Friday, October 31, 2014

Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta - An Introduction.

The Delta is not a melting pot, like what was conceived of at Ellis Island for all the immigrants that came in at the end of the 19th century. Rather, with its waves of immigrants from Germany, Sicily, Italy, Greece, Mexico, China... it more resembles the mud of the Mississippi alluvial plain: soft, almost indistinguishable layers atop even more layers of French, English, African, Native American, a slurry of cultures tilled together on a land where the topsoil is 200 feet deep, where the fallow ends burn in fire and the people are sun scorched and swamp steamed, a vast sweeping flat broken only by the spine of Crowley's Ridge, all equal but struggling in the mire to eke out a good life.

Crowley's Ridge from Highway 14 near Weona, January 2014, sunset.

On this flat plain lies nothing but horizon and that ridge, which can be seen from 10 miles away, a punctuation for the eye of the traveler. Otherwise, the sweep of land is met with ditch upon ditch criss-crossing at perpendicular angles across northeastern Arkansas, while lower down the big fat swaths of the Black, Cache, White and Arkansas Rivers meet their conclusions pouring into Big Muddy, cut through with its oxbows and levees, hugging on Lake Chicot right before sliding out of The Natural State.

Fields north of Grady viewed from the Arkansas River levee,
August 2014.
On the far side from the Great River, a long cut runs south from Pine Bluff. Occluded by trees, Bayou Bartholomew marks an end and so many beginnings; once a furiously busy expressway for getting goods up north, it now sits swampish along the western side of the plain, butting up now and again with the first rise of the Ouachita Mountains and the undulating hills of the state’s Timberland region.

The fingers of the Delta stretch right up the Arkansas River to Little Rock – even to its State Capitol Building, which looks out on the long flat from the first rise in town, the first undulations of mountainous terrain behind it and on through the city’s Hillcrest and Heights neighborhoods.

To the north, the long endless plain knocks up against the first low ridge of the Ozark Plateau, just to the west of old U.S. Highway 67, its new expressway laying on the flat from Bald Knob on north, the roadbed only rising to clamber over the White River and the occasional overpass to where it still lays
incomplete, its original route still busy but quieter than its decades past, smooth and unbent up through to Pocahontas and the Black River, then calm again on its straight shot through Corning to the Missouri Border.

Sunset from Highway 49, just north of Louisiana Purchase
State Park, October 2014.
This is the land of the Arkansas Delta… still, after all these years, a harsh abode where the stubborn survive in rural towns and along endless highways. It is not romantic, nor is it the great fictional set of some extraordinary writer (though both Ernest Hemingway and John Grisham have found great inspiration here). It is the birthplace of two distinctive forms of music – the blues and rockabilly – and it has fostered generations of great musicians that have defined the offshoots of these styles, from the boogie-woogie to the jump blues, ragtime, hokum, country blues, Delta blues and blues-rock. Its native sons have included Levon Helm, Al Green, Louis Jordan – and daughters such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Its most notable resident may be a man who came from the Timberlands – though, considering his young age of immigration to the Dyess Colony with his family, many could argue that nature and nurture make Johnny Cash a pure Delta boy.

Woody's Bar-B-Q at Waldenburg.
On this long plain, cities still survive, tied together by highways pressed onto the fields, bridges fording swamps, most following the few paths that brought people across the expanse a century ago. Unlike in Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley, you’ll find few places called “Hilltop” or “Cliff” or “Mountain.”
Jones Barbecue Diner in 1964, before the construction of a
second level.
Here, barbecue and catfish reign supreme and you’ll have a hard time finding a locally produced restaurant meal on Sundays. You’re as likely to find fans of the Red Wolves as you are Razorbacks – though some will grumble about how Arkansas State University was far better served by its old mascot, Injun Joe. Some years you’ll find the landscape
Cotton ready for harvest near Pine Bluff, October 2012.
dotted by cotton to the furthest horizon – corn other years. Rice soaks in flooded dyke-impounded cloisters that turn the landscape an impossible shade of green, winter wheat comes up bright neon lime; soybeans and peanuts deepen verdant hues, and pecan groves appear roadside as the miles click under your tires.

Lackey's Tamales at Smokehouse BBQ
in Newport.
Here is the heart of the Delta, secluded from Deep South ideals of southern cliché. It is the home to rice, ducks, minnows, catfish, crawfish, sweet potato pies and deep-seated thoughts on how tamales should be created. Its isolation from the demands of popular culture have left it authentic, southern with an Arkansawyer accent, a deep regard for what comes from the gumbo soil that everyone comes from, and at the end, to which everyone is returned.


I didn’t grow up in the Delta. I was forcibly introduced to it by circumstance.

As a child, I grew up between the wood-knitted environment of my parents' homegrounds in Clark County and the budding urban sprawl of Little Rock. Family vacations were invariably taken to the west, either north up to Jasper and Dogpatch U.S.A or south to Texas. There were summers spent in Hot Springs. My college years, I planted myself happily in Russellville, savoring my first stretch of adulthood in the River Valley, making those Scenic Highway Seven runs up to Harrison and back or down to the Spa City, summering along Lake Ouachita and venturing as far out as Fort Smith to meet and spend time with new friends.

