NORTHWEST PASSAGE: Fine restaurants like The Plaza aboudn in NW Arkansas.
There are many imitators, but in Arkansas, no restaurant contest has been around longer and is more respected than the Arkansas Times Readers Choice Awards.
The readers do the voting. We insert ballots in two fall issues and then spend the next couple of months counting the thousands of votes on restaurant favorites around the state.
We ask readers to vote on the best restaurants in their hometown and in the balance of the state. It’s a way to be sure our heavy concentration of readers in Little Rock doesn’t leave other restaurants out of the mix. We search hard for people who submit multiple ballots and disqualify them.
This year, as ever, many past winners are still reader favorites. But times change, new talent enters the market and Northwest Arkansas has created a restaurant dynamic all its own. (That’s why we decided to feature the great Northwest in the cover story that accompanies this year’s list of winners.)
Winning isn’t everything. Being a runner-up is a big deal, too. Here’s the honor roll, with runners-up listed in alphabetical order:
Personality chefs who constantly freshen menus in restaurants that are pleasant to behold: It’s a winning formula for both our repeat winners.
Brave New Restaurant
RUNNERS-UP: Faded Rose, 1620, Trio’s.
James at the Mill of Johnson
RUNNERS-UP: DeVito’s of Eureka Springs, Marketplace Grill of Conway and Pompeii Cafe of Hot Springs.
How much new happened in Arkansas last year? Not much. A chain restaurant ran away with the Little Rock competition. Nothing in the balance of the state drew enough votes to merit an award.
On the Border
RUNNERS-UP: Cheers of Maumelle, Gusano’s, Rock Town Grill.
You don’t get more venerable than the winner in Little Rock, one of the city’s oldest restaurants. And Hot Springs boasts the other top honor.
RUNNERS-UP: Bene Vita, Graffiti’s, Olive Garden, Romano’s Macaroni Grill.
Belle Arti of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: DeVito’s of Eureka Springs, Ermilio’s of Eureka Springs and J’s Italian Villa of Hot Springs.
It is perhaps time to create an Asian category, because of the growing availability of diverse offerings from that region. But for one more year, here goes, with the most popular the flagship of a family group of restaurants.
RUNNERS-UP: Fantastic China, Fu Lin, Hunan Oriental Cuisine.
Lucky Dragon of Berryville
RUNNERS-UP: Jade China of Conway and King’s and Panda of Hot Springs.
The stars are back in alignment this year with a double win for a popular local chain.
RUNNERS-UP: Casa Manana, El Porton, Juanita’s, Senor Tequila.
La Hacienda, Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Don Juan’s of Hot Springs, Elenita’s of Fayetteville and Los Amigos of Conway.
The category can mean a place for kids or decidedly for sophisticated grownups, like the big swinging deck at our Little Rock winner. See what we mean.
RUNNERS-UP: Chuck E. Cheese, Ciao Baci, Purple Cow.
Jose’s of Fayetteville
RUNNERS-UP: Garbanzo’s of Hot Springs, Mud Street Cafe of Eureka Springs, Varsity Grill of Fort Smith.
Many tastes, spanning the globe you might say, with fusion winning out in an upset of a long-time winner.
Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some
RUNNERS-UP: Cafe Bossa Nova, Sekisui, Star of India.
Brau House of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Bohemia of Hot Springs, Taste of Thai of Fayetteville.
Familiar and old-fashioned good are the watchwords with both of our repeat winners.
RUNNERS-UP: Boulevard Bread Co., Old Mill, Silvek’s.
Ed’s of Conway
RUNNERS-UP: Ambrosia of Hot Springs, Klappenbach’s of Fordyce, Mueller’s of Hot Springs.
A relative newcomer solidifies its hold on first in the capital, while the old tried-and-true is still a blue ribbon winner in Hot Springs.
Whole Hog Cafe
RUNNERS-UP: Corky’s, HB’s, Sims.
McClard’s of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Bubba’s of Eureka Springs, Craig’s of DeValls Bluff, Smitty’s of Conway.
The chains are taking a firmer hold on most slots in this category, with one big exception.
Ozark Mountain Smokehouse
RUNNERS-UP: Denny’s, IHOP, Satellite Coffee Co.
Cracker Barrel, multiple locations
RUNNERS-UP: Pancake Shop of Hot Springs, Stoby’s of Conway, Waffle House.
The old order was restored this year after a Little Rock upstart took a rare victory last year.
Grampa’s of North Little Rock
RUNNERS-UP: Catfish City, Cock of the Walk, Flying Fish.
