Dining » Dining Review

Dining Updates Oct. 21

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TASTE OF ASIA Though our lunch-break policy round here on the days we're not going to press is — how should we put this? — rather liberal, we understand that most working stiffs are stuck with an iron-clad one-our lunch. Given that, we know that when a hankerin' for anything more substantial than a sandwich and a bag of chips hits workers downtown, they often just have to let the old belly rumble until the 5 o'clock whistle blows. That's why finally making it to this Capitol area spot's lunch-only buffet was such a treat for us the other day. Located just off Markham behind Cotham's in the City, Taste of Asia isn't the biggest Chinese buffet in Little Rock (though it does have all the regular fare, like teriyaki chicken, sweet and sour chicken, Mongolian beef, and the like), but it's only $6.50, and — even better — you can actually get there, scarf your fill, and shamble back to your downtown office in less than an hour. 320 S. Victory St. 372-6767. LD Mon.-Sat. $ All CC Full bar. CASA VIVA It was more due to nostalgia and that we were in the neighborhood at an odd time for dining (2:30 p.m. on a weekday) that we happened into this long-time establishment at the aging University Shopping Center. Truthfully, it may have been our first return since the local owners resurrected the favored raise-the-flag-and-holler-for-more Tex-Mex style that was there for more than a couple of decades as Casa Bonita. We’re dating ourselves telling you that we remember like it was almost yesterday standing in a long line waiting to get into Casa Bonita, easily one of the most popular Mex spots in Arkansas at the time, before going across Asher to see "The Sting." The movie theater across the street is long gone, and so is the Cinema 150 on the same side, but they still dish out all you can eat Mex, what we affectionately like to refer to as truckstop Mexican — soft cheese enchiladas whose tortillas almost melt away in your mouth with the creamy, orange-yellow cheese sauce on top; beef enchiladas with the texture of a tamale and covered with fiery chili; smooth, fluffy chicken enchilada; your basic hamburger-meat taco; rice and refried beans. That’s what you get on the all-you-can eat platter for $8.95, and we ate every bite and asked for more. What you don’t get anymore, as of June, is queso or guacamole with the platter; they each come separately at $1.95 per. The cheese dip will come Velveeta-colored or in the ubiquitous white style, and it’s nothing any more special that any other white cheese dip with a few peppers chopped up. The table salsa gives it a nice kick, though. The guac, however, was a pleasant, even terrific, surprise. Expecting the basic food-supplier, creamy guacamole to be served, we instead marveled at a small mojo heche loaded with the real stuff: homemade, chunky, onion and tomato-laden, citrusy avocado just right for dipping or adding to the taco. All it needed was a pinch more of salt. The dip was also served in the authentic-looking mojo heche (that’s the bowl portion of a Mexican mortar), and both were well worth the added expense. If only we’d had two or three more folks joining us. For one, and tossing in a $1.50 drink and tax, our $8.95 meal soon topped $15 on the register (which, by the way, is now at the front of the line). Also, there’s no cerveza to be had, only soft drinks, punch, tea. But, all told, we left rather surprised and happy by the experience. The neighborhood’s not the same as it was years ago, but here’s hoping Casa Viva has much long life ahead. Village Center, 3901 S. University Ave., 562-6363. LD 7 days. $$ CC No alcohol.

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