Rock City Grill, River Park Square, 455-4400 -- We hadn't been here since they moved from their longtime location on Riverside -- and we have to say, Rock City's new digs are very nice. The bar is done up in kind of a "mood indigo" motif, with dark blue walls and ceiling, blue glass wall sconces and matching blue table lamps constructed from cones of handmade paper with blue glass bead accents. You can people-watch from the bar's many windows, and they also have an excellent happy hour menu, with pizzas in the $4.25-$7.75 range, and such crowd-pleasin' appetizers as happy hour-priced chicken satay ($3.75), roasted vegetables ($3.25) and Dungeness crab appetizer ($6.95), along with specials on microbrews ($2.95), well drinks ($2.75) and domestics ($1.95).
Vegetarian Pizza ($6.95) -- I'm not a vegetarian, but sometimes vegetarian food hits the spot. Unfortunately, some veggie pizzas are treated as afterthoughts, as if vegetarians have no taste buds. Thus I'm happy to report that Rock City Grill's vegetarian pizza is not only so good that even carnivores will like it, it's now one of my favorite foods. A delightful thin, crispy crust supports a pleasing blend of spinach, broccoli, Roma tomatoes, olives, yellow peppers, mushrooms, red onions and sunflower seeds. Everything tasted really fresh, and the whole thing is blended together with a light garlic cream sauce, further substantiated by morsels of mozzarella, parmesan and feta cheese. And the sunflower seeds were an inspired touch.
Calamari ($4.95) -- On the happy hour menu, Rock City Grill claims that this is the best calamari in town. I disagree. Rock City has some of the tenderest calamari I've ever had, but certainly not the best. A hefty handful of little rings of squid arrived on a bed of shredded lettuce with a side of "spicy Rosset sauce." These tender little rings didn't have much to offer in the way of taste. They were "lightly dusted" with something that left absolutely no discernible taste and "fried" in a manner that left no texture of having been fried. The sauce tried to save the calamari with an added bit of flavor and a mild kick, but it wasn't enough to rescue these bland babies. However, with a $1.95 pint of Kokanee, I was still vaguely happy at this happy hour.
Italian Nachos ($4.75) -- There's a difference between down-home and gourmet -- and that applies to the Rock City's Italian Nacho creation. Going beyond the same ol' tortilla chips and liquid cheese, the culinary brains at Rock City got together and decided to create chips out of pasta, then slather them in a combination of Asiago and mozzarella cheeses, tomatoes, Italian sausage, black olives, green onions and pepperoncinis. It's a crazy mix of ingredients, but it works deliciously. The Asiago-mozzarella mixture is divine. Amy and I could only scarf away half of the richly flavored, crunchy creation before throwing in the towel. Rock City's Italian Nachos were a more than worthwhile nacho experience.
Azteca, 200 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., 456-0350 -- How hard can it be to find a good happy hour in this town? We figured it'd be akin to taking candy from a baby, but as we quickly found out, a lot of places only have specials on beer and well drinks, not the food. After a few false starts, we made our way to the downtown Azteca, a place we'd often found roaring and crowded on many an evening after work. Azteca's happy hour conveniently starts at 3 and runs until 6:30 pm. In addition to specials on margaritas, beer and well drinks, they understand that true happiness lies in cheap bar food -- ergo, the $3.50 appetizers. Some days can only be redeemed by soft shell tacos and as many margaritas as you can handle.
Chicken Tostada ($3.50) -- Two soft white flour tortillas formed the base for this Mexican-American standard, which was not unlike the tacos in both ingredients and composition. Chunks of deliciously moist and spicy white meat chicken were the most interesting element in the pile, which also included refried beans, diced tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce and shredded cheese. Basic bar food, done Mexican style. We had sides of guacamole and sour cream, but the guac in particular was a bit on the bland side. We were starving and perhaps partly to blame for wolfing our food down as we did, but the tostadas didn't leave an overly positive impression.
Chicken Soft Tacos ($3.50) -- I have known of Azteca's cheap happy hour tacos for years. An old friend of mine swore by them. We were immediately served a large basket of chips and salsa. Our server took our order and failed to inform us that several of the choices we were offered cost extra. The soft shell tacos arrived dressed with shredded chicken, iceberg lettuce, cheese and tomatoes. The meat was incredibly juicy and flavorful. The taco shells were lightly cooked but not crunchy. They quickly became a bit too soggy, but the shell managed to hold in the goods. With three on a plate, this meal was filling and a darn good deal. With an ice-cold beer on the side along with chips and salsa, and I was good to go.
Chicken Nachos ($4.50) -- There are few things that I enjoy more than a plate of chips and cheese -- especially in the middle of the workday. So I was a little disappointed when Azteca's happy hour nachos weren't up to my less-than-picky chips-'n'-cheese standards. We added chicken to the nacho equation but found out later that tacked an extra dollar onto the cost. We dove in, discovering a surprisingly disappointing nacho experience. The problem lay with the chips, which appeared to have browned a little too darkly in places, leaving a burnt-chip taste to dominate. They certainly weren't the worst nachos I'd ever had, but they made me wonder about the correct science of broiling a stack of chips and cheese.