We reserve the right to our own opinions.
So again this year, the editors of the Arkansas Times offer a select list of their picks for some of the best things in Arkansas.
BEST MOVING VEHICLES. The growing army of taco trucks that have followed the influx of Hispanic immigrants, generally to outposts in the southwestern reaches of the city. Find them on Asher Avenue, on Geyer Springs and a particularly fine one at the corner of University Avenue and 65th Street. An overstuffed burrito with beans, rice, roasted green onion and jalapeno will cost you only $3.50 there and leave your mouth tingling and stomach rumbling for hours. Rich carnitas (pork) is our usual choice, but beef, chicken, tongue and cabeza are other choices. The tacos are $1.25 each, assembled from a thick, fresh corn tortilla and always garnished with sprigs of fresh cilantro. It makes us happy just to think about them. Most of the rolling taco vendors work long hours six days a week, but keep your eyes peeled. They’re mobile.
BEST MOVING TARGET. The ivory-billed woodpecker male who was checking out the Bayou de View is probably in the White River National Wildlife Refuge, if Cornell’s sound recordings are right. Head down to southeast Arkansas, find this baby’s roost hole, and claim a host of prizes, including good will, fame, and the everlasting gratitude of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Get a picture and send your kid to college. (A slight exaggeration, but you never know.) If you miss the bird, you still might see the swallow-tailed kites that started their return to the Big Woods nearly a decade ago, and that alone is worth the trip.
BEST ICED MOCHA IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE. This writer’s wife is kind of a nut on the subject of the iced mocha — which makes me an iced mocha drinker by default. As with anything in marriage, if it’s good, she wants me to share her joy. If it’s terrible, she wants me to go halfseys on her disappointment. It’s basically the same reason why if your spouse discovers the milk has gone bad, they always want you to smell it too. (“Damn, honey, this milk’s gone sour. Smell.”) That said, the writer and his lovely bride have tried nearly every publicly available iced mocha in the tri-state area. Her verdict: the best to be found anywhere right now is at Argenta Coffee Co., on the trolley line in downtown North Little Rock. Funky, quirky, cozy, friendly, and now offering salsa dance lessons (!) and a nice menu of grilled sandwiches, salads and other lunch items, Argenta Coffee Co. is just the kind of unassuming little joint it’s so nice to stumble upon, especially if you’re stuck in a rut of Starbucks sameness.
BEST SALES. The Central Arkansas Library System’s periodic book sales. Big inventory, low prices. We picked up a biography of Hermann Goering for a song. Particularly strong on mysteries — here’s your chance to find that Tony Hillerman you missed. And nothing at all like the monster book stores. The people who come here are all readers.
BEST RETAIL STORE. Our readers vote Walgreen as their top pharmacy. It’s about our favorite store. To us, anyway, it seems like it has everything we’d ever want at Wal-Mart in a tiny fraction of the space. Film processing. Cheap snacks. Paper towels. Batteries. Reading glasses. Seasonal specialties. Great store-brand ice cream. Comprehensive candy choices. If you have made the switch to a digital camera, their print service couldn’t be easier or cheaper. Download your pix to the Walgreen website and pick up the prints in an hour at the store of your choice (a store where the door is rarely more than 10 or 15 parking spaces from your car) for pennies each. Amazing.
BEST QUICK WORKOUT/VIEW/MEDITATION SPOT. We don’t take Pinnacle Mountain for granted. How many cities can claim such a peaceful natural resource within a 20-minute drive of downtown? We can attack the steeper trails at a brisk pace and get an intense workout, or take a leisurely stroll. Either way, we are rewarded with an incredible view when we get to the top: rolling mountains and Lake Maumelle on one side, the Arkansas River and flat Delta land on the other. The tall buildings of Little Rock seem so far in the distance, and after a long day at the office, we’re always glad we left them behind.
MOST DEMOCRATIC WORKOUT/VIEW/MEDITATION SPOT. War Memorial Fitness Center, where everybody feels welcome. It’s cheap relative to private gyms, the class instructors are peppy and friendly and reward with high fives, and additional staff circulates among the sweaty and out-of-shape to inspire and make sure they’re OK. If you’re sitting backwards on the weight machine, the staff doesn’t laugh, they help turn you around and offer free training advice to boot. The view? Of the beautiful War Memorial pool, sparkling in the sun. The meditation? On the treadmill — or watching the Chayon-Ryu guys in the small activity room.
ALL-AROUND GREATEST CITY PARK IN THE OZARKS. Wilson Park in Fayetteville is a dream. It’s in a bowl where two ravines meet, a green, grassy space with room for outdoor movies on summer nights, places to run, a creek, and landscaped with flowers and shrubs. It’s got a huge beautiful swimming pool; one side is tucked in the trees for shady sitting and reading. It’s got nicely kept up tennis courts. It’s got a fantasy castle play area tiled by a local artist and set alongside a water feature at one corner, fields of green to run about on. We all should have it so good.
BEST STORE IN THE WHOLE BLEEDIN’ STATE (IF YOU’RE AUSTRALIAN). There are specialty stores, and then there are SPECIALTY stores. One of the latter is Everything Australian in the Indian Hills shopping center at 6929 JFK Boulevard in North Little Rock. When they say “Everything,” they mean it. Like a Down Under-themed version of the “If It’s Not Scottish, It’s Crap!” store from the old Saturday Night Live skit, the joint is stacked to the rafters with goodies from the Land of Aus: Australian-made hats, Australian newspapers, stuffed kangaroos and crocodiles, Australian souvenirs (for the person who wants to say “I was there!” without actually going there), Aussie flags — even the kind lady behind the counter is Australian. If you go, don’t miss their extensive stock of foods enjoyed by our Southern Hemisphere cousins. Try the Vegemite (a paste of salt and yeast, usually enjoyed on toast). We guarantee it’s a sensation that you won’t soon forget, no matter how many times you rinse your mouth out.
BEST AUTO BODY SHOP. It probably doesn’t speak too well for the staff’s driving abilities that we would even know where to go for the best deal here, but unfortunately, we do. Fortunately for us, however, we were recommended Tolliver’s Body Shop in Levy, on MacArthur Drive. We were assured the work would be great, and the price even better. Jim Tolliver, who owns the place, is as friendly as the day is long. We told him, after our great experience, that we still hoped we’d never have to see him again and he smiled knowingly. But if we ever do have another bump …
BEST STORE FOR LISTENING TO CDs BEFORE YOU BUY. Hey, we’re like the next reader/voter and love the deals you can find at Best Buy, but we think it’s the last place we’d go to hook up the headphones and listen to brief cuts of possible purchases. Our favorite place, bar none, is Barnes and Noble Booksellers on Financial Centre Parkway (there’s one in North Little Rock, too), where your CD listening pleasure isn’t overwhelmed by the casino-like sounds of every electronic instrument known to man being operated at the same moment in a monstrous place. Books, and their readers, tend to keep things quiet. But B&N does have basically any CD you can imagine on a database to check out.
BEST DRIVE. Now that an interstate highway connects Alma and Fayetteville, the old route, U.S. 71, over the mountain is a sheer joy. Let the semis grumble on I-540. You can coast blissfully on the lightly traveled scenic byway, still a reasonably well-engineered road for autos. We never tire of the views from Mount Gaylor and now you are more able to crane your neck now and then. But watch out for the West Fork cops – still. Remember, you’re doing this drive for enjoyment, not speed.