For this month’s Sippin’ Social, staff of The Explorer Newspaper ventured to Zona 78 – Italian Kitchen. Located at 78 W. River Road, Zona 78 hosts happy hour Monday through Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m., featuring half-off cocktails and well liquors, $2 and $3 beers, $5 and $8 glasses of wine, and half-off appetizers.
We arrived at 4 p.m. to a light crowd, and despite an outdoor seating option, opted to sit inside, where light filters in naturally through large bay windows.
Across from the seating area, chefs can be seen making dough and cutting vegetables, solidifying the restaurant’s reputation of providing fresh ingredients to its patrons.
Known for its Italian specialties and large drink selection, Zona 78 provides a welcoming atmosphere and comfortable ambience, as well as an attentive staff that greeted us promptly upon arrival and had our first round of drinks delivered within minutes.
I started the afternoon off with the Left Hand Milk Stout, which turned out to be a heavier and darker beer than I had anticipated, though not to a fault.
A six-percent, full-bodied brew out of Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company, the beer boasts a chocolaty with a kick of roasted barley flavor, but careful – more than one of these could dampen an appetite, as it is fairly filling.
Explorer editor Thelma Grimes had her longtime favorite at Zona 78, the prickly pear margarita. With sugar around the rim, the margarita is refreshing, and worth the half-off happy hour prices.
Prior to ordering a second drink, we wanted to take advantage of the half-off appetizers, so we ordered the Mozzarella Bruschetta along with the Antipasti Platter.
The bruschetta, which came with a thick creamy basalmic-based sauce to spoon onto the bread. The best part of Zona 78’s bruschetta was the mozzarella. Too often, bruschetta either uses a cheaper mozzarella, or shaved cheese. Zona 78’s had the perfect amount of tomato, mozzarella and fresh-cut basil. The only complaint would be, the sauce was a little bland. When it comes to any kind of bruschetta, the basalmic should burst.
The Antipasti Platter included a sample serving of Zona 78’s cured meats and cheeses along with toasted bread, peppers, artichoke, and more.
The plate was large – certainly enough to accommodate three to four people, and offers a wide array of delicious pickings that can stand on their own or be combined to make for a satisfying and diverse appetizer.
I ordered one more beer from the menu – which, once again, boasts a great selection of familiar and unfamiliar options. I lightened things up this time, choosing the Ten 55 Lamp Pale Ale, a 4.6 percent alcohol by volume beer that presents a hoppy front and smooth finish, making for an enjoyable ending to the afternoon.
Throughout the visit, our server was friendly and prompt, checking in periodically to see if we needed anything, or to take away glasses and plates once emptied.
Zona 78 continues to thrive in a location that has in the past seen several other restaurants come and go, and having been voted best casual dining, best happy hour, and best family dining by Tucsonans, it’s no wonder why.
Visit www.zona78.com for more information.
Join The Explorer staff at the next Sippin’ Social at Epazote, located at 10000 N. Oracle Road, at the Hilton El Conquistador.