, 603 W. University Dr., Tempe, (480) 921-1850
The Hours: Between 3 and 6 pm, Monday through Friday.
The Details: $3 booze and $5 appetizers. Choose from the house margarita, house wine, or a Dos Equis draft and snag one of about eight different apps for up to half price.
(the happy hour break down after the jump)
The Interior: The entire restaurant's got a hacienda vibe, without the plastic parrots and gaudy décor that can sometimes ruin a classy atmosphere. The spacious patio is surrounded by a faded pink and tan enclosure with cracks and exposed mortar, complemented by wrought iron entryways and plenty of greenery to brighten the atmosphere. Even in the summer the shaded patio and umbrella-bedecked tables are comfortable due to plenty of misters. The interior includes a dining room and a bar area. This cute Mexican bistro vibe is versatile enough to accommodate an intimate happy hour for two in the dining area or a group of tequila shooting friends out on the patio.
The Cost: Three drinks and three appetizers came to 25 dollars before tax and tip. (For the math nerds following along, a frozen margarita costs a dollar extra.)
The Conclusion: Mucho Gusto is definitely a cheap place to drink with decent priced appetizers to keep you from making a tipsy fool of yourself after too many margs. It suffered from a few missteps, but managed to be a pretty decent option to add to the happy hour rotation.
The house margaritas were standard for a Mexican joint and came from a vat instead of being hand-crafted, but for three bucks the quality was on par for what you're paying. The frozen margarita was a little weak, nowhere near as potent as Z'Tejas down the block, but was very refreshing on a hot day. For a little extra you can get a hibiscus, tamarind, or other fruity frozen margarita, so keep that in mind. The only beer on tap was Dos Equis amber and lager, so don't take a beer snob here, but the house wine was very good and a generous pour.
Appetizers are where it seemed a little hit or miss, with a measly success rate of one out of three. The ten dollar nachos sounded like a definite win, a pile of chips covered in jack cheese, black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo and crème fraiche. The problem was that it came out looking more like a taco salad than nachos. Shredded iceberg lettuce drenched in crema completely dominated the pile. Not much cheese (the defining ingredient in nachos) was present and the black beans were bland. The pile of nachos was massive, though, so if you enjoy sifting through rabbit food to get to chips then this app is a good bet.
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Equally disappointing were the empanadas, which were supposed to be deep-fried pockets filled with a spicy mixture of potatoes, cheese and corn. Papas empanadas can be a magical thing, but what we received didn't seem to have any of the cheese, corn or spice promised. Instead they were filled with a bland reddish mashed potato mixture that resembled more of a pierogi filling. Definitely a weird mushy texture compared to other empanadas.
Thankfully, the beef flautas were a shining example of everything Mucho Gusto's nuevo take on Mexican should be. Tender shredded beef was clearly braised in some seriously flavorful stuff, then wrapped in flour tortillas and fried to perfection. The red chile sauce and creamy topping complimented the flautas perfectly and managed to revive the otherwise bleak appetizer spread. Order these without fail. Que delicioso!
The food bummers could have just been written off as a misstep in ordering, happens to everyone from time to time. Unfortunately, the service also left a lot to be desired. Service was terse, perfunctory, and entitled. While we didn't really lacked for anything during happy hour, nothing was delivered with so much of a hint of smile or personality. Even though the restaurant was practically empty, the overwhelming feeling was that we were taxing our exasperated server by asking for anything. Maybe there were just more important things to be done that wait on customers, like prepping silverware in the back.
Overall Grade: C-