12 Best Restaurants in Jacksonville, Arkansas

Last Updated on February 15, 2024 by Emily Johnson


Jacksonville is a vibrant small city located just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. With a population of over 28,000, Jacksonville has developed a thriving food scene over the years. From downhome Southern cooking to internationally inspired cuisine, Jacksonville offers delicious dining options to satisfy all tastes and budgets.

In this article, we have compiled a list of the 12 best restaurants that Jacksonville has to offer. From longstanding institutions serving comfort food favorites to newer hotspots making a name for themselves on the local culinary stage, these are the top-rated picks by both critics and customers alike. Whether you’re a lifelong resident or just passing through, make sure to stop by these must-try eateries during your next visit.

Old School Diner

When it comes to quintessential Southern comfort food in Jacksonville, look no further than Old School Diner. Located on Main Street in a historic building from the 1950s, the restaurant has retained its mid-century charm and allure over the decades. From the classic diner counter seating to the vintage Coca-Cola ads adorning the walls, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time upon entering.

Of course, the menu matches the retro vibes with time-honored favorites like chicken fried steak, meatloaf, pot roast, and chicken and dumplings made from scratch daily. Be sure to also try their fluffy buttermilk biscuits and generous slices of freshly baked pies including chocolate, coconut cream, and lemon icebox. With its warm hospitality and stick-to-your-ribs fare, Old School Diner offers a quintessential blast-from-the-past dining experience.

Fly By Cajun Restaurant

For a tasty taste of Louisiana-inspired cuisine, make a stop at Fly By Cajun Restaurant located just off Highway 67/167. Owned by a Louisiana native, Fly By brings authentic Bayou State flavor to Central Arkansas with Cajun staples like gumbo, jambalaya, and étouffée made according to old family recipes. Popular picks include the fried catfish platter served with hushpuppies and house-made remoulade sauce as well as the hearty crawfish étouffée ladled over white rice.

In true Cajun fashion, the casual and welcoming eatery tends to get boisterous on weekend nights when there’s live zydeco music and dancing. So come hungry and ready for some fiery Southern hospitality. Fly By’s friendly service, po’boy sandwiches, and potent hurricanes make you feel fais do-do down in Lafayette.

Basil Garden Restaurant

For a culinary journey through the flavors of Asia, visit Basil Garden Restaurant located downtown. Family-owned and operated since 1995, Basil Garden provides an intimate fine dining experience focused on elevated Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese fare. Artfully presented dishes like pad thai, basil eggplant, and green papaya salad deliver an harmonious blend of savory, sweet, sour, and spicy tastes. Seafood lovers shouldn’t miss the chili crispy whole tilapia or lobster pad Thai bursting with tender meat.

Beyond the food, attentive servers and tranquil, upscale ambiance heighten the experience at Basil Garden. With its serene garden-inspired décor, white tablecloths, and warm low lighting, it makes for an ideal date night destination. So for a relaxing evening of authentic Eastern cuisine made with quality ingredients, look no further than this local gem. Their specialties provide a mouthwatering tour of Asia through expertly balanced and beautifully plated dishes.

Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales

No list of Jacksonville’s best restaurants is complete without Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, an iconic local institution for over 30 years. Originally a small roadside stand, Rhoda’s has grown into a full-fledged restaurant while staying true to its claim-to-fame fried hot tamales. Their house-made cornmeal tamales coated in a crispy, spicy layer of masa batter is the stuff of legend around these parts. Beyond the OG tamales, Rhoda’s also plates up soul food staples like smothered pork chops, baked mac and cheese, and collard greens cooked in ham hocks.

Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, Rhoda’s draws hungry crowds who line up to get seated in the cozy café. Between the sweet and savory tamales, hearty portions, and Rhoda herself dishing customers with a side of sass, this off-the-beaten-path shack delivers true Southern charm and flavor.

La Cabaña Mexican Café

When craving fresh, authentic Mexican fare in Jacksonville, check out cozy neighborhood favorite La Cabaña Mexican Café. Specializing in Tex-Mex comfort food and vibrant interior Mexican cuisine, La Cabaña sources many ingredients straight from Mexico to craft flavorful dishes. House specialties include tender carnitas roasted for hours, sizzling fajitas served steaming hot, and complex chili verde packed with braised pork shoulder.

Beyond the savory mains, start your meal with homemade salsas, warm tortilla chips, and creamy queso fundido for dipping. And no meal at La Cabaña would be complete without saving room for tres leches cake, flan custard, or a cup of Mexican hot chocolate. With bold flavors, warm hospitality, and Cabaña’s famous margaritas, this vibrant eatery provides an authentic south-of-the-border experience.

Mu Mu’s Italian Restaurant

Bringing a taste of Italy to Jacksonville since 1992, Mu Mu’s Italian Restaurant crafts classic pastas, pizzas, and parmesan-crusted mains. Visitors adore Mu Mu’s for its welcoming mom-and-pop atmosphere with checkered tablecloths, bottles of Chianti, and Frank Sinatra crooning over the speakers. Menu must-tries include the baked ziti layered high with ooey gooey cheese, the New York-style pizza with bubbling hot toppings and charred crust, and eggplant parmesan smothered in marinara sauce and melted mozzarella.

