I took a spur of the moment trip to Hot Springs National Park earlier this summer. You can do that when you have a portable job (have laptop, will travel!), it sinks in that you’re truly an empty nester and you suddenly realize that you have no meetings or appointments the following week! Add to all of this my burning desire to finally start my quest to see all (or most) of the U.S. National Parks, and my road trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas was ON!
This was a solo voyage, which gave it a different flavor and made for more conversations with locals and fellow travelers, more photos, more time to observe my surroundings and, of course, more time to focus on my day job during the day without annoying a travel companion. 😉
Why Hot Springs? I had heard great things about it from a client of mine who is currently on a 3-year National Parks poetry tour. I have been living vicariously through her as I wade through photos to post on social media and her website, making notes for my own future adventures. Hot Springs National Park is the closest to Dallas/Fort Worth, where I live. It’s also the smallest National Park, yet it’s more connected to the town and the town’s history than other parks, so the town becomes part of the National Park experience here. She thought I’d really enjoy that. She was right!
First the Food: Where to Eat in Hot Springs, AR
Forget the Park and the healing hot spring waters for a minute. Where should you eat!?
It’s a tough job, but I tried out as many places as possible to give you the most thorough Hot Springs Eating Guide possible! If you follow me on Instagram, it may look like all I did was eat during this trip, but I actually worked. And walked. A lot. Everywhere. That’s the best part about where I stayed while I was there (more on that in Part 2).
Breakfast in Hot Springs, AR
The Colonial Pancake and Waffle House (111 Central Ave)
When I checked into my hotel the first night, I asked for a breakfast recommendation and was directed to The Colonial. When I popped up famished early the next morning, I walked the 2 blocks there, ready to give it a try. I ordered French toast, eggs over easy, bacon and added hash browns with onions (made extra crispy). I was so hungry that I inhaled most of it before I realized that I forgot to snap a photo (sorry). I was stuffed and couldn’t finish all the French toast, so if you’re hungry, you won’t be disappointed by this menu selection (or any other, from the looks of neighboring plates). The coffee was hot, and the over easy eggs were made just right, with no crispy edges. The staff was friendly, especially the owner who talked to almost every table while I was there.
Kollective Coffee+Tea (110 Central Ave)
The next morning, I decided to try Kollective Coffee+Tea, the coffee shop across the street from The Colonial. I had stopped in for an iced latte the day before, and it looked promising for breakfast. It can be difficult for me to find a breakfast that’s dairy-free at a coffee shop, but their sign outside said they have organic and locally-sourced food, so I was hopeful that my dairy allergy wouldn’t stand in my way of a yummy (and healthy) breakfast. I was excited to see that their yogurt and fruit dish had a footnote on the menu board: “dairy-free yogurt available.” Say no more! Except that I wish more restaurants would do this. Whenever I go out to eat and see yogurt, granola and fruit on a menu, I always wish I could order it (it’s a favorite at home). I try to eat healthy, and it’s a much better option for my waistline than my other restaurant favorite – eggs, bacon, French toast and hash browns! 😊 At Kollective, the fruit and granola were organic (yippee!) and the whole dish was drizzled with just a little local honey to sweeten it. It was creamy and slightly sweet, with just the right amount of crunch. Luckily, I DID get a picture of this one! I went back on my last day for breakfast again (and snapped another pic). This time they had organic raspberries and blueberries.
They have a variety of other breakfast options, including eggs, bagel sandwiches (made your way), gluten-free cupcakes (if you want cupcakes for breakfast) and more. They also have an extensive variety of teas. I’ll drink hot coffee any time of year, but not hot tea (go figure), so I tested out 2 of their teas poured over ice during my week there, and they were both wonderful.
Other Breakfast Options
Additional breakfast options others recommended, which I didn’t have a chance to try, were The Pancake House and The Arlington Hotel’s award-winning Sunday brunch. I did snap photos of The Arlington’s dining room when I was there for a mineral bath treatment (more on that in Part 2).
Most mornings, I just ate a nut bar and the free hotel coffee while I worked on my laptop in my room. Exciting, no?
Lunch Spots in Hot Springs, Arkansas
I couldn’t eat a nut bar for lunch too, so I ventured out and walked to lunch each day. I was able to try many but not all of the town’s restaurants (guess I’ll just have to return some day). 🙂
The Ohio Club (336 Central Ave)
As I walked around my first day, scoping out a place to eat for lunch, The Ohio Club sign drew me in. I’m an Ohio University alum, so of course it did. I sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender (who doubles as a local historian). I also struck up a conversation with a sweet couple sitting next to me who met late in life at a conference in Hot Springs, dated long distance 5 years and then married and moved to Hot Springs, where they each now run their own businesses from home!
