- Kat Robinson
- SHARP: Nice bite of Jack cheese in Juanita's Mesa White Cheese Dip.
Guilty, guilty, guilty. That’s what I am when it comes to Juanita’s Mexican Cantina.
No, I wasn’t involved in any nefarious activities between a band and its groupies on a rainy Saturday night when the wind was blowing hard… I have plausible deniability there. What I am guilty of is overlooking food at the longtime Arkansas hangout.
Especially this fabulous cheese dip, which really isn’t Juanita’s cheese dip but that old Jack-heavy eat-it-with-a-fork variety you used to get at the Blue Mesa Grill. The original Juanita’s dip was decent. This is marvelous.
The hubster and I dropped in for a bite to eat with the girl child for lunch. We sat up front in one of the few areas of the place actually touched by sunlight. BRIGHT sunlight. Frankly, Hunter chose the spot since it was right next to the fountain. She finds fountains, any sort of water really, fascinating. My future marine biologist!
We wanted a quick and casual lunch before taking off in separate directions for the day. And we knew Hunter was going to make a meal on chips and salsa. She really likes salsa — in fact, anything spicy is awesome to her. Our chips and salsa came out — nicely stewed salsa with a whack of cilantro and… is that basil? The chips were golden, thin, and completely off-limits for me, so I ordered fries. Those fries? Thick plank fries that really were perfect for dipping. Hey, this should actually be on the menu.
I’m serious. The fries were not on the menu. I wouldn’t have known Juanita’s had fries had I not seen them offered on the kids menu — and really, they should be there. I mean, if you have a burger on the menu and fries have entered your business, you should have them offered — especially if they’re nicely cooked and Cajun spiced ones like this. Good fries, yes. Not everyone eats corn chips.
The hubster was looking forward to tamales but alas, the truck carrying some of the ingredients necessary for said tamales had yet to arrive, so he settled for a beef quesadilla ($7.99). And it was good. Not exceptional, not lousy, just good. He took my Chipotle Ranch for my dish (so spicy it made me cough) and used it as a dip and was a happy camper.
Me? I was surprised. I like being surprised. I’d ordered the Chicken Empanadas ($8.99) and got a couple of turnovers. No, I mean, I got a couple of filled triangular pastries that on first glance looked like the apple turnovers you get at bakeries. They were accompanied by the aforementioned sauce, a small pile of lettuce shreds and tomato chunks, some very nicely done Spanish rice (which was soft, as it should be!) and a pile of black beans topped with white cheese.
But inside those puff pastries I tasted shredded chicken in a nice creamy sauce, just spicy enough to qualify as “Mexican-esque.” Tasty, too. They were splendid.
But you know what I really liked? I liked the beans. The black beans tasted creamy, they were nicely salted and they had a very good flavor to them.
The original intention was to share a dessert — twinned fried peach pies a la mode (I’m not certain why they’re served in pairs, but what the heck) but found that halfway through our lunches we were full. Done. We packed away the rest of our repast for later and went out along our way.
So, the new digs? Well, other than having to take the stairs (which I know will be an issue for some people) it’s not bad. Not much has changed from the location’s Bill St. days — it’s still a semi-dark wood-ceiling basement with a bar. It’ll probably draw in more tourists, is about what I can say for the move… though it somehow seems smaller than the old place on Main Street.
You’ll find the new Juanita’s Mexican Cantina at 614 President Clinton Avenue, next door to the Clinton Museum Store. It’s open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and an hour later Friday and Saturday. (501) 372-1228 or check out the restaurant website.