For many, Mexican food is at the top of the dining-out list.
For some, a buffet is the way to go. Buffets offer a variety you don't get when ordering off the menu. But, it is very easy to eat too much.
Driving along East Broadway in North Little Rock I saw a sign that said La Poblanita and another sign with "Mexican buffet $9.99" in big letters. I stopped short of swerving across traffic the first time I saw it.
The location has housed several restaurants, several of which sold catfish. (There is also a La Poblanita in Little Rock, at 1415 John Barrow Road, formerly a Taqueria Super 7.)
The interior is well-lighted and clean, and the smells wafting through the air are heavenly. The buffet is not big, but there are enough choices to make $9.99 a great value. Diners seat themselves; the dining area also contains a cold bar with pico de gallo, salsa, cucumber slices, cut-up oranges, pineapple and boiled eggs.
The menu has a selection of the usual things -- taco salads ($6.49), specials featuring either a quesadilla, enchiladas or a burrito for $6.99, tacos ($1.75 to $2.50 each) and dinners with rice and beans ($7.99). La Poblanita serves breakfast and daily lunch specials ($6.49).
There are a few caldos, or soups; there are standard appetizers — cheese dip and guacamole ($4.99), nachos ($5.99) and buffalo wings ($5.99). And if you are a fan of steak, cactus, pork skins or poblano sauce, there is a section for you too. All entrees are either $9.99 or $10.99, but those prices make the buffet looks really good.
The greeter explained each dish and left us to our own devices. We oohed and ahhhed, then spooned a few selections on our plates to get started.
Drinks come in bottles — tea ($2.50), soft drinks, water ($1), and traditional Mexican pineapple, tamarind, coconut and guava beverages.
We ordered cheese dip and three crispy ground beef tacos ($5) off the menu. The dip is a creamy white version with a just a hint of spice. The chips appeared to be homemade — tortillas cut into triangles and fried. They were thick and crisp, and so much better than the usual thin chips most Mexican restaurants serve. The tacos were savory and the shells made with the same tortillas as the chips. They were fried a golden brown and filled with ground beef, lettuce and cheese. They were thicker than usual and didn't fall apart after the first bite.
Address: 3400 E. Broadway, North Little Rock
Hours: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday
Alcoholic beverages: No
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Phone: (501) 313-4546
The buffet offered a seafood soup, menudo or beef tripe soup, costilla en salsa gaujillo (ribs cooked in chili sauce), chicken in a sauce sort of like barbecue, rice, black beans, sort-of refried pinto beans, coin-shaped chicken nuggets, fries and mojarra frita (fried fish).
The seafood soup was a concoction of headless shrimp with shells and chunks of fish and potato in a flavorful broth. It had a fishy flavor but was not unpleasant; the shrimp were tender and cooked well. Since the shells were still on, with the creepy little legs all akimbo, you have to either brave the warm soup to shell it or use your fork and knife to scrape the shell off.
I had a bite from my son's bowl of menudo. The dark brown broth was pleasingly pungent, but the chunks of tripe or beef stomach were very chewy. The ribs were tender, although the meat didn't come off the bone easily. The reddish sauce was a bit spicy. I enjoyed the chicken in the dark brown sauce. It was tender and juicy and the sauce had a pleasant smoky flavor.
The rice and pinto beans were standard. The small chicken nuggets were good, if oddly shaped. They are a nice selection for children who might balk at some of the other buffet items.
One of our favorites was the strange-looking crispy fried tilapia. It was the whole fish, bone-in with head still attached. I normally don't like to eat things with the head still attached (those empty accusing eyes!), but I shared one with my mother. Lo and behold, it was amazing. We just looked at it for awhile before tearing into it with our fingers, pulling off crunchy hunks of meat and well-seasoned breading. The skin was crisp, the flesh moist and delectable. Just watch out for the sharp, thin bones.
Style on 01/24/2019
Print Headline: La Poblanita puts accent on buffet