Grand Rapids Magazine Top 10 Restaurant of 2021: Donkey Taqueria

Donkey’s extensive outdoor space helped it transition early on.

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a 10-part series on the top 10 Grand Rapids restaurants for 2021. To see a list of all of the restaurants, click here.

When Paul and Jessica Lee opened Donkey Taqueria, a spell-binding spot, across from their crown jewel The Winchester, they decided against posting signage or even sharing a telephone number for their taqueria. That’s how much they believed in Donkey. Definitely a rule-breaking move for most restaurateurs. But it worked. Quickly, the neighborhood recognized it as one of its 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 owns and operates All-In Hospitality Group with his wife Jessica. All In Hospitality Group is the management company for the pair’s restaurants: Donkey, Winchester, Royals and Hancock — all located in the Uptown Business District along Wealthy Street.

With inspiration from their travels, they decided to introduce Grand Rapids to a new one-of-a-kind Mexican eatery, with Mexican flavors like you’ve never had before.

The tacos, all served on corn tortillas made in-house, are both delicate and complex — try the green mole chicken with roasted salsa, queso fresco, radish and cilantro. 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 mainly from cow’s milk. Another not-to-miss option is the beer-battered fried cod taco brightened with cabbage, lime, cilantro, red onion and chipotle-caper mayo.

“We wanted to create a restaurant that was woven into the fabric of Wealthy Street, that provided a sense of place. We love old buildings, and we feel that the building dictates what the concept is going to be — there’s discovery, compromises, a history. Donkey was an old service garage, and we let the structure guide us.”

Long before the pandemic’s restaurant restrictions, Donkey, 665 Wealthy St. SE, had an expansive and popular outdoor dining space — showing that the restaurateurs may have been ahead of the curve trend-wise.

“From Day 1, outdoor space has always been equally as important as indoor space,” Lee said. “We wanted to create an environment that makes you want to eat outside — something imaginative, soulful, that resonates in you.”

With the pandemic, Donkey quickly adapted its outdoor area with igloos to allow for outdoor dining during the cold winter months. Donkey’s Instagram-worthy igloos are hot commodities and will stick around until springtime. Diners order and pay from a mobile phone, and staff delivers food and drinks to a table outside your igloo entrance for a safe, contact-free experience.

Even as the pandemic continues, rest assured, Paul and Jessica Lee are always thinking about what Grand Rapids might need next. The pair has additional development plans for the Wealthy Street neighborhood and hope to announce their latest project in early 2021.

This story can be found in the March 2021 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox each month, subscribe here

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