The summer I graduated college, I threw my lot to the wind. I was a radio broadcasting major, and I was ready to cut my teeth beyond my Little Rock hometown and see where I would land. I sent out 90 cassette tapes and resumes to places as far away as Wisconsin, Michigan, New Orleans and St. Louis. 89 of these tapes, I assume, went to program directors and news directors at radio stations. The 90th tape went to a station called KAIT, which had placed an ad in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for a news producer.

I didn’t know until I pulled up for my interview on a September day in 1995, that I had applied to a television station in far-off Jonesboro. I apologized to news director Harvey Cox for taking up his time. He asked me if I knew how to tell a story, and when I answered yes, he told me he was looking for storytellers, not “people who do TV.” That lead to three years on Crowley’s Ridge, in the largest city of the Arkansas Delta – which didn’t hold anything to the upbringing I’d had in Little Rock.

Sunset in Dumas, March 2014.
My eyes were open to many things those years: cattails in ditches, straight roads that suddenly darted at right angles to their next destination, sunsets that went on forever. Mosquitoes, oh gawd, the mosquitoes, and the mosquito-spraying trucks that went by at night; pulling catfish out
Pickles, peppers and such on the counter at Gene's
Barbecue in Brinkley.
of Lake Frierson; running through corn fields during a thunderstorm, taking shelter from an oncoming funnel cloud, or at least what looked like one; rummaging through flea markets and swap shops.

I was also awakened to a dining scene unlike what I’d left behind. While yes, I did try about every restaurant in Russellville in my time there, the fare was very much focused on the diner culture merged with a quiet college scene and rural, country tastes. Jonesboro offered something far different – especially in its wide array of Asian restaurants and its extraordinarily low food prices. In those three years, I sampled many a restaurant.

The lone Dog N Suds holdout in
KAIT was a great place to learn the television business, and I saw my happiest times there when I was working on its morning show. When I left work each morning, I would often head out in one direction or another to see what the world around me had to offer, sometimes driving as far as Walnut Ridge or Monette before turning back and coming home to sleep a few hours. When I really missed home or the curves of Scenic Highway Seven, I’d make a fast break up Arkansas Highway 141 to Crowley’s Ridge State Park and back, relishing the curves.

I left Jonesboro in September 1998, roughly six months after the terrible tragedy at Westside Middle School – the shooting of kids by other kids there the hardest blow to my young news seeking sensibilities. Though I visited a few times in the following year, it’d be another decade before I’d truly explore it again, and then it’d be something entirely different.

An old postcard for the still-operating Country Kitchen.
Through my eight years at Today’s THV (now THV 11) in Little Rock, I didn’t spend much time in the Delta. I was on hand for the opening of the new depot, the second part of the Delta Cultural Center, back in 2000 – and I crossed the Delta many times heading other places like
Mammoth Orange Drive-In in Redfield.
Memphis and Jackson and New Orleans. I even spent time in Pine Bluff. But until I left the station in 2007, I didn’t see much reason to get out and find what was there.

Shooting a plate of Rhoda's Famous Hot Tamales,
March 2011 (photo by Grav Weldon).
When I did, I learned a lot. This eastern third of Arkansas had plenty to explore – with its own separate ideas of identity and cuisine from the rest of Arkansas. As I got to know it better, I realized that it wasn’t like any other part of Arkansas – nor was it a mirror to Mississippi’s Delta region. Arkansas’s Delta had its own flavor and music.

After the success of Arkansas Pie: A Delicious Slice of the Natural State in 2012, History Press entrusted me to write a second book about the oldest restaurants in the state. The project got out of hand. When I realized that I was maybe halfway through with the book and well over my word limit, I contacted my editor and pleaded for a change – to make this overall effort into more than one book. 

The first, Classic Eateries of the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley, came out in November 2013, and the reception was warm. Seems there’s a real desire by food lovers to find out not only where their food comes from, but where their food traditions come from as well.

Lunch at Kibb's BBQ, Pine Bluff.
Digitally manipulated photo by Grav Weldon.
Mind you, this isn’t a story about farms and family traditions – at least, not those straight from the garden plots. There’s an excellent book by my colleague Cindy Grisham that covers the home side of Arkansas Delta cookery called A Savory History of Arkansas Delta Food: Potlikker, Coon Suppers and Chocolate Gravy – and if you’ve interested in my new book, chances are you’ll want that one, too. This new book,
Elvis Presley had breakfast at The Coffee Cup in West
Memphis before reporting to Fort Chaffee to serve with
the Army.
Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta, contains the stories of the folks who feed us through their diners, cafes, coffee shops, tamale stands, barbecue joints, chicken places, catfish houses and homegrown restaurants throughout this wide swatch of the western side of the Mississippi River alluvial plain. It’s a guidebook for the epicurious – laid out along highways divided by the three sections of the Arkansas Delta – Lower, Upper and Middle.

It’s an effort to preserve this particular moment in the state’s restaurant history. This never became clearer to me than on a particular weekend in March 2014, when photographer Grav Weldon and I tackled the Upper Delta over a three day weekend. Restaurants that I had begun research on just a year earlier had suddenly closed up shop, in some cases completely disappearing from the landscape. More than two dozen of the restaurants originally intended for the book have evaporated into history. Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta notes an effort to save that history before it is gone.

Cotham's Mercantile at Scott.
Digitally manipulated photo by Grav Weldon.
The general criteria for the restaurants: they have to have made their mark on the culinary landscape and have been around 20 years or better. I have squeezed those guidelines a little – partially because of the passing of some restaurants from one culinary state or family to another. I've also included stories that aren’t specifically about restaurants – such as that of the Gillett Coon Supper, Duck Gumbo at the Wings Over The Prairie Festival and tales concerning the history of the Delta – because they represent bits of the food culture that can’t quite be replicated in a restaurant story.

