The Spot: Tapacubo
225 East Apache Boulevard, Tempe
The Hours: Happy Hour is from 3 to 7 p.m. daily
Perfect for: When you want to down drinks in a fun atmosphere that’s quieter than Tempe’s typical college haunts.
Interior: Much like the Graduate Hotel in which it’s housed, small and quirky details line just about every inch of Tapacubo in Tempe. Pesos shine underneath the bar of the Mexican restaurant, and what looks like a mechanic’s vintage red tool chest — not so random once you know tapacubo means "hubcab" in Spanish — sits in one corner of the room. Clear garage windows shield patrons from the oudoors, though both were open when we visited recently allowing a cool breeze into the restaurant. We saw hotel guests, cozy couples and sport fans with their eyes glued to the screens on the wall while we were at the restaurant and bar but were surprised by the lack of college-age students. And while the bartenders were attentive, we weren't impressed with the overall level of friendliness.
The Food: The happy hour food menu at Tapacubo is extremely limited. The only two food items listed on the chalkboard were chips and salsa and a quesadilla. (Chips and salsa should be free, in our book.) The only saving grace was the restaurant's affordable taco menu. One taco costs about $3.50 or you can get two tacos and a side for $8.50. We went with the latter option and were mostly satisfied. The fish taco was filled with crunchy and fresh cabbage but lost points since the fish fell apart and wasn’t fried evenly throughout. The Breakfast taco — scrambled eggs, chipotle mayo, chorizo and white cheddar — tasted spicy, but was a little too weighed down by the eggs. The true highlight here was the Sweet Corn, a dynamic combination of cotija, chile, and sweet cream. The ingredients of this texture rich dish were mixed just right with one never overpowering the other.
The Drinks: The happy hour menu features a house margarita, bartender special, drafts, and house shots for $4 each. Both drinks we tried were good. The on-tap Graduate pale ale was the perfect blend of hoppy and light, smooth and somewhat bitter. But the real star of the bar here is the house margarita. Watching the bartenders use the “gas pumps” that sit at both ends of the bar to make the drinks is fun, but not as enjoyable as drinking one. The balanced combination of salty, sweet, and bitter from the tequila made each and every sip great.
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Conclusion: Although the food options were just all right, the house margarita was excellent. And at just $4 during happy hour, they're also a steal.
Don’t miss: The house margarita
Skip this: The fish taco