In the United States, the vast majority of diners who ask for buffalo ribs end up with a partial rack of barbecued American bison. But in Arkansas, long-standing seafood shacks cook up buffalo ribs of the aquatic variety. Fishermen have pulled the buffalo fish (the term actually refers to three distinct species of Ictobius, a river-dweller) from surrounding freshwater for centuries.
These creatures are known for putting up a fight after being hooked and for their succulent ribs after being cooked. Arkansans prepare buffalo fish the traditional way: by deep-frying the gamey, flaky meat, which is streaked with dark fat, when it’s still attached to its long, cartilaginous bones. They often serve platters of the individual ribs alongside french fries and hushpuppies, akin to Southern preparations of catfish.
At Little Rock’s Lassis Inn, fried buffalo fish has been a menu staple for about a century. This institution is one of the state’s oldest restaurants, likely opening between 1905 and 1931 (the official date isn’t public knowledge). The restaurant holds a special place in Southern history: During the civil rights movement, Black Americans sought refuge at Lassis, where they could gather, speak freely, and organize.
Need to Know
Buffalo fish has been connected with Haff disease. This toxin occurs in several freshwater species, including pike, eel, crayfish, and Atlantic salmon, but is extremely rare. If you do experience the symptoms of Haff disease (severe muscle pain, stiffness, and brown urine) in the 24 hours after consuming buffalo fish, seek medical attention.
Where to Try It
One of the oldest restaurants in the state just so happens to specialize in buffalo ribs. Heads up, dancing is not allowed.