As a West Valley gal, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time at Westgate Entertainment District over the years, from reverse happy hours at Yard House with my Borders crew back in the day to my sister’s recent bachelorette party. It hasn’t exactly been the best place for local businesses, to put it mildly.
So I was excited when I heard about The Lola AZ, a new, locally owned restaurant (hallelujah!) popping up where Calico Jack’s used to be. It turns out husband-and-wife owners Scott and Melissa McIntire actually met while he was a DJ at McFadden’s and she was a server at Calico Jack’s.
“A lot of people here in the West Valley, they have to drive to Downtown [Phoenix]. Any time her and I went on a date night, we’d always go Downtown, to Scottsdale, to Arcadia,” Scott McIntire says. “We wanted to bring something like that to the West Valley. You’re not going to pay the high-end prices that you do there, but you’re going to get that kind of experience.”
It’s working: It doesn’t feel like the West Valley chains I grew up with. “We’re big travelers… we took some ideas we liked everywhere else and tried to infuse them into one restaurant.”
During happy hour, all of the boards, bites and toasts are half off, so you can get full very quickly – and very affordably – on snacky delights. I’ve never met a carb I didn’t love, so I zero in on the boards and the toasts. We select the Chef Board for its variety: burrata, coppa, prosciutto, peppered salami, fig jam, chef’s olives, stone fruit, sweet gherkins, herbed pesto and Port wine derby cheddar, paired with a beautiful pile of toasted bread (regularly $18). You choose three kinds of toast for a platter (regularly $12). It’s difficult to resist the simple, seductive siren call of Roma bruschetta (tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar), and I love the classic, mildly sweet trio of apple, Brie and honey. We round our toast trinity out with the savory and perfectly salted avocado. We are millennial women, after all. (For you carb abstainers, there’s a Keto board loaded with meat and healthy fats.)
My favorite nosh of the night is the Crispy Bites, a generous pile of tempura fried cauliflower, asparagus and green beans with a habit-forming sweet chile ranch. The vegetables are cooked perfectly – tender but not mushy, crispy but not oily. I find myself scooting the bowl my way for more cauliflower. I want to come back for the polpetta de Lola meatballs and the award-winning pit master burger.
House wines are $5 by the glass and draft beers are each $4 during happy hour, or you can try a select signature cocktail for $8. Our sweet server, Emilio, tells us that the Pineapple Delight (Captain Morgan spiced rum, banana liqueur, coconut réal, pineapple juice) is the most popular, but that he’s partial to the Kiwi Island. I take the man at his word and order the latter, which features Don Julio Blanco tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, agave nectar, muddled kiwi and a darling kiwi garnish. It’s quite sweet, with a hint of that familiar kiwi funk, and would make a great poolside sipper during these hot summer months. My friend enjoys the Maldives Mule (jalapeño vodka, Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur, lime juice, pineapple real, cilantro).
Well, we eventually enjoy these drinks. When they’re first delivered, I oafishly knock them over with my camera bag. A cocktail deluge overtakes the table, soaking my lap and our napkins and leaving a sticky wake in my flats. You can’t take me anywhere. Kudos to the staff for a quick and easy clean-up – and for being kind to the human tornado.
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Emilio once again supplies a stellar rec: “Strategize when you’re ordering the boards and toasts.” Since the Chef board already has prosciutto, apples and burrata, you can rule out toasts with those ingredients and instead choose varieties that don’t feature board staples. He recommends the blueberry, mascarpone and honey; the avocado; and the Toast à la Gatsby, with smoked salmon, peach ricotta and arugula ($3 extra).
Happy hour runs Monday-Friday from 4-7 p.m.