Little Rock has long been blessed with a number of options for great, authentic Mexican food, but once you hit the Saline county line, the various taquerias and taco trucks disappear, replaced by chain restaurants and fast food. All is not lost, however, if you find yourself in the Benton area with a severe craving for carnitas or tacos de lengua — Taqueria Azteca on highway 5 is here to help. It’s been my regular Saturday lunch place for a couple of years now, and I think it’s one of the Benton/Bryant area's best kept secrets.
Ordering at Azteca is somewhat similar to ordering at a place like Chipotle: you choose what style of food (taco, tostada, torta, etc.) you’d like and then choose your filling from the numerous pans behind the counter. But that’s precisely where the comparison to Chipotle ends, because the fillings at Azteca include such things as savory carne asada, spicy marinated chicken, tender pork with onions (a personal favorite), cactus, and the aforementioned lengua, or beef tongue (another of my favorites). I’m a taco guy myself, so it’s even better when these fillings are piled high on the restaurants soft, firm homemade corn tortillas.
Once you’ve picked your fillings, there’s a choice of fresh toppings, many of which are grown right behind the restaurant in a small garden plot. I always opt for “everything,” which means fresh cilantro, diced onions, cheese, and a tangy salsa verde that is hot but doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the food. One splash of lime juice later and suddenly the only problem I have in the world is deciding which taco to start with.
If tacos aren’t your thing, you can get any of Azteca’s homemade fillings on nachos, in quesadillas, or in a flour tortilla burrito. Other menu items include home-cooked tamales, and if you’re in on Saturday be sure to get a bowl of menudo, a spicy beef tripe soup whose restorative powers cannot be overstated. Service is quick, friendly, and completely bilingual for all you hungry norteamericanos in need of a taco fix. Taqueria Azteca is located on Highway 5 South, across from Harp’s grocer — right off the Alcoa Road exit in Benton, and they’re open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.