I hope you enjoy Classic Eateries of the Arkansas Delta and utilize it in your efforts to familiarize yourself with the Arkansas Delta. The many weekends of research across its span have opened my eyes and drawn me into discussions I’d never thought I’d have about preserving and protecting this cuisine and these extraordinary spots on the food map.

Postscript:  When it came time to submit my manuscript, I was way over in length and had to cut something.  There were hundreds of nicks and tucks throughout the book, but I couldn't bear taking out the restaurants featured within, nor slicing through the narrative of highways and the stories of the towns throughout the Arkansas Delta.  So I did something different.  I removed the introduction to the book.  Rex Nelson's foreword was more than sufficient for covering most of the points I was trying to make.

Here, for your enjoyment, is that introduction in its entirety.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Main Cheese - You Had Me At Muenster.

For about six months, every time I'd decide to go out and try The Main Cheese, there'd be a line out the door.  There would be individuals standing, waiting to get into the new restaurant that slid in where Gina's Chinese Kitchen used to be (I miss Gina's), and my dining companion du jour and I would look at each other, shrug and go somewhere else.  That's no joke.

But I knew the day would come when there would be no line and I could finally dine at a restaurant that features my favorite food group.  Cheese, of course.

We dropped by after a lunch rush and were thrilled to find no line and quick seat.  We also found big looks, thanks to our big cameras.  Well, that's about normal.  Grav asked if the restaurant were part of a chain, and I shook my head.  The menu made that obvious, with names like The Pig Trail, The Pinnacle and Float'n The Buffalo.  

We started with the Artichoke and Cheese Dip... which combines one of his favorite foods with one of mine.  Indeed, the idea of a good artichoke dip was key here... and when you get a good one, you can't imagine improving it.  Now, let me tell you what... this version knocked the socks off everything I'd ever had called artichoke dip.  Great deep notes of cheeses throughout, some tart bits of sundried tomatoes, creamy as all get-out.  Magnificent.  Served with pita chips, which just earns bonus points with me.  I could have licked the bowl.

So, lunch itself.  I decided to do the lunch special -- which is your choice of two of the sandwich, salad and soup offerings on the menu.  For me, the idea of cashews and lemon with my cheese sounded intriguing, so I went with The Pinnacle -- chicken and Swiss, Muenster and Cheddar cheeses with cashews and lemon curry sauce on sourdough bread.  I had another reason, too.  See, Muenster was the first cheese I ever fell in love with.  My mom would let me choose one thing on our visits to the grocery store when I was young, and instead of candy or soda, I'd choose a small package of sliced Muenster cheese from the deli.  That was the best treat in the world.

I wasn't disappointed, though if I'd wanted just Muenster I could have just gone for the Big Cheese like Grav did.  The folks at The Main Cheese know what they're doing, because the lemon curry sauce didn't taste strange at all next to that bold and toned cheese background for the chicken.  If I were to knock the sandwich at all, it's that I had to resort to using a fork because the dang chicken kept slipping out, but you know, if that's the worst problem I had... well, that's definitely a first world problem.

Now, my soup choice was clear... though tomato dill and creamy potato are the usual soups, the daily soup in this case was a crab and brie bisque that I not only agreed to before our waitress could get out her words, but that I all but inhaled.  I'd take that stuff home and drink it for breakfast if I could.  Aw man, there's nothing like a good bisque, especially when it plays so many notes of tart and savory and light and piquant all at once. 

Grav's a weirdo... well, maybe not in this case but it had to be stated.  But he chose to go with the Build Your Own Main Cheese, which is really just a formula for making the sandwich you want to make.  He got his with
smoked pastrami and avocado in addition to the signature Muenster-fontina-aged cheddar competition, and... well, look at it.  Look at ALL that dadgum avocado.  He got his money's worth on the avocado, no doubt.  Mind you, adding stuff on costs, but that's all right -- $1.99 for the pastrami and 69 cents for the avocado was not a bad deal.  And it was good.

But the really stupendous thing was that he substituted chips for slaw and got these crispy, addictive fresh fried potato chips and little ramekins of the Knock-Your-Socks-Off sauce, which we pecked up like a duck with a loaf of sliced bread, begging more sauce and ending up with said sauce all over our fingers in traffic on the way home.

Yes, we took some home.  And here's why.

Before we ever made it to the restaurant, I knew what I wanted for dessert and I knew I'd have to take something home rather than eating a full meal first.  And it wasn't this amazingly fragrant hot chocolate lava cake that our waitress tantalizingly brought by our table in some crazy last-ditch effort to get us to order even more dessert, though yes, that looks really good and maybe I'll go have that too someday.

No, it was this.  This, my friends, happens to be a glazed doughnut, sliced and inverted, grilled with fontina cheese on top.  And for me, this was it.  This. Was. It.  Slightly salty, somewhat sweet, a little crispy from being grilled and just... this was it.  No one else is doing this around here right now.  That's good, because they'd probably not get it as right as this.

