It wasn't that long ago when Times readers voted Dixie Cafe best vegetarian restaurant in the Best of Arkansas poll. We love a "Vegetable Heaven" plate as much as the next Southerner, but it goes to show just how limited the options for vegetarians were in Central Arkansas just a few years ago. Thankfully, things have changed. With ever-increasing frequency, Arkansas eateries are making well-executed, delicious, meat-free dishes. Below, we offer a jumping off point for vegetarians, vegans and people who just like good food that happens to be meat-free.
4Square Cafe & Gifts This restaurant is ideal if you work downtown and are looking for something light and healthy. We usually opt for the soup du jour and the tofu hummus wrap, which is filling and bold thanks to the Kalamata olive spread inside. Chips, a limp pickle spear and other traditional sides don't come with the sandwiches and wraps, which is a plus, since you'll want to save room for dessert. Options range from hand-dipped Yarnell's ice cream to baked sweets to cookies, pie, and cake. Everything is vegetarian. 405 President Clinton Ave. 244-2622. CC. No alcohol. 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri., 10:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sun.
Argenta Market You'll find a wealth of products from Arkansas here to make homemade meat-free meals at home, including a good variety of produce. The bread and pastry case is filled with goodies from Boulevard Bread Co. and Community Bakery, a convenience for those who live on the north side of the river. The deli in the back of the market offers a fine portabella sandwich, but it's the deluxe grilled cheese sandwich with melted Colby and cheddar cheese, served with a sublime roasted tomato-onion jam, that truly stands out. Excellent house-made potato chips come on the side. 521 Main St., North Little Rock. 379-9980. CC. Beer and wine. 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 7 a.m.-8 p.m., 9 a.m. Sun.
Banana Leaf Indian Cuisine Banana Leaf serves flavorful, authentic Indian food, and there are always good veggie options. We dig the masala dosas, pakoras, veggie samosas and the vadas (savory lentil doughnut). But be prepared to wait awhile. 201 N. Van Buren Street. 227-0860. Cash only. No alcohol. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Bangkok Thai An oasis in the Central Arkansas Thai restaurant desert, this stall inside the River Market's Ottenheimer Hall offers all your basic Thai staples done well. A favorite entree is the pad kra pao, a stir-fry with bell pepper, carrots, onion, tofu and lots of basil, served on a bed of rice. The food is prepared to order, which is a good thing, but don't visit if you are in a hurry. Most, not all, items can be made without meat and tofu substituted. 400 President Clinton Ave. 374-5105. CC. No alcohol. 10:30 am- 4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Big Orange If you find yourself on Chenal Parkway, this is a great place to pop into for a meat-free specialty burger. Big Orange is better known for beef, but the veggie patties are clearly not an afterthought. Their homemade, moist and well-textured, and there are nine burger varieties to choose from. An added bonus -- all the starters are vegetarian. There are some interesting salads, as well. 17809 Chenal Parkway. 821-1515. CC. Full bar. 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 10:30 a.m.- 10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Boulevard Bread Start your week off with Meatless Mondays from 4 to 7 p.m. Each Monday, the Heights location offers a veg-friendly hot plate dinner. These meals are usually made with local produce and have included Asian fried tofu with shiitake mushrooms, curried Jamaican veggies, vegetarian chili and eggplant parmesan. On its regular menu, all four Boulevard locations have a vegan hummus sandwich and two veggie sandwiches -- goat cheese and mozzarella -- as well as a veggie Greek sampler plate. There's usually a veggie soup option, too. And if that option is Mexican black bean with creme fraiche, you definitely don't want to miss out. 1920 North Grant Street (Heights). 663-5951.CC. Wine, beer. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 4301 West Markham Street.526-6661. 1417 Main Street. 375-5100. 400 President Clinton Avenue.375-2552. CC. No alcohol.7 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Cafe Bossa Nova This Brazilian cafe features an entire section on its menu for vegetarians and vegans. It's hard to go wrong with the arroz com feijao (black beans and rice). It's a simple dish, done right. You'll also find salads here made with fresh greens, fruit and nuts. Try to save room for dessert. The cafe's tres leites, rice pudding and bread pudding are all recommended. You'll find pastries and bread and some of the best coffee in town at the restaurant's bakery next door, Rosalia's. 2701 Kavanaugh Blvd. 614-6682. CC. Full bar. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Sat.; 10:30 a.m.- 2 p.m. Sun.
