By: Maren Swanson • June 3rd, 2014
The Spotted Donkey Cantina is a unique name for a restaurant, right? Well at least I thought so when I heard we were going to check out their happy hour in North Scottsdale (basically Cave Creek). I was visiting my mom the other week and her boyfriend and she suggested we check out the Donkey. We actually tried stopping in on a Thursday night around 10 p.m., but the place was already closing down so we returned the following day. The restaurant itself is situated in a small mall right off Scottsdale road, El Pedregal, on the second level and you can sit inside the air-conditioned dining room or take in some sun on their outdoor patio. The atmosphere is slightly quirky, similar to it's name, and decorated with Latin-themed craftwork, original glass work, paper maiche lanterns and the hint of donkey art.
We walked in around 5 p.m. and the crowd was sprinkled with resort and tourist guests, from the nearby Boulders resort I'm assuming, along with some hard core regulars. The bartender was extremely friendly and personable. He whipped us up some margaritas and we ordered the calamari (suggested by my mom and not on the happy hour). I've never seen calamari served the way I did that day at The Spotted Donkey. They looked like massive steak fries, not the typical display of fried calamari rings and tentacles. Filete de Calamari Frito as it's called on the menu, is panko crusted and served with spicy roasted tomato and smoked chipotle salsas. I must admit, I was impressed by this appetizer. Sure, it was calamari, but it was hearty, perfectly fried and unique. But like I said, not on happy hour, so I had to break away for a bit and try a menu with different options.The Spotted Donkey happy hour runs daily, 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. in the bar only. Draft and bottled beer are $1 off, specialty cocktails are $2 off, wines by the glass are $3 off, bottles of wine are 15% off and you can grab a well drink or frozen margarita for only $5. Lite bites are $5. You might not expect to pay for chips and salsa at most restaurants, but at The Spotted Donkey you'll pay $5 so I expected the presentation to be outstanding. Three salsas and a side of chips were presented to us, very fashionably, yet I wasn't super impressed the flavors and the quality of chips. I felt the other appetizers on the happy hour menu might deliver some better value and turned out, I was right.
We tried the Huevo Rolls with Machaca chicken, black beans, cabbage filled spring rolls with habanero-sambal dipping sauce; a sort of Mexican-Asian fusion appetizer. The dish was fried and filling and served as a great pair for the salty-sweet margaritas. Other happy hour dishes on the menu include Six Shooters (tortilla crusted hand stuffed cheddar and bacon filled jalapeño shots with cilantro buttermilk sauce), Queso Fundido and Machaca Chicken Mushroom Taquitos. I will be back to give those ones a try.
Half an hour into our meal, we were greeted by the new general manager, whom was eager to grow into his new position. I could tell he was even impressed by the ever-growing crowd. Sure it was a Friday, but this place was happening at only 5:30 p.m. Look, it's on the border of Cave Creek, so I guess naturally you are going to get an early audience and the restaurant caters to that. Like I said, the place was barren the night before at only 10 p.m. If you are looking for a late night spot, then head further into Cave Creek and hit one of their infamous biker bars, but if you want a good vibe along with some good food and service, then stop into The Spotted Donkey for some happy hour or some serious calamari.
Scottsdale, AZ 85377