So yeah, I need to get back over to The Main Cheese some afternoon between the lunch and dinner rushes and try some more stuff -- like the Gulf Shores, which just sounds marvelous with that open-faced broiled crab and shrimp under the cheese.  For now, go drool over that grilled cheese doughnut until you can't stand it, then get to The Main Cheese and eat it.  Oh, and they carry Loblolly Ice Cream, which means you have something to go with it that's equally as awesome.

The Main Cheese
14524 Cantrell Road
Little Rock, AR 72223
(501) 367-8082

The Main Cheese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Arkansas Classic: Cotham's Mercantile in Scott.

UPDATE: Cotham's Mercantile burned the morning of May 30th, 2017 - a loss to Arkansas's culinary landscape. The restaurant's sister eatery, Cotham's in the City, continues to serve an almost identical menu.

Cotham’s Mercantile in Scott traces its history back to 1917.  Built over the bank of a bayou off the Arkansas River, it started life as a general mercantile store for the town of Scott.  And in 1984, its owners created an Arkansas icon.  The longtime general store, former military commissary and criminal lock-up is a must-stop for food travelers.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Unbearably Good Catfish at C and C Catfish,Van Buren.

This restaurant has closed.

So, what does a bear have to do with catfish?  The folks at C and C Catfish in Van Buren have a direct connection -- and some pretty good catfish to boot.

The Redings, who own the place, put out a pretty good spread.  The offerings include steaks, snow crab legs, frog legs, fried oysters and crawfish tails, shrimp, chicken, and catfish.

I will go on the record to point out that catfish has to be really dang good for me to like it.  Muddy catfish leaves me cold.  Cold catfish leaves me... cold. But well-prepared, fresh catfish is a singularly good thing I can dig into.

So, C and C Catfish -- it's about a block off the main drag, Fayetteville Road on the north side of Van Buren.  You turn west onto Rena Road a couple blocks north of I-40 and just look for the only building on the right where folks are gathering.  From what I understand, it's the only sit-down seafood joint in town, so sometimes there's a crowd.

We dropped in on a family visit in September.  Didn't take long for Hunter to order -- there were a good dozen items on the kids menu and she went for corn dog bites -- which, heck, she's a kid, whatever.  We placed our orders and soon had set-ups delivered.

Now, when I say set-up, I mean the items that come to the table before the meal.  They included pinto beans -- cooked until the beans were creamy but not so far as to be indistinguishable from the fluid they floated in, delicately spiced but even better with shots of one of the many sauces available (I noticed Grav went for Louisiana Hot Sauce).

There was also green tomato relish (what I know as green tomato relish, also known as pickled green tomatoes, and NOT chow-chow... we're having an argument about this over on Facebook) in its own bowl, pungent and sweet. There was a plate of add-in including jalapeno slices, red onion slivers and dill pickles. There was a bowl of sweet coleslaw.

And then there were hush puppies.  Golly, hush puppies.  They can get me in such big trouble.  These were more on the flour-y and golden side, addictive to a fault, and PERFECT for those pinto beans.  We each dolloped out beans and I wiped mine up with torn-apart hush puppies.
Man, that's an excellent meal right there.  Oh -- a note -- if you're eating light, you can go ahead and get yourself a set-up with fries for $6.49.

So, that would have been enough.  Hunter was even digging on the pintos and making those hush puppies disappear, and then dinner arrived.  And for the first time ever, I am not going to post the photo of Hunter with her dish, because she made one of the most disgusting open-mouthed faces I've ever seen on this child, and I don't want to disturb your reading.  I have a reputation to uphold, after all.

All this other food, though... Grav had actually skipped the catfish, since he's even less excited about catfish in general than I am (as I said, I am very picky about my fish).  He just doesn't do fried fish.  He does smoked fish, and boy does he like his fish raw... but that's another
discussion.  He had instead of going for the catfish, chosen the Make Your Own Dinner and had selected fried oysters and fried crawfish tails, which came siding up to his not-so-neat pile of perfect just-cut fries like little gourds out of a cornicopia.  They were fresh-fried and those oysters were juicy.  I had to steal one just to verify their awesomeness.  Don't tell Grav.

My dish, though, was the catfish.  I mean, in my opinion, you don't go to a catfish place without getting the catfish (repeated visits, you get a pass).  So I got a three filet dinner, and it was too much.  The thick fillets
were very lightly battered, just barely golden and fall-apart nice.  They were just salted and peppered, nothing much more, and they were just... well, okay, I liked this catfish a whole lot.  I loved it even more with green tomato relish (the heck with tartar sauce) and I liked it on its own.  It's good stuff.

Those fries, though.  I just have to mention them because dang it, they were great.  They really were.

So, I was mentioning bears and catfish. Turns out there's a bear there.  No, really, a real stuffed bear that the Redings regularly dress up.  See, Brian Reding took that bear down.  With a bow.  I'm not joking.  Go look on the Facebook page and see.  Hunter was even a little nervous about it, and wouldn't get close enough to actually side up to that bear.

I need to get back over to C and C Catfish at some other point and try out some of the other delicacies.  For you catfish lovers, do know you can do an All You Can Eat on that catfish with the beans and coleslaw for $17,99 any time they're open. Really want to go all the way?  Do the $34.99 version and get as much shrimp, coconut shrimp, crawfish tails, fried oysters, crab legs, frog legs and catfish as you can shove down your gullet. No sharing and no take-out, please.

And you can get that catfish grilled or Cajun blackened, which is likely what I'm going to do next time I go.  That and maybe the crab legs.  

