Budget Beat

Budget Beat: McCormick & Schmick's

McCormick & Schmick's chipotle-potato taquitos: Cheap and addictive. By Jay Bennett

At first glance, the two parts of the headline on this blog post may appear to contradict each other. What, you may be asking, does eating on the cheap have to do with a chain of upscale seafood restaurants found in just about every major city in the country?

Well, at the McCormick & Schmick's location in the Camelback Esplanade shopping/office complex, there's a nice little happy hour special that just may be impossible to beat. Since discovering the special a couple of years ago, I've found myself at M&S several times enjoying the restaurant's happy hour. I must be a cheapskate, because I've yet to sample the restaurant's considerably pricier regular dinner menu even though I'm sure it's a fine place to eat.

So last night, I slipped out of my work clothes (sneakers and T-shirt), threw on some respectable shoes and a collared shirt, and headed over to McCormick & Schmick's to meet the missus after work for some happy hour goodies. As usual, the attractive bar was filled with classy-looking business-type folks who must've filed out of the office high-rises at Camelback and 24th Street and marched straight over to the bar.

There are several private, high-backed booths and a few small tables on the floor as well as plenty of seats at the long oak bar. A couple of big-screen TVs were showing the Suns' opener and Game 5 of the World Series. There's also a spacious patio that offers a excellent view of Piestewa Peak. The place is set way back in the Esplanade, so it's not as though you're sitting there trying to eat and converse whilst cars on Camelback whiz by.

Fish tacos: Three for $4.95 The food is the real bargain here, but there are a couple of drink specials, like Penfold's chardonnay, cabernet, and shiraz and a Ravenswood syrah, as well as one or two cocktails.

Now, about that food . . . There are six items available for $4.95 each and seven items available for $1.95 each. And these aren't bite-size portions, either. For instance, I had the cheeseburger for $1.95, and it was a full-on half-pound burger with fries and a pickle. All for $1.95! It was a darn good burger, too — flavorful, lightly seasoned ground beef cooked medium-rare, with a piece of cheddar cheese and a super-soft sesame seed bun. It's simply an incredible deal.

Cheeseburger: At $1.95, it's one of the better bargains I've encountered. (Photos by Laura Hahnefeld)

Other items for $1.95 are a blackened chicken sandwich, chicken tostada, cheese quesadilla, potato skins, Cajun fries, and chipotle-potato taquitos. The missus and I shared that last item and found them pretty tasty, in a guilty-pleasure kinda way. I mean, you wouldn't expect this kind of bar food at an upscale seafood joint populated by people in business suits and dresses. The taquitos consisted of tortillas rolled up and stuffed with season mashed potatoes and then deep-fried. Yes, they're as good as they sound. And served on a bed of cabbage, grated cheese, and fresh pico de gallo, they're awfully addictive.

The items priced at $4.95 are pulled-pork sandwich, chicken quesadilla, black mussels, fish tacos, popcorn chicken, and seafood ceviche. The missus ordered the fish tacos, which were flavorful but a little dry. And it must be reiterated that no self-respecting fish taco is served on a flour tortilla (corn only, please) and covered in cheese (okay, the ones at Richardson's are the exception). Still, at $4.95, three fish tacos is nothing to sneeze at.

In the past, we've also greatly enjoyed the seafood ceviche, a tangy, gazpacho-like concoction filled with shrimp and scallops. It's served in something like a martini glass and comes with lots of tortilla chips for scooping and dipping.

I've written about some excellent happy hour deals along Camelback Road in the past couple of months. All are good, but McCormick &Schmick's may be the best deal of them all, if not necessarily the best food. Still, it is quality food and a nice place to hang out. It's comfortable and not too fancy, despite its location. And there is that $1.95 cheeseburger.

If you know of a great happy-hour deal you'd like to covered in this space, or if you have any other recommendations, suggestions, criticism, or complaints, please drop me a line at [email protected].

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurant 2575 East Camelback Road 602-468-1200 Happy hour: 3:30 to 6:30 and 9 p.m. to close on Monday to Friday

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Jay Bennett
Contact: Jay Bennett