The Hillcrest area, conveniently located for UA Little Rock students straight down University Ave. from campus, houses some of the best dining and shopping options Little Rock has to offer. A five minute commute can get students to a historic area of Little Rock that has culture and a change of scenery from campus. I encourage the community here to get out and support these local businesses that are very close to the university. Follow them on social media, tell your friends about them and get out there to find new places you can enjoy. They have Lime scooters along the sidewalks to ride, too. That is a classic Little Rock activity students must engage in before graduating.
Hurrahs for Zaza’s
Zaza’s is an Arkansas pizza gem, tucked off Kavanaugh Blvd. Though it has its own parking lot and guests do not have to worry about parallel parking, much of the lot is reserved for pickup orders, so parking in front of the restaurant, if guests plan to dine in, is close to impossible. This is a good option for guests who are more cautious with the pandemic, though.
Upon entering the restaurant, the line to order food is sectioned off from the gelato section into two different lines. Social distancing stickers on the floor help guide guests through the line, but when I visited during a Monday lunch rush, there were quite a few people in the restaurant and social distancing was difficult. Despite being in a rush, the staff was friendly and patient with hearing me through a mask and the glass partition. It is good to visit a place that encourages employees to be cheerful.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is welcoming and unique, with wood logs stacked floor to ceiling, going up to a second floor loft where guests can eat and look out across the first floor of the restaurant. The patio area was set up well, and is dog friendly, so that was where I chose to eat. I enjoyed a half order of the Santa Fe South salad, with no tomatoes and medium dressing. The salad was fresh; the ingredients were colorful and the perfect crunch I needed to go with my Margherita pizza. I liked how I could see my salad being made and receive it directly after paying, that way I could eat my salad as an appetizer while waiting for my pizza to cook. It was cooked well in a brick oven, and the fresh mozzarella was definitely my favorite part of the pizza. They even brought the pizza outside to my table after it was ready.
Zaza’s has more artisanal pizza than a typical pizza place, so if guests are looking for the greasiest, cheesiest pizza in town, this is not the place to go. My only complaint about the food would be that the parmesan shavings on top of my pizza kept falling off the slices after I picked them up, but that is not too bad of an issue. All pizzas are one size, so some might find that to their disadvantage if they want more or less pizza, but overall, the food is amazing. It is worth the price, but somewhere I would not dine at frequently; it is good for special occasions. This also a favorite among other staff writers.
Zaza’s is located at 5600 Kavanaugh Blvd., and their menu can be found at zazapizzaandsalad.com. They do not require reservations to dine in. Guests can visit anytime 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday through Wednesday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Boba Tea Craze
Across the street from Zaza’s sits Kawaii Boba Tea. The corner store is directly off Kavanaugh, so parallel parking is more tricky for guests. The pink walls in the shop give it a playful atmosphere upon entering. There is art from local artists on display and for sale, and the shop also sells Japanese snacks and different trinkets. They have a bookshelf with graphic novels and anime that guests can look through, as well as a TV playing anime near the front door.
The menu is somewhat complicated, and the one online is different from the paper copy guests receive in the store, but once they figure out what kind of drink they want, they will keep coming back. I personally get a regular size raspberry fruit tea on ice with strawberry and kiwi popping boba. There is variety in the kinds of teas- there is milk tea and fruit tea, and then the beverage can be blended (like the consistency of a smoothie) or on ice. Guests can choose from popping boba, jelly boba or the traditional tapioca boba, with many different flavor variations of each. If they would rather not choose the makeup of their drink, they can pick from specialty drinks off the menu. It is a lot of fun to go in and try new drinks, and the shop also offers Japanese pastries to go with the tea.
There has never been a time that I have visited and it was not busy, so that testifies to how popular boba tea is right now. After a guest’s first purchase, they receive a loyalty punch card that gives them a free drink after purchasing 10. I am halfway to my free drink already and I just discovered this place a little over a month ago! Guests can also pick up a free sticker after they order. I have one on my laptop and another on my minifridge.
I think that if someone is already willing to spend a little extra money at Starbucks, trying Kawaii Boba House at least once is worth it. Both places cost more than a typical drink at Sonic would, but boba tea is a different kind of drink that offers culture and fun flavors. Nearby boutiques and shops are fine with guests bringing in drinks; I have abused that privilege before. 10/10 recommend walking around Hillcrest with boba tea. There’s several murals and walls painted that would be perfect to take photos in front of, too. Make a day of your visit.
Kawaii Boba House is located at 5625 Kavanaugh Blvd, and their website is kawaiibobahouse.sqaure.site. Their business hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday, when they are open noon to 5 p.m.
Step back in time at Burge’s
Before I visited this restaurant, I thought by the name Burge’s Hickory Smoked Meats and Hams that this was more of a pick-up-meat-by-the-bulk type place, but that was definitely not the case here. After I saw a video of this restaurant on my For You Page on TikTok, I knew I had to check it out. I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped through the front door and saw the old fashioned, diner-style restaurant. There were some neat artifacts and vintage decorations on the wall, and I enjoyed walking around and looking at what they had up.
The menu features catfish, coleslaw, salads and sandwiches with smoked meats that guests order upon arriving at the counter, and their food is brought to their table on a tray when it is ready. Food is served in paper containers and bags that remind me of my high school cafeteria, but I think that method of food delivery is classic and fits the restaurant perfectly here. It is so different from other places that people can dine at in Little Rock, it is like stepping into a time machine with authentic decor and food from decades past. I was disappointed that they did not have milkshakes, though. I feel like that would have completed the whole visit.
My smoked turkey sandwich tasted great, and usually I am picky about sandwiches because I don’t like when sandwich bread sits and gets soft. This bread was crispy and good. I also had an order of onion rings, and liked them with the dipping sauce that resembled horseradish so much that I ate all of them and went back to order another serving! It is difficult to find good, homemade onion rings and this restaurant nails them. I feel like I could have explored the menu better here, but I enjoyed the food I ordered. I also saw a refrigerator where you could grab different types of smoked meats and sides to take home and they had fried pies on their menu, so I need to go back soon.
Burge’s Hickory Smoked Meats and Hams is conveniently located with its own parking lot– no parallel parking here– at 5620 R St. True to its old fashioned traditions, Burge’s is closed on Sundays, but open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m and Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Interested guests can visit the restaurant’s website at smokedturkeys.com to view the menu, read about awards Burge’s has received and the history behind the establishment.