The Little Donkey: Magic Hispanic Flavors in Homewood
By Jamie McFaden
I’m a big fan of authentic Mexican food. Ever since the Taco Truck on Valley Ave. set the standard in expertly spiced tacos and masterfully pressed quesadillas years ago (if you have not tried it yet, go there RIGHT NOW and order everything), I’ve found myself wandering from one colorful restaurant front to another in search of something that could hold a candle to the magic made inside that truck. On Friday, I stumbled upon something in the way of Mexican cuisine that deserves its own accolades–The Little Donkey.
The Little Donkey prides itself on everything being “hecho in Homewood.” From sauces to fresh pressed tortillas to the juiciest corn you’ve ever experienced, The Little Donkey keeps it local. The establishment is a Fresh Hospitality-certified restaurant, meaning they source all of their meat and produce from local farms whenever possible. This is reflected in each bite. Food tastes clean at The Little Donkey, which is especially noticeable among all the complex spices and flavors that seem to burst from each dish.
We arrived on a Friday night at around 7:15pm. This is the quintessential dinner rush in any city, and this particular Friday night was no exception. The place was wall to wall with bodies. Mad props must be given, however, to the restaurant for having a wait system in place that involves getting a cell phone number from patrons so that they can be called when their table is ready. I love this new method of wait-listing because it allows people to go do something else during those 30 to 45 minutes rather than stand with stomachs growling jammed up against total strangers. We opted to wait at the bar since the heavens opened up and allowed for four empty seats (the number of people in our party). My girlfriend and I ordered the fresh squeezed lime margaritas on the rocks ($7), my husband ordered a hibiscus-juice infused bourbon/tequila concoction called the Donkey’s Daddy ($7), and our other friend ordered the Bourbon Stormy, a twist on the classic cocktail with lime juice, agave nectar, and fresh ginger ($8). Each of the drinks were delicious and STRONG. These were not watered down margs, folks. A bonus at The Little Donkey is that they use agave nectar in place of refined sugars, so you can enjoy a side of healthy with your indulgence of choice.
For appetizers, we ordered both the guacamole ($6) and the chilaquiles ($8.50). The guac was creamy and whipped to the point that it was like a delicious green cloud peppered with serranos and sprinkled with chunks of queso fresco (a cheese after my own heart). I get really really excited when queso fresco makes an appearance on any dish, so for it to show up in my guacamole was an especially joyful dining moment. The chilaquiles–oh, sweet Lord, the chilaquiles. We still don’t know how to say them even after we were told twice (margaritas, y’all). Is it “chilly-quillies”? “Chil-ee-quil-ays”? What I am certain of is that this chicken dish is ridiculously delicious and MASSIVE. There are tortilla chips smothered in chunks of spicy smoked chicken cooked in a rusty-hued guajillo sauce that tastes rich and starts sweet with a warm-to-the-tongue finish. Then, all this chicken-y goodness is topped with the perfect portions of cotija cheese, scallions, and avocado with the grand finale and finishing touch being a power player in my food love affairs–a slow poached egg that is runny with gorgeous golden yolk when popped. I had to restrain myself for destroying and devouring that egg. No joke. But I was a good little sharer and all was right with the world. This was so good that it is absolutely what I’m ordering as my entree next time. It’s seriously a spice party in the mouth, and I did not want it to end.
For the entree, my husband ordered the Plato de Tacos ($9) which consists of two tacos and a side item. He got the chicken taco and the queso fundido taco, which he likened to the tastiest, most gourmet version of a Cheesy Gordita Crunch imaginable, and had pinto beans as his side. This was a LOT of food. Sometimes tacos can be disappointing because, well, they’re just tortillas and meat. This was not the case at The Little Donkey. There was chicken spilling out of the tacos and the queso fundido taco was loaded with melty cheese and smoked sausage. I ordered the Burrito in a Bowl with smoked chicken at the recommendation of our server ($9.25). This dish came in an oversized bowl and was basically rice, stacked with pinto beans, stacked with guacamole (more of that good stuff, thank God), stacked with meat, and then sprinkled with pickled onions. PICKLED ONIONS, people! I can’t think of a better way to eat onions. They were savory and tangy and just really so so good. The chicken was so tender I could fork it into submission before shoveling it into my mouth, pausing only to note the delightfully smoky flavor in each bite. Awesome stuff. I’m going to give you a piece of advice now when you are confronted with which side to order with your meal. Please, I beg of you, order the Elote. I would eat this every single day for the rest of my life and die happy (and probably a few pounds heavier). This is a traditional Mexican street food item that is basically a big ol’ corn on the cob shoved on a stick and slathered in a creamy sauce then doused in ancho chili powder cotija cheese. It. Is. Magical. I did not care how I looked when I ate it. I did not care that corn has zero nutritional value. I did not care that it was all up in my teeth. I’m convinced everyone at the table with me was super jealous. I wanted another one immediately after I finished it (a little too quickly, I might add), but I restrained myself.
The service from the bar to the table was wonderful. The staff members of The Little Donkey seem to have a good sense of humor, a must when dealing with droves of hungry humans on a Friday night (there was no judgment on our mispronouncing the chilaquiles). And if you’re not sold on the dishes I’ve urged you to try, ASK THEM what to order. They know the good stuff. But seriously, order the Elote.