Chi's Dim Sum & Bistro With it's neutral exterior and Shackleford location, Chi's blends into the surrounding chain restaurants. But it isn't a chain -- it's runs by a family that has been serving up Chinese food in Little Rock for 30 years. They offer an entire vegetarian menu, full of bean curd and marinated tofu and veggie bowls. 6 Shackleford Drive.221-7737. CC. Full bar. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
Curry in a Hurry Indian restaurant in a west Little Rock strip mall, with an astounding number of veggie and even vegan dishes. Dependably hearty and yummy. 11121 N. Rodney Parham Road. 224-4567. CC. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Mon., Wed-Sun. Closed Tuesday.
Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro Downtown and New Orlean's themed, with creole-style dishes and an extensive menu. There are a few veggie sandwiches and any pasta can go veg -- some even go vegan! Bonus for fun atmosphere and affordable half-orders. 200 River Market Avenue, 375-3500,CC, full bar. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Tue.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri - Sat.
Delicious Temptations One of the first places to get a vegetarian sandwich in town, Delicious Temptations still serves several strong ones, especially The Grasshopper —spinach, avocado, tomato, purple onion, provolone, sprouts and house dressing. We're fond of breakfast, too. A notable dish is the Nest Egg, a scramble with mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, and zucchini on a whole wheat pita, topped with black olives, tomatoes and sour cream. We hold the eggs Benedict in high regard, too. And always appreciate the little touches, like house-made strawberry butter that comes standard with your croissant. 11220 N Rodney Parham Road, 225-6893. CC. No alcohol. 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily.
Dempsy Bakery Retro-cute lunch joint and bakery that specializes in nontraditional dietary options. Everything is gluten-free, and you can special order vegan baked goods here. Usually there's something vegan and sweet readily available in the display case. Daily lunch options include a rotating vegetarian sandwich and on Wednesdays, a veggie pot pie. 323 S. Cross Street. CC. No alcohol. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
The Food Truck, which serves only sandwiches, has three veggie options ($7) each -- a jerk black bean quesadilla with pineapple, red pepper and cheese, a fruity cream cheese and a portabella. Check Facebook to keep up with their location, and look for them on south Main St. every Thursday. CC. No alcohol.
Genghis Grill A Mongolian BBQ chain where you start with a raw food buffet and build your own bowl. There are plenty of proteins (including tofu), veggies and starches, and the whole concept is a lot of fun. Service is quick, seating is cramped, and the raw bar is always a bit messy. Nine bucks gets you a huge portion. 12318 Chenal Parkway.223-2695.CC.Full bar.11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Green Cuisine This food truck parked in the fenced lot at 6th and Chester exclusively serves vegetarian fare. Find daily specials via Twitter (@grncuisine) and Facebook (facebook.com/GreenCuisine). Regular items worth mentioning include the Philly portabella sub, the bleu cheese mac and cheese, and the sweet potato slaw. It's worth getting the meal deal, which includes a drink and a side. If you call ahead, Green Cuisine will bring it out to your car. Corner of 6th and Chester. 454-7555. No alcohol. CC. 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
Istanbul Mediterranean Restaurant Authentic Turkish fare with an all-veg appetizer menu, where you'll find babaganouj, stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie, falafel, hummus and a sampler plate. There are a couple of unique offerings, such as the Cigar Pastry (fried filo stuffed with cheese) and the creamy, red lentil soup. 11525 Cantrell Road #914.223-9332. No alcohol. CC.11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.
Izzy's A West Little Rock lunch staple, Izzy's offers separate vegan and gluten-free menus and a large selection of organic, loose-leaf tea. There's a ginger-spiked veggie burger, famed vegan tamales and a nice selection of veggie soups, salads, sandwiches and pastas. 5601 Ranch Drive. 868-4311. Wine and beer. CC. 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat.
