Lackluster Lunch Leaves Crew Less Than Satisfied

Loca Luna
3519 Old Cantrell Road, Little Rock
(501) 663-4666

Cuisine: Eclectic
Dress Code: None
Noise Level: Moderate
Price Range: $7-$9
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: None
2004 Receipts: $1.2 million

There are definitely quieter, quicker and tastier lunches to be had in Little Rock — or even just in the Riverdale area — but at least the service at Loca Luna makes patrons feel like they are getting the best.

The stylish bistro's festive atmosphere might not be well suited for solemn, serious conversation, so talking shop is definitely out at Loca Luna.

The restaurant patrons' upbeat attitude is matched by the staff's swinging-fast tempo and genuinely cheery demeanor. There was no wait to be seated, and the staff made sure there was little delay for anything else.

Skip the appetizers and dessert and a Loca Luna lunch does not have to be even an hour-long affair. But for those who are slaves to the palate instead of the time clock, the prelude and finale are the best parts of a Loca Luna lunch.

It's difficult to describe Loca Luna's menu. The aromas of the Southwest, Italy and Deep South waft through the air, along with the sweet smell of the restaurant's wood-burning grill.

The fragrant teases seemed like good omens for a tasty meal. Unfortunately, the dishes themselves do not completely live up to their scented hype — at least not with the entrées we tried.

The mahi-mahi, which was part of one of Loca Luna's lunch plate specials, was overcooked and not fresh. The sides that came with the plate were merely average. A main dish with two sides, such as fresh turnip greens with bacon, mashed potatoes, buttered sweet corn or cooked cabbage, costs a reasonable $7.50, about the price of most lunch items. Throw in another side for a buck.

The chicken soft taco lunch special made us wonder why we thought such fare could possibly outdo a strictly Mexican restaurant's effort. A soggy tortilla stuffed with shredded chicken and topped with sour cream and a spicy pico de gallo appeared to be a winner, but looks were deceiving.

The real disappointment was the soup and salad special. The salad was bare, and the roasted red bell pepper soup could have been hotter, in spiciness and in temperature.

We hear the $10 brick oven pizzas or calzones would have made better selections.

At least the main courses were sandwiched by a great starter and top-notch desserts.

The brick-oven-toasted parmesan flatbread served with an asparagus-spinach and fresh herb cream cheese spread had a nice kick at the end.

The meals' closers, turtle cake and chocolate mousse cake, were deliciously decadent.