I've just turned north off West 65th Street onto Lancaster Road in southwest Little Rock while driving with my Significant Other through what appears to be a residential area.
"Dangit. I probably should have turned left," I say.
"Yeah. This doesn't look right," SO concurs, looking around at the houses.
It's after 11 on a Friday morning earlier this month and we are searching for H.B.'s Bar-B-Q. The tiny joint has been around since 1961 and has developed a sort of hallowed status among some barbecue fans, but even after all those years it's still hard as heck to find.
This is our first visit and it seems that we are hopelessly lost because, really, you can't have a barbecue place in the middle of a neighborhood, right?
"A-ha! There it is. I knew it was this way."
"Sure you did," SO said.
Before we make it through the front door, though, we turn around. Our debit and credit cards are no good here. H.B.'s is a cash-only operation.
After a quick trip to the ATM, we are back and finally inside.
It's not a large place. Cozy is a good description, giving way to crowded when the lunch horde arrives. There are only six tables and a couple of small counters and it's not hard to eavesdrop on the conversations of other diners and in the kitchen. The walls are covered with framed photographs and signs, some of which are printed reminders of the cash-only policy while others admonish patrons for using cellphones while ordering. A bulletin board near the kitchen is filled with photos and clippings. Everything here, including, eventually, our clothing, smells like smoked meat. Not that we're complaining.
It is, in all its quirky glory, a joint, a shack, a hole in the wall. It's what one thinks of when one thinks, "I want some barbecue."
I zero in on the Regular Sandwich Plate ($7.15) with chopped pork, choosing beans and potato salad for my two sides.
SO, who is barbecue ambivalent at best but is constantly in search of good tamales, orders six pork-filled tamales ($4.50).
The menu notes that tamale toppings include chili, cheese, onions and Fritos, but our server says it's too hot to make chili and there is none available. Not to be deterred, SO just asks for a little cheese on top.
Another item has me intrigued. How could anyone go wrong with something called The Stuff With Meat ($3.50), a cup of chopped pork with Fritos, beans and cheese?
With uncharacteristic foresight, we also order a couple of fried pies ($2.75) for dessert -- apple for SO while I decide to experiment with apricot -- which should be ready by the time we finish lunch.
When our plates arrive, I'm a bit apprehensive. My sandwich is covered in sauce, which I usually prefer to apply myself. My fears are assuaged, though. H.B.'s sauce has the vinegary kick that I prefer, and it doesn't overwhelm the pork. Curiously, H.B.'s tops its sandwiches with sparingly applied shredded cabbage and not coleslaw. I don't really notice it.
As we are wont to do, SO and I pick at each other's plates and she approves of my sandwich.
About the only thing wrong with the sandwich experience was that it is too small. Next time I'll go Jumbo ($9.25).
SO's tamales, which our server says come from a supplier in Dallas, are heavenly. The masa has a smooth texture and the pork stuffing is tasty and well-seasoned. Even if chili was available, it'd be a shame to cover these up.
My potato salad is also excellent in that classic potato salad way -- the potatoes are soft but not mushy and wonderfully flavored.
I am no fan of the beans. They're too sweet and SO agrees, though she keeps eating them from my plate, trying to decode the source of their flavor. Nutmeg? Cinnamon? We finally ask, but our server won't give it up.
The beans, though, are fantastic as a component of The Stuff With Meat, which is basically a Frito Pie in which chili is replaced with beans and smoked pork. Their sweetness provides a nice counterbalance to the pork and the salty Fritos, which start crunchy and get soggy before I finish -- this is a good thing, by the way -- and it's all covered in goopey, yellow cheese.
By the time we finish lunch our fried pies arrive and it is then that I discover that I do not like apricot. Too tart.
Nonsense, says SO, and finishes mine while I pick at hers. Both are dusted with sugar and cinnamon, are piping hot and possess a light, tasty crust with not a soggy bottom in sight (which would surely delight Mary Berry, beloved former judge of The Great British Baking Show). I vow to avoid the apricots when we return.
On our second visit, seasoned veterans now, we chuckle as we see a truck almost pass the place before braking quickly, backing up and pulling into the lot. Newbies.
Our follow-up trip is on a Tuesday, the only day H.B.'s serves ribs. I order a Rib Plate ($8.50) with coleslaw and potato salad for sides.
SO, in an effort to explore the menu in the service of journalism, settles on the cheeseburger ($4.25) and, since there are no French fries on the menu, orders a side of potato salad ($2.50). We later see a plate arrive at another table with fries and flag our rather busy server down to request an order with SO's burger. She gives us the evil eye. From the kitchen she asks if we still want the potato salad. Yes, we yell back. This sort of informality is kind of like being at home.
Later, we make our fried pie orders -- pecan for us both this time.
SO had hoped the burger would be a revelation, but says it's not that remarkable and I share some ribs with her, which she likes but notes the tang of the vinegary sauce. The fries are good, though.
My plate has three sauce-covered ribs that are smoky and tender with just the right amount of flavorful fat. We've cleaned them to the bare bones by the time our fried pies show up.
The pies are sweet, crunchy, gooey and just the right note upon which to end lunch.
On each visit, we showed up a little early and watched as the tiny space filled up with hungry customers, many of whom were regulars ordering "the usual," which the server already knew. Our fellow diners ranged from well-heeled office folk to people who looked like they work outside with their hands. One man who appeared to be in his 60s said he'd been coming to H.B.'s since he was a boy; another could be heard talking about legendary Arkansas barbecue purveyors like the now-shuttered Shadden's near Marvell, Cypress Corner Bar-B-Q in Lee County and the James Beard Award-winning Jones Barbecue in Marianna.
Like those places, and fellow Little Rock legend Sims, H.B.'s is a smoky, unpretentious, gem filled with salty charm and flavor that comes from decades of doing the same thing, over and over, and doing it well. I'm glad we finally found it.
Weekend on 09/27/2018
Address: 6010 Lancaster Road, Little Rock
Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday
Credit cards: No — cash only
Alcoholic beverages: No
Wheelchair accessible: No
Print Headline: Once found, H.B.'s worth return trip