Sierra Bonita Grill: Happy Hour Report Card

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See also: Los Olivos Mexican Patio: Happy Hour Report Card See also: Z'Tejas: Happy Hour Report Card

The Spot: Sierra Bonita Grill, 6933 N. Seventh Street, Phoenix, 602-264-0700, www.sierrabonitagrill.com.

The Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Happy Hour: 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

The Interior: Named for an historic Arizona ranch, Sierra Bonita captures the spirit of Arizona's vanishing cowboy culture without resorting to nostalgia or kitsch. The narrow, low-slung space, furnished with paintings and photos of ranch life, borders on the romantic, thanks to beamed ceilings, potted cactus, and votive candles.

But it's far too much a neighborhood hangout for that, crowded and noisy in the early evening as customers pack the tiny lounge area for a terrific happy hour.

This time of year, the TV is tuned to baseball, and background rock music is indiscernible except for the steady thump of bass. Hostesses and servers are uniformly friendly and efficient -- a beautiful thing, given the sheer volume of business going on here.

The Food: Sierra Bonita's menu reflects the blended influences of the Southwest -- hearty ranch-style dishes, American standards (fried chicken and burgers) and Mexican food classics (tacos, salsas and charro beans) -- given a contemporary spin.

All nine items on the happy hour menu are priced at $6, and choices are anything but rote. In fact, I plan to come back and try the ones I didn't get to this last trip because they're all appealing.

House-made guacamole -- a little chunky, a little creamy -- makes a great beginning with warm corn chips and three salsas: tomatillo, pico de gallo and flavorful Oaxacan red.

Everybody's got some version of mac and cheese these days, but few are as simple and satisfying as SB's ultra-rich but not-too-gooey version, combining rigatoni with poblanos, mild menonita cheese, cheddar, and a little cream.

Traditional Mexican sopes (two small circles of thick-ish fried masa) come topped with refried beans, sour cream, salsa picante and crunchy bits of pork chicharron. Yummy.

Ditto for the Sonoran hot dog, a bacon-wrapped Schreiner's model served on a fresh mayonnaise-slicked bolillo bun, topped with refrieds, crumbly cotija cheese and salsa.

It's not on the happy hour menu, but if you're up for something sweet, try the outstanding buttermilk pie (think custard with a bottom crust), served with warm caramel sauce and fresh blackberries ($7). Oh my!

The Drink: Well drinks and draft beers -- Dos Equis Amber, Pacifico, Kiltlifter, Oak Creek Nut Brown, Nimbus "Dirty Guera" Blonde and Mirror Pond Pale Ale -- go for $4 during Happy Hour, while domestic bottles sell for $3.

A short list of white and red wines by the glass is priced at $6, but the real treats are found on the signature cocktail list ($6 each), which includes a fresh-squeezed margarita (reposado tequila, orange liqueur, fresh lime juice and agave nectar, served up or on the rocks) and an infinitely slurpable Paloma (muddled orange and lime with blanco tequila and grapefruit soda, served on the rocks with a cayenne-salted rim).

The Conclusion: I can't find a thing wrong with Sierra Bonita. The ambiance is comfortable but just a wee bit upscale, the menu is imaginative, and the reasonably priced happy hour food is delish. Combine all that with tempting cocktails and affordable beer and -- ding! ding! ding! -- we've got a winner!

Grade: A

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