Alongside familiar dishes, Mu Mu’s also plates up daily rotating blue plate specials often featuring family recipes direct from the old country. So expect one-of-a-kind pasta Bolognese, chicken piccata, and seafood risottos when dining here. With friendly service and a cozy setting, Mu Mu’s brings all the best flavors and feels of Italy to Central Arkansas.

The Pantry Crest

Housed in a 1930s gas station, The Pantry Crest in downtown Jacksonville delivers farm-to-table regional cuisine with European finesse. Young chef de cuisine Mark Abernathy sources quality local ingredients to craft New Southern plates both refined yet approachable. The seasonally rotating menu often includes elevated comfort dishes like buttermilk fried quail, cast iron seared trout, and pork osso bucco served over stone ground polenta.

Beyond the expertly prepared food, the historic building itself oozes rustic charm with its vintage touches, exposed brick walls, and repurposed retro décor. Equally intimate and inviting, the Pantry Crest creates memorable dining experiences through soulful cooking techniques, personable hospitality, and cozy handcrafted ambiance. So come relish their latest farm fresh creations while supporting the local food movement.

Mariachi’s Fresh Mexican Grill

When seeking fast casual fare with authentic zest, check out Mariachi’s Fresh Mexican Grill conveniently located by the air force base. Keeping quality ingredients at the forefront, Mariachi sticks to basics done right by grilling up savory tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and fajita plates filled with your choice of meat or veggies. Top it all off with their house-made pico de gallo, guacamole, and salsa bringing cool, fresh contrast to the hot stuffed tortillas.

Mariachi’s also offers amazing happy hour specials making it a popular neighborhood hangout. So grab a margs-rita pitcher with friends and nosh on some empanada appetizers or classic Mexican street corn sprinkled with queso fresco. Affordable, convenient, and bursting with authentic Latin flavor, Mariachis hits the spot for a fast but delicious Tex-Mex meal.

Rolling Pin Café and Bakery

For freshly baked breads, vintage-style sodas, and sweet confections, the Rolling Pin Café and Bakery is a cherished local favorite. Family-owned and operated since 2012, everything at the Rolling Pin gets made daily from scratch whether it be artisan sourdough loaves, seasonal fruit pies, or decadent layer cakes covered in Swiss meringue buttercream. Beyond the sugary treats, their lunch menu also includes gourmet sandwiches and salads featuring house-roasted deli meats and local dairy.

The kitschy retro interior harkens back to classic 1950s soda fountains and bakeries with its black-and-white checkered floors and display cases brimming with cookies, tarts, and layer cakes tempting passersby. So whether craving a hearty sandwich on freshly baked onion focaccia or a towering slice of their legendary “Better Than Sex” chocolate cake, the Rolling Pin hits that sweet spot for lunchtime bites or an afternoon sugar fix.

Big Orange Burger and Lanes

When craving quintessential American classics of burgers, fries, and milkshakes alongside bowling and arcade games, head to Big Orange Burger and Lanes located on the southside. As suggested by the name, juicy char-grilled burgers take center stage at Big Orange with build-your-own options as well as house specialty patties like the fried pickle-topped Big Dill. Crispy onion rings, creamy shakes, and local craft beers round out this all-American menu.

After you order at the counter, kick back at a lane to bowl a frame or two while waiting for your meal. The vintage alley also offers fun activities for all ages like billiards, shuffleboard, air hockey, and state-of-the-art arcade games. Equal parts family entertainment center and burger café, Big Orange fires on all cylinders when it comes to comfort food and good times.

Seafood Shack

For the area’s most scrumptious seafood straight from the Gulf, look no further than fan favorite Seafood Shack. Tucked away on a country road outside the city, this unassuming shack plates up heaping portions of golden fried catfish, jumbo prawns, and East Coast oysters shucked to order. Seafood Shack even flies their lobster tails in fresh from Maine which get grilled and served alongside loaded baked potatoes and buttery corn.

Since opening its doors in 1985, Seafood Shack has attracted hungry locals craving tasty quiet spots off the beaten path. Beyond the fresh fare, visitors also love the old Florida-style interior complete with fishing nets, nautical décor, and crayon doodled tables covered in butcher paper. So grab some napkins and come with an empty stomach to discover this hidden neighborhood treasure of messy seafood delights.

Mimi’s Hummingbird Bakery

Satisfying Jacksonville’s sweet tooth since 1978, Mimi’s Hummingbird Bakery crafts fondant cakes, custom cookies, and artisan French pastries. Their glass cases overstuffed with éclairs, macarons, fruit tarts, and petit fours make it difficult to choose just one treat. Luckily, Mimi’s also offers Southerntea-style lunch service with petite sandwiches, creamy soups topped with puff pastry lattice, and fresh mixed green salads.

Whether stopping by for an afternoon nibble or ordering a special occasion cake, customers rave about Mimi’s decadent sweets and charming hospitality. The smiles and laughter shared between patrons and the staff cultivate a cozy community vibe unmatched by larger franchise bakeries. So next time a sugar craving hits or it’s birthday time, visit this treasured local legend baking up joy and happiness with every confection.

Conclusion

From the downhome Southern cooking at Old School Diner to the elevated New American cuisine of The Pantry Crest, Jacksonville offers an array of tempting dining destinations. So next time hunger calls, explore the local food scene by visiting these 12 best eateries loved by both longtime locals and first-time visitors. With such a diversity of flavors and experiences, you’re sure to discover new favorite dishes and restaurants to add to your regular rotation. Bon appétit!

Leave a Comment