Burgers: The Return of The Box, a Little Rock favorite

There has been these past two years a great wringing of hands amongst burger lovers in Central Arkansas, all over a single burger joint. And that wringing has been justified.

See, it’s all about The Band Box, or The Box as it is affectionately known. The place goes back to 1948, when it was host to small bands that would come in and play to crowds who stuck around for the well-seasoned burgers. In later years, folks from outside the state knew the place by its full name because of its connection to Bill Clinton; in 1992, journalists descended on Little Rock to dig up anything they could about the up-and-coming presidential contender, and what they discovered was he really, really loved his food. Not as famed as Doe’s Eat Place but somewhat closer to the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, the little building got its share of visits from out-of-towners.

The place had its own charms… it also had its own problems… a tight little windowless dining room packed with mismatched chairs and tables, peeling linoleum on the floors and the waxy grease from the mist of a thousand times a thousand burgers slicking the walls. It was, to call it correctly, a joint.

 In June 2010 the proprietors announced the place would be closing its doors ahead of a move to 7th and Ringo. The building it used to be in had been purchased by USA Drug for the construction of a neighborhood pharmacy. I even wrote about the whole mess. They swore the new place would be open within a month.

Well, that didn’t happen.

First it was permit issues. Then something with the plumbing. Then this. And that. And frankly, a good number of people wrote off The Box. They assumed that if the place didn’t reopen on time, or even within a year, it was gone for good. There was no way it would be right.

I’m happy to say, those of little faith? They were wrong.

Today The Box reopened in its new location, finally, after all those months. Heck, let’s be honest, years — it’s been about two years since the old joint closed its doors. I dropped in right before the official soft opening at 11 a.m. to see what was going on.

The new place is spiffy. It’s painted red along all walls, and there are plenty of new tables and chairs. Remember the old formica-topped bar in the old place? It’s been replaced with a smart new granite countertop and chrome-and-black barstools.

But there are bits of the old place there. On the wall you’ll see one of the old joint’s most memorable features — decades of preserved bumper stickers for generations of radio stations and politicians. How’d they do that? Look closely. Those are the old refrigerator doors. You remember those, right? They were on the fridge that was between the big dining section and the kitchen. Yes, you can still read “Wilbur… Kiss Your Fanne” and other sorts of things on those doors. And if you don’t know who Wilbur was or why he needed to kiss Fanne… well, you musta not grown up in Little Rock, at least not back in the day. You probably also don’t know what the alternate name is for I-630.
And that’s an article I wrote about The Box, right before it closed, on the wall underneath.

Anyway, a lot has been preserved, but a lot is new, and it’s just shiny and pretty. And one major thing has changed. Instead of table service, you now order at the counter and go find a seat. They’ll bring you your burger, but you gotta go order it yourself and get you a drink. See?

I was one of the first to place my order today, and I sat at the counter and watched Miss Mae work her way through several orders while I was there. She’s always double-checking. Arthur is still on the griddle, too.

Which brings me to the burger. You can get yours with cheese — American, Swiss, Cheddar or Hot Pepper Jack — and with grilled onions or bacon or whatever you like. But a traditional Box burger comes with mayo and mustard, lettuce and tomato, pickle and onion on a toasted seedless bun. Mine was a little off-center, thanks to the instant glue the Cheddar cheese made when it came into contact with that top bread. But it was every bit as good as I remembered it. The patty, charred and packed with flavor, was a trip down into my deepest grease-lined burger memories.

And then there were the fries. I have to say, they were a little different. Yes, there’s still that great spice to them, but the ones I got were crispy and not the least bit greasy, which was a surprise. My dining mate and I came to an agreement that they were better, and likely as not they were that crisp since they were the first ones out of the fryer.

By the time I had finished, there were three dozen people waiting to order and a couple dozen already seated, some dining and some waiting. Someone had placed a humongous order of more than a dozen burgers, and that was slowing things down. Still, everyone seemed to be in a good mood and everyone was patiently waiting for their chance to experience a flavor that’s been missing from the Little Rock burger scene for so long.

The Box is now at 7th and Ringo. For now it’s only open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Stop in when you can.

Kat Robinson is the communications manager for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism's tourism division. She is a lifelong Arkansawyer with years of residency in Little Rock, Russellville and Jonesboro.

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7 comments on “Burgers: The Return of The Box, a Little Rock favorite
  1. jblocker says:

    Do they do to-go orders still and can we have a phone number?

  2. Kat Robinson says:

    Yes indeed. The Box does to-go orders; they do ask if it’s 10 burgers or more that you call before 11am with that order. The phone number is (501) 372-8735.

  3. Kari Pringle says:

    Good things come to those who wait! So glad The Box is open again and looks like many others are happy about it too! Best burger in town! The place looks great, I’ve already been in!!!

  4. T. Harris says:

    It’s truly about time! I eat at the Box in the old location for the first time and fell in love! Then they closed!! I’d written them off after checking the new location for opening. They’re back and like Arnold, “I”ll Be Back!”

  5. YOLANDA ROBINSON says:

    TWO WORDS LOVE IT !!!!!

  6. Holly says:

    ya know….when the owner passed away there was a great deal of grief between the family because of who she left it too, but one day i will get it back in our family, for my father and grandmother. if the new owner will sell that is… i rember the glass jar full of gum they always had sitting on the counter tops.you walk in the door and see the guy back there just grillin, or even JO cooking when she could. My grandmother would always run us out because she needed the tables. but when she gave it to the *new owners* it went downhill from there. im so glad to see it back! and i love that miss may there! she made the place feel like home! and the burgers where a knock out! Im gonna go this weekend and try out this new location! I have missed it!

  7. jay says:

    The box is usually good but I ate there today and was very disappointed. #NOCOLDFOOD

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