Sloppy plates of hot wings and nachos are easy to spot on happy hour menus, but finding carefully prepared plates of gourmet grub on the cheap takes some hunting. Here are the five best places for bite-size fine foods at a hefty discount:
Tapino Kitchen & Wine Bar
Deals: $5 glasses of wine, mixed drinks and tapas.
When and where: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday in the bar and patio areas.
Best bets: With 22 small bites to choose from, Tapino has the longest list of discounted food I’ve seen at any happy hour. I fell hard for the petite lobster corn dogs, a mix of pulled lobster, lobster roe and tarragon lightly coated in corn dog batter and fried golden. The two seafood sticks are seductive, but the homemade honey mustard, truffle-infused ketchup and spicy Asian sauces are interesting enough to warrant a dip. Other standouts include the duck leg confit relleno with char-grilled salsa fresca and shaved manchego; pulled baby back ribs piled high on four silver-dollar sized blue cheese biscuits drizzled with truffle-infused ketchup; and four crispy shrimp with orange horseradish marmalade.
Scene: The bar is comfy with a couch/coffee table area as well as a few high-tops for two. The all-white modern patio is shaded with white curtains and makes for a dangerously sexy place to sip syrah.
>> 7000 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, (480) 991-6887 or www.tapino.com.
Deals: Half off all but a handful of the starters, soups and salads as well as 50-cent oysters. $5 glasses of house wine, $1 off other drinks.
When and where: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily in the bar.
Best bets: The golden fried crab cake ($6.98) is one of the best I’ve had, with actual chunks of pink crabmeat and a lovely chive rémoulade sauce. A Caesar salad ($3.38) is typically nothing to get excited about, but the anchovies and giant slices of wonderful Parmigiano-reggiano cheese lift it to greatness. The thick, dark pink rectangles of seared ahi ($5.98) with soba noodles, shiitake mushrooms and a light shoyu broth is also very good. The complimentary warm, rustic sourdough bread with butter is a nice surprise.
Scene: Dim lighting, white linen tablecloths and exceptional service make for a fine dining experience at half the expected cost. The horseshoe-shaped bar seats about 20, but it’s bordered on two sides by comfy four- and-two person booths — all of which are full by 5:30 p.m. on a Monday. The fortysomething crowd looks like they could afford the normal prices at this younger, hipper offshoot of north Scottsdale’s Eddie V’s.
>> 7135 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, (480) 994-4040 or www.wildfishseafoodgrille.com.
Deals: Half off all appetizers, wines by the glass, wine flights and mixed drinks. Beers are $2 off.
When and where: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily in the bar.
Best bets: My first escargot ($3.63) experience was a good one thanks to the savory sauce of flavorful tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, white wine, olives and garlic. The antipasto plate ($6.38) is impressive with long strips of herbed and grilled organic zucchini, yellow squash and red bell pepper as well as roasted garlic, thinly sliced Parmesan, caper berries, olives, slices of hard salami and thick, peppered proscuitto. The shrimp adriatico ($3.63) is another great dish with five jumbo shrimp cooked perfectly in a sauce of wine, butter, garlic, lemon and tomato.
Scene: The red-brick bistro is one of a handful of historic buildings housing restaurants in the East Valley, and the ambience is tough to beat. The bar area has room for roughly 30, and seats are quickly filled with young hipsters and professionals. The staff is enthusiastic about what a great deal guests are getting so there’s no guilt in taking advantage of the deep discounts.
>> 398 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, (480) 968-9112 or www.cafeboa.com.
Deals: Randomly discounted menu items, sake and beer as well as $5 martinis and glasses of wine.
When and where: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday anywhere in the restaurant or patio.
Best bets: The shrimp shumai were delicate, dumplinglike bites of deliciousness. At four for four bucks, I’d go with these over the plate of five gyoza for the same price. The California ($3) and spicy tuna rolls ($3.50) are fresh, tightly packed and served with plenty of wasabi and ginger.
Scene: The crowd here is the youngest in this fivesome and arguably the prettiest. Stingray is very modern with a zebrawood sushi bar and dining tables, sleek Asian table settings and trancelike music from the speakers.
>> 4302 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, (480) 941-4460 or www.stingraysushi.com.
Deals: Half off all appetizers, $1 off margaritas, beers, wines and mixed drinks.
When and where: 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday anywhere in the restaurant.
Best bets: The sizzling skillet of shrimp-and-pork dumplings ($3.98) with a red-chili ginger dipping sauce is filling and fun — you have to love a dish that continues to cook at the table. The seared ahi ($4.48), which is fairly new to the appetizer list, is also excellent.
Scene: The Z’Tejas in Tempe has a mellower bar/patio scene than the Scottsdale and Chandler locations, but no matter which one you hit, you won’t be dining alone at this stylish Southwestern grill.
>> 7014 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, (480) 946-4171; 20 W. Sixth St., Tempe, (480) 377-1170 and 7221 W. Ray Road, Chandler, (480) 893-7550; or www.ztejas.com.