Despite Some Hits, Loca Luna Fails to Meet Expectations (Business Lunch Review)

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Oct. 11, 2010 12:00 am  

Loca Luna
3519 Old Cantrell Road
Little Rock
(501) 663-4666
Cuisine: Southern Bistro
Dress Code: Casual
Noise Level: Moderate
Price Range: $7-$19
Seating: 130 and 56 on the patio
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: For parties of seven or more
Rating: 2.5 waiters
2009 Revenue: $1.48 million

A recent meal at Loca Luna was book-ended by a standout appetizer and fantastic desserts, but most of the entrées elicited a collective "meh." It's not that they were bad - and some of the side dishes were very tasty - but overall, the food just didn't wow us.

The server was prompt and friendly, and aside from some too-loud, '80s department store jazz blaring from the speakers, the atmosphere at Loca Luna is great. The wood-fired pizza oven near the door creates a wonderful aroma and the beautiful patio was full.

Loca Luna's cheese dip ($6) was outstanding. It came with a dollop of caramelized corn on top, which was a nice touch, and it had a suitable, general-audiences level of spiciness. The house-made tortilla chips were crisp and fresh. It was a fantastic appetizer.

One diner ordered one of the day's specials: pan-roasted trout ($14). But the waitress came back a few minutes later and informed him that the kitchen had already run out. Maybe there was a miscommunication with the kitchen staff, or perhaps there was just a run on the trout. But to be out of the lunch special by 11:45 a.m. isn't good.

He ordered, instead, a cheese calzone as a backup. It tasted all right and there was a lot of it, but at $14, he said, he probably wouldn't order it again.

Two plate lunch specials - turkey with dressing and chicken-fried steak - were serviceable. You get a meat and two sides for $8.50. The dressing that came with the turkey was moist, nicely spiced and delicious. The macaroni and cheese and the squash casserole also were enjoyable.

But the green beans were cold, unseasoned and had had all the life cooked out of them. They had the mushy consistency of those canned green beans so many people grew up eating, which probably led a good number of folks to the conclusion that they hate green beans.

The chicken-fried steak got a passing grade. But the gravy was just barely there, in terms of quantity and texture. It was thin and tasted OK, but if you're serving chicken-fried steak, it's better to err on the side of putting too much gravy on top rather than too little.

Dessert was a step up from the entrées. Pumpkin crème brûlée ($5) was creamy and disappeared swiftly. An enormous helping of pecan pie with cinnamon ice cream ($6) was outstanding, and the key lime pie ($4) was quite good.

In its 14 years of operation, Loca Luna has received numerous glowing accolades from locals as well as a few national publications, so maybe the restaurant was just having an off day. And again, it wasn't that the food was bad. It just didn't quite live up to our expectations.



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