Arkansas has some delicious foods that might not be as well known in the rest of the country.

This is a state that boasts not only stunning landscapes but also a rich and diverse culinary heritage that often goes unappreciated.

These days Arkansas is a wonderful foodie destination. You will find amazing fine dining restaurants as well as fun, quirky, and delicious holes in the wall in the most unexpected places.

If you follow Somewhere In Arkansas on our social media you know that Emily and I travel all over Arkansas trying different restaurants and different foods. It is one of our favorite things to do!

What Are Some of the Unique Arkansas Foods?

Cheese dip

Probably the most well known of the unique foods in Arkansas is cheese dip.

Cheese dip was brought to Arkansas by a restaurant owner named Blackie Donnelly who returned from a trip to Mexico with spices that were less familiar to Arkansans as well as a bunch of ideas.

He whipped up a spicy, drippy, yellow concoction to serve to his patrons.

Cheese dip was an immediate hit back in the 1940’s and is still VERY popular in Arkansas today. It is now found at all types of restaurants across Arkansas.

You can learn more about the history of cheese dip in the state as well as find a list of our favorite cheese dips in Little Rock in this post.

The World Cheese Dip Competition is even held in Little Rock.

The cheese dip from Lost 40 is delicious. Cheese dip is one of the best of the unique Arkansas foodsPin

Chocolate Gravy

One of the most delightful foods in Arkansas is chocolate gravy.

It is said that chocolate gravy was first created in the Arkansas Ozark mountains. It is typically considered a breakfast food and is served over biscuits, but some of the older folks will have it for a light dinner.

Southerners have been drizzling their biscuits with sweet foods like honey, or sorghum, or molasses for generations. It would be my guess that chocolate gravy was invented by a creative mountain women with a craving for chocolate.

Chocolate gravy is made from a mix of oil or butter, flour, milk, cocoa powder and sugar. It is considered to be quite a treat and is still served at breakfast restaurants in the state.

Try it at Gadwall’s Grill if you are in Central Arkansas.

You might also want to read: Our list of restaurants in Arkansas that have been around for many years and are still very popular. Can we say…Iconic?

Fried Pickles

Fried pickles are one of the most unique and delicious of the Arkansas foods.

The Atkins Pickle company was the main industry in Atkins, Arkansas for many years. In fact, the town was once dubbed the “Pickle Capital of the World.”

The fried pickle was created by Burnell “Fatman” Austin in 1963 at The Duchess Drive-In in Atkins. They were an instant hit.

There is no longer a pickle company in Atkins but the heritage lives on in the Atkins Pickle Fest as well as the fact that fried dill pickles are offered as an appetizer in many restaurants around the state.

Dill pickles battered and fried and served with Ranch dressing are such a treat! Some restaurants served fried dill pickle spears but I like the chips better. Tim’s Tavern in Benton, Arkansas serves delicious fried pickles!

fried pickles are one of the unique arkansas foods. They were invented in Atkins Arkansas. Pin

Arkansas Possum Pie

Don’t worry. There is no possum in Arkansas possum pie.

Possum pie is a layered dessert that starts with a delicious pecan shortbread crust followed by layers of cream cheese, chocolate pudding, whipped cream, with more pecans sprinkled on top.

It is said that the name came from the fact that the pie is “playin’ possum.” It pretends to be something it is not, hiding its delectable chocolate layer until the pie is sliced.

Stoby’s Restaurant is supposed to have the best possum pie in the state but you will see it other places and it is popular with home cooks as well.

Arkansas Delta Tamales

One of our favorite foods in Arkansas is the delta tamale…and they have an interesting history!

An Italian immigrant, Pasquale, came to America in 1892 and began to travel up the Mississippi River on a riverboat. He made it as far as Helena, Arkansas before running out of money.

He began swapping recipes with the Mexican immigrants who had come north to work in the farm fields in the Mississippi Delta. This led Pasquale to begin making his own version of a tamale.

The next step in the evolution of the Arkansas Delta tamale was when a young African American couple, Maggie and Eugene Brown, came to Pasquale wanting help to open a soul food restaurant in a building that he owned.

Pasquale had one condition – they had to make and serve his tamales. They agreed to his terms, changing the recipe just a little to fit the soul food vibe of their restaurant. The restaurant was very successful!

There is much more to this story but the bottom line is that the Arkansas Delta Tamales were an Italian meets Mexican meets Soul Food concoction.

Today, you can still buy Pasquales Tamales in Helena, Arkansas.

Another of our favorite tamales in the state are found at Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales. We also really enjoy steak and tamales at the Tamale Factory which is located near Augusta, Arkansas.

unique foods in Arkansas - delta tamalesPin

Cavender’s Greek Seasoning

Cavender’s Greek Seasoning has been made in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas since 1969. It was the invention of Spike and Katherine Cavender.

