“Happy Hours” for Pasadena Magazine

January 2010

Ix-tapa’s nightlife stimulus plan includes tasty bites and cheap drinks.

Pasadena can always use a new nightspot, especially since Twin Palms shuttered in November. Plenty of inexpensive parking and far less velvet rope attitude than the typical LA scene are refreshing bonuses too. Enter Mexican restaurant ix-tapa Cantina, the latest addition to Jack Huang’s restaurant family of Bar Celona and Villa Sorriso—a multicultural family started before Angelina Jolie made it cool.

In the sprawling space most recently occupied by Fred’s Mexican Restaurant, ix-tapa brings a classier vibe without losing the excitement. Red, orange and blue lighting, boxy lanterns and sports-broadcasting flat screen TVs accent the bar area. Murals of an attractive woman and a beach scene help whisk your mind away until possible cheers or jeers erupt from engrossed sports fans.

Ix-tapa has a $10 cover charge after 10 p.m. on weekends, when a mix of 80s, 90s and current pop and hip-hop blast on the dance floor. In true nightclub form, ix-tapa has added an upstairs VIP lounge area reserved for bottle service.

But high rollers aren’t the only ones who can add Mexican flair to their night. Ix-tapa’s daily happy hour, from 4 to 7 p.m., boasts $3 bites like grilled shrimp with tequila lime cilantro sauce and mini albondigas with chipotle sauce, as well as $3.50 specials like nachos, a chicken or beef quesadilla, tostada or shrimp cocktail.

Five bucks gets you a happy hour margarita or fruity red or white Bar Celona sangria and well drinks are $3.50. Make it a really happy hour with a margarita or sangria pitcher. Hot chips are always free and continually refilled, served with salsa verde to make the recession treat complete.

Thankfully, ix-tapa is also continuing Fred’s beloved $5 Margarita Mondays and $2 Taco Tuesdays.

A few margarita creations grace the menu, but the watermelon margarita rightfully earns its place as one of their most popular drinks. No Jolly Rancher flashbacks here. It’s a refreshing, slightly sweet cocktail with chili powder lining the glass and a dash sprinkled in.

Classic or flavored mojitos are also offered. The coconut mojito peaked curiosity but the coconut drowned out the mint flavor, so it may be best to stick with the original.

The appetizer platter of nachos, quesadillas and taquitos was fairly standard. While the pan-sautéed tequila lime chicken entree didn’t have an obvious tequila or lime flavor, it was delightfully moist and savory with a brown crispy skin. It came with a generous helping of rice and choice of refried, black or chorizo beans—like pinto beans with a faint chorizo taste—plus corn or flour tortillas, so it’s hard to leave hungry, especially after filling up on addicting hot chips.

But before you hand gesture an air check, it’s mandatory to experience a culinary grand finale in the form of the ix-tapa banana split. Warm, soft bananas are enveloped by a long, crunchy, cinnamon-dusted, deep-fried tortilla—mouth watering yet?—topped with three scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate sauce and mini marshmallows. Elevated far above the classic, the dessert can be split by at least two people, though a brawl may ensue. You can always settle it on the dance floor if a sugar coma doesn’t hit first.

Ix-tapa Cantina, 119 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91105. (626) 304-1000

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