Gallo Blanco: Happy Hour Report Card

The Spot: Gallo Blanco 401 W. Clarendon Avenue, Phoenix, 602-274-4774, www.galloblancocafe.com

See also: -- BLT Steak: Happy Hour Report Card -- Gallo Blanco's Doug Robson to Open New (and Slightly Different) Mexican Restaurant in March

Hours: Happy Hour is offered 3 to 6 p.m. every day.

The Interior: Thanks to its concrete floors and industrial design, Gallo's open, multi-windowed dining room has always been noisy as all get out, but cacaphony seems to suit the young urban types who show up in droves for one of the city's best and most affordable happy hours. A narrow, unadorned patio offers escape from the din, but why not embrace it? Grab a seat at the small bar which faces away from the room but allows for plenty of plate ogling as servers ferry food from the kitchen.

The Food: Doug Robson is a self-described gallo blanco (slang for "white dude" in Spanish), but because he was born and raised in Mexico City, he knows what he's doing when it comes to Mexican street food. If anything, he brings a chef's sensibility to his fresh and often locally sourced ingredients, offering simplicity with just a dash of sophistication.

Who makes the best guac in town? I don't know. I'd have to eat the contenders back-to-back to answer that, but Robson's chunky version, served with thick, crunchy, house-made chips, is definitely in the running. Topped with cotija cheese and fresh cilantro, it's so good you'll be scraping the bottom of the molcajete before calling it quits ($5).

The same can be said for bubbling queso fundido, combining spicy chorizo and stringy queso Oaxaco (think Mexican mozzarella), topped with a spoonful of salsa for extra oomph ($6). Yes, it means eating another mountain of chips, but if you've got a beer or a margarita in hand, why would that stop you?

Elote Callejero (Mexican street corn) is generally eaten right on the cob, and it's a gloriously sloppy, hand-held affair, topped with mayonnaise, cotija cheese and paprika (some versions use red chile or chili powder) and given a squirt of lime. Because my pal and I are sharing, the kitchen has cut the kernels off for us and piled them on a plate. Although it doesn't look as cool, it tastes every bit as delicious ($4).

Tacos are Robson's claim to fame for good reason. They're wonderful. My buddy and I try four of out of five soft-shell varieties and can't agree on a favorite, a good problem to have. For him, it's between the carne asada (grilled rib eye with charred tomato salsa, $1.75) and the grilled halibut, topped with guacamole, pico de gallo and crisp iceberg ($2.50). And for me, it's between the cochinita (local pork, marinated and slow-braised in achiote, orange, garlic and guajillo, $1.50) and the wild Mexican shrimp, topped with chile de arbol, slaw, guacamole and pico de gallo, $2.25.

The Drink: Gallo Blanco offers a short selection of white and red wines, priced at $5 for happy hour. But for the same price, a refreshing house margarita, made with Sauza Blanca and fresh-squeezed juices, really hits the spot. The beer selection is limited to Negra Modelo, Anchor Steam, Four Peaks Hop Knot and Four Peaks Hefe, but given the $3 price tag, it's hard to complain. Next time, I'm trying an agua fresca spiked with vodka.

Conclusion: Except for the noise, I love everything about Gallo Blanco's happy hour: simple, fresh food, refreshing margaritas and sweet, speedy service. Kudos to the white guy!

Grade: A

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