The Spot: Cafe Tranquilo 401 West Clarendon Avenue 602-469-1730 goclarendon.com/restaurant/
The Hours: Happy Hour is Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. in the bar only.
Perfect for: Sitting in the shell of a once-beloved restaurant while half-heartedly enjoying their attempt at recreating your favorite dishes and drinks.
Interior: Despite very few changes to the space, Cafe Tranquilo is no Gallo Blanco. While it may be unfair to compare the relatively new restaurant housed inside the Clarendon Hotel to the now-closed local favorite, it's unavoidable when Cafe Tranquilo is essentially serving the same menu as Gallo Blanco and the only real change made to the decor is some new seating.
Thankfully, the design of the previous restaurant was enjoyable: hip and modern while still nodding to the restaurant's Mexican roots. But because the owners left so much of the space as it was, sitting inside and looking around Cafe Tranquilo is a sad reminder of what used to be.
Otherwise, the staff was friendly and attentive, but maybe that was due to the fact that our party was one of the few in the bar and really the whole restaurant all evening. And for a Thursday, it was surprising.
The Food: All appetizers are $1 off during happy hour at Cafe Tranquilo and include an interesting mix of Mexican snacks and then a daily mac and cheese special. We decided to stick with the more classic corn quesadilla and elote dip and branch out a little with the papas fritas con queso.
The corn quesadilla ($4) had one note, and that note was cheese. We're not going to weigh in on whether that is a good thing or not, but we were hoping that the usually pungent epazote would add a little more diversity to the flavor profile. Also, we may suggest changing the name to "corn tortilla quesadilla" so as not to imply there would actually be corn and cheese inside the quesadilla and risk disappointing the guests.
The elote dip ($5.25) faired better. We had tried Cafe Tranquilo's mix of grilled corn off the cob, ancho pepper, mayo, lime, and cotija before but noted the dip was heavy on the mayo and could have benefitted from some more lime. This time, they got the proportions just right. There was enough lime to cut through the creamy, starchiness of the corn and the ancho pepper offered a subtle kick.
The papas fritas con queso ($8) seemed like a mix between nachos and poutine, and when you're combining those two snacking favorites, things can't go too wrong. Though the fries did get a little weighed down and soggy from the pepper jack cheese sauce, the combination of avocado, pico de gallo, pickled jalapenos, black olives, and scallions was familiar and enjoyable.
The Drinks: Just like the food selection, Cafe Tranquilo offers a dollar off drinks during happy hour as well. We had to try our Mexican happy hour standard, the classic margarita, and sampled the Damas Brilliantes too.
The margarita featured the traditional combination of tequila, triple sec, agave nectar, and fresh lime juice with a salt-rimmed glass. It certainly wasn't out favorite margarita in town, but it wasn't bad. For $5, we couldn't complain.
The Damas Brilliantes ($9) was surprisingly satisfactory. We expected the mix of Fords gin, St. George raspberry liqueur, lemon juice, and prosecco to be much sweeter than it was. Though we didn't get a definitive raspberry taste, the vague berry flavor paired well with the botanical gin and crisp prosecco.
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Conclusion: Part of us wishes the restaurant that replaced Gallo Blanco in the Clarendon had gone in a completely different direction -- so we didn't always think of it as the restaurant that replaced Gallo Blanco. Had they created a completely new concept, Cafe Tranquilo may have possibly stood on its own in the Valley's restaurant scene. But while Cafe Tranquilo did have some high points in the Damas Brilliantes and the better-executed elote dip, we were mostly just left reminiscing about the good ol' days.
Don't miss: Damas Brilliantes Skip this: Corn quesadilla