The Saline Courier Weekend

Mexico Chiquito


“Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ... . ”

— From the First Amendment to Constituti­on

Growing up in central Arkansas in the 1980s, there was one of two restaurant­s my parents and I would always go to on Friday nights: Western Sizzlin’ Steak House on John F. Kennedy Boulevard in North Little Rock and Mexico Chiquito in Prothro Junction.

I was hooked on Mexico Chiquito from day one. Proof of that can be found in the ad my parents placed in my senior high yearbook, which includes a photo of me on my first day of kindergart­en wearing a Mexico Chiquito t-shirt.

Undoubtedl­y, Mexico Chiquito is most famous for their cheese dip. According to many food historians, Mexico Chiquito was the restaurant that introduced the iconic dish to the United States.

The story goes that Blackie Donnally and his wife of Mexican descent, Margie, moved from somewhere along the Texas/mexico border to Austin, Texas in 1935, where they opened the first Mexico Chiquito restaurant using Margie’s secret family recipes.

About three years later, the Donnallys moved to

Hot Springs and opened a restaurant there along the old Hot Springs Highway. In late 1941, the Donnallys moved to the Prothro Junction area of North Little Rock and opened a Mexico Chiquito there. The restaurant was only open at night and was often called “Blackie’s Place.”

The Donnallys built a small house next door to the restaurant and eventually opened a take-out window for the lunchtime crowd called “Tak-a-taco.” The restaurant was known for its candleligh­t ambiance and dirt floors. The original Mexico Chiquito menu had only four choices: the Mexican dinner, the summer plate, the Chiquito ladies’ dinner and the enchilada dinner. The Mexican dinner (the biggest of the offerings) consisted of a tomato juice cocktail, cheese dip, guacamole salad, a beef taco, a beef and cheese enchilada, a tamale covered with chili con carne and melted cheese, Spanish rice, refried beans, fruit punch and sherbet.

According to Jan Cass, a granddaugh­ter of the Donnallys, it was her grandmothe­r, Margie, who actually invented the famous Mexico Chiquito cheese dip. She also states that when the Donnallys owned the company, there was no “red” or “hot” sauce — just cheese dip. Cass believes that the new owners must have introduced that to the menu when her family sold the rights to the name and secret recipes to the Ballentine family.

The Ballentine family would operate Mexico Chiquito for 16 years until they sold it to central Arkansas restaurate­ur Jerry Haynie in 1979. Haynie’s company owned several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant­s in central Arkansas. His company would eventually build more Mexico Chiquitos, including one in Jacksonvil­le, on Rodney Parham in Little Rock, on Camp Robinson Road in Levy, on Highway 10 in Little Rock, a Chiquito Mex-to-go’s on West Markham in Little Rock and another in Conway.

After Haynie’s death in March 2011, his businesses were taken over by family members. Over time, most of the Mexico Chiquitos in central Arkansas have closed. In fact, the only remaining Mexico Chiquito in Arkansas is the Mex-to-go on West Markham, and it’s a take-out only operation. There’s still clearly a demand for the unique Tex-mex food, as the lines at the Little Rock location are always long, especially at dinnertime.

According to the restaurant’s recently updated website, “big things” are coming soon to Mexico Chiquito. I hope this means more locations where memories can be made over a bowl of cheese dip and a glass of fruit punch — just as my own family did some 40 years ago.


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