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Zona 78

A group of staffers decided to head up to the ever growing northern part of Tucson the other Saturday night and try a place called Zona 78 that an acquaintance had said was owned by a friend of his. We had a couple staff birthdays to celebrate and, since we had a toddler along, didn't feel like making reservations at one of the fancier sit down places or battling the crowds at some of the known trendy spots. Zona came advertised as a step up from a place like Sauce or Pei Weis but still a casual eatery in that style where neither patrons or help would be shocked to see a small blonde future staffer given to setting out on her own (shown at left hoping to help two of the many hostesses) or splashing the occasional milk cup on her front.

Now we're not sure if the 78 has become one of those trendy spots we were trying to avoid or what but we found a crowd in the lobby when we arrived. We fought our way through to give one of the several beaming girls our name and were told it would be five or ten minutes. There's not much room inside the doorway and, since it was already crammed with people, we stood outside in the parking lot for awhile before a burst of inclement weather sent us back in seeking shelter. There is nowhere to sit and we wedged in with the others waiting for a table standing along the wall. It was clearly busier than the four or five hostesses were used to and they seemed at a loss of how to deal with this and stood around wringing their hands, muttering to each other, and looking woefully out into the room as if hoping that folks would just get up and leave. We had said there were four of us and small child which was written down as five and we watched several four tops sit vacant or get filled by later arrivals when they could have easily been altered to accommodate us had anyone thought to grab a booster chair or do a little rearranging. Anticipating busy nights and putting extra staff on the floor is commendable except that extra hostesses don't really help much and one proactive manager type who understood the ebb and flow of the room could have easily replaced three or four of the girls milling around the podium. Either by management directive or her own initiative, one gal at least took it upon herself to come around and offer a taste of free appetizers to those standing room onlies, most of which were beginning to get very restless. There is a bar area off to the left but it was never suggested that we order a drink while we waited and when one of us tried we were ignored by an overwhelmed bartendress apparently battling to fill service orders. We finally got seated after about a half hour or so.

Our server, Brian arrived fairly soon after we shoe horned ourselves into our seats and seemed like an efficient and friendly enough guy as he explained the special pizza of the day and took drink orders. They offer decaffeinated Republic of Tea bottles, several unique draft beers, and bistro style over priced waters along with a fairly inexpensive wine list. We opted to get started with a Flying Dog India Pale Ale to go with our appetizer Basket of Wood Fired Garlic Bread a
nd Baby Spinach Salad that featured sweet and spicy pecans, Old Amsterdam Gouda, pears, with a honey-Dijon vinaigrette. The salad was quite good, tasting local fresh as advertised and the pale ale drinkable in a crisp, lightly hoppy sort of way. The flatware and water glasses were in that, look hefty, feel light, faux thick plastic style that serves restaurants with hard floors well and probably also helps mute some of the racket which a low ceilinged space and open kitchen tend to cause. The place was awfully loud as it was, with an intermittent thumping that made it seem like a group of banditos was trying to hammer into a safe through an outside wall. When we finally identified the noise as the hand pizza makers pounding out the dough, it made the mayhem somewhat more palatable. And our youngest staffer enjoyed watching the guys throw the dough in the air and, despite the noise, the place had more the feel of a boisterous bistro than a crowded bar. 

We had all ordered personal wood fired pizzas for our main dish and they came thin and flavorful with specialty toppings in that California Pizza Kitchen style like Thai Chicken and BBQ chicken. They were a little thinner than CPK pies used to be but tasty still and it was said featured home made mozzarella and local produce. The whole meal seemed well presented and when the check came we found it had been reasonably priced for what we got. Everyone on the staff that we dealt with was extra friendly if a little harried and unorganized and, despite the crowdedness, the evening seemed to go fairly smoothly once we got ourselves to a table. We should also note that, although the name Zona 78 is a little off putting at first since many folks not from Arizona, (especially jackass sportscasters) tend to refer to the state or the school as "Zona" when nobody from here ever does, the name settles in OK and rolls off the tongue after awhile. We figured out finally that the 78 stands for the street address on west River Rd. They also have cool shirts and hats you can buy to help advertise if you're so inclined. We'll probably go back on a quieter week night or give their patio a try some time and let you know how that goes. As it stands, Zona 78 seemed a pleasant enough and closer to town alternative to Thunder Canyon and a slightly more upscale place than Sauce or Oregeno's without the accompanying hike in cost.

Zona 78
78 W River Rd.
(at Stone)
Tucson AZ 85718
(520) 888.7878

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