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Nom nom nom

This Mexican Grill and Chill in Hot Springs is all about the ice cream.

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Like most Arkansawyers, we've been searching for good places to escape the pervasive summer heat. Our thought on the matter is, if the air conditioning works and the desserts are frosty, we might forget for just a few moments the oppressive swelter of this record-breaking summer.

We were overjoyed when we discovered a joint in Hot Springs where the ice cream wasn't just cold, plentiful and widely varied — it could be spicy hot, too. That place: Nom Noms Mexican Grill and Chill, a year-old establishment that marries the simple goodness of a taco truck with the sort of gourmet ice cream shop that brings out the kid in us.

Our first visit was on a whim; we saw the name Nom Noms while driving up Central Avenue south of Oaklawn and were curious. We'd already eaten lunch, but there's always room for ice cream, and we found it in spades: 54 different ice cream flavors and several dozen flavors of Nom Bars (molded ice cream bars) offered in a center island of cold cases. We were so overcome by the range of flavors we found that we didn't notice the walk-up counter at the back of the restaurant offering Mexican fare. Instead, we were taken by a plethora of flavors to sample — Avocado Cream, Tamarind Sorbet, Coconut. Our traveling companion chose a sundae ($4.85 for two scoops, two toppings and whipped cream) of Pine Nut and Pistachio, which made for an interesting sweet-and-savory nut combination. The Pine Nut was an instant hit with both of us, with its woody flavor a good match for the caramel and coconut that we picked for toppings.

We also selected a sundae, pairing the pink Strawberry Jalapeno with the equally pink Rose Petal (with aesthetically pleasing sprinkles and coconut under its whipped cream cap). Strawberry Jalapeno was a happy surprise — not too hot but with a nice sting of spicy flavor, the jalapeno unmistakable even though it didn't burn. The Rose Petal was a smooth symphony in the opposite direction: sweet cream and fragrant, the perfect antidote to its hot partner.

We don't often return for multiple meals in a short span at any restaurant, but the desserts we tried were so good we had to come see if the full-meal options were just as acceptable. On our second visit the next day we ordered a selection of different items from the back end of the store.

First up, the Mexican Pizza. First you choose an edible vessel for your construction — be it taco, burrito, burrito bowl, Mexican pizza, nachos or salad. Then you choose your protein (ham, ground beef, grilled chicken, chorizo, carne asada steak, al pastor pork or vegetarian guacamole) and add your choice of beans and toppings. For our Mexican Pizza ($6.35 with chicken), we chose black beans, queso cheese, cactus, black olives, tomatoes and a mango-habanero salsa. The cactus was fresh, the salsa sweet and hot and the pizza itself a plate-sized quesadilla that was packed an inch thick right across.

We also tried the tamale ($1.59), a single fat five-inch-long, corn-husk-wrapped mesa cylinder topped with hot sauce and a little cheese and packed with long cut shredded pork. Bigger than the average tamale, this and a side would make an excellent dinner.

We also tried a cup of Elote ($3.25), which turned out to be fresh barely-cooked corn right off the cob, topped with hot sauce and cheese and sour cream (mayo was also offered; we turned that right down). A cup of corn is actually quite a bit of corn, at least two large servings, but we enjoyed it.

To drink, we sampled the Agua Fresca, strawberry flavor ($2.25), which is fresh water with pureed strawberry. And of course there was ice cream, shared this time in the form of a Waffle Bowl Sundae ($5.25), three scoops and three toppings of our choice of ice cream. We went ahead and tried a traditional flavor, chocolate, which tasted like Wendy's original Frosty dessert. Better loved was the Almond Cappuccino, with a strong smack of coffee-flavored goodness.

The third and most unusual was Cotija Blackberry, a blend of fresh Arkansas blackberries, cream and queso cheese. Though skeptical at first, we dug into it with abandon at the first taste. It was an incredible blend of sweet and salty that emptied said waffle bowl in a jiffy.

For hours, address and other info, go here.

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