One more tip -- for seniors, C and C Catfish is a really good deal.  There's a couple dollars off difference for those catfish dinners.  Not bad.

C and C Catfish 
50 Rena Road
Van Buren, AR 
(479) 474-2555

Monday, October 20, 2014

Cheese Dip: Dip Your Chip All Over Arkansas.

In Arkansas, a single item of food connects all corners of the state.  Created by a man named Blackie Donnelly, originally credited to his restaurant Mexico Chiquito, cheese dip has become a Southern staple.  The great Ark-Mex restaurants of fame, from Pancho's in West Memphis to Glasgow's in Bentonville, all carry their own odes to this marvelous emulsion for chips and fries.

The simplest version marries Velveeta and Rotel together, two simple ingredients that dance well together.  The recipes for the more complex recipes are hoarded away.  Restaurateurs and families alike keep the secret to their cheese concoction to themselves.

Need a recipe for cheese dip?  Click here to check out some great recipes from fellow Arkansas bloggers!

Want to learn about the history of cheese dip?  Check out Nick Roger's film In Queso Fever.  Want to follow the Arkansas Cheese Dip Trail?  Click here.

Where can you find the best cheese dips in Arkansas?  Here's a starter for you... which by no means can completely cover every great restaurant to serve the dish.  Be sure to add your own in the comments!

Abuelos.  This is an alphabetic list, but Abuelo's deserves mention, even if it's a chain.  Abuelos' Chili con Queso is blended with Anaheim and Poblano peppers for a hint of heat.
4005 West Walnut * Rogers * (479) 621-0428 *
Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

American Pie's non-traditional white.
American Pie.  A non-traditional white, Kyle's Spicy Chicken Cheese Dip is an emulsion of roasted and spiced chicken chunks in a white queso.  America Pie does gluten free evenings, by the way.
9709 Maumelle Blvd. * Maumelle * (501) 758-8800
American Pie Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
4830 North Hills * North Little Rock * (501) 753-0081
American Pie Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
10902 Colonel Glenn * Little Rock * (501) 225-1900
American Pie Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Arkansas Burger Company's white queso.
Arkansas Burger Company.  Known best for its burgers, ABC's cheese dip is consistently ranked among Central Arkansas favorites.  It's a white queso flaked with green jalapeno pepper bits, smooth with a bit of heat and well salted.  It's served up with thick yellow tortilla chips; alternately, you can use the Lay's potato chips that go with your burger.
7410 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 663-0600 *
Arkansas Burger Co. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Yellow dip and chips at Atkinson's Blue Diamond Cafe.
Atkinson's Blue Diamond Cafe. The popular Morrilton diner and ice cream shop also serves a smooth yellow dip great with chips or fries.
1800 East Harding * Morrilton * (501) 354-4253 * Facebook 
Atkinson's Blue Diamond Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Balcony Restaurant's yellow dip.
Balcony Restaurant.  The chips and queso at this restaurant inside Eureka Springs' Basin Park Hotel is smoky, a little salty and quite yellow -- and it's accompanied by homemade salsa. Within the 1905 Basin Park Hotel is at 12 Spring Street, right next to (you guessed it) Basin Park.
12 Spring Street * Eureka Springs * (479) 253-7837 * website
The Balcony Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Buffalo Grill.  One of Little Rock's classic dips, the yellow dip is calm and mild and served up with big round yellow tortilla chips.  For some reason they now serve the dip on the signature Tortilla Flats instead of cheese... but that's all right.  Perfect for dipping that quesadilla.
1611 Rebsamen Park Rd. * Little Rock * (501) 296-9535 *

Buffalo Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cactus Jack's white queso.
Cactus Jack's.  This average white dip comes close to white Velveeta, but somehow it's gained a following.  Mild, creamy, completely expected, at least Cactus Jack's serves up thin and crispy yellow tortilla chips to go along with it,
4120 East McCain, * North Little Rock * (501) 945-5888
Cactus Jack's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
755 Club Lane * Conway * (501) 730-0022
Cactus Jack's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Capers.  This cilantro-enhanced white cheese dip carries great flavors of roasted peppers. You really need to get it with the fresh veggie-packed salsa for the full experience.
14502 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 868-7600 *
Capers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Manana.  Casa Manana's reliable thick and creamy white dip has nice friendly notes of queso anejo and queso Chihuahua.  It's also good poured over Huevos Rancheros.  Served up with fresh-fried-daily corn tortilla chips and a salsa redolent of red bell pepper and cumin.
6820 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 280-9888
Casa Manana Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
18321 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 868-8822 
Casa Manana Resturant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Oppenheimer Market Hall at the River Market * Little Rock* (501) 372-6637
Casa Manana Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Mexicana.  Sherwood's cheap eats spot for Ark-Mex food offers a slightly spicy white cheese dip that goes well on anything.
4091 E. Kiehl Avenue * Sherwood * (501) 831-2787
Casa Mexicana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheddar's yellow Velveeta-style dip.
Cheddar's.  Velveeta meets Rotel plus ground beef, served on thin yellow tortilla chips, with a side of fresh, cumin and onion laden salsa.
3907 Phoenix Avenue * Fort Smith * (479) 649-5959
Cheddar's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
400 South University * Little Rock * (501) 614-7578
Cheddar's Casual Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
2123 Stadium Blvd * Jonesboro * (870) 934-0223
Cheddar's Casual Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cheers in the Heights.  Deep yellow, sharp and smooth dip usually served with tricolor chips.  Get the chili with it.
2010 North Van Buren * Little Rock * (501) 663-5937 *
Cheers in the Heights Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chip's dip is full of spices.
Chip’s Barbecue.  Chip's used to put smoked meat in their cheese dip, which was pretty good.  They stopped doing that, but that's all right.  It's a Mexico Chiquito style dip with lots of cumin and paprika and strong Cheddar flavors, with good cling for the house-fried thick tortilla chips served with it.  I adore the fresh tomato salsa that comes with each order.
9801 West Markham * Little Rock * (501) 225-4346 *

Chip's closed July 2016.

