C’mon, Get Happy!: A roundup of drink and food specials to experience this summer

click to enlarge Pizza at The Monica. - TUCSON WEEKLY FILE PHOTO
Tucson Weekly File Photo
Pizza at The Monica.

Let’s face it: Most of us could use a stiff drink these days. And with all this inflation, who doesn’t want to save a buck or two on food and drink?

We sent staff reporters Alexandra Pere and Nicole Feltman out alongside longtime contributor Linda Ray to investigate some of Tucson’s best happy hours. Here’s caliche in your eye!

Kon Tiki. 4625 E. Broadway Blvd. (520) 323-7193. Happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. $1 off drafts and double well drinks; $3.50 for beers in aluminum cans; $4.50 glasses of select wines; discounted appetizers.

There’s something relaxing about just walking through the doors of this Polynesian institution, which has been transporting Tucsonans to the South Seas for nearly six decades. They serve more than 50 tiki-inspired cocktails, ranging from the Painkiller to the infamous Scorpion Bowl, which purports to the be the “largest drink in the world” and boasts a secret recipe known only to Kon Tiki bartenders that combines various rums, gin, brandy and liqueurs with tropical fruit juices. That’s sure to get the Aloha Spirit flowing through your veins.

To soak up some of that magic elixir, you should consider ordering any of the happy hour specials, which include $6 appetizers (coconut shrimp, potstickers, cheese quesadillas, sliders, spring rolls). Spend a buck or two more for BBQ ribs, calamari or Hawaiian nachos ($7) or ahi poke or bacon-wrapped shrimp ($8).

The Buffet Bar. 538 E. Ninth St. (520) 623-6811. buffetbartucson.com. Happy minute at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Who hasn’t been to The Buff? Tucsonans have been drinking at the Buffet Bar since 1934, so they must be doing something right. And by right, we mean serving cold beer and cheap cocktails from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day of the year. The Buffet—a downtown-adjacent dive bar so renown that Esquire magazine declared it “one of the best bars in America”—is home to the super efficient “Happy Minute,” so you’ve got 60 seconds at 6 p.m. to buy two drinks for the price of one, and another 60 seconds at 11 p.m. to buy one drink and get a second for $1.

Agustin Kitchen. 100 South Avenida del Convento. (520) 398-5382.

Happy hour 3 to 5 p.m. daily. $1 off drafts, $6 house red or white, $6 select cocktails. Extensive happy hour food menu: agustinkitchen.com/menu-happy-hour/#happy

Agustin Kitchen has our favorite charcuterie board in town, even though it’s been different every time we’ve ordered it. Everything on it is succulent, fresh-tasting, and often original, whether cured, aged or pickled. When we’re pinching pennies, though, we love the garlic fries and $6 drink specials, including sangria and margaritas.

Sit out on the patio and savor the end of your day, but look around you, too. You’re in the heart of Tucson’s ancient history. A half-mile to the south is Mission Garden, recreated at the site of a respite center for early missionaries. The restored gardens include descendants of citrus seeds and a variety of other plant life brought from Sicily by Father Kino.

Even older, practically right next door, is evidence of many centuries and layers of Native habitation on A Mountain (Sentinel Peak) and Tumamoc Hill. Why not walk them after Happy Hour and work up a fresh appetite for dinner? Make rest stops to read all the interpretive signs about Tucson’s native past.

Ermanos Bar. 220 N. Fourth Ave. (520) 445-6625. Happy hour noon to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. $6 for a glass of any wine; $1 off all draft beers; $2 off draft of the day; $1 off can or bottle of the day; discounted food items of the day.

What luck to have an intimate patio space right-sized for folks brave enough to step out during COVID lockdown, but cautious enough to keep it outdoors. Ermanos’ rear patio had started out like a mystery. Patrons walked a narrow hall through a room used for tiny private events or the occasional back-room standup show. Over time, the owners continued to improve it and eventually annexed even more patio space from their Fourth Avenue sidewalk.

