no chili.

Most of the melted cheese had coagulated by the time the fries -- also accented with bacon, green onions and supposedly jalapenos, though we didn't detect those -- arrived at the table with a side of ranch. They would have been better warmer. And, yes, probably with chili.

He chose the Cajun Chicken Pasta (regularly $12.59), served with buttery garlic toast, as his entree. He stopped sulking about the chili when he saw the ample amount of Alfredo-sauced penne pasta topped with tender, nicely spiced chicken breast, green onions, tomatoes and parmesan. "Great dish and great portion," he said, pleasantly surprised, as he was positive the "dinner-for-two" amount would be paltry.

I ordered the Just Bacon Burger (regularly $10.29), a humble name for a juicy burger that had not only bacon but cheddar, pickles, lettuce, red onion, tomato and garlic aioli too. It was held together by a bun with a decent chew and a knife stabbed in the center. The burger, served in a paper-lined metal tray, came with a metal basket of decent, black-peppery fries.

Initially we were told they were out of our desired dessert -- the Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie (regularly $6.99). After we picked something else, our friendly server said they did have a Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie for us after all. After 20 long minutes of waiting for it without explanation, we wondered if someone had to go to the North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Bryant or Conway location to get it. But the warm skillet of chocolate chip cookie goodness, topped with vanilla ice cream and hot fudge instantly removed the chip from our shoulder.

At least we didn't have to wait to pay; the Ziosk took care of that. And our second meal had better pacing.

Without the $25 self-inflicted spending cap in effect for our second visit, we branched out a bit more (but not with the Ziosk games; we who remember when games cost 25 cents were done with those). But we still barely put a dent in Chili's varied menu of appetizers, burgers, ribs, steaks, fajitas, sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, chicken and seafood.

We went big with the appetizer, ordering the Triple Dipper ($12.19) sampler and chose the Big Mouth Bites, the Boneless Buffalo Wings and Southwestern Eggrolls as our trio. The Bites were two tasty cheeseburger sliders. The boneless wings were fried, spicily sauced nuggets (other flavors: honey chipotle, house barbecue), served with blue cheese and ranch. A bit fiery and featuring chicken, black beans, corn and pepper jack cheese, the diagonally sliced Southwestern Eggrolls, served with a cooling avocado ranch, were the standout.

He ordered another trio sampler, the Ultimate Smokehouse Combo ($17.59), as his entree, with the Baby Back Ribs (an additional $2 charge), the Jalapeno-Cheddar Smoked Sausage and the Cheesy Bacon BBQ Chicken. While he gave points to the sausage's blend of smoke, heat and cheese, the best meat was the chicken, loaded with bacon, barbecue sauce and cheese. Least favorite: those ribs that they sing about on TV. He found them a bit chewy as they cooled: "I had so much on my plate, I dove into the ribs a little later than I wanted." He's not kidding that there was so much on his plate; the combo also came with roasted street corn, fries, chile-garlic toast and garlic dill pickles.

As Chili's devotes a good amount of menu space to its hand-battered, white meat Chicken Crispers, I ordered them in the form of the Honey-Chipotle Crispers & Waffles ($11.69) recommended by our enthusiastic server. The wildly flavorful and fattening dish featured four mini sweet Belgian waffles topped with crispers, bacon, jalapenos, ancho-chile ranch sauce and an unnecessary side of honey chipotle sauce. And for extra health, it came with fries. The over-the-top dish would proudly fit in at the State Fair.

Same with the busy dessert we ordered -- the Paradise Pie ($7.29). Menu description: "Chocolate chip, walnut and coconut layered bar. Topped with vanilla ice cream, walnuts & drizzled with hot fudge & caramel. 50¢ of every Paradise Pie purchased will go back to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital." We ordered it not for ourselves, we rationalized, but for the children. And then felt so stuffed that we could have gone to the hospital.

Next time, we're going the Chili's Guiltless Grill route.

And, after two solid visits, it's likely our next time will be at this location, not an airport.

Photo by Jennifer Christman
Chili’s Ultimate Smokehouse Combo includes Baby Back Ribs, Smoked Brisket, Jalapeno-Cheddar Smoked Sausage and Cheesy Bacon BBQ Chicken, with roasted street corn, fries, chile-garlic toast and garlic dill pickles.
Photo by Jennifer Christman
Cajun Chicken Pasta is an entree available in a two-for-$25 promotion at Chili’s.

Weekend on 10/18/2018

Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW + PHOTOS: Relocated Chili's in west Little Rock worth earthbound visit

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