Fish House of Conway
RUNNERS-UP: Denton’s Trotline of Benton, Jason’s Burgers and More of Hot Springs, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs.
A booming sandwich shop in Little Rock and a bit more refinement in Hot Springs describe the winners here.
RUNNERS-UP:Bennett’s, Boulevard Bread Co., Diane’s.
Cafe 1217 of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Cheese Corner of Hot Springs, Market at Pinnacle of Rogers, Ozark Natural Foods of Fayetteville.
The citified version of a country favorite widens its margin in Little Rock this year and, in Hot Springs, how bad can the namesake dish be?
Cotham’s in the City
RUNNERS-UP: Arkansas Burger Co., Buffalo Grill, Purple Cow.
Jason’s Burgers and More of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Hugo’s of Fayetteville, Shorty’s of Conway, Feltner’s Whatta-Burger of Russellville.
They might as well call the runaway winner Arkansas Pizza, it so dominates our contest.
RUNNERS-UP: Damgoode Pies, Pizza Cafe, Vino’s.
Rocky’s Corner of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Larry’s of Bryant, Rod’s Pizza Cellar of Hot Springs, Sonny’s of Eureka Springs.
Good fish and good fun could be the winning motto of our Little Rock winner, while a Hot Springs favorite repeats.
RUNNERS-UP: Brave New Restaurant, Flying Fish, Red Lobster, Vermillion Water Grille.
Cajun Boilers of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Fish House of Conway, Fisherman’s Wharf of Hot Springs, Powerhouse Seafood of Fayetteville.
Downtown is uptown for steaks this year and a legendary restaurant in Hot Springs still keeps our readers happy.
Sonny Williams’ Steak Room
RUNNERS-UP: Faded Rose, Outback, Sir Loin’s Inn.
Coy’s, Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Colton’s with many locations, Doe’s of Hot Springs, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs.
Visions of strawberry shortcake always dance in our head when we write the undefeated champion of this category from Little Rock. And sweets go well with java in Conway.
RUNNERS-UP: Community Bakery, Silvek’s, 1620.
Mean Bean Cafe of Conway
RUNNERS-UP: Mud Street Cafe of Eureka Springs, Marketplace Grill of Conway, Stoby’s of Conway.
The big chain whips them good in Little Rock, again.
RUNNERS-UP: Boulevard Bread Co., Coffee Beanery, Sufficient Grounds.
Mud Street Cafe of Eureka Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Arsaga’s of Fayetteville, Mean Bean Cafe of Conway, Something’s Brewing of Conway.
Our home-grown chain, and a national chain with some similarities, have won legions of fans.
RUNNERS-UP: Cotham’s in the City, Homer’s, Your Mama’s Good Food.
RUNNERS-UP: Holly’s Country Cooking of Conway, Jones Cafe of Pine Bluff, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs.
We keep meaning to try to differentiate this category from that immediately above, to define it as a place good to take kids. But, come to think of it, kids do love macaroni and cheese and other comfort food.
RUNNERS-UP: Buffalo Grill, Chili’s, Purple Cow.
RUNNERS-UP: AQ Chicken of Fayetteville, Mrs. Miller’s of Hot Springs, Stoby’s of Conway.
It means many things to many people, thus several votes for Waffle House. The winners are more upscale.
RUNNERS-UP: Acadia, Ashley’s, Vermillion Water Grille.
Belle Arti of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: James at the Mill of Johnson, Marketplace Grill of Conway, Pompeii Cafe of Hot Springs.
Tough competition in Little Rock, at least, produced a new winner.
RUNNERS-UP: Ashley’s, Capers, Lilly’s Dim Sum Then Some.
Pompeii Cafe of Hot Springs
RUNNERS-UP: Autumn Breeze of Eureka Springs, Belle Arti of Hot Springs, James at the Mill of Johnson.
In our final category, we asked voters to pick the best restaurants in the major cities outside Little Rock, with Fayetteville representing the Northwest Arkansas corridor including Rogers and Bentonville.
RUNNERS-UP: Bubba’s, DeVito’s, Horizon.
James at the Mill of Johnson
RUNNERS-UP: AQ Chicken, Pesto Cafe, Herman’s.
RUNNERS-UP: Emmy’s, Neumeier’s Rib Room, Taliano’s.
RUNNERS-UP: Belle Arti, Chef Paul’s, Pompeii Cafe.
RUNNERS-UP: 501 Club, Lazzari’s.
RUNNERS-UP: Colonial Steakhouse, Leon’s, Sno-White Grill.
Lennie Bryan of Little Rock wins $100 in our ballot drawing.