It was the Best of Restaurants, It was the Worst of Restaurants

In my other writing gig as a food critic for the Arkansas Times, I get to try a lot of restaurants in the city, and Jess and I have had more hits than misses — we’ve been lucky. One of the most fantastic hits we reviewed was the White Water Tavern, home of the mammoth burger and the occasional chicken and waffle taco special. Jonathan Wilkins has been running himself ragged getting that place whipped into shape, and his hard work is paying off the dividends of deliciousness. But not every place can be as good as White Water, so here are some of our most recent hits and misses in descending order of greatness.

Mostly a hit: RJ TAO Ultra Lounge. Although really not the kind of place that suits our personalities, Jess and I enjoyed our meal at RJ TAO. The restaurant gave me a chance to try kangaroo, and I’m always pretty excited to try something new. The best thing we ate all night was the Belgian chocolate fondue, which was rich and bittersweet — and surprisingly made a perfect coating for the fresh cantaloupe that was our favorite thing served to the side (we weren’t as big on the stale Rice Krispie treats). The worst thing we tried was also a fondue, this time of the classic cheese variety. Severe separation and textural issues really made hurt this dish, although the flavor of the cheese showed some promise. It may become one of Little Rock’s new trendy places (which they so desperately want), but my overall impression was that it’s a tad overpriced and trying way too hard to be hip. Still, if they settle down and keep using quality ingredients, they’ve got real potential.

Half Hit, Half Miss: Aladdin Kebab. The succulent chicken kebab at Aladdin is seriously one of the best grilled meat dishes I’ve ever tasted: excellent spice and flavor in the marinade, and a good char on the edges of the meat that made every bite a tender, smoky delight. The gyros were tasty, although I prefer a true yogurt-based tzatziki to the sour cream version used here. Hummus was incredibly smooth, and redolent of the tahini used (we could have used a taste more lemon to cut it). That’s the half-hit part. The half-miss is the Mexican side to this eclectic menu, which while decent, doesn’t come close to the level of the Mediterranean dishes. Still, worth a visit just for that kebab.

Pure Miss: Datsaburger. We have several really good burgers in this town from Big Orange to the Root Cafe. Datsaburger is so far removed from these places in terms of quality that the light from their galaxies would take a thousand years to reach it. Their website claims that the owners went all around the Mid-South searching for the secret to making a great burger — and I guess they didn’t find it. Apathetic service, apathetic meat, and worst of all, the abomination I have in that picture over there — the Razorback burger, a glorified McRib without even the decency to give you the pickles. And don’t even get me started on the food-poisoning-incident-waiting-to-happen that is their condiment bar.

Miss? Didn’t Even Show Up: Kebab House. What do you get when you eat at a place where the server first tells you that they’re out of a menu item and then serves it to the table that comes in 30 minutes after you? Kebab House. What restaurant serves up hummus without pita bread, says they’ll bring it to you after two requests, and never brings it to you by the time you leave? Kebab House. Who never offers to refill your drinks? Kebab House. Who advertised free Turkish coffee throughout the month of September and charged me for mine on September 28? Kebab House. SYNC Magazine thinks they’re okay, which should make you mistrustful to begin with. I haven’t left a restaurant this angry since the last time I ate at a Ruby Tuesday. I get asked sometimes what the worst place I’ve eaten is, and for 2012, the answer is (everybody now): Kebab House. Seriously, that place sucks, even the things they actually served us correctly.

Well, that’s an overview of the good, the bad, and the Kebab House. If you have any places  you think we should try, be sure to e-mail us at arkansas.foodies@gmail.com — we’re always looking for reader feedback. And if you like the Kebab House, may your gods have mercy on you. Cheers.

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