Spike had been making a special and “secret” seasoning spice for years to give to friends and family.

According to a grandson, one day his grandfather and father bottled up a batch of the seasoning and took it to some local grocery stores.

His grandfather claimed that if he “went back and the stores were sold out, he was gonna market the stuff!!” When they returned all the spice blends had been sold.

Cavenders is now a delicious part of Arkansas culinary history.

Italian Spaghetti with Southern Fried Chicken

In the northwest corner of the state you can find one of the most unique of the food dishes in Arkansas! This dish is an Italian and southern fusion that most say was born out of necessity.

Tontitown, Arkansas was founded by a group of Italian immigrants and their priest back in 1898 and for a period of time became a landing pad for other Italian immigrants.

Those early immigrants were poor and chicken was the cheapest protein. The Italians adopted their southern neighbors way of cooking chicken, but added their own flair by serving it with a side of pasta and red gravy.

This delicious combination is still served in the Italian restaurants in the area!

The best place to try this amazing Arkansas dish is at the Venezian Inn.

Barbecue (with Coleslaw on top!)

Some “experts” like to say that Arkansas doesn’t have its own barbecue tradition and that we simply borrowed from the traditions of our neighboring states.

It is true that we are a crossroads for Barbecue. We serve both pork and beef barbecue and our sauces run the gamut from thick and tomato-y, to sweet and saucy, to thin and spicy, to tangy and vinegary.

However, I’ll tell you that I have eaten barbecue all over the US and some of the best is found in Arkansas.

In my opinion Arkansas is a highly unrecognized barbecue state.

The James Beard award winning, Jones BBQ in Marianna, Arkansas is one of the most venerated barbecue restaurants in the world and the oldest black-owned business in the nation.

One thing that decidedly is uniquely “Arkansas” is our habit of slapping a ladle full of coleslaw on a barbecue sandwich. The cool and crunchy coleslaw is perfection with the warm and spicy barbecue.

The barbecue pictured below is from Sim’s Bar-b-que in Little Rock which is one of our favorites.

Barbecue from Sims in Arkansas. Arkansas barbecue is highly underrated. Barbecue is one of the best foods in Arkansas.Pin

Smoked Meats

In addition to barbecue you can find various other smoked meats around the state!

The concept of smoking meat is as old as the idea of eating and preserving food. But the cooks of Arkansas have taken this to an art.

Obviously, barbecue is the most well known smoked meat product…but we aren’t just talking pork or beef here. In Arkansas we smoke chickens and turkeys, hams, and sandwich meats, and even cheeses.

Burge’s is known for smoking turkeys and hams. In fact, their smoked turkey salad sandwich is one of our favorite sandwiches in Central Arkansas.

Coursey’s is located near the White River and is a perfect place to stop and grab some smoked meats and cheeses to have a sandwich on the river.

Burgess sells smoked turkeys and hams. Smoked meats are one of the most popular foods in Arkansas.Pin

Muscadines and Muscadine Products

Although the Cynthiana is the state grape of Arkansas the muscadine is actually more well known locally.

The muscadine is one of the few grapes that is native to Arkansas. These grapes have thick skins, large seeds, and a unique, soft, musky-flavored pulp.

You can make wine from them and many of the local wineries do…but, and this is a personal opinion, I would say that muscadine wine is an acquired taste.

Some people love it though so give it a try and let me know your opinion!

However, you can’t beat muscadine jams and jellies. They are delicious! These can be found at farmer’s markets, roadside stands, and shops that specialize in local goods.

Duck Gumbo

Stuttgart, Arkansas is the duck hunting capitol of the world and every year, around Thanksgiving, they host the World Championship Duck Gumbo Cook-off. I would say that duck gumbo is one of the most flavorful and unique foods in Arkansas.

The cook-off is part of the Wings Over the Prairie Festival which also hosts the World’s Championship Duck Calling Competition.

The duck gumbo cook-off hosts more than 55 teams that compete from all over the country and the judging is completely blind. The winner walks away with the title of World’s Best Duck Gumbo.

This is a wild and crazy as well as delicious event!

duck gumbo is one of the best foods in Arkansas Pin


Grapette was a soda originally created in Camden, Arkansas by Benjamin “Tyndle” Fooks. Apparently he didn’t like any of the grape flavor drinks that were available and decided to create his own.

Thousands of taste tests later, in 1939, he had developed a flavor that he believed, and many agreed, was superior to all other grape sodas available at the time.

