Photo courtesy Diego Pops
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been reuniting with a lot of old friends lately. The vaccine rollout has finally made it feel safe to see friends and family in person, to watch their expressions, to hug them, to share food with them – in restaurants, if you can imagine.
Some of these reunions have been with the eateries themselves. I know I’m not the only one who feels bonds strong enough with the restaurants I regularly patronize to classify them as friendships. Some are my BFFs (Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles, for about a decade; Edelweiss Biergarten, the raucous new pal I didn’t know I needed), and some are friends I see only a few times a year but whom I always leave wishing we hung out more.
Diego Pops is definitely the latter. I started visiting the spunky Old Town Scottsdale taqueria a few years ago, when our office moved nearby. I’d venture over for a solo lunch of braised green chile chicken crispy tacos and soft tacos al pastor, noshing while I read a book. I’d meet writers and other media friends and talk shop over platters of Brussels sprouts nachos and Sonoran hot dogs. There’s a good energy about the place – upbeat music, colorful pop-Mexican art and décor, funky cacti planters and sweet, attentive servers.
Photo by Leah LeMoine
Despite lunching there fairly regularly in the Before Times, I had never had happy hour there. When my PR pal Robyn Patterson started working with the restaurant, she invited me to sample its happy hour offerings on its brown-tiled patio nestled next to its indoor-outdoor bar. Even at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, the place was hopping, and the scents of salsa, ceviche and stewed meats had me in a trance before my food arrived.
And what delicious food it was. Appetizers (or Botanas, as the menu calls them) are half off during happy hour – an incredible deal. I happily tucked into my beloved Brussels sprouts nachos (regularly $12), crunchy corn tortilla chips layered with roasted Brussels halves and leaves, street corn queso, Oaxaca cheese, Fresno chiles and pickled onion, drizzled with Diego Pops’ signature roasted garlic beet crema, which is bright pink and so yummy I could douse everything on the menu in it and be quite happy. A fried egg was plopped on top, poised to meld with the queso and the crema into a rich, decadent sauce. Nacho perfection.
I didn’t expect the quesadilla (regularly $6; $3 during happy hour) to restore my faith in Mexican restaurants, but there I was, hope flowing once again as I nibbled on it. What can I say? I’ve had a lot of bad quesadillas lately, and I was beginning to think they were all floury, gluey discs better classified as building materials than comestibles. This one was made with quality flour tortillas stuffed with salty Oaxaca cheese and griddled to a pliant crisp. It was topped with more of that bodacious beet crema and a sprinkling of slightly funky cotija. If you love cheese, you must order this.
Other appetizers include habanero barbecue wings ($12/$6), poblano-rich chicken tortilla soup ($8/$4), chips and salsa ($2/$1), chips and guacamole ($11/$5.50) with orange and blistered jalapeño, and street corn queso ($8/$4), a bowl of that glorious goop piled on the nachos. And while many Mexican restaurants offer elote, how many offer it encrusted in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust? Diego Pops’ version ($5/$2.50) is bright and tangy, with bursts of lime and flecks of fresh cilantro.
Beers cost $4 during happy hour. Diego Margaritas – 1800 Blanco Tequila, triple sec and house-made sweet and sour – are just $5 each.
Wine and sangria (red or white) are $6. I went with the sangria blanco (white), which had a beautiful pale coral hue and was topped with skewered watermelon and orange slices. The fruity, floral tipple was made with Pino Grigio, grapefruit juice and peach schnapps. I think I found another new friend to come visit.
Photo by Leah LeMoine
Happy hour runs daily from 3-6 p.m. Dine-in only. Currently, dining experiences are capped at two hours.
Taco Monday: Get $3 tacos all day long every Monday.