Grand Rapids Magazine Top 10 Restaurant of 2021: Donkey Taqueria
Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 10-part series of the Top 10 Restaurants in Grand Rapids for 2021. Click here for a list of all restaurants.
W.When Paul and Jessica Lee opened Donkey Taqueria, a magical place across from their crown jewel, The Winchester, they decided against putting up signage or even sharing a phone number for their taqueria. That was how much they believed in donkeys. Definitely a rule violation for most restaurateurs. But it worked. The neighborhood quickly recognized it as one of their own.
“For us, it’s not enough to have fantastic food, not enough to have a cool environment, not enough to have wonderful service,” said Paul Lee, who with his wife Jessica owns the All-In Hospitality Group and operates. All In Hospitality Group is the management company for the couple’s restaurants: Donkey, Winchester, Royals, and Hancock – all in the Uptown business district along Wealthy Street.
Taking inspiration from their travels, they decided to bring Grand Rapids a new one-of-a-kind Mexican restaurant with Mexican flavors like you’ve never had before.
The tacos, all served on homemade corn tortillas, are both delicate and complex – try the green molehill with toasted salsa, queso fresco, radishes, and coriander. Or a vegetarian option with crispy fried Brussels sprouts, jalapeno mayo, salsa verde, macha corn, and bacon sprinkled with queso cotija – a hard, crumbly Mexican cheese made primarily from cow’s milk. Another option not to be missed is the beer-topped fried cod taco that is lightened with cabbage, lime, coriander, red onion, and chipotle caper mayo.
“We wanted to create a restaurant that was woven into the fabric of Wealthy Street and that had a sense of place. We love old buildings and we feel that the building defines the concept – there is discovery, compromise, a story. Esel was an old service workshop and we let the structure guide us. “
Long before the restaurant restrictions of the pandemic, Donkey, 665 Wealthy St. SE, had a sprawling and popular al fresco dining area – proof that restaurateurs may have been ahead of the curve when it comes to the trend.
“From day one, the outdoors has always been just as important as the indoors,” said Lee. “We wanted to create an environment in which one would like to eat outside – something imaginative, full of soul that resonates within you.”
With the pandemic, Donkey quickly adapted its outdoor area with igloos to enable it to dine outside in the cold winter months. Donkey’s Instagram-worthy igloos are a hot commodity and will remain until spring. The guests order and pay via a mobile phone. The staff will deliver food and drinks to a table in front of your igloo entrance to ensure a safe and contactless experience.
Even if the pandemic continues, rest assured Paul and Jessica Lee are always thinking about what Grand Rapids might need next. The couple have additional development plans for the Wealthy Street neighborhood and hope to announce their current project in early 2021.
This story can be found in the March 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. Subscribe here to have more stories like this sent to your mailbox every month.