Jimmy's Serious Sandwiches Go for The Garden, Jimmy's spectacular veggie sandwich. It's three melted cheeses, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, sprouts and spinach salad sandwich spread, served on pumpernickel bread — a sandwich befitting the restaurant's name. Jimmy's raspberry-lemon zinger iced tea and lemon squares are also recommended. 5116 W. Markham St. 666-3354. CC. No alcohol.11 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
Kbird A food truck with a stripped down menu -- pad Thai, Thai-fried rice, red and green curry -- and any of them can go vegan. The ginger cookies also get rave reviews. 611 Beechwood Street (behind Mrs. Polka Dot).352-3549. CC. No alcohol. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
La Hacienda Besides the veg-friendly offerings sprinkled liberally throughout the menu, there's an earmarked section with nine dishes, priced at $8 each. True, most of them are Mexican standards -- rice, beans, cheese and stuffed peppers --but it's nice that they're separated and grouped into meals, so that you don't have to piece things together. While you're there, try the homemade fruit punch. 3024 Cantrell Rd.661-0600.CC. Full bar.11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Layla's "Got me on my knees, Layla's!" we can't help singing every time we come here. Because, well, for starters, the baba ghannouj is the best on the planet. Eat it as a meal. Also, the lentil soup is a light, simple medley and the falafel, served with creamy and tart tzatziki, is a crispy, filling delight. We've never had a bad visit, and there aren't many other restaurants we can say that about. 9501 N Rodney Parham. CC. No alcohol. 227-7272. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.
Lily's Dim Sum We like to stop at this Asian Fusion restaurant when we're out on Rodney Parham shopping (ahem, Whole Foods, Goodwill, Drug Emporium, ethnic groceries) or after taking in a flick at Market Street. About half the menu is vegetarian and some items go vegan. We like the Thai curry bowl, the Thai cucumber salad, congee (savory rice porridge) and the Yasai Korokke (potato croquettes).11121 North Rodney Parham Road.716-2700.CC. Beer, wine. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 11:30 a.m. -9 p.m. Sun.
Milford Track A hidden gem in a west Little Rock office building, Milford Track has been family-owned since 1989. There are soups, salads, sandwiches and glorious desserts. There's a garden burger and several veggie options, but the grill closes at 2 pm., so after that, it's nothing but cold stuff. Extra plus for the old jukeboxes they keep in the back, that they'll show you if you ask. CC. No alcohol. 10809 Executive Center Dr.223-2257.8 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.
Pei Wei Asian Diner Ok, so it's a chain. But Pei Wei is one of the most veg-friendly restaurants in town because pretty much the whole menu can go veg and a lot of it can even go vegan. And these folks are simply the best at cooking tofu. Convenient to University Avenue shopping and a perfect lunch spot if you work in the area. Go there for rice, noodle and veggie bowls with a variety of chile and curry sauces at about $7 a pop. This place is often packed, but the buffet-style order line moves quickly, and then food is brought to your table. 205 N University Ave. 280-9423. CC. Beer and wine. 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., Sun.; 10:30 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Sat.
The Root Socially conscious sunlit breakfast and lunch nook with local ingredients and veggie and vegan options. Try the Spicy Bahn Mi. This place is usually good for at least one vegan dessert option, as well. 1500 S. Main St., Little Rock, AR 72202. 414-0423. CC. No alcohol. 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tues.- Fri. 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sat.
Star of India Where Sami knows your name! The friendly owner is also sensitive to vegetarians. He's steered us away from dishes we wouldn't have thought included meat in the past. Go for the daily lunch buffet, 11 a.m.-2:45 p.m., if you've got a big appetite. And try the daal soup. It's savory, spicy and delicious. 301 N Shackleford Road. 227-9900. CC. Beer and wine.11 a.m.-2:45 p.m., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., Sun.; 11 a.m.-2:45 p.m., 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Veggi Deli Located inside the massive ethnic market Asian Groceries, this small deli offers a Western Indian, Gujarati-style vegetarian menu that's as delicious as it is cheap. Different from other Indian food in town, the menu might be overwhelming to newcomers, but adventurers will be rewarded. The ragdo samosa and the chat papadi each come highly recommended. 9112 Rodney Parham Road. 221-9977. CC. No alcohol. 10:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
White Water Tavern Stift Station's favorite dive bar has a handful of dinner offerings, and maybe two of them are veg. The curry fries are great, but the vegan Philly cheesesteak will keep you coming back. 2500 W. Seventh Street. 375-8400. CC. Full bar. 5 p.m. -2 a.m. Tue.-Sat.
ZaZa Here you'll find the best salad bars in Central Arkansas. The meat in any of the menu salads can be substituted out and of course you can make your own creation. Plus, there are endless toppings available for wood-oven pizza and authentic gelato for dessert. 5600 Kavanaugh Blvd. 661-9292. CC. Beer, wine, margaritas. 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.