The Lassis Inn is more than just a restaurant.
It is a piece of Arkansas history.
When you step across the threshold of this little blue building you just might get a feeling of stepping back in time.
So many before you have walked those floors, ordered their food, and enjoyed the music from a juke box.
Location of the Lassis Inn
The restaurant sits alongside Interstate 30 near downtown Little Rock and despite its cheerful bright blue paint color you might not notice it if you weren’t looking for it.
The address is: 518 E 27th St, Little Rock AR 72206.
History of the Lassis Inn
The beginning dates of the Lassis Inn are a little unclear, but many believe that it was established about 1905. There was an advertisement for the restaurant in the Arkansas Gazette in 1931.
The restaurant was started by Joe and Molassis Watson on their own property.
The name of the restaurant is, obviously, a shortened version of Mrs. Watson’s first name. At first the Watsons sold sandwiches from their home. Eventually they added catfish and the business began to boom.
The owners built a small building from which to cook and serve food. This was moved near to its current location in the 1930’s. In the 1960’s the building had to be moved again, just a short distance away, to make room for the Interstate 30.
The Lassis Inn was always a place for the community to gather, but it became an essential meeting spot during the Civil Rights Movement and the integration of Central High School.
The restaurant provided a safe haven for Daisy Gatson Bates and many other civil rights leaders and workers to make plans of action and to work towards their dream of equality.
Members of the Watson family ran the restaurant until the late 1980’s. It was closed for a couple of years after the death of the last Watson owner until current owners Elihue and Marie Washington bought the establishment in 1989.
We spoke with Mr. Elihue Washington on our most recent visit to Lassis Inn. (Coincidentally, he happens to have the same first name as my husband’s grandfather.)
Mr. Washington talked about buying the building but then having to do a lot more work on it than originally expected. However, it seems that some of the old fixtures apparently work better than the new ones.
He pointed out the old heater that they started using again because the new one didn’t heat the old building as well.
The Washingtons have kept much of the original appearance of the building including the small, blue painted, wooden booths from the 1940’s.
What About the Food?
Mr. Washington kept basically the same menu from the early days of the Lassis Inn. He serves catfish steaks, fried catfish filets, and fried buffalo fish ribs.
The fish is delicious, it is not greasy and has just the right amount of crunchy coating.
The sides are what you would expect from a fried fish restaurant; french fries, coleslaw, fried okra, tomato relish, and delicious seasoned hushpuppies.
The hushpuppies were SO good with just a tiny bit of spicy heat and we also loved the fried okra and the tomato relish.
We didn’t have a beer the day we were there, but you can order a beer at the Lassis Inn and I’ve heard that it is served icy cold.
What Are Buffalo Ribs
Well, in Arkansas, they aren’t buffalo!
The buffalo fish is a freshwater fish with the scientific name of Ictiobus. They look a bit like a carp but are a completely different species.
The buffalo fish is native to the US. They are long-lived and can reach up to 4 feet long!
Although many people say that buffalo fish has a better flavor than catfish it was not as universally favored because it has so many tiny bones. In fact, the only part of the fish without bones was the flesh on their ribs.
Hence: buffalo ribs.
James Beard American Classic Winner
Mr. Washington pointed out his James Beard Award which was hanging above the front door of the restaurant.
The Washingtons and Lassis Inn were recipients of the James Beard American Classic Award in 2020.
This particular James Beard award is “given to locally owned restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community.”
Mr. Washington mentioned that he hadn’t even heard of this award before he won it. He laughingly told us, “I was just here making fish for people.”
The Lassis Inn definitely deserved the honor and perfectly fits the criteria mentioned above.
The Lassis Inn is not only a James Beard Award winning restaurant (one of only two in the state) but is a place with great charm and historical significance.
As you seat yourself at one of the small wooden tables it is hard not to imagine decades of people in these same booths eating, flirting, conducting business, laughing, and carrying on conversations both trivial and important.
Enjoy your visit to Lassis Inn, one of the most iconic restaurants in Arkansas.
A few More iconic restaurants in Arkansas:
Here is a list of some of our favorite restaurants in Little Rock.
Thanks for stopping by.