Let’s start this list off with the obvious disclaimer: I did not taste every dish in every restaurant in the Little Rock area this year. In fact, I didn’t eat at every Little Rock restaurant in 2014. I did, however, do my best to visit as many eateries as possible, and these 10 dishes were the best I tasted this year.
This is, without a doubt, the most difficult best-of-2014 feature for me. The dishes that fell just outside the top 10 were outstanding, and it pained me to leave them out. But in the end, these were the plates that left the biggest impact on me.
I’m happy to say that seven of these dishes can be found in regular rotation on menus around the city (the other three were one-time specials). I’ve indicated the specials on this list. The seven that you can find almost every day are ones that I highly urge you to try for yourself.
I’ve already written pretty extensively about each of these dishes, so I’ve only written a few sentences on each in this article. Click on the dish name to read my original review.
The most classic item in my top 10, and by far the best pizza I ate in 2014. Fresh, bold flavors are framed by a perfectly charred and seasoned crust. The Margherita style can be found in pizzas around the city, but I can’t think of a better way to present basil and tomatoes than on a Neapolitan style pizza.
This dish was supposed to be for two people, but I was enjoying it way too much to share with anybody. Matt Bell’s decision to cook all the elements of the boil separately worked wonders. All of the individual flavors were able to stand alone, while the final addition of seasoning tied everything together. One of the most unforgettable plates I’ve ever had.
My vegetarian dish of the year, this curry features one of the best combinations of sweetness and spiciness I’ve ever eaten. The seasonal vegetable selection is traditional and perfectly cooked. Even though there are protein options available, I found them unnecessary. Kemuri is a special restaurant, and this dish is exemplary of the quality found here.
Consider this my appeal to Justin Patterson to feature this regularly at his upcoming brick-and-mortar restaurant. This dish has some of the best pork flavor I’ve tasted on a plate. As with most of Patterson’s work, Southern U.S. and Asian ingredients marry perfectly, with white beans and braised greens easily combining with hoison and chili sauce. I still can’t believe this dish is made in a food truck.
Note: In my original review, I called this dish a special. Since then, Patterson has featured it with enough frequency to make it a regular entrée.
The Foodcast sandwich of the year; indeed, most foodies and critics would call this one of the greatest sandwiches in the city. The flavor-packed beef cheeks just melt in your mouth thanks to Brandon Brown’s braising technique, while the toppings give the meal a deep background. My advice still stands: get to H.A.M. early when this one is on the menu.
This abstract deconstruction is unquestionably the best dessert I had this year, and one of the best I’ve ever eaten. The final course of the Four Roses bourbon dinner featured nearly half a dozen expertly made components that were just magical together. That includes the best marshmallows and the best panna cotta I’ve ever had, all on one plate! The preparation time and (I’m guessing) price point means this dish won’t ever be a regular, and that’s fine. The word “special” was made for this dessert.
The Foodcast’s pick for best food truck dish of 2014, these Nepalese dumplings absolutely sing. Vibrant, harmonious flavors of cilantro, garlic and other seasonings elevate the meat stuffed into perfectly steamed bites. You’ll recognize the Asian heritage instantly, but these dumplings are still unlike any I’ve ever tried. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, get to this food truck soon to enjoy a truly special dish.
I would venture to call Donnie Ferneau’s new healthy philosophy a resounding success. I still can’t believe how much flavor is found in these peppers, led by the excellent roasted tomato and house-made chimichurri sauces. All of Little Rock would be losing weight if everybody could make healthy cuisine taste this amazing.
I’ve never eaten better chicken in my life. Is there a better compliment I can give this dish than that? So much care and attention went into this sublime third course from the Siembra Azul tequila dinner, and the result bordered on perfection. Again, the time and preparation involved likely mean this dish won’t ever be seen regularly, but just the knowledge that Ben Brainard and Scott McGehee are capable of this level of excellence leaves me excited for their next special dinner.
The Little Rock Foodcast’s pick for the best dish of 2014, and one that I hope everybody gets to try at least once. A regular customer at Table 28 actually begged chef Scott Rains never to remove it from the ever-changing menu. I second her recommendation. This is not just the best dish I’ve had this year. It’s the best dish I’ve ever had in Little Rock.
Note: The window for the Little Rock Foodcast’s “Best of 2014” period is Dec. 15, 2013-Dec. 14, 2014.
Other Little Rock Foodcast “Best of 2014” honors:
Best new restaurant – Kemuri
Best restaurateur – Tomas Böhm (The Pantry, The Pantry Crest)
Best chef – Scott Rains, Table 28
Best restaurant – Friday