The move effectively doubled their tables. They needed that. Ermanos’ eclectic menu and fine selection of spirits locates them sweetly about half-way between Maynards and Bison Witches, in the elbow of both geography and taste. Favorite food items include avocado fries ($13), mac ’n’ cheese ($13) and our favorite, elote ($15). A big batch of regular fries, though, is super crunchy and affordable ($7.5), even when it’s not a “discounted food item.”

Native Grill and Wings. Multiple locations. Nativegrillandwings.com. Happy hour from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Reverse happy hour from 9 p.m. to close. Discounts on beer, wine, cocktails, food.

We’re old enough to remember when we could score 10-cent wings at Happy Hour, but those days are long gone. While they may not be that cheap, you’ll still find some great deals at Native Grill and Wings—and we’re guessing the quality is way better than the wings we were scarfing down back in the day. Whether your favorite sauce is honey hot, teriyaki ginger or habanero mango, you won’t go wrong with a plate of these babies. Just stay away from the ghost pepper sauce. And if you do try it, don’t say you weren’t warned.

The Monica. 40 E. Congress St. (520) 645-1922. Happy hour 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. $1 off drafts, $2 off glasses of wines and all cocktails. $3 off most pizzas.

That $3 deal is a good one at this downtown newcomer. The personal pizzas range from a $6.95 margueritte to an $8.95 chachita, a fun concoction featuring chickpea chorizo. Other versions involve “Mom’s meatballs” or a short rib with gremolata and mushroom-onion duxelles. All are crafted atop crust made by James Beard nominee Don Guerra’s heritage barrio grain flour (and if you’re lucky, you might be able to score a fresh loaf of Guerra’s Barrio Bread, if it hasn’t all sold out). Portions are right sized for one, but we recommend going with friends so you can sample everything.

The Monica’s multi-cultural heritage shines. Its namesake is the matriarch of the El Charro restaurants and all the spinoffs generated by her descendants. Ingredients are local, fresh, healthy and mostly organic. Preparations consider food allergies and other health concerns. Even snack and dessert creations are vegan, gluten-free and/or dairy-free.

In sum, The Monica is everything we have needed in a downtown restaurant, even if everything we needed is different. It has fast service, affordable dishes, a stylishly cozy atmosphere, a nook for games and magazines, even a wall cooler for take-home tamales, salsa and other unique comestibles. It’s like a mini-convenience store for epicures.

REVEL Wine Bar. 416 E. Ninth Street. (520) 329-2123. Happy hour 4 to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight, Friday through Saturday. $1 off any glass.

They have burrata. Full stop. It tastes just-made and literally melts in your mouth like silky cultured magic milk. This cheese is so special you have to ask for it, like a secret. Ask softly. No one will know.

Guests can order all kinds of cheeses, cured meats and other noshes a la carte, but they can also build their own charcuterie board, by making check marks on the sushi-like menu. Want a great, wide-ranging conversation? As a staff member to suggest a wine you might like instead of the same ol’ favorite.

When you take a bottle home, it’s $10 off. That can make a smokin’ deal of, say, the Chateau Ducru-Beaucaillou Bordeaux Rouge Saint Julien France 2010, $615. (Bold and expressive blackcurrant cordial, baked plums and mulberries scents plus wafts of menthol, Marmite toast, black olives and dried lavender.) But there’s no charge just to look at it.

If none of that persuades you that it’s run by the best people, know that for Arizona Gives Day, they donated to Native Seeds Search.

The Delta. 135 S. Sixth Ave. (520) 524-3400. thedeltatucson. Happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 7 p.m Friday. All drafts are $3; $3 discount on specialty cocktails and glasses of wine; $6 old fashioned; $3 off selected honky tonk tapas.

This new downtown restaurant in the space formerly occupied by legendary local chef Janos Wilder’s DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails has big shoes to fill, but chef Travis Peters of The Parish has demonstrated that he’s up to the job. Delta’s specialty cocktails are crafted with housemade fruit-infused liquors like their Instant Hit, Mississippi Lane and Delta Sweet Tea. Pair your specialty cocktail or a draft beer with one of The Delta’s discounted Honky Tonk Tapas, including their cherry Kool-Aid pickles, a cup of seafood gumbo, or cast-Iron cornbread. This is some real southern comfort.

