There seems to be no end to Mexican restaurants in Arkansas, and to be honest, most of them are terrible, serving up dishes filled with the same bland ground beef and coated with limpid, uninspiring red sauce and watery cheese dip. The La Hacienda family of restaurants doesn’t do any of this, and it’s far and away our favorite place for Mexican in central Arkansas. For years, the Hot Springs location was a Friday night must for myself and friends, and now that I’m closer to the Benton location it’s been nice to see that the quality and taste of the dishes remains constant. There really isn’t a bad thing on the menu, from quesadillas loaded with marinated chicken to seasoned, grilled shrimp to a liver and onions with chorizo dish that blows me away every time. The service is almost always stellar and friendly, and the food comes out hot and fresh with surprising speed.
One of my favorite things on the menu is the torta, a Mexican submarine sandwich that is a full meal on bread (and inexpensive at only $5.99): grilled carne asada, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and a layer of La Hacienda’s wonderful, rich refried beans. I seriously don’t know how they make these beans, but there’s not another Mexican place in the state that comes close to matching them. The torta is served on a toasted roll, and I’ve eaten half of one of these for lunch and had the rest for dinner – it’s that huge. The torta is also available with chicken, and while the chicken at La Hacienda is great, I really love the marinated steak.
Jess’ entrée was another one of our favorites, the Carne Asada La Hacienda Style, a mixture of grilled steak, tomatoes, onions, and fresh cilantro served up with rice, beans, and fresh guacamole. The tomatoes and onions in this dish are cooked just enough to bring out their flavor without losing any of their good freshness. This mixture folded into a tortilla with a generous spoonful of guacamole and a dash of fresh salsa is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, and a variation of this dish with chorizo is one of my favorite things on the menu.
Taking into account the Hot Springs location, I’ve probably eaten at La Hacienda more than any other restaurant over the last fifteen years, and the food and service have remained consistently excellent. The restaurants are family owned, and the pride they have with the food they serve is apparent with the high level of attention each guest receives – at La Hacienda, you don’t have one server, you have a room full of folks who will make sure you don’t run out of chips and salsa and who will never let your glass of tea (or delicious orange punch) get more than halfway empty. The menu is extensive, and can fit almost any taste or budget – the shredded beef tacos and pork tamales are definite “do-not-miss” dishes, and if fajitas are your thing, they have an excellent “fajitas for two” combo for a very reasonable $21.99. Other than our local taqueria, there’s really no other place in Benton I’ll eat Mexican, because when it’s this good, why bother?
La Hacienda is located right off Interstate 30 in Benton (right next to Wal-Mart), and are open for lunch and dinner daily. During the week they have an excellent lunch menu at reduced prices (but not reduced portions), but the dinner menu is reasonable as well. Don’t pass this one up if you’re in the area – it’s one of the best places to eat in Saline County. Enjoy!