Review No. 60: Cactus Jack’s
710 South Salem Road
33.0 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
She Said: On a lazy Sunday afternoon, I was craving Mexican food (and, let’s be honest: drinks). Luckily, Conway has 92,000 Mexican restaurants, so I chose when we hadn’t yet reviewed, and off we went.
He Said: Cactus Jack’s has locations in Little Rock and North Little Rock as well as this one in Conway, so there is evidence that enough people like their food to support at least three restaurants. So we figured, let’s see about it.
She Said: I didn’t think it was the most fun, colorful or welcoming Mexican place in town. There’s a bar with a television and tables, booths and outdoor tables in a multi-season porch. It was a little lackluster, feeling more bar than restaurant to me.
He Said: There is definitely that bar-ish vibe. Frankly, I don’t remember anything about the decor, so I guess it didn’t stand out to me one way or another. So, it may not have been particularly welcoming, but it wasn’t exactly off-putting either.
She Said: Obviously, I went for a margarita. The hostess didn’t bring me a drinks menu, and I couldn’t see anything on the table about their cocktail offerings. Our server also took our drink orders very quickly after I sat down, and I had no info, so I just asked for a margarita, and was asked the usual questions: frozen or on the rocks, and small-medium-large? I chose a medium frozen margarita, and I have no idea if there were other flavor options (mango?) or specialties of the house, margarita-wise. I just threw a drink order out there, and it stuck. It was tasty, and the medium was a decent size, but can’t compete with the smalls at some of the other places in town. It was just right for me; this Goldilocks was glad she hadn’t gotten the small or the large.
He Said: They have a number of soft drinks, mainly Coke products, on display when you enter the place. I noticed something I had not seen before: Strawberry flavored Fanta. Naturally, I went for it. It’s pretty sweet, so if that’s not your thing, you wouldn’t like it. But I love strawberries, so I was quite happy with it, thank you very much.
She Said: I started right out with guacamole, because I don’t like salsa, which is gratis with the chips they bring when you sit down. This was a treat, as it is made right at the table, to order (no jalapeños, please!). She used two avocados, so it made too much for my mother and me to eat, but we did our best. This was the highlight of the experience for me.
The menu is huge, so it took me a long time to decide. I was leaning toward the fish tacos, when I saw the vegetarian combination plates, which are a go-to for me at one of our favorite Mexican go-to restaurants. My choice was a chalupa, bean burrito and cheese quesadilla combination, with cheese sauce (not red), which costs 75 cents extra. But it was very reasonably priced at $6.99. It was more food than I could eat for a pretty low price. Each item was rather standard, though. I liked the bean burrito, as it is filled with refried beans, which I absolutely adore and could eat my weight in if allowed to do so. The quesadilla was crispy, and the chalupa had plenty of guacamole on it. I wasn’t dissatisfied with these standard offerings.
He Said: They immediately brought us chips and salsa, which had a bit of a kick to it. The menu is quite large, so it took a while to weigh the options and choose an entrée. Finally I decided on the Burrito Supremos, which consist of two burritos filled with shredded chicken and beans, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, and special red sauce. I have to say it was bad—I can’t complain about anything specifically—but it really was just kind of average. Nothing about it was memorable to me, and in a city with 126,000 other Mexican restaurants, I didn’t find in the food any specific reason to return here soon, as I have with, say Los Portrillos or El Parion.
She Said: I was nonplussed right away upon arrival. We arrived and stood at the hostess station for several minutes in a pretty empty restaurant (it was about 3 p.m.). After a while a hostess came from the kitchen and seated us—we got to choose a booth over a table. The waitress was professional, but not friendly; she did not smile or say anything beyond the functional questions. The food and drinks arrived very quickly, which we did appreciate. I didn’t feel particularly welcome here.
He Said: Yeah, I think the hostess was actually getting somebody’s to-go order when we came in. Still, there were two other servers in the rear of the restaurant standing around at time and neither even looked at us. So ditto on the welcome vibe. And the waitress was pretty perfunctory. She did her job but she sure didn’t seem to like it much.
What We Got and What We Paid: One guacamole, a No. 7 combination with cheese sauce, a No. 4 vegetarian combination, a burrito supremo, one Jarrito soda and a medium margarita for $45.20.
Elapsed Time from Entry to Food Arrival: 23 minutes
She Said: I found the experience lackluster overall. The food was good enough and the margarita was fine, but the atmosphere and service were not warm or welcoming. I go to Mexican restaurants not just for the food, but also for the fun and friendly environment. There are too many other places in Conway that deliver on this for me to return here unless there are other factors involved.
He Said: Yeah, if I were with somebody who really wanted to go here I wouldn’t veto it, but next time I get a Mexican food craving, this isn’t where I’m choosing to come.
So…He Said and She Said: This food is good enough, but if you want a more enjoyable Mexican food experience in Conway, you can easily find better.