Guest Reporter Project: Aaron Brand’s Texarkana

Text and photos by Aaron Brand

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Editor’s Note: Stuffed & Busted‘s first-ever Guest Reporter Project column is a dispatch from Texarkana courtesy of De Queen, Arkansas’s Aaron Brand. Brand, who lives on a donkey farm with a cat named Fiona, points readers to the best spots for birria, phở and gobi Manchurian in the city that’s “Twice as Nice.”

Supported by Guest Contributor Project-level patrons including Sione Ma’umalanga, Christopher Nolen and Anthony and Amanda Felan

Anyone who knew the Texarkana eatery scene roughly 15 to 20 years ago, to only return now, would surely marvel at the transformation. 

Burger and chicken joints have long reigned as king and queen here in Texarkana, where Texas and Arkansas meet in an awkward embrace on the border. 

It’s a bi-state city (or cities, more appropriately stated) with Louisiana and Oklahoma within shouting distance, so the crossroads effect makes the mix here ever-interesting. There is something to the idea that this is where the South meets the West, even though some locals have poked fun at that idea when it became part of a recent promotional campaign for Texarkana, long known as “Twice as Nice.” 

Texarkana has also long been a place to stop on the way to somewhere else, hence the interstate chain restaurants; from IHOP at one end to Golden Corral near the other, these flagships of roadside belly-bloat redemption let you know you’re on the move. 

But Texarkana has both raised within and lured to its twice-as-nice environs enough character over the years to give it a real homegrown flavor. There’s tasty barbecue at Naaman’s and Big Jake’s, and steak-done-right like the classic, beyond-a-half-century-old establishment Cattleman’s, a place for dates and doing business. 

Combine all that with an entrepreneurial, can-do spirit and you have a strong, locally-sourced tradition of restaurants, even if new chains tend to provoke irrational excitement. (When Starbucks first came to Texarkana, the newspaper headline read: “A Starbucks is born.” When Taco Tico reappeared here, lines stretched to infinity.) 

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Texarkana may never sport the cultural sophistication of a Dallas, Austin or Little Rock, but diverse, big-city flavors have come to town in recent years and declared that they belong here, too. 

Diners who daydreamed about Asian fare and more diverse Mexican dishes, for example, no longer have to leave town to satisfy such cravings. Here’s a look at what’s tops in this regard. 

Texarkana, at long last, has Indian fare. It started as a Central Mall eatery, but, this past year, Taste of India ventured out along the I-30 restaurant corridor. But Taste of India is one of the best choices there, so why not try the gobi Manchurian with chicken vindaloo? The gobi Manchurian, an Indian-Chinese hybrid, consists of cauliflower deep fried until crisp, then paired with a hot Manchurian sauce that combines sweet and sour with a kick. 

“That’s incredible,” I recently muttered to my cat, Fiona, after getting some to go with the chicken vindaloo, one of my Taste of India essentials. She likes chicken, but this much spice would not suffice for her, I’m sure.

But for me, I taste heaven here in Taste of India’s vindaloo. The vindaloo is cooked, according to the menu, with a mix of vinegar, garlic, jaggery, and Kashmiri chili. It possesses a perfectly spicy bite. Tender, too. 

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Pho in Texarkana? Yes, it is true. Another nice surprise, another relatively recent arrival, particularly for anyone who enjoyed the now-defunct noodle shop Pho Saigon here for a spell, situated next to a Richmond Road gas station (in true Texarkana fashion). 

But now Pho Yo Soul Kitch-Inn is here, and the town’s soul is the better for it. 

Arkansas-side Pho Yo Soul Kitch-Inn tempts with Vietnamese and assorted Asian fare: spring rolls, egg rolls, varieties of pho (create-your-own style), ramen, banh mi (for example, crisp pork belly) and so much more. While these are the staples, Yo Soul springs specials on its guests, such as kimchi ramen stir fry, fusion tacos, phorritos (a pho burrito), firecracker shrimp, pork buns, and chicken curry with Arkansas yams. 

The patio deck at Pho Yo Soul Kitch-Inn in Texarkana, Arkansas.

Their ever-evolving menu expresses creativity and color, plus humor and positivity that win over fans. The addition of a deck adds cozy, relaxed ambiance, but many folks get their Vietnamese to-go here. No matter, Pho Yo Soul is worth exploring. 

Much like Tacos Mi Pueblo has been the standard in Texarkana tacos for many years, Fuji Kim’s Sushi & Grill has been the marquee host for all things sushi, treating Texakanians to artfully presented sushi rolls, a Korean twist to the menu included. 

