Tijuana Donkey (left) and Mango Mezgarita (right) | Photo by Leah LeMoine
Last year, during the height of the pandemic and before the vaccine was available, I became something of an expert on takeout happy hours. I re-crisped pizza and nachos in my oven after they’d wilted in transit. I poured cocktails from their secure plastic carrying containers into my own glassware to make them feel fancy again. I re-plated, photographed, blogged and Instagrammed.
One of the highlights of my takeout HH extravaganza was Los Sombreros, a restaurant group (locations in Scottsdale and Mesa, and an under-renovation one in Phoenix) I’d read about for years but never tried. I loved the spread they delivered and wrote about it here. I got so into the chicken flautas that I regularly ordered them for takeout. But I’d still never dined at Los Sombreros until this week, when my PR pal Elaina invited me for a follow-up media happy hour there. “Patio weather!” she said. THAT’S RIGHT, I thought to myself, slowly filling with a sense of elation like a balloon puffing up with helium. FINALLY.
And the Scottsdale patio was so pretty. Iron chairs with colorful cushions surrounded rectangular tables embedded with Mexican tiles. A “Greetings from Mexico” mural popped with saturated orange and blue hues from a brick wall, with a low-slung wooden bench beneath. An indoor-outdoor bar provided an intimate nook crafted from more brick and Mexican tiles. Large wooden slats and panels of ironwork separated the patio from the parking lot, so you don’t feel like you’re dining with motorized friends. Twinkling lights wrapped around a big shade tree with a leafy canopy. It was transitioning from sunny to overcast and dipping into the 70s as we settled into our chairs to catch up.
queso fundido | Photo by Leah LeMoine
Happy hour nibbles remained fairly consistent with my previous blog. The following bites are $6 each:
- Regular guacamole
- Queso fundido
- Tomato and Oaxaca cheese salad
- Chicken flautas (my lunchtime takeout fave)
- Soft chicken or al pastor tacos
The guacamole was fresh, just a bit spicy and perfect for scooping up with thin, crunchy corn tortilla chips. Ditto the elote, which was served off the cob and sided with a crispy tostada shell. Once the tostada is gone, use your chips to scoop up every sweet, creamy, citrusy kernel.
The queso fundido was essentially a flaming-hot skillet of cheese lava. Seriously, it appeared to be 98 percent melted cheese, which theatrically stretched and slumped with each swipe of chip or spoon. It will test the tensile strength of those chips, but what a delicious experiment! Let the chips break and use your fingers to shepherd the salty strands of cheese into your boca. This dish is a cheese lover’s fantasy come to life.
Since it was my first time eating at Los Sombreros, Elaina insisted on showcasing a couple of its signature dinner entrées after our HH noshes. The pollo con espinacas ($20) featured grilled bone-in chicken breast on a bed of chipotle-cream spinach sauce. The chicken was juicy and a little smoky from the grill, with beautiful char marks and crisp skin. And the sauce – oh, the sauce. If you love creamed spinach, you will adore this Mexican version. It has much more complexity thanks to the chipotle and other spices, but it still feels so comforting and decadent thanks to the cream. Paired with fresh veggies cooked until crisp-tender (why don’t more restaurants offer this as a side instead of sad salads or steamed-to-mush veg?) and ultra-creamy refried black beans, this is a supremely satisfying meal. You can also order it with shrimp instead of chicken.
pollo con espinacas | Photo by Leah LeMoine
Pollo es el rey in my protein hierarchy, but my soft spot for carnitas paved the way for the puerco en chipotle to become la reina. The talented Los Sombreros kitchen staff marinate hormone-free pork for six hours, then slow-roast it for another six hours and then finish it on a wood-fired grill to get those deliciously charred, caramelized and crispy edges. I am salivating as I type this. The pork is plopped in a lake of chipotle-tomatillo sauce with rafts of Oaxaca cheese and strewn with tomatoes, cilantro and red onion. Pile everything into warm tortillas to make DIY burros and you’ll be in heaven.
These two dishes made a compelling case for extending happy hour into dinner. Elaina did me one better by ordering dessert, too: hot, crispy churros topped with homemade piloncillo ice cream, whipped cream, strawberries and caramel sauce. If you’ve ever had ice cream in Mexico, the piloncillo will take you back.
Draft beers are just $3, and you can enjoy $5 off all tequila flights during happy hour. The following cocktails cost $6 each:
- Margaritas – choose from strawberry, guava, mango, prickly pear or jalapeño
- Cucumber-jalapeño spritz
- Tijuana Donkey
- Mango Mezcarita
Since I love mezcal and Elaina doesn’t, I happily took the mezcal drinks. The Mango Mezcarita is a fruity and lightly sweet little tango of mezcal, lime, dry Spanish sherry and mango. I loved the subtle smoke the mezcal imparted, and the whole drink felt like a day at the beach in Mexico. The smoke was more pronounced in the Mezcal Old-Fashioned, which swaps the classic cocktail’s signature bourbon for my beloved mezcal ($14). I was ecstatic to be able to enjoy an Old-Fashioned, since I usually steer clear of them because I don’t like whiskey. This one isn’t on the happy hour menu, but its potency and its dramatic presentation – the server lifted a little wooden cap from the glass to release a cloud of smoke – make it well worth the splurge.
Old-Fashioned | Photo by Leah LeMoine
Elaina enjoyed her cucumber-jalapeño spritz, which was pretty in pink thanks to watermelon syrup. And the Tijuana Donkey was a spin on the Moscow Mule, with tequila subbing in for the traditional vodka. It’s served in a Moscow Mule mug, though, which is always fun.
Next time I’ll try ranch water – Los Sombreros special blend tequila, lime juice and Topo Chico – a Texas institution that is finally having its moment here in Arizona. (On a recent Desert Digest podcast, we discussed Huss Brewing Co.’s upcoming canned ranch water, which I’m psyched to sample.)
Happy hour runs Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m.
THE INSIDER TIP
There are a handful of cool things on deck at Los Sombreros:
- October’s seasonal dishes will include pumpkin soup and pumpkin flan.
- November will bring pecan pie.
- The restaurant will participate in the Mesa Taco & Margarita Festival on November 13.
- Holiday tamales return in December.
- Los Sombreros recently launched a new loyalty initiative. The Los Amigos Rewards Program lets diners earn one point for every dollar spent at the restaurants. After 200 points accrue, they’ll get a $15 reward certificate. You also get birthday offers, anniversary rewards and a free guacamole just for registering. I just signed up. Gotta make those takeout flautas – and patio happy hours, pollo, carnitas and churros – count!