Happy Hour

Richardson's: Happy Hour Report Card

See also: Local Bistro: Happy Hour Report Card See also: Kelly's at SouthBridge: Happy Hour Report Card

The Spot: Richardson's, 6335 N. 16th Street, Phoenix, 602-287-8900, www.richardsonsnm.com.

The Hours: Happy Hour: 2:30 p.m to 5:30 p.m. every day.

The Interior: If you had a soft spot for the original Richardson's and you've worried that the new incarnation couldn't possibly be as cozy and lived-in as the old one, I have some good news for you. The new one is uncannily similar, as in cloned -- right down to the shiny copper-topped bar, parked in the center of the room, the adobe half walls that conjure New Mexico's pueblos while keeping dining areas snug, Native American rugs, rustic pillows and framed chalkboards featuring food and drink specials. The only thing missing? A love note from owner Richardson Browne, who's been known to leave messages such as "besa mi culo" (kiss my ass) to local restaurant critics.

If anything, Richardson's the Sequel is even better, thanks to the fantastic misted patio that now joins Richardson's to the Rokerij. Partially shaded and elegantly landscaped with small cactus, it sports a secluded, full-size bar, a few roomy dining booths, a community table and a sunken cocktail area outfitted with a New Mexico-style corner fireplace and banquettes. Right now, al fresco doesn't have much appeal, but in two more months (less, if we're lucky), this perfect little hangout will be slammed, guaranteed.

The Food: At happy hour, everything on Richardson's Small Plates menu -- 16 selections ranging from soft shell tacos to shrimp scampi -- is priced at $5. Given that all are generously portioned and most are hearty, three or four of them constitute a gut-busting meal for two.

Ultra-tender chipotle ribs, smothered in seriously spicy sauce and served on a bed of dirty rice, prove the point nicely: not so much nibbles as dinner. A trio of green chile cheese sliders have a little heft as well, and the combo works. If only there were fries!

Although the generous heap of warm, greasy chips that accompany Oscar's Mexico City ceviche are all they should be, the ceviche itself -- which looks and tastes like canned tomatoes with nubbins of mostly unrecognizable seafood -- borders on dreadful. Love the generous slices of avocado, but they're not enough to turn this dish around. Shoulda, woulda, coulda ordered the spinach-chorizo dip instead.

Best of the lot are crispy mini flautas, stuffed with tender carne adovada and spooned with pico de gallo. Mini tomatillo toasts, topped with bits of ham, grilled chicken, green chile, pepper jack and tomatillo sauce, are as yummy as I remember them from a long-ago visit to Rokerij's happy hour.

The Drink: Of course, you can order anything you want (Richardson's is famous for its margaritas), but if you're sticking to happy hour deals, then you're sticking to $5 wines by the glass. No deals on beer or cocktails. On the plus side, the happy hour wine selection is lengthier and better than most.

The Conclusion: The last time I had happy hour at The Rokerij, I left happy and mildly impressed. This go-round at Richardson's, I'm vaguely disappointed. Except for the ceviche, everything is good, but nothing is I-can't-wait-to-get-back-here great. On the other hand, both the setting and the service are awesome, the happy hour wine selection is far better than most, the prices are in the ballpark and happy hour is offered every day. Come fall, I'm pretty sure I'll be checking out that patio.

Grade: B

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