Andy Kim, Fuji’s sushi chef, is carrying on the tradition established by his father. Andy learned from him—and from watching Food Network TV shows—and has wholeheartedly dedicated himself to the presentation necessary for sushi. To Kim, the white plate is a blank canvas. Fish colors and the right combinations are where he’s mindful. 

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When recent COVID restrictions challenged the business, the Kims showed transparency about the considerations they kept in mind as a restaurant, wanting to both stay open and stay safe. 

And yes, if there remains a standard bearer for authentic, prepared-with-care Mexican fare in Texarkana, Tacos Mi Pueblo is that iconic establishment, but as a weekends-only joint it’s not the easiest place to sidle up to a table for al pastor and a sippable, sweet glass bottle of Jarritos. 

For that, it’s all the more special, worth both effort and the wait. Eating at Tacos Mi Pueblo feels like an outing, the smart thing to do for a weekend lunch. I would never dissuade anyone from enjoying their Saturday or Sunday in Mi Pueblo’s cozy dining room. Visit Vero’s Latino Store nearby for tacos, tamales and more. Also the real deal and satisfying on a primal, goodness-in-the-gut level. 

The dining room at Los Ruvalcaba in Texarkana, Texas. Photo contributed by Aaron Brand.

But Texarkana has grown to really spice it up on the Mexican food front, a reflection of how the city has changed, from a New Boston Road eatery like food truck Taco Trip to a State Line Avenue, neighbor-to-Popeye’s restaurant named Ruvalcaba Tacos y Antojitos, plus a few top notch and more traditional Tex-Mex locations. The Mexican food market is packed. 

Ruvalcaba has red sauced its way into the hearts of Texarkanans with everything from lamb barbecue quesadillas (a lifesaver for this coronavirus-sapped soul this past summer) to tacos de chicharron and so much more. The business has grown so successful that a satellite spot has opened in Central Mall. 

Best ever meal there? None other than a gosh-dang torta with a tamale comfortably nestled inside it. A beautiful marriage indeed. Tacos show a welcome diversity, such as tacos de lengua (beef tongue) and rajas tacos (put that poblano pepper in there). Tacos make for pleasant memories at Ruvalcaba. 

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In the age of COVID-19, you can get Chiapas-made masks here, too: colorful protection to save you while you’re not swallowing some of the best Mexican in town, cultural flair and heritage included (along with matching caps). Styles are traditional, floral, patriotic and more. 

Maybe the newfound diversity in Mexican meals here reflects the increasingly prominent cultural presence of Hispanic cultures across the region. No matter the reason, the eating is all the better here for it, as is our communal culture. And, for me, celebrating Hispanic heritage now feels even more necessary, given the wider political climate. 

As for burritos, Colima’s is the best in town. Big as bricks and packed with ready-to-bomb-your-mouth flavor, burritos here are hearty eats. From the decor to the cuisine and to the guts of a burrito, everything is colorful inside Colima’s. The sheer variety is enticing, from the California to the Chili Relleno, the Executive, the Surf and Turf and the Pollo Asada. You cannot misstep on your way to burrito joy here. 

Priced smartly and satisfying on a comfort food, fill-your-belly level, burritos at Colima’s are a treat, but daily specials indicate a variety, too, such as menudo, ceviche tostadas, beef barbacoa tacos (a frequent guest on the daily specials list), and caldo de res (beef stew). I’ll try them someday, but for now it’s simply “burrito it up” for me. Let Colima’s food wash your soul clean. 

And for anyone visiting Texarkana, here are a two other suggestions for more traditional bar grub: 

Best use of a remodeled feed store to create a unique restaurant and bar:
Hopkins Icehouse, which is one of the forerunners for a re-imagined and revitalized downtown. 

Best use of Cajun cuisine and desk space to make you feel at home on the Arkansas edge of town with a bayou flair: Pop’s Place, which also happens to be a gracious home for mid-week Wednesday trivia. 

Texarkana may not be a sparkling metropolis and likely never shall be, but creative chefs know how to bring something special to your mouth, whether that means ramen or bread pudding, nigiri or grande burritos. 

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One thought on “Guest Reporter Project: Aaron Brand’s Texarkana

  1. The carnitas sopes (topped with the green sauce in the bottle on the table) at Tacos Mi Pueblo is seriously one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Looks like there are some other places up there that I need to visit. Thanks for the tips.

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