The restaurant at 1220 Main St., Little Rock, is not what it once was. In fact, it's not what it was last month.
At what used to be known as Dos Rocas, native Paraguayan Cesar Bordon and his wife, Adelia Kittrell, partnering with Root Cafe owners Jack Sundell and Corri Bristow-Sundell, put together a chic menu of Latin American street food.
Mockingbird Bar & Tacos
Address: 1220 Main St., Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Cuisine: “Latin American foodways … through the perspective of Arkansas seasonal ingredients”
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Wheelchair access: Yes, up a slight ramp
Bordon and Kittrell have left for what Sundell calls "personal reasons." In the wake of their departure, the Sundells have:
a) Changed the name to Mockingbird Bar & Tacos
b) Revamped the menu, keeping what Jack Sundell describes as "Latin American flavors and foodways," filtered "through the perspective of Arkansas seasonal ingredients." As at The Root, that means more than a dozen area farms are supplying the fresh produce, eggs and 100% of Mockingbird's meats.
The farm-to-table "recipe" has been very successful for The Root. Whether it'll also work at Mockingbird is still an open question. We'd call it a sideways move — we appreciated Dos Rocas for the different dimensions it gave to Latin American food not widely available in this market, but only a part of that has survived the changes.
The decor hasn't changed appreciably. Seating consists of mostly tables with a trio of pew-like booths on the southern wall. Walls and shelves are rife with quirky decorations. There's a bar toward the back and the kitchen is pretty much open.
Based on our two visits, the staff, mostly Dos Rocas holdovers, seems to still be at sixes and sevens. Late in a lunch shift, there was only one server on the floor, and while she seemed to be both efficient and conversant with the new menu details, we had waits to be seated, to have our order taken, to get our food from the kitchen (more about that later) and for our check. On a subsequent dinner visit, our server, who admitted he was on his first shift since the changeover, was a little unclear on some menu details.
There have been a few menu holdovers, including the Queso ($5), a yellow cheese dip made with, according to the menu, "Sparkling River marconi peppers." The consistency is pretty thin and was redolent of chile powder. The accompanying chips, apparently made in-house from corn tortillas cut in half, were crisp, fresh and unsalted.
The primary food focus is still on tacos, although the Sundells have changed some of them up. They come on slightly rubbery house-made, non-GMO corn tortillas.
For our 2 Taco Plate ($8.50), we mixed/matched one grilled chicken taco and one chorizo taco, both topped with cilantro. The diced chicken was a success, but we thought ground-beef-like texture substantially diminished the mild chorizo — Intrepid Companion decided to give up mid-taco.
Plates come with a small not-quite-a-bowl of pureed red beans topped with crumbled queso fresco — we're not big fans of pureed beans, and these were only so-so — and a salad of mixed field greens with a tart cilantro vinaigrette on the side.
A 3 Taco Plate is $11.50. A single taco is $3.50 a la carte. Taco options also include spiced braised beef, seasonal grilled vegetables, rajas (roasted pablano peppers), carnitas, smoked tofu, slow-roasted lengua (tongue) and, new to the menu, fried fish (masa-breaded local striped bass from Arkansas Aquaponics in Lonoke, served with tomatillo chow-chow and chipotle crema). That last is on our list for another visit, along with the Spicy Green Chorizo Hot Dog ($8), served with charred onion mayonnaise, house-made jalapeno relish and "tortilla crunch" on a Community Bakery bun.Gallery: Mockingbird Bar & Tacos
The chorizo wasn't really any more successful on our lunchtime Chorizo & Cheese Quesadlilla plate ($8), an ample flour tortilla cut into quarters and not so amply filled with the ground chorizo and Chihuahua cheese. It was tasty but lacked zip. A side tomatillo salsa actually complemented the quesadilla. This plate, too, comes with the same bean puree and the same side salad, this time with the dressing directly applied.
Two new items, however, are certainly successes. The locally sourced Deviled Eggs ($6, split, as deviled eggs always are, making three eggs into a half dozen half eggs on the tray) have a definite kick, created by an "arbol hot sauce" — we're not sure if that's what gives the whipped egg yolks that slightly green cast or if it's something else — with what the menu describes as "tortilla crunch."
And we would certainly go back for the Wings Salsa Macha ($10), an eight-piece combination of meaty wings and drumettes crisp-fried in a guajillo pepper salsa that lit up the oral cavity without imparting actual flames. We did take advantage of the cooling power and added flavor dimension of the tomatillo buttermilk dipping sauce. We also sipped heavily at our "Fauxjito" ($5), a mocktail special that offers "everything you'd get in a mojito except the rum." Mockingbird has a long list of cocktails and beers on tap, listed above the side of the bar, most of them from local craft breweries, but unless you're ordering whole bottles, their wine list is a little skimpy — we got a pinot gris in a can, essentially two glasses worth for $10, that tasted a little burnt.
The generous slice of Tres Leches cake ($5) we got to go was enormously moist and topped with a rich creamy icing.
We mentioned a long wait for our lunch — almost 25 minutes for what seemed to us to be a fairly simple dish during an off-peak period where there were only a couple of tables and the kitchen certainly could not have been stressed. Food came out much more quickly at dinner.
Weekend on 11/07/2019
Print Headline: RESTAURANT REVIEW: Mockingbird Bar & Tacos on Little Rock's Main Street localizes its Latin flavor pallete