Dining With Denise Neil

Zoobilee’s big winners: A new-ish Mexican restaurant and some rowdy sheet metal workers

Los Compadres was the big winner at Zoobilee and earned a $750 check.
Los Compadres was the big winner at Zoobilee and earned a $750 check. The Wichita Eagle

Zoobilee, a big fundraiser for the Sedgwick County Zoo, was on Saturday night, and for the first time, the organizers added a judging component to the festivities.

I was asked to assemble a panel of judges, and we split the zoo up into five sections, each of us taking one so that we could try everything the evening’s 55 food vendors had to offer. (I can’t do that on my own, as much as I’d like to try.)

In the end, we chose two winners who not only had great food but who also put some major effort into presentation.

The big winner was the staff of Los Compadres, a Mexican restaurant at 3827 W. 13th St. North. Their over-the-top booth featured chipotle shrimp, homemade tamales and carnita tacos served in terracotta cauldrons heated by charcoal. Their staff dressed up in traditional Mexican costumes, and their booth was elaborately decorated. For their efforts, they won $750.

Second place and a $250 check went to a rowdy group of guys stationed just inside the entrance. The Sheet Metal Workers Local 29 not only offered attendees some succulent brisket but they also served it with admirable enthusiasm. They threw a mini party of their own when they won.

This was the 39th year for Zoobilee, which is the zoo’s biggest annual fundraiser. It brings in more than $700,000, which the zoo uses to feed the animals throughout the year. It’ also the only day of the year that the zoo closes.

Congrats to the winners, and thanks to my judging panel, which also included Keeper of the Plans Matt Riedl and his lovely wife Sydney, and local foodies Katie Grover of Fidelity Bank and her husband Travis Grover of Heartspring.

Zookeepers are planning “round-the-clock” feedings and snuggles for a baby girl orangutan born at the Sedgwick County Zoo while her mother recovers from a C-section.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle