Do a Chair Dance: Inside one of Bellevue’s best-kept secrets
by Camille Kelly, The Reader
April 24-30, 2008
With her first bite of the Chili Relleno at the Lil’ Burro, my friend Lisa started smiling and doing a little chair dance. Responding to my raised eyebrow and smirk, she laughed and said, “When it tastes good, I dance.” And good taste is what this little Mexican restaurant delivers.
With my first bite of the shredded beef Chimichanga I felt a little jig coming on myself. This is good stuff!
We shared chicken fajitas and guacomole, red and green salsa and chips, and a couple of margaritas. If you feel like chair dancing, head to Bellevue (via Kennedy Freeway) and find the Capeheart water tower. Nestled almost underneath the tower you’ll find the Lil’ Burro.
Shane and Olga Ashelford opened Lil’ Burro Restaurant in 1995 and it remains one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Family recipes, made-from-scratch with an emphasis on health and flavor, love and high-quality meats, vegetables and seasonings. Offerings vary from tamales and chili rellenos to grilled Snapper Veracruz and Tequila Chicken tacos. Tacos, enchiladas and burritos with fillings including chicken, ground beef, shredded beef, pork, veggies and seafood round things out.
Lil’ Burro’s enchilada sauce is particularly special. Darker chili powders and slow cooking add richness and flavor without making it just “rip your lips off” hot. And the Chili Relleno is another time-consuming project clearly worth the effort. Shane and Olga’s recipe begins with fresh roasted Anaheim chilies, skinned and fill with jack cheese, and ends with the chilies lightly breaded and fried in vegetable oil. These rellenos aren’t heavy or soggy and doughy __ they’re delicious. Slow cooking makes the shredded beef, green pork chili, pazole and tamales worth the trip.
Then there is the Lil’ Burro garden. Shane applies organic fertilizer each autumn. It is tilled in the spring to make a base for peppers, tomatoes and herbs. Last year the garden had eight varieties of peppers (350 plants!) with some fun and flavorful cross-pollination. Homegrown jalapeno poppers, not for the faint of heart, are a summer specialty.
Wooden booths and tables and retro steel signs on the walls make the interior casual and inviting. Comfortable green and browns dominate the color scheme, with a few Mexican accents for flair. The dining area is divided and not too loud, some of the booths are intimate enough for those “solve all the problems in the world” discussions you can get into after a few homemade margaritas. And speaking of margaritas: They are wonderful. Shane’s homemade margaritas are a mixture of syrup, sweet and sour, lime, two “secret ingredients” and tequila.
The “secrets” make them super smooth and super tasty. The greatest thing about the house mix is that it doesn’t give you heartburn, nor is it so syrupy sweet that you feel you teeth disintegrating. The bar offers 30 tequilas, Mexican beers and mixed drinks. Daily happy hour runs from 4-6 p.m. and features $1 off margaritas; on Tuesday and Wednesday small house margaritas are $2.
Head south of the Omaha border to Lil’ Burro … you could find yourself doing a little “tastes-so-good chair dance.”