The burgers go from $9-$15. But the good news is The Munchies — kinda standard appetizer stuff actually, like chili, calamari, chicken tenders, fries, are all half off during HH. So a bowl of “Jus-Chilin’” chili, or “Kal Maori” (you can guess), and “Kiwi 3’Some” (fries, rings, calamari) are $4.50 each after the discount. Or if you’re really, well, bare-backed, a small fries is $1.75, and sweet potato fries are $2. Select craft beers and cocktails, $3. So a Lincoln could cover you. Almost.
455 Tenth Avenue, East Village
Happy hour: 5–8pm daily
The food in this deal can be anything from French onion soup to lobster bisque to a cheese plate to “amuse-bouches” like tartines and bruschetta, to — what I really want, these cold nights — fondue and a nice solid glass of cab.
This just in: during Wednesday night happy hours, get five wines with a five-cheese plate for $25.
Loris is an interesting guy. He came out from Paris and started this from scratch. The idea was to recreate one of the Paris wine bars that he says are all the rage right now. East Villagers have been crowding it each time I’ve been by. Best dish so far: a $9 Niçoise salad. Nice to eat out in the sidewalk sun. Ask him about organic wines.
1165 Sixth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Sixth Avenue Bistro
Happy hour: 3–7pm, Monday–Friday; all day Saturday-Sunday
Come for the HH, stay for Jack’s Creole wonders: a cozy little corner place in the financial district with a fanatical band of followers: bankers, bums and music buffs (the symphony and opera perform nearby.) I fit in there somewhere.
Jack Gambrell has been cooking on this block since 1974. First at McDougall’s, now here, for the last 13 years. He’s known for clear happy-hour choices. They’re simple. For $5 you can get pot stickers, carne asada nachos, street tacos (2), sweet potato fries, quesadillas (carne asada or chicken), or buffalo wings.
Go for the nachos. They’re generous, crisp and luscious. Actually, no. Go off the HH menu, because (and you’d hardly know it from any signage), Jack is a New Orleans native who makes gumbos and jambalayas that have been winning him awards just about every year. His jamablaya (sort of like a paella) goes for $9.50, but a half-portion’s only $6.95. Gumbo (more liquidy like a stew) is $12.95, with Andouille sausage, shrimp and filé (sassafras). This comes in a half size too, for $7.95. Plentiful. Dee-licious. I had mine with a Stone IPA ($4.50).
You have to almost winkle these jewels out of Jack. He’s that kind of a guy. But it’s worth it.
1100 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Happy hour: 3pm till close, daily
“Oga-Wa-Shi” means “Fifth-And-C” in Korean. And it's Koreans who’ve set up this new place.
They opened in September, and it seems to be working. Partly because they get a great business lunch crowd with their $10 “lunch box” special. It includes things like chicken, steak, or salmon teriyaki, kalbi (short ribs), sashimi, and nigiri, plus miso soup, rice, salad, mixed tempura, and California roll.
But also they’ve gone all-out for the happy-hour business.
For starters, 20% off everything on the sushi roll menu, from opening until 7pm. Which means $3 handrolls, $3 for a nigiri sampler. Five bucks’ll buy a seafood spring roll, heart attack spicy bomb, or mixed or veggie tempura. For $7, happy ceviche. Plus sake bombs go for $2; all draft beers are $3. And they seem to have everything from Asahi to Ballast Point.
Don Kim, the top chef here, seems like a really serious guy. See him making a sashimi plate’s like watching a jeweler create a necklace. And he’s funny at the same time as he chats with customers.
Meantime, I ain’t ashamed to just start with a California roll ($5.20 after HH discount).
1526 India Street, Little Italy
Isola Pizza Bar
Happy hour: 3–6pm, daily
If ever you had a little chunk of modern Italy transported, this could be it. Massimo Tenino left his grandma Isolina, who taught him everything about cooking, and life, and he ended up here (by way of Tucson, where he has another place). What he does here is simple, good Italian food in a way-cool black and white and cinderblock space that still manages to be über classy.
Last time I was in, I found this HH checklist, and guess what? Everything was $4. Like, gamberetti alla ’nduja (shrimp and Andouille sausage), babarietole (roasted beets, gorgonzola cheese), cozze al forno (wood-fired mussels), formaggi (three cheeses), assorted olives with caramelized walnuts), salame misto (mixed salami, with homemade pickled vegetables). The only thing more expensive was the ten-inch Pizza Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, and basil). That was — wow — $5.
I got the salami and the pizza, and a glass of Rosso Piemonte ($5, HH price), which turns out to be from Massimo’s brother Paolo’s vineyard in Piemonte region. A bee-yootiful merlot. Specially with the sharpness of the salami and its terrific pickles, and the gentle bready thing of the pizza. I sit. I spin the empty glass by its stem. I want to come back before I’ve even left.
721 Ninth Avenue, East Village
Happy hour: 3:30–5:30pm, Monday–Friday
Yes, it’s maybe too cute. Yes, it bills itself as “where East Village Meets Paris Chic.” But Café Chloë, dammit, has something that makes you want to sit down and pretend you’re on the Left Bank with a wine in your hand, a whine in your voice, and a beret on your head.
HH choices for food and drink fall into $4, $5, and $6 deals. Two good ones: “Charcuterie” plate for $6, and “tarte flambée — with bacon, caramelized onions and “crème fraîche” for $5.
The $4 choices are petite house salad, warm olive selection, cheese with walnut bread, or “pommes frîtes,” yes, real French french fries, with three dips. Go for the warm olives and cheese with walnut bread. Oh heck, and add the charcuterie and the tart if you can afford it.
About the wine? Ask Alex the bartender. He knows a decent $4 plonk from vinegar.
More from the Happy Hour issue: Not just drinking on the mind | That transcendental space between drinking too early and drinking too much