This reviewer is a diner food freak, so it came as a little bit of a shock that we'd never heard of Bobby's Cafe in North Little Rock until a few months ago. To be fair, we don't get waaay down MacArthur very often. But recently, we were working on a film that needed a diner set. Somebody who lives down in Levy recommended Bobby's as just the kind of old-timey joint we were looking for. Lo and behold, they obliged. Just to be polite, the crew decided to eat there before the shoot. And sometimes, friends, the gods are kind.
It turns out that Bobby's is one of those places only the locals seem to know about, but everybody should (bring cash, though; they don't take checks or credit cards). We've eaten there three times now, and everything we've ordered off the menu — from burgers to desserts — has been uniformly great. Add to that a really friendly staff, relaxed atmosphere, great backwater diner decor and cheap prices, and you've got a real winner.
A Friday night visit to Bobby's is a treat. For one thing, the place is perpetually packed. After a short wait, we managed to get a table in a room bedecked with NASCAR knick-knacks and overseen by a cloudy projection TV. Always the adventurous sort, we went for the Bobby Burger ($7), their one-pound claim to fame. Our companions, meanwhile, tried the catfish platter ($11), which is available only on Friday night. Going with the flow, we all had gargantuan glasses of sweet iced tea, which seems to be the house wine.
We've had a number of the humungo-burgers that lurk on the menus at various places around town. For the most part, they're a novelty act, more about shock and awe than flavor. There's only so much you can do with an inch-thick patty of ground beef the size of a regulation discus. That said, the Bobby Burger is actually one of the best hubcap-style burgers we've ever had: lean ground beef, topped with all the usual burger goodies and served on a grilled bun. The secret, I think, is that instead of just scooping out a wad of beef, making it roughly patty shaped, then salt and peppering it to death on the grill (a process which does nothing to add flavor to the meat inside) they do some seasoning magic beforehand. Bobby's custom-grinds all its own meat. They must be sprinkling a little fairy dust into the mix. The Bobby Burger, big as it is — too big, in fact, to really pick up, or even to eat at a sitting unless you're trying to go for some kind of World Record — is as good as their regular-sized cheeseburgers, and their regular-sized cheeseburgers are really good. We're definitely a Bobby Burger fan, though we'll likely go with the plain ol' cheeseburger next time and save ourselves some later gastrointestinal misery.
We were equally impressed with their catfish platter. For one thing, the very generous platter comes with a lot of nice extras — including a bowl of good brown beans, a slab of sweet white onion, and some of the best (no kidding) homemade cole slaw we've ever had in our life. The fish, too, is great — meaty, with a great, peppery breading. Though we stand by our statement that Georgetown One-Stop up near Searcy is the best fried catfish in the state, the stuff at Bobby's is pretty dang good, especially when paired with their homemade tartar sauce, which is sweet, lemony manna.
As if all that weren't enough, we somehow found room to fit in dessert. From the nice list, we chose the banana pudding and the carrot cake. The banana pudding was the real, hi-test stuff, big on 'nanner flavor and served with vanilla wafers and whipped cream. “Excellent” is the word we're looking for. The true masterpiece, however, was the carrot cake. We're not big carrot cake fans, but one bite had us scraping the plate for the dregs. Bobby's serves theirs warm, with a gooey icing drizzled over the top. More like a spice-cake, it was darker than any carrot cake we've ever seen, and moist to the point of sticking to the fork. We'll definitely be repeat customers.
In short, we're really digging on Bobby's, and we'll be back soon for the burgers, fries, fish and desserts. If you're willing to take a ride into the dark heart of North Little Rock, it's diner bliss.
12230 MacArthur Drive, NLR
If you're out cruising Levy during the early a.m., Tuesday through Friday, Bobby's breakfast menu — served from 6:30 to 10 a.m. — features a ton of cheap, homemade goodies, from eggs-n-bacon to pancakes to scratch-built biscuits and gravy. Definitely an eye-opener.
6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Wed., 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu.-Fri., closed Sat.-Mon.
Cash only, no credit or debit cards accepted. No alcohol.