Go for the Chip & Dip trio for best value at The Cow Pen.
Cow Pen.  I don't know what's the better deal -- the cheese dip, the bean dip or the salsa that comes in the Chip & Dip ($6.95) at The Cow Pen in Lake Village.  The yellow cheese dip is a Velveeta-Rotel blend but has an additional dairy element that makes it creamy.  Spice is just right. 5198 Highway 82 * Lake Village * (870) 265-9992 *
The Cow Pen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dizzy's dip is deep.
Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro.  The restaurant's three-part dip won the first ever World Cheese Dip Championship; it went over so well, they replaced their old dip with it.  It's a yellow dip chunky with onions and peppers and it's served up large.
200 River Market Avenue #150 * Little Rock * (501) 375-3500 *
Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Don Jose.  The cheese dip here is very mild, very white and somewhat runny.
200 Holiday Drive * Forrest City * (870) 630-9884
Don Jose Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

E.J.'s Eats and Drinks.  Yes, there's a cheese dip.  Startlingly, I have yet to try it.  I have to rectify that. Watch this space.
523 Center Street * Little Rock * (501) 666-3700 *
EJ's Eats and Drinks Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Porton.  Smooth, white constantly the same mild cheese dip.
12111 West Markham * Little Rock * (501) 223-8588 *
El Porton Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Sol's pale yellow dip with salsa and chips.
El Sol.  The prices are fantastic at this Pine Bluff restaurant, and the food is consistently good.  The cheese dip is pale yellow, and the salsa is drinkable -- I mean, you probably shouldn't drink it, but when they bring it out in those little carafes, it's hard to resist.
3801 South Camden Road * Pine Bluff * (870) 879-2820 * Facebook
El Sol Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Faby's steak-lade queso fundido.
Faby’s.  The dip at Faby's is so thick, it almost doesn't qualify as cheese dip.  Instead, what you get is a queso fundido, thick enough to eat with a fork, the sort of hot cheese sauce you want on a cold day.  It's a blend of white Mexican cheeses that stands well on its own but is even better when ordered as fajita queso with chunks of beef or chicken.
2915 Dave Ward Drive * Conway * (501) 329-5151
Faby's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
1023 Front Street * Conway * (501) 513-1199
Faby's Restaurant 2 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Flying Burrito.  There are actually two cheese dips at the Flying Burrito - white and yellow - but forget just getting the dip and get the Flying Cheese Dip, which comes with your choice of dip, ground beef, rice, salsa and refried beans IN THE DIP.  Great thin chips, too.
540 West Dickson Street * Fayetteville * (479) 521-3000
Flying Burrito Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
7022 West Sunset * Springdale * (479) 419-9400
Flying Burrito Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
1401 S. Walton * Bentonville * (479) 715-6590
Flying Burrito Co Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Fold.  Thick, creamy white cheese dip served with equally thick chips.  Hearty.
3501 Old Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 916-9706 *
The Fold Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Glasgow's Mexican and American Food. Thick classic yellow cheese dip with medium-thick chips.
411 SE Walton Blvd. * Bentonville * (479) 273-9958 * Facebook
Glasgow's Mexican and American Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Godsey’s Grill.  Godsey’s sells a traditional Rotel and Velveeta dip, along with about eight other dips.  The Drunken Chicken dip includes smoked chicken -- and the Chicken Enchilada dip that comes so heavy on the spices you won’t be able to tell there’s Velveeta under the surface on those homemade potato chips.
226 South Main St. * Jonesboro * (870) 336-1988 *
Godsey's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Traditional Velveeta and Rotel at Hamburger Barn.

Hamburger Barn.  The Arkadelphia mainstay still serves up the same sort of cheese dip you'd come to expect at any backyard barbecue -- the traditional straight-up Velveeta and Rotel dip.
2813 West Pine Street * Arkadelphia * (870) 246-5556 * Facebook

Hog Haus. White. BEER. Cheese. Dip.
430 West Dickson Street * Fayetteville * (479) 521-2739 *
Hog Haus Brewing Co‎ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Izzy’s.  Packed with white Cheddar, fresh tomatoes and spices, still manages to be pretty light.  Get it with the Big Tamale and salsa.
5601 Ranch Road * Little Rock * (501) 868-4311 * 
Izzy's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jose's. The "famous" chile con queso is pretty good... the white poblano cheese dip with chorizo is purportedly better.
324 West Dickson Street * Fayetteville * (479) 521-0194 *

Blue Mesa style cheese dip at Juanita's.
Juanita’s. Remember that great white cheese dip from the Blue Mesa Grill?  You can get it at Juanita's... it's almost as good as it was at Blue Mesa.  Of course, Juanita's has its own yellow Chili con Queso... which is decent.  Just beware -- service at Juanita's sometimes seems to take a backseat to the venue's other attraction -- live concerts.
614 President Clinton Avenue * Little Rock *(501) 372-1228 *

Juanita's has closed.

