The last time we ate at Local Lime for work on a weekend was much too long ago, and so a relatively recent but still-chilly Saturday found us braving a crowd at 6:30 p.m. to join the wait list. Because this 7-year-old Latin-flavored west Little Rock margarita mecca still does not take reservations.
"It will be 45 minutes to an hour and 10 minutes," the hostess said, apologetically.
Address: 17815 Chenal Parkway, Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar
Take out: Yes
Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D
Wheelchair access: Yes
We grimaced at one another and would have backed out except — work. So she took our phone number and out we went, past the shivering clusters of young adults, onto the darkening sidewalks of The Promenade at Chenal, where we had nothing to do but investigate moderately pricey clothes shops. A mere 31 minutes twinkled away before a text summoned us to claim our table.
In another happy surprise, the hostess guided us through the dread din of the main dining room and bar, out the big garage doors and into the relative calm of the enclosed patio, where it didn't matter that we don't know sign language. And we were not seated in an outside corner table where a gap in the tenting let shivery breezes sneak in.
Tyler, our server, didn't have to tell us that, unlike most Mexican restaurants, there would be no basket of chips and serving of salsa for the table. Here, you order salsa from a menu featuring six unique recipes or — if you fear commitment — order three for $3.75.
This Choose 3 Salsas option is ideal. They arrive in a convenient caddy, each so different and strongly flavored that unless you are a total salsa hog, three diners can share. It helped that each chip slowed us down: Sturdy and unsalted, they are longish, broadish slices of fine-grind corn tortilla, fried daily and yet, somehow, they taste baked. (Three days later, my paper doggy bag was merely dotted with oil.)
Carnivorous Companion said the smoky House Tomato salsa reminded her of a powdered mix she uses in Colorado. "Don't get me wrong," she said, "it's good." But she let me finish it. She declared the Caribbean Mango salsa, a fine dice of not overripe mango, papaya and pineapple, "really sweet," which for me is no compliment, although she meant one: "It comes in just tasting sweet, then you get the cilantro and onions, and then there's a tomato note," she said. I let her have that.
But we competed for Verde Tomatillo, a bright yet creamy blend of tomatillo, jalapeno, garlic, onion, green habanero and lime juice. CC declared it "lots of good fresh" and not overly spicy considering the habanero.
We are spice girls, but when I returned for a weekday lunch with two Kathys (see below), once again that green salsa was the favorite.
Local Lime's last name is "Margaritas and Tacos." The menu's notable for fresh ingredients in moderately pricey Southwest-inspired formats mostly minus cheese grease. Tacos are "street style" in that they are palm-size, but the savory fillings are more elaborate than any tacos we've bought from a truck.
Also, the Lime's full bar is alarmingly well stocked with tecates and tequilas. Lowlands, Highlands, Oaxaca, Mezcal ... it's very educational.
The House Margarita, $6.50, can be polluted with fruity liqueurs for $2 more (and there's a four-hour happy hour with $5 'ritas from 2-6 p.m. weekdays). Lime is a Yellow Rocket Concepts operation, and house drinks use good liquor — Reposado tequila, Stirrings triple sec — so just one drink might do the job, depending on what the job is. On weekends, the hostess said, the bar usually stays open an hour after the kitchen closes, but if the house isn't full, it will close with the kitchen.
We drank the harmlessly bland House-Made Lemonade ($3.50) -- bland for me, but a little too tart for CC.
Carnivorous Companion ordered Grilled Ribeye Fajitas ($22.95) medium rare. The heap of meat chunks on a bed of onions and peppers arrived with a three-bowl caddy of guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. The steak had a good bit of marbling and was well seasoned, although not so wildly as she expected from the menu's mention of marinades. She admired her onions, which were "almost jammy."
Among the accoutrements, she liked the pico but said the guac wanted more salt or lime or something.
I'm the opposite of carnivorous, and so I like that the menu indicates which items work for vegans, vegetarians or those who shun gluten. My Beans & Greens Tacos ($10.50) got a little soggy waiting in their wooden boat for CC to realize her tortillas were under her accoutrements; my untoasted corn tortillas were dissolving as I picked them up. Guacamole, pico, black beans, shaved green cabbage, house-pickled onions, cilantro and a dark red squiggle called Uno-Dos House-Made Hot Sauce — it all tasted fresh and not too salty.
For my two sides I tried the Spicy House-Pickled Vegetables (a curious mixture of pale shapes and textures brined with a bay leaf and other seasonings) and the crisp Jicama-Jalapeno Slaw. The slaw's paper-thin slices of jalapeno and its disturbingly bright orange splurt of a dressing of indeterminate composition made me very happy.
To test the weekday lunchtime crowds, Kathys One and Two met me at Local Lime at 11:30 a.m. on an April Wednesday. We were seated at once — in the middle of the dreaded main room. But the daytime noise level wasn't painful.
We again chose three salsas, this time adding the Zucchini and Chipotle salsas to Verde Tomatillo. The Chipotle is sweet heat, heated: The titular peppers, cooked, were blended with carrot, roasted red bell pepper, Sultana raisins and pineapple, and served warm. The green Zucchini salsa so intrigued us we started to eat it before I snapped its photo. This blend of roasted squash, green chiles, onion, cilantro and lime topped with pumpkin seeds has a definite lime edge and a thick texture. Kathy Two and I let Kathy One have that one.
Kathy One is not a spice girl. She tried the Grilled Chicken Tacos ($11.25), which come with guacamole, pico de gallo, queso fresco, Mexican crema, cilantro and two sides. The tacos held an ample amount of chicken. Against her better judgment, she picked the Jicama-Jalapeno Slaw and also Drunken Beans With Smoky Bacon as sides. After one bite of the slaw she was plucking out the jalapenos, which didn't save her, but the Drunken Beans were a different story: pinto beans in a rich broth with a faint sheen of fat on the surface and enough heat to make your nose run. She asked our very pleasant server Caitlyn for a spoon.
Kathy Two, whose go-to order is 3-Cheese Steak Nachos ($14.50) "because it is cheesy," branched out with a Shrimp & Brie Quesadilla ($13.50). Both are on the menu's Botanas section — little plates. But the quantity of grilled shrimp, Monterey Jack and brie packed into a vast, folded tortilla glistening from the grill and flecked with cilantro was more than enough, and she took some home. It came with a chutney that was "not too sweet, just too sweet for me."
My Acapulco Spring Salad ($9.50) was a visual and textural feast with firm half-moons of papaya on a bed of mixed lettuce topped by slivered hearts of palm, shaved jalapeno, spring onion, cilantro and drizzles of Chile-Lime Dressing, with more on the side. I hope to eat it again.
But mostly I would like more of that tomatillo salsa.
Weekend on 04/11/2019