I ordered their Ohio Harvest salad, which I highly recommend. It’s made with a mix of spring and iceburg lettuce, dried cranberries, cinnamon apples, goat cheese, honey roasted almonds, tomatoes and cucumbers. I added grilled chicken, and I also treated myself to a beer brewed across the street. I would order this again next time I visit (in fact, I’m craving it for lunch right now). My new friends also recommended their burgers.
I stopped in another day, when I was only hungry for a snack and ordered their guacamole and chips. As a 20-year Texas transplant who prefers things spicy, the guacamole was a little bland for my taste, but others may like it better that way. I also stopped in one evening for live music (more about that in Part 2).
Rolando’s Restaurante (210 Central Ave.)
I asked around for lunch recommendations, and Rolando’s was repeatedly suggested. Luckily, it was cool enough on the day I stopped in that I was able to sit outside on the patio upstairs. Eating out there is reason enough to try Rolando’s. The food, however, is the most significant reason.
I ordered the Pollo Chuchaqui (pictured below) with a side of avocado since I had to order it without cheese and sour cream. Thank you, dairy allergy (sarcasm). This is the lunch portion, and it was more than plenty! The dinner portion is more expensive but also larger. This dish is made with chicken tenderloins marinated in a Cuban mojo, then slightly breaded and sauteed in a lime and wine sauce with Roma tomatoes, onions, celery and parsley, served with black beans and thinly sliced pickled cucumbers. It added up to WOW, and I would most definitely order this again, although there are many tempting options on their menu, from quesadillas (one option made with goat cheese) to tamales, soups, shrimp dishes, pork and more. They also offer a children’s menu, and a variety of desserts.
Copper Penny (711 Central Ave)
Another day, another lunch spot to try! Next up was The Copper Penny Pub.
Enter this lovely pub, complete with a copper-colored tin ceiling, exposed brick walls and a sweet bartender (Sarah) originally from England who sincerely calls you “love” in her beautiful accent, and you almost feel like you’ve stepped into a European pub. They serve Irish pub fare along with house specials and a nice variety of local and other beers.
I ordered the Damn-Good Copper BLT, which features peppered bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayo, avocado and a fried egg on sourdough bread. It was served with house made salt and vinegar chips (yum!). I had to get a local beer to go with it – Arkie Amber Ale made by Bubba Brews, which is brewed in a small town about 15 minutes away. The sandwich lived up to its name; it was damn good! Next trip, I may have to try the fish and chips.
Angels in the Park Restaurant & Lounge (211 Fountain St.)
I stayed at the Park Hotel (more about that in Part 2), so of course I had to eat lunch (and dinner several times) at the restaurant located adjacent to the hotel’s lobby. Don’t get Angel’s in the Park (on Fountain St.) confused with the Angel’s restaurant (on Central Ave – which I did not have a chance to try on this trip). They share an owner, but not a menu or the talented and friendly Chef Rosario and GM Debbie Rosario.
Chef Rosario’s creations were, by far, the best meals of my trip. My favorite was the Chicken Rosario. The homemade bread, wine, calamari, spinach salad and chicken salad (lunch) are also divine. Everything is made fresh from scratch (even my chicken salad for lunch), so wait for an afternoon or evening when you aren’t in a big hurry. If the weather is nice, sit outside on the patio. The staff is friendly (a special shout out to my angel, Kate), and the atmosphere is delightful. I can’t wait to return to Hot Springs … just so I can eat there again. 🙂
Another place I can’t wait to visit again is Kollective. I stopped in almost every day for one thing or another, often with my laptop to work while I ate breakfast or lunch and sipped iced tea or coffee.
For lunch, I ordered the smoked turkey panini with tomato basil soup. The STAR (for me) of all my lunches was Kollective’s made-from-scratch vegan tomato basil soup. It was nothing short of amazing! In fact, it was so good that I went back a second time just for the soup (the biggest bowl they could sell me).
You can’t go wrong with any of the above … and, most likely, any of those I didn’t get a chance to visit (this trip). I didn’t have a bad or even just a mediocre meal the entire time I was there. It must be the healing spring waters mixed with some healthy competition and a shared love of good food. 🙂
Want to know where to eat for dinner and other fun spots to visit? Click here to read Part 2, which covers where to eat for dinner, best places to have a drink, healing spring water baths, the Hot Springs National Park, live jazz, Garvan Gardens and more!
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