Loca Luna.  The Roasted Green Chile Con Queso is starting to gather a real following.  It's sharp, spicy, fresh and served up with tricolor chips that somehow aren’t as colorful as that great queso flavor.
3519 Old Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 663-4666 *
Loca Luna Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The original Taco Kid cheese sauce at Local Lime.
Local Lime.  Marvelous Queso Blanco dotted with corn, tomato, peppers and onion... and on the first Tuesday of the month, the original Taco Kid cheese sauce in all its yellow-orange glory.
17809 Chenal Parkway * Little Rock * (501) 448-2226 *
Local Lime Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Main Cheese. The lovely flavor of well-roasted chipotle peppers comes out so well in this southwestern-style dip.
14524 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 367-8082 *
The Main Cheese Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Maria’s. The smooth mild creamy Queso Blanco is the best cheese dip I've had in Fort Smith, with lovely complex flavors of Queso Asadero and Monterrey Jack.  Just a tiny bit better than the Chile “Coin” Queso they also do.
8640 Rogers Avenue *Fort Smith * (479) 452-2328 *
Marias Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

MarketPlace Grill.  Here, they call it "grilled queso" and set it on fire, but it's still cheese dip to me.
600 Skyline Drive * Conway * (501) 336-0011
Marketplace Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
1636 S, 48th Street * Springdale * (479) 750-5200
Marketplace Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Marlo's Taco Shack.  Ridiculously cheap and good yellow cheese dip.
1192 N. Garland * Fayetteville * (479) 521-4211
Marlo's Taco Shack Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Smoked Queso with beef brisket at Mean Pig BBQ.
Mean Pig BBQ.  The barbecue joint best known for its Shut Up Sauce has one of the better quesos in the state -- a deep yellow dip inundated with shredded smoked beef brisket throughout, served with a zip-top bag of tortilla chips on a big plate.
3096 Bill Foster Memorial Highway * Cabot * (501) 941-5489 *
The Mean Pig BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mexico Chiquito.  Of course, it's the standard by which all other cheese dips are judged, the first and still the most elusive to pin down.  Created after a visit to Mexico and based on real American and Mexican cheese, the deep spice mix marks the uniqueness of its flavor with lots of paprika, cumin and heaven knows what else.  Still as addictive as always.
13924 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 217-0700
Mexico Chiquito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
1135 Skyline Drive * Conway * (501) 205-1985
Mexico Chiquito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
4511 Camp Robinson Road * North Little Rock * (501) 771-1604
Mexico Chiquito NLR Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Classic yellow dip at Nick's Barbecue and Catfish.

Nick's Barbecue and Catfish.  A slightly sharp yellow dip best with the matching cumin-infused salsa and thin and crispy tortilla chips.
1012 S. Bankhead * Carlisle * (870) 552-3887 *
Nick's Bar-B-Q & Catfish Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Pancho's cheese dip is served cold.
Pancho's.  The only restaurant on my cheese dip list that serves their queso at room temperature. The creamy  dip is extraordinarily mild; "hot dip" (a pepper sauce laced salsa puree) is brought to the table to add to get the right consistency.  The hot dip is as spicy as the cheese dip isn't.  Served up with tortilla rounds; you'll also find Pancho's cheese dip sold in original and white versions in some grocery stores.
3600 East Broadway * West Memphis * (870) 735-6466 *
Pancho's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papa Joe's.  A good hearty yellow dip that goes very well with the burgers served at this Humnoke secret.
12295 Highway 165 * Humnoke * (870) 275-8001
Papa Joe's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Patron.  There are several restaurants around the state with the Patron name, but my favorite is on Towson in Fort Smith.  Cheese dip is good but the three salsas served with complimentary chips are even better.  Mix and match.
4416 Towson Avenue * Fort Smith * (479) 648-1130
Patron Mexican Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Purple Cow.  Yes, Purple Cow has cheese dip.  What, you didn't know?
8026 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 221-3555
The Purple Cow Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
11602 Chenal Parkway * Little Rock * (501) 224-4433
The Purple Cow Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Villages at Hendrix - 1055 Steel Blvd. * Conway * (501) 205-4211
The Purple Cow Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
1490 Higdon Ferry Road * Hot Springs * (501) 625-7999
The Purple Cow Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Riviera Maya.  Impossibly smooth white dip that goes well on EVERYTHING at the restaurant... fajitas, guacamole, even the sopapillas.  You think I'm kidding?
801 Fair Park * Little Rock * (501) 663-4800
Riviera Maya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
1217 Ferguson Drive Suite 1 * Benton * (501) 776-4140
Riviera Maya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rodney's Handlebar and Grill.  If it's at a motorcycle enthusiast hangout, it has to be good, right?  This dip is three cheeses melded together with sausage.
9110 Interstate 30 * Little Rock * (501) 562-1144 * Website
Rodney's Handlebar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rolando's queso fundido makes marvelous strings.
Rolando’s.  The Queso Flamado at Rolando’s is not only thick and hot, it’s on fire.  As in, it's served flaming.  With or without chorizo, this Monterey Jack cheese confection has amazing pull -- not just for its fabulous flavor but for the lengths you can pull the stringy cheese.
210 Central Avenue * Hot Springs * (501) 318-6054
Rolando's Nuevo Latino Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
223 Garrison Avenue (Fort Smith), (479) 573-0404
Rolando's Nuevo Latino Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
509 W Spring Street (Fayetteville), (479) 251-1650
Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Santo Coyote.  
Thin but packed with flavor, Santo Coyote’s light cheese dip matches its light and crispy housemade tortilla chips.  And you can get your dip full of stuff, like the El Santo Dip that's full of shrimp, chicken and beef chunks.  You'll need a fork with that. They also have about 100 tequilas on board.
11610 Pleasant Ridge #110 * Little Rock * (501) 225-1300 Santo Coyote West Little Rock Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
2513 McCain Blvd. * North Little Rock * (501) 753-9800. Santo Coyote Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Senor Tequila.  This cloying, almost sticky queso likes to grab your chip.  With excellent cling, it’s the perfect pungent dip for mixing with the restaurant’s lightly spicy cilantro-heavy salsa.  Also good on the enchiladas.  Multiple locations.

