Planning a stop in Little Rock, Arkansas? Here’s where to eat, drink, and stay, and what to see and do.
Arkansas’ capital city greets its visitors with an equal serving of southern hospitality and quirky originality. The city earned its name after French explorers discovered a stony outcropping in the Arkansas River, forever marking this untamed frontier as “La Petite Roche” (Little Rock). Today the only thing left untamed in Little Rock is the free-spirited creative energy that permeates the city’s revitalized downtown area, including its hottest shops, restaurants, and public spaces.
Where to Eat and Drink
This funky café in Little Rock’s trendy SoMa district is about as local as it gets in the city. Owners Jack and Corri Bristow Sundell source as much as possible from local farmers and craftsmen, from the meat and coffee to the wine and antique dairy bottles used to decorate the café’s modern farm-fresh interior. Dine inside repurposed shipping containers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, where standouts include vegetarian shiitake mushroom eggs Benedict, spicy banh mi sandwiches, and purple hull peas with cornbread.
Set inside a renovated 1960s filling station in Little Rock’s design-driven Riverdale neighborhood, this retro-chic cantina serves up Mexican comfort food with a twist. Heartier items include their Bison Burrito—loaded with ground bison, black beans, caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese, and drenched in a house-made ranchero sauce—while their lighter options include cauliflower ceviche topped with crunchy pepitas. Come in for brunch to experience their savory cornmeal waffle topped with braised pork, salsa verde, queso fresco, and a fried egg.
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Set inside the Paint Factory in Little Rock’s East Village, Cathead’s Diner opened in June of 2018 and quickly became the city’s most beloved brunch spot. This upscale diner serves breakfast and lunch from Tuesday through Friday, but it’s their all-you-can-eat Champagne brunch on Saturdays and Sundays that makes this place a must-visit while in town. Cathead’s earned its name from their signature southern biscuits that are “as big as a cat’s head,” but they also serve up modern twists on grandma’s recipes with favorites including their salted caramel potato chip pie and their house-smoked pulled pork nestled between a hand-made doughnut and topped with a farm fresh egg.
Two of Little Rock’s biggest names in food came together to create this swanky cocktail bar and bistro. They serve dinner and brunch, but it’s their cocktail program that’s made the patio the place to be for happy hour in Little Rock. Wednesdays are for wine (they have one of the best wine lists in the city), but the rest of the week it’s all about the cocktails, including the cherry limeade mule and the BLTini that comes with muddled basil, vodka, lemon juice, and a splash of simple syrup.
Named after the forty acres of Arkansas’ last remaining virgin soil, this craft brewery not only supports the conservation of those lost acres, they also make some of the best beer in the state. They’re best known for their year-round brews—including the Day Drinker Belgian Blonde, the Love Honey Bock, and the Crystal State Rockhound IPA—but locals line up with growlers as soon as their seasonal brews are released.
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This Hillcrest coffee shop started as a simple stall in the local farmers market, and has developed a loyal following as it has moved into its space inside a carefully restored historic building. The company buys their beans raw and green from single farms, estates, and cooperatives around the world and roasts them themselves before serving them hot or transforming them into decadent creations like their rosewater cappuccino made with house-made rosewater syrup.
What to See and Do
Locals are obsessed with this boutique ice creamery, where 100 percent of their 30 rotating and regular flavors are made entirely from scratch. Clichés aside, literally no trip to Little Rock is complete without a stop in for a cup or cone of one of their creative flavors. Try the Little Rocky-y Road with fresh Arkansas pecans and house made marshmallows or the Honey Lavender made with sweet cream steeped in lavender buds.
Located on the banks of the Arkansas River, the Little Rock River Market is the best way to get a feel for (and taste of) the city. Start with the Ottenheimer Market Hall—where merchants sell specialty items and locally made treats in a bustling food hall atmosphere—or at the open-air farmers market on Saturdays from May through September before heading out to Riverfront Park to see the actual Petite Roche that earned the city its name. The park also is a great starting point for getting on the Arkansas River Trail, a 17-mile trail that runs along the north and south banks of the Arkansas River and crosses over the city’s much-loved Big Dam Bridge.
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Although this non-profit began in 1944, Heifer International first opened its headquarters in Little Rock in 1970. The company seeks to end hunger and poverty around the world by supplying livestock and agricultural training to communities in need around the world. At the Heifer Village and Urban Farm in Little Rock, visitors can go behind the scenes of the headquarters and explore a three-acre urban farm that supplies many of the local restaurants with produce. Hang with alpacas, chickens, goats, and pigs before heading inside to Heifer Village to explore the exhibits and learn more about how even just one chicken can change the world.
Where to Stay
This historic hotel is often called “the front porch” of Little Rock, but don’t let the southern nickname confuse you; the Capital Hotel is Little Rock’s most luxurious and prestigious hotel. This downtown landmark dates back to 1876, and features 94 guest rooms and one of the biggest elevators you’ll ever see; legend has it that it was built so it could accommodate both a guest and his horse. The hotel is also home to two of the city’s highest rated restaurants, One Eleven at the Capital and Capital Bar & Grill.
Although the hotel is technically located in West Little Rock, The Burgundy Hotel is often regarded as the best hotel in the city. As part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton, the hotel welcomes guests over the age of 21 to experience any of its 43 luxury studios and suites. The hotel’s restaurant, Table 28, is run by award-winning chef Scott Rains and is the most sought-after dinner reservation in the city.
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Located in the historic Quapaw Quarter of Little Rock, the Empress of Little Rock’s stunning Victorian exterior and charming interior make it one of the top (and most romantic) bed and breakfasts in the city. Set inside an historic mansion, the hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features nine individually decorated guest rooms and suites, including the state’s only SPA suites where hydro-massage showers with steam and aromatherapy and double Jacuzzis help guests unwind in their historic quarters.