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The cheese dip stays the same

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IN THE OLD DAYS: Mexico Chiquito.
  • IN THE OLD DAYS: Mexico Chiquito.

Jerry M. Haynie can’t say for sure that Mexico Chiquito was the first Mexican restaurant in the Little Rock area but it’s likely. Blackie Donnally and his wife moved up from Texas in 1935 and opened their “little Mexico” restaurant in the Protho Junction neighborhood of North Little Rock. Mrs. Donnally knew about food and brought the recipes, some of which are still in use. “Blackie was a front-end kind of person,” Haynie said. “People knew him. Some of them called it ‘Blackie’s Place.’ ”

The original restaurant is gone, replaced by a string of Mexico Chiquitos in the area. But, “We still have people who come in and remember the dirt floors at the original,” Haynie said. He bought Mexico Chiquito in 1979 from the Ballentine family, which had bought it from the Donnallys and owned it for 16 years. Now the chief executive officer of Mexico Chiquito, Inc., Haynie never met the Donnallys, but he did meet Mrs. Donnally’s daughter and she told him about the old days. Blackie was her stepfather.

The food hasn’t changed greatly since the beginning. It’s of a style that today would be called Tex-Mex. Not until the last quarter of the 20th century did Mexicans began moving to Arkansas in numbers, and opening restaurants that offered more authentic Mexican fare. For years, Mexico Chiquito and places like Browning’s (which opened in the 1940s) and Island X, served the only kind of Mexican food that Arkansans knew.

“Mexico Chiquito was known for its cheese dip – chili con queso – and it’s never changed,” Haynie said. “Our tropical punch is well known, and I think it goes back to the original days. Most of our drink business is punch. The salsa recipe has never been changed.” The original Mexico Chiquito menu had only four choices: the Mexican dinner, the summer plate, the Chiquito ladies’ dinner and the enchilada dinner. The Mexican dinner, the biggest, consisted of a tomato juice cocktail, cheese dip, guacamole salad, a beef taco, a beef and cheese enchilada, a tamale covered with chili con carne and melted cheese, Spanish rice, refried beans, fruit punch and Chiquito sherbet. (Today’s Mexican dinner offers a choice of vanilla ice cream or a sopapilla in place of the sherbet.) The other three offerings were smaller variations on the theme. All four are still available, listed on the back of the Mexico Chiquito menu, but, Haynie says, “We don’t sell a lot of them anymore, because there’s so much food and they’re comparatively pricey.”

Much of Mexico Chiquito’s business today is take-out. “We think the quality of food is better than at the average fast-food place,” Haynie said. “Most of our food is made from scratch. We do a lot of catering too.”

Four Mexico Chiquito outlets are in operation today: at 102 South Rodney Parham Road; 11406 W. Markham St.; 4511 Camp Robinson Road in North Little Rock and 1524 W. Main St. in Jacksonville. The first two are take-out, the other two full-service. Haynie said that another full-service restaurant is planned for state Highway 10, near Kroger grocery store.

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