Smokehouse BBQ's dip includes pulled smoked pork.
Smokehouse BBQ.  Newport's own serves thick yellow cheese dip with smoked pork in it.  Great on the Lackey's Tamales.
601 Malcolm * Newport * (870) 217-0228
Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

There's a lot of great spices in Sparky's Queso Rojo.
Sparky’s Roadhouse CafĂ©.  You can’t really call Sparky’s dip a yellow dip -- it’s actually Queso Rojo, a blend of cheese and spices so concentrated it actually appears an orangish-red, even redder the longer it sits.  Sweet, salty, cheesy, complicated, it’s just about my favorite cheese dip in the state.
147 E. Van Buren * Eureka Springs * (479) 253-6001 *
Sparky's Cafe and Ultra Lounge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Stick with classic Stoby's yellow dip.
Stoby’s.  The restaurant’s eponymous yellow cheese dip is a smooth, creamy blend of cheeses that’s almost sissy mild but also heavily addictive.  It's so dang famous, American Idol star Kris Allen did a big call-out on it on that show -- and got free cheese dip for life.  The newer white dip is spicier, with a long-growing heat from jalapenos under its smooth deceptive surface.  Served on big round yellow tortilla chips.
805 Donaghey * Conway * (501) 327-5447
Stoby's Conway Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
405 West Parkway * Russellville * (479) 968-3816 Stoby's Russellville Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Taco Mama. This excellent made-from-scratch white sauce cheese dip is heavy on the mozzarella and slyly hints at cilantro, cumin and chipotle peppers.
1209 Malvern Avenue * Hot Springs * (501) 624-6262 *
Taco Mama Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Taco Pronto.  The cheese dip, a thick yellow goo, hasn't changed since this restaurant has opened in the 1960s.
4350 Central Avenue * Hot Springs * (501) 525-7309
Taco Pronto Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Cover your taco burger with cheese dip at Taco Rio.
Taco Rio.  Great yellow dip, better on a taco burger.  I'm not joking.
1713 Paragound Plaza * Paragould * (870) 236-8307 * Facebook Taco Rio Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Taco Villa.  This smooth yellow cheese dip has a strong garlic flavor; thick tortilla chips are always on hand for dipping.  Also good on the apple sticks, strangely enough.
420 East 4th Street * Russellville * (479) 968-1191 Taco Villa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Tarasco's  The former food truck eatery is now in a shop on Front Street, and serving up silky white cheese dip.
217 North Front Street * Dardanelle * (479) 477-3108 * Facebook
Tarasco's Mexican Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Taylor's Steakhouse.  The dry-aged steaks are new, but folks have been coming to Taylor's Grocery, the establishment this restaurant was born from, for decades.
14201 Highway 54 * Dumas * (870) 382-5349 * Facebook
Taylor's Steakhouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Terri-Lynn's.  Yellow, smooth, best served with chili over tamales.
10102 North Rodney Parham * Little Rock * (501) 227-6371 *
Terri-Lynn's Bar-B-Q & Deli Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Fries are served with cheese dip at Tidwell's Dairy Bar.
Tidwell's Dairy Bar.  Smooth and yellow, this dip was SPECIFICALLY meant for dipping French fries.
511 Front Street SW * Lonoke * (501) 686-2812 
Tidwell's Dairy Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Trio's Restaurant.  Capi Peck's amazing goat and Jack cheese queso fundido with honey drizzle is only on the Sunday brunch menu, but it is SO worth it.  Trio's also offers a Cowboy Cheese Dip on its catering menu.
8201 Cantrell Road * Little Rock * (501) 221-3330 *
Trio's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Judy's White at U.S. Pizza Co.
U.S. Pizza Company.  Judy’s White Cheese Dip isn’t just great on the thick tortilla chips that regularly accompany the bowl.  It’s also popular with some customers served over salad instead of dressing.  Creamy, mild and inoffensive -- it's a great white dip .  Multiple locations.  Check for them all on the website.

West End Smokehouse.  This bar's Chili con Queso really is what it sounds like -- cheese dip blended with black bean chili.  Pretty good!
215 North Shackleford * Little Rock * (501) 224-7665 *
West End Smokehouse and Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hungry?  Want to make your own?  Check out these great cheese dip recipes from fellow Arkansas bloggers:

Creamy Sausage Cheese Dip from Razorback Britt

Texas Best Cheese Dip from Burlap & Beestings

Skinny Spinach Dip from Enticing Healthy Eating

Queso Blanco Dip from Sugar Spice and Spilled Milk

And here's a photo of my cat eating cheese dip.