Elliott’s on Congress. 135 E. Congress St. (520) 622-5500. Happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. daily and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. $4 vodka-infused drinks, $3 wells; $1 off craft beers. Various food items.

The drink specials are wonderful, but we’re also impressed with Elliott’s “mini-menu,” featuring nearly a dozen items all at $7 or less. You won’t regret indulging in three creamy jalapeño boats drizzled with agave ($4.50), four bacon rangoons served with a mango-habanero sauce ($4.50) or two burger sliders ($5). Satisfy your sweet and savory appetite with a chocolate-covered bacon strip. ($2.50) If you show up on Tuesday, happy hour prices are from 4 p.m. Be sure to indulge in this heavenly happy hour after a long day of work—you deserve it!

Trident Grill. Multiple locations. Tridentgrill.com. Happy Hour is 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. $1 off all craft beer, well cocktails and all wine by the glass. Nine discounted menu items.

With four different locations across the community (along with a pizza joint), Trident Grill is likely close to where you live. It’s no surprise that this joint, run for former Navy SEAL Nelson Miller, has a nautical theme and plenty of seafood. Trident takes at least $2 off regular menu items such as a pair of Kaluau pork tacos ($6), crispy shrimp tacos ($7) and crispy cod tacos ($7). Pair your discounted craft beer with happy hour appetizers such as beer-battered kosher pickles ($6), buttermilk chicken tenders ($8) or a pair of baked pretzels ($8). We all know cheese, bread, and beer is an exquisite combination. Get semi-adventurous with the grilled chicken skewers accompanied by thai peanut sauce ($8). Not feeling Thai? That’s fine! Go straight to classic bar food with two buffalo chicken sliders ($6) or BBQ pork sliders ($7). The world is your oyster and Trident Grill gives you more than just drinks to choose during happy hour.

Bistro 44. 6761 E. Tanque Verde Road. (520) 298-2233. Happy hour 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday/Sunday. $1 off all drinks, $3 off all appetizers. bistro44tucson.com

Bistro 44 had a patio crowd before patio crowds were cool. You wouldn’t know about it, but people who hang out there on the regular are the coolest in the world. Just ask their grandkids.

The regulars’ life stories, careers and accomplishments would amaze you if you had any context for them at all. They were overstuffed with cool already by the time you discovered gaming.

But there are excellent reasons for Generation Y to check out Bistro 44. Foremost is that, clubby as it sounds, it’s welcoming – cozy, friendly and unassuming, just the way you like it. The food is delicious, perfectly prepared and pronounceable, and most dishes have fewer than a dozen, mostly familiar, ingredients. Maybe most important, you won’t find a classier, more authentic old fashioned anywhere in town.

Union Public House. 4340 N. Campbell Ave. (520) 329-8575. Social hour seven days a week, 3 to 6 p.m. Domestic drafts are $3, craft drafts are $4 to $6, single item well drinks are $5, select wines are $7 per glass, vodka martinis are $7, copper cup Moscow mules are $6 and a glass of Campo Viejo Cava Brut is $7. Discounted food items.

Moscow mule enthusiasts unite! Located in the gorgeous St. Philip’s Plaza on the edge of the Catalina Foothills, The Union is known for a wide variety of Moscow mules and during social hour, you can save $2 on all copper cup mules. Select wines and beers are discounted along with vodka martinis. Pair these delicious discounts with 10 different discounted menu items, including appetizers such as poutine fries ($7.50), regular fries ($4), pretzels ($5.50) and pub chips ($8). Lighter menu options include a mason jar of house-brined pickles and vegetables ($4), a jar of pickles ($5), caesar salad $6), and green salad ($5). If you have more of an appetite, soak up that booze with macaroni and cheese ($7), three pulled pork sliders ($9) or one of Tucson’s best-priced (and most delicious) burgers ($9).

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