A lot of towns across Arkansas have good restaurants that make great burgers. Little Rock has more than its share. But there’s a particular bit of highway that runs through town that seems to draw good burgers in.
That’d be Highway 10, known as Cantrell Road within the city limits. Within two blocks on either side of the road, you’ll find some of the best examples of all-beef nirvana on a bun. Here’s a quick rundown, west to east.
Start out at Thirst N’ Howl. This little Gilligan’s Island themed restaurant utilizes names from the popular TV show to denote its different burgers. Served with American cheese, the Skipper’s Burger is a classic All-American burger (you can also have it with Swiss or pepper jack). It’s a nice Cavender’s-and-black-pepper flavored half pound burger patty cooked medium well, sitting on a soft untoasted and unseeded bun, griddle-cooked with cheese melted into the patty. It comes with ridgy hamburger dill slices, red onion, a couple of chunks of tomato and green leaf lettuce with a gob of mayo under the top bun and a good quality stoneground type mustard on the bottom.
Head further east to the Promenade on Chenal and you’ll encounter the only national chain operation on this list… but it would be strange to talk burgers and not mention Cheeburger Cheeburger. The Little Rock outlet is decorated in neon and 50s style; trivia cards on the table hold your interest while you wait for your custom made burger. You choose and pay for the size, then you choose what comes on the burger. There’s everything from onion rings to black olives, artichoke hearts to pepperoni that can go on your burger.
Cross I-430 and pass the reservoir and you’ll find The Purple Cow on the left. This is a fabulous spot to get a good ice cream soda or banana split. The Rodeo Burger is a big star here. It’s a traditional quarter pound burger topped with onion rings, bacon, Cheddar cheese and honey mustard barbecue sauce.
Down a quarter mile on the left, you’ll find Burger Mama’s. The restaurant recently moved from its location at Shackleford and Kanis… I suspect to take advantage of being on Burger Row. The double is a lot better deal than the single — and you can always split it and share. They are messy burgers. There’s no guts and glory to these burgers — at nearly a third a pound each, these smashburgers are hefty and tall.
Within spitting distance is Crazee’s Cool Cafe. This bar (21 and older only, smoking allowed) serves up any burger, fries and a beverage for $7.50 for lunch. And there are several to choose from, including a Mexican burger, an Italian, a Cheeseburger and a Hamburger and a Bacon Cheeseburger and a BBQ Burger. The Mushroom Swiss Burger is a hot mess of sliced button mushrooms and Swiss cheese melted into a big flat patty on top of lettuce and tomato. It all comes out in a paper-lined basket with fries and you’re going to need a whole heck of a lot of napkins.
Then there’s Arkansas Burger Company, past Mississippi a few blocks on the left. Look for the green roof. The big two-fisted burger comes on a buttered sesame seeded bun — that end up three inches apart thanks to two gigantically thick half pound patties coated in cheese, hamburger dill pickles and white onion on the bottom, shredded iceberg lettuce and a big thick slice of tomato on the top. Those loose-packed hand formed patties have a nice light burger crust, seasoned with a little salt, pepper and Greek seasoning, loose packed and juicy. Get some cheese dip while you are there.
On the other side of University, take a left and go a block in to R Street. Look for the white and red awning of Burge’s in the Heights. The classic burgers are charbroiled and served toasty, old-fashioned style in that white wax paper with the toothpick, with either some of those crispy fries or a tray of cornmeal-crusted onion rings and a chocolate malt or a pineapple shake. If you miss this location, check out the original in Lewisville.
A block and a half north of that is Sushi Cafe, which sells sushi. It also sells mean, lean burgers like the impressive Titanic Burger. Made from Black Angus beef, the three-patty burger doesn’t squish much, making it that much harder to put in your mouth. But what a flavor! THe tempura-battered sweet potato fries are excellent.
Just down Kavanaugh and still within two blocks of Cantrell Road is Cheers in the Heights. They do great food all the way around, and they do a great burger called the Old Fashioned. Half a pound of griddle fried lean ground beef on a toasted Kaiser roll, meat salt and pepper seasoned with a little of what tasted like Tony Chachere’s in the background, red onion slivers, tomato, mustard, lettuce and hamburger dills. This Old Fashioned is named after the traditional dairy-bar favorite where the mustard usually goes directly on the meat.
Head down Cantrell Hill, and at the foot you’ll find the Rebsamen Triangle. This conjunction of Old Cantrell Road and Rebsamen Park Road is a mecca of good restaurants, several with their own burgers. The grand-daddy of all these burgers is the Town Pump Burger at the Town Pump, a great local watering hole. Swiss and Cheddar cheese, “special mayo” and black olives give this burger a great salty-tangy flavor that’s unmatched just about anywhere.
A block away you’ll find Maddie’s Place, a New Orleans inspired joint that serves up a Hamburger Po’Boy with your choice of side (get a half salad, it’s good for you). Doled up on buttered French bread, this chargrilled patty covered with cheese is paired with remoulade for a Crescent City flavor.
Buffalo Grill is next door, and its traditional burber comes with chips and a pickle spear, toasted and seeded bun and plenty of vegetation. The default condiment is mustard, which goes along well with the flavor of the patty, a traditional salt-and-pepper hand-patted medium-packed patty with a light char and decent thickness. The mustard (and/or whatever other condiment you want) goes on the top bun, followed downwards by pickle, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, white onion and nothing between the patty and the bottom bun, prime for absorbing any residual griddle juice. It’s tall, requires both hands and smushery to get it consumed.
And there’s Red Door, with its Mamma’s Manna bun. The Really Good Burger is a classic double smashburger smacked with a liberal amount of cheese (Cheddar, Provolone or American) and served with a pile of regular and sweet potato fries. This is where good burger meets gourmet.
Head further east on down to Downtown and turn off on Ringo. Over on Markham you’ll find Doe’s Eat Place and its cheeseburger, a half pound of medium-well cooked beef on a white seedless untoasted bun, pasted to that top bun with a slice of American (not pasteurized-processed) cheese. The bun is chilly, the meat is hot and the big pile of iceberg lettuce on the bottom is cool and crispy and coated with the mayonnaise that also covers the bottom bun. A hearty slice of tomato and some somewhat thick ridgy dills accompany — and there’s nary an onion slice to be found.
And then at the end of Cantrell, when it gets up to Markham right at the River Market, you turn right and go down two blocks to the Capitol Hotel, where just about the best burger I have ever eaten lives. Capitol Bar and Grill’s burger is sirloin steak ground fresh served with locally raised produce, housemade pickles and, if you’re smart enough to ask for it, pimento cheese on top. Oh man.
Fifteen burgers, eleven miles… that’s what makes Cantrell Road/Highway 10 Little Rock’s burger corridor.