Thanks to our other publication, NWA Eats, I am in and out of Northwest Arkansas all the time. A few times a month I get some questions from someone in Little Rock wanting to take a weekend getaway to NWA. The questions almost inevitably surround Bentonville, which is turning into the charming foodie capital of the state.
Once you spend some time in Bentonville and people drop their self promoting charm, you start to hear whispers about the place THEY really love, and it is Siloam Springs.
It starts off almost as a secret the local NWA folks don’t want to tell you. For good reason, the small downtown of Siloam is absolutely beautiful, it really is a hidden gem of the state. It is only a 30-40 minute drive from any of the major NWA cities and sits on the Oklahoma border.
The real draw of Siloam is their historic downtown, wrapped on one side by the signature spring that curls through the landscape. It perfectly frames the beautiful historic buildings that line the tightly concentrated area.
It seems to always be busier than it should be for a city with only a little over 15,000 person population. In many ways it reminds me of the energy and atmosphere I experienced in Bentonville shortly before the boom that has taken place over the last 5 years. In fact some of the same people who were instrumental in the Bentonville boom are working to develop Siloam including our good friend Daniel Hintz’s Velocity Group that has led the development for many of the small booming towns around the region.
The downtown growth is a bit of a recent thing. Nothing against Bentonville at all, it tends to be my NWA home base, but the growth in Siloam Springs feels even more authentic. The city has had some investment from locally based Simmons Foods, but mostly it was invested locals who wanted to see their city develop into something special.
“I grew up here, and it was a boring town. I wanted to leave the first chance I got,” a local resident tells us while visiting. “I happened to come back a few years ago and absolutely love what is taking place here. I immediately moved back. I never imagined I would be this proud of my hometown, but I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else now.”
That level of enthusiasm is shared with almost everyone you meet. Every person you pass on the street openly volunteers their love of the downtown development.
From a food lover’s perspective, there is plenty to keep you interested for the weekend. Creekside Taproom boost a wide selection of beers from around the state. You will find most of the distributed breweries on the 21 tap wall. Sit and sip for more than just a minute and you will quickly find that this is the true town center. The locals adore the spot. It has only been opened a year and a half, but to the casual observer it seems to have been in town for generations.
If you want to grab some coffee there are a few options. The prominently placed Cafe on Broadway easily draws your eye. They offer a good selection of coffee and pastries. Tucked away on the other side of the springs from downtown, Pour Jons is the place that most of the locals we talked with love. If Creekside is the after hours town center, Pour Jons is the caffeinated equivalent.
Food wise, Siloam is dotted with a few cafes and small eateries. Fratelli’s Wood-Fired Pizza got a lot of comments from the locals as a must stop.The real gem of Siloam though, and one of the great restaurants of NWA for that matter, is 28 Springs. The restaurant sits almost juxtapose as a modern facade against the historic backdrop of downtown. Inside the modern finishes continue right down to a menu and a bar lineup that would fit right into any major city across the state. The seating inside is huge too for the size of town, it almost feels like it would be impossible to fill.
“We are slammed most nights, especially late,” the bartender tells us over what is basically a mezcal manhattan cocktail. “Especially when we have music here or on the weekends, there usually isn’t an empty seat.”
The food menu is diverse enough to be approachable by anyone, but still concentrated enough to have a solid focus. The dishes represent a sophistication almost never found in a town this small, with careful attention to flavors and plating. It is easily as good as some of the top spots in Bentonville and Fayetteville.
My one knock on downtown Siloam is the lack of places to stay, the area is really begging for a nice boutique hotel to keep visitors locked in on the downtown. The Inn at the Springs is a good option. It is basically a bed and breakfast with three spaces that share a bathroom, and one suite. It also has a tavern and restaurant within the property.
The Crown Hotel, which is one of the oldest buildings in downtown, is in desperate need of a renovation, but could serve as an excellent spot if the right developer got a hold of it. It reminds me of some of the old rundown hotels in Hot Springs.
Once you slip outside of downtown, where there are a few budget chain hotels along the main highway 412, it is like anywhere Arkansas. Just on the other side of the Oklahoma border there is a Cherokee casino if you are looking for some extra entertainment and probably a nicer place to stay than the budget inns.
Overall I walked away very impressed with Siloam Springs, and sort of disappointed I do not get over here more often. It is a real gem for the state, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this as the next Bentonville-level cultural boom town.