- STILL THE SAME: Well, the servers are younger.
Under new ownership since the first of the year, Browning's Mexican Grill has kept the dishes that made it one of Little Rock's most popular restaurants for, roughly, ages. Whether those dishes can remain popular in a much-changed market is a large question.
Founded in 1946, and still at the same Heights location, Browning's is among Little Rock's oldest restaurants. For years, the kind of Mexican food served by Browning's and a couple of other places – chili-covered Tex-Mex – was the only Mexican food that Little Rockers knew. In recent years, authentic Mexican restaurants, run by authentic Mexicans, have proliferated. Their food is not exactly the same as Browning's (although, truth to tell, we've found that cheese dip is not as different from one place to another as some people like to think).
Though we didn't have it this time, the Mexican offerings at Browning's still include the well-known Plato De Saltillo, “Our original old school Tex-Mex favorite at its best. Cheese taco, meat taco and enchilada.” But the enchilada dinner we ordered has been around awhile too. “Two cheese enchiladas covered with chili and melted cheese, served with rice and refried beans.” Those beans were good, by the way. The salsa is still tasty, too.
The Mexirrito was filling. “Savory taco meat and shredded lettuce rolled in a flour tortilla, covered with chili and melted cheese.” A lot of things at Browning's are covered with chili and melted cheese.
Browning's is still serving American food also – as it always has – including a meat-and-three-vegetables special at lunch, and, since 1946, a “chicken fried steak dinner” that is well received even though the “steak” is actually pork. Less gristle, a restaurant employee told us. Not bad, we said. Right after the listing for “chicken fried steak” on the menu, Browning's puts “pork” in parentheses. That's in case somebody's allergic to pork, the employee told us.
Browning's has added new dishes, including steaks, and several items — chicken salad, potato salad, roast beef — that were once associated with Cordell's Delicatessen, another near-legendary establishment, now closed. A member of the family that owned Cordell's is providing them.
Browning's now serves breakfast — American standards like bacon, eggs and pancakes, but huevos rancheros and a couple more Mexican-flavored breakfasts are on the menu too. “We're adding and tweaking,” an employee says. Alcohol was added a couple of years ago; there's a full bar.
One of our reviewers complained that what was once the best hamburger in town had declined, apparently because a new owner is averse to frozen meat. The same reviewer thought the pralines kept up by the cash register had changed, too, but she was vague on how. Other than that, we couldn't tell much difference between today's Browning's and yesterday's.
Even if you don't like the Mexican food, you're apt to find something else on the menu that you do. That, and nostalgia, are part of the deal at Browning's.
Browning's Mexican Grill
5805 Kavanaugh Boulevard
Just as they say in the advertisement, the new owners of an old restaurant haven't changed the Saltillo Plate, or any of the other old-fashioned Tex-Mex dinners on the menu. But now you can get steaks here too, and they still have those “American Favorites” that Browning's was always about as well-known for as its Mexican food, including fried chicken and an unusual chicken-fried steak.
6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Dry for years, Browning's now has a full bar and Dos Equis on tap.