- UNBELIEVABLE BARGAIN: For about $8, you can have two Tostadas de Camarones, which make a great meal or appetizer for the table.
The Spanish word palenque roughly translates to "a palisade or stockade," as well as "an arena" ostensibly for cockfighting, and is the name given to the famed ruins hidden for centuries in the jungles of Chiapas in southern Mexico.
Taqueria El Palenque, the restaurant in West Little Rock, is about as hidden away as its apparent namesake, and yet fans flock en masse to what is essentially a taco food truck with a roof and indoor seating. Let's qualify: It would be a GREAT taco food truck were it on wheels, and probably easier to access.
Nevertheless, and thankfully for
The owners didn't have to go to all that trouble for us; we love the place for the food over anything else, even if we sometimes have to suck in our ever-expanding stomach to fit into one of the new booths.
We'll get to all the tacos in a moment, but first: Do not miss at least trying the
To be honest, despite national internet food listings raving about El Palenque, we'd never had any idea what or where it was until friends took us a few months back. Now, we can't get enough. It's crammed into an already overstuffed little strip mall that also houses the wonderful Mediterranean restaurant Layla's Gyros and Pizzeria; the Mexican grocery store Perla blocks the view of Palenque from Rodney Parham Road. There's parking for about four cars in front of the place if the inevitable 18-wheel delivery truck isn't blocking it (don't fret, as plenty of spaces abound in the very back of the building). There are, by our count, only 36 seats, give or take an extra chair slipped in for one of nine tables seating four people each. The food, with the exception of the tortilla soup, comes out very fast and the turnover is quick. You won't wait long, even at high noon.
El Palenque's tortas are a regular order for one of our
- TORTAS, TOO: You might be tempted to just feast on tacos, but the tortas (especially with the carnitas) are a favorite.
Another favorite is the huarache. Named for its resemblance to the Mexican sandal, this oblong vessel is similar to a tostada in that it can be loaded with various meats and other toppings. But instead of a fried corn tortilla, the huarache consists of a piece of delectably soft fried masa dough.
We also like the chorizo, especially when it's paired with carne asada in the taco or burrito arriero (translates to muleskinner), two of El Palenque's specialties. We ran into a diner from Tulsa on a recent visit who told us he stops at El Palenque every time his frequent business trips bring him to Little Rock, always ordering the arrieros tacos ($1.99 each, compared with $1.50 for the other tacos). Unlike the regular street tacos at El Palenque, the arrieros are served on flour tortillas and are dressed with
But there are so many other choices, and you should mix and match. Palenque's carnitas definitely
The guacamole here ($3.99) is fresh and first-rate, so make sure to get some either as a side or a full order for the table. Palenque also has plenty of great sit-down specialties more suitable for
Palenque appears to do enchiladas only because it has to — the one enchiladas plate is $7.95 and it's basic. The cheese dip ($4.99) is the ubiquitous white kind, maybe with a bit of diced jalapeno tumbling in it, and is enhanced by a healthy squirt
But you didn't come to Palenque for cheese dip or salsa. You came, at least at lunchtime, for street-style tacos and burritos and the like, and maybe a Jarritos soda pop or a
Taqueria El Palenque
9501 N. Rodney Parham Road
Here's a perfect fast lunch: two Tacos Arrieros ($1.99 each) and the Tostado de Camarones (a ridiculously inexpensive $3.49 for what you get: six shrimp cooked in lime juice and topped with nearly a bowlful of some of the best guacamole in Arkansas. You've still got money left from your $10 for a Jarritos soda, too).
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Beer available. Credit cards accepted.