Caffe Boa: Happy Hour Report Card

The Spot: Caffe Boa 398 South Mill Avenue 480-968-9112 cafeboa.com/wordpress/

The Hours: Happy Hour is daily from 4 to 7 p.m. in the bar only.

Perfect for: Impressing the pants off someone without breaking the bank.

Interior: Tempe is not exactly at the top of the list when we think of our favorite spots for after-work drinks. But we had high happy hour hopes as we walked into the 21-year-old Tempe staple, and Caffe Boa did not disappoint. While we were a little bummed at first that happy hour is only served in the small bar area of the restaurant, there was an undeniable sense of exclusivity as we snagged part of the last open high-top on a Friday evening.

See also: Ten Handcrafted American Fare & Spirits: Happy Hour Report Card

The bar area was cozy, albeit a little cramped as guests continued to squeeze into the few available seats, and warm with a dark wood bar, leather-covered stools, and exposed brick accents. Our server was friendly and knowledgeable about the drink selections despite looking like he legally shouldn't have been able to order a drink himself.

The Food: As soon as we sat down, the smell of mussels had us; we had no choice but to place an order. We decided to pair them with the poutine ($6) because what could go better with light, delicate mussels than fries covered in gravy? Yep, nothing. And the Hot Hungarian Salumi sticks were only $2, so we figured they'd be worth a try.

Sadly, only one salumi stick arrived at the table, which explained the low cost, and we struggled to figure out the best way to allow three people to sample it and ended up just snapping pieces off. Reminiscent of a Slim Jim, like our waiter said, the salumi was full of fatty flavor without being overly greasy and provided just enough heat to catch you off guard and leave a lingering warmth in your mouth.

The poutine came to the table in a heaping pile, smothered in a creamy mushroom gravy. We were hoping to visibly detect some gooey cheese curds on top of the dish, but were informed by our ever helpful waiter that the cheese had already been melted into the sauce. If we hadn't asked, we probably would never have known.

But the dish was indulgent nonetheless. We even noticed the triple cooking of the fries did make a difference and offered a slight crunch to the sopping potatoes.

And finally, the fragrant cozze. For $6, the portion size of the mussels was fairly generous, though we would have happily accepted any more Caffe Boa was willing to offer. The mollusks sat with soffritto in a white wine sauce with two pieces of toasted, buttery bread at the ready for soaking up the flavorful sauce. Barely any of that sauce remained as the waiter cleared our plates.

The Drinks: The drinks were equally satisfactory during Caffe Boa's happy hour. All drafts and signature cocktails were $2 off and $10 or less glasses of wine were half off, a steal when you consider the variety of wines the European bistro offers.

We chose two cocktails -- the Bowery District and the Desert Drop, both $7.

We started getting a little nervous when we watched the bartender adding shake after shake of cayenne pepper to the top of our Bowery District, but we were happily surprised to taste that the heat of the pepper only helped to balance the Canton Ginger, cognac, and Angostura bitter.

The Desert Drop definitely had a sweeter finish with Bianco Tequila, Campari, Elderflower liqueur, grapefruit juice, and hopped grapefruit bitters. The Campari was noticeable but not overpowering, unlike the Aloe Vera, which we didn't taste at all.

Conclusion: We can't say there is anything to really fault Caffe Boa for when it comes to their happy hour. And after 21 years, we would hope this is the case. Sure, there may be cheaper happy hours around town, but for the quality of ingredients and the surprisingly large portion sizes, the price seemed more than right. Our only suggestion would be to try visiting on a Monday through Thursday evening if you want a guaranteed seat in the bar area.

Don't miss: The cozze. Skip this: Attempting to split the salumi stick. Grade: A

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