In addition to a finely tuned flavor Grapette’s also had unique packaging. Most soft drinks at the time were sold in twelve-ounce bottles. Grapette was sold in a six-ounce clear glass bottle, which helped to show off the beverage’s purple color.

Grapette quickly became popular and expanded across the US using the slogan “Thirsty or Not.”

Fooks sold his business in the late 1960’s and Grapette eventually quit being sold in the US although it was still popular in other countries.

In the late 1980’s Sam Walton of Walmart fame approached the owner of Grapette saying, “I want Grapette in my stores.”

It took several years but Grapette is now sold at Walmart.

Mountain Valley Water

Mountain Valley Water is another beverage that was born in the state of Arkansas. It comes from a spring in the Ouachita mountains near Hot Springs, Arkansas. This spring is clear and pure as it filters through granite-based aquifers.

There is no sodium in the water but there is a healthy blend of minerals and the taste is amazing.

Mountain Valley Water claims to be, “America’s original premium spring water.” I believe it!

Hot Springs has been a tourist destination for thousands of years due to the belief that its thermal waters had healing properties both for bathing and drinking.

This water has won multiple awards, is still sold in glass bottles, and is a favorite of chefs.

This is one of the foods in Arkansas that you will definitely want to try especially if you are visiting the Hot Springs National Park.


Fried Catfish and Hushpuppies

I’m not going to try to claim that fried catfish was created in Arkansas. But I will say that there are people in the state who have elevated the frying of catfish into an art form.

What is true is that catfish farming began in Arkansas. There were the first catfish farms in the state as early as the 1950’s.

Catfish is a decidedly “soul food” tradition that actually had its roots in West Africa and was brought to the south by slaves. It became even more popular in the 1960’s when the cotton economy collapsed and more and more farmers began to turn their hand to raising catfish in stead of cotton.

This made the fish plentiful and inexpensive.

There are SO many restaurants in Arkansas that serve wonderful fried catfish and of course they always come with a side of hushpuppies and other fixin’s such as a slice of onion, tomato relish, beans, and coleslaw.

I can’t begin to tell you where to eat fried catfish in the state. It is ubiquitous and delicious.


I do know that watermelon is not just an Arkansas food. Of course, watermelon are grown all over the south. However, if you are visiting the state in the summer you should really try an Arkansas watermelon.

Some of the best and the sweetest watermelons are grown in the state.

Cave City, Arkansas claims to be the home of the sweetest watermelon in the world. Check out their Cave City Watermelon festival website!

Hope, Arkansas calls itself the Watermelon Capitol of the World. This area is known for growing both delicious as well as HUGE watermelons and they host a watermelon festival every year to celebrate.



Yes, yes, you can get strawberries almost anywhere. However, spring in Arkansas is about more than the gardens and flowers. It is also about strawberries! There is nothing sweeter or more delicious than a red, ripe, Arkansas strawberry.

About 90% of the Arkansas strawberry crop is sold locally. Most Arkansans go straight to the farm to buy flats of strawberries. Y’all they are SO good.

The strawberry season is very short. Of course it is weather dependent, but the season usually starts in the beginning of April and is over by early June. So don’t wait to taste your Arkansas strawberries!

Many of the restaurants offer seasonal items on their menu that feature these delicious delights.

The best known is probably the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob. During strawberry season they have the most delightful strawberry shortcake on their menu that you have ever tasted! People come from miles around to have it.

Flat of strawberries. The photo is a close up and you can see the red Arkansas grown berries. You can read the words on the brown cardboard box that says Holland Bottom FarmPin


Stuttgart which was mentioned above for their duck gumbo also calls themselves the rice capitol of the world. Arkansas grows more rice than any other state! In fact, it produces more than 40% of the rice in the US.

200 million bushels of rice are harvested each year in Arkansas and the rice industry contributes almost 25,000 jobs across the state.

We grow both long grain and medium grain rice and some of the family owned rice farms are starting to experiment with organic rice and some other older types of gourmet rice.

You have to have rice with gumbo!


Purple Hull Peas

Purple hull peas are especially popular in Arkansas. There is even a purple hull pea festival in the small town of Emerson, Arkansas and that area grows the best of the best purple hulls.

I think they are absolutely delicious and look forward to them every summer season!

Purple hull peas are a variety of southern peas that have become increasingly popular in the state. In my opinion they are creamier and sweeter and more refined than their cousin the black eyed pea. They never get that chalky texture that black eyed peas can sometimes have.

There aren’t many restaurants that serve these but you can find them at the farmers markets already hulled and ready to cook!

I hope that you have enjoyed this list of some of the best and most unique foods in Arkansas. Definitely try some of these while you are in the state! that you have got to try while you are in the state.

Enjoy a great food experience while you are in Arkansas!

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