1887 On the Bay
Happy Hour: 4-6pm daily, and all night Thursday
1701 Strand Way, Coronado
This place is where Stevie Wonder, the Breaking Bad crew, and Marilyn Monroe have all hung out. Also, it’s been around even longer than its neighbor, the Hotel Del. The great thing: At Happy Hour you can usually see yachts swooping past your Crew’s Lounge window. HH cocktails, $7, good selection of wines at $6, beers start at $3.50. HH food’s limited, but good. Asparagus soup, $5, six oysters, $9, ribs, $8, prime rib sandwich, $12. Great sunset rendezvous unchanged since, well, 1887.
4902 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach
Happy Hour: 2-6pm daily; 4-11pm Mondays
Cozy, buzzy atmosphere. Menu’s not all cheap (burger $14, rib eye $17) so be sure to hit HH. Menu includes great tapas, but try sushi; with names such as “Dr. Eel Good” they can’ t be bad. Salmon skin roll ($5.50) is lush, savory, sweet, gingery, with caviar eggs popping in your mouth. Also try the Joint (soft shell crab, avo) normally $13, $6 HH, or the O’Beef (with seared filet mignon on top). “Sushi chefs’d freak at some of this stuff,” says Big John, the owner. Best HH grog deal: jar-size glass of “One Cup” Ozeki sake, $5.50. Cocktails vary. Beers from $4.
326 Broadway, Downtown San Diego
Happy Hour: 4-7pm Sunday-Thursday
Dress up for this hangout of judges, politicos, conventioneers, old-money rich, and the famous. Albert Einstein dined here, as have FDR and 12 other presidents. But the HH is surprising. Like, half price on their six small-plate items: Fried calamari $7, charcuterie plate $9, beef sliders $9, crispy duck egg $7.50, grilled flatbread with chicken and goat cheese $7, truffle fries, $4. My choice: duck egg. Break it and it floods the surrounding canarolli rice, charred onions, pancetta. But ask for bread. Big steaming-hot focaccia will turn up. Perfect for mopping up operations. And, free. Grog? Beers like Green Flash Double Stout, $6. House wines $6. Cocktails $6.
2241 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island
Humphrey’s Backstage Live
Happy Hour: 5-7pm daily
Behind the massive curved Hawaiian prow is one heckuva deal. Happy Hour brings pretty cheap dishes like the Greek salad ($5.50), really decent draft-beer prices ($2 for a Bud, $3 for a local brew like Stone IPA), a great view of the yacht harbor at La Playa, and if you hang on after seven, good bands playing for no cover and a dance floor to rock your date. And if you keep it simple you can be in and out of this swanky place for under $10. Sunsets included.
495 Laurel Street, Bankers Hill
Happy Hour: 3:30-7pm daily
At this very French Hexagone (named after the shape of France), they keep it simple. All HH dishes cost $7. Frog legs Provençales, snails, baked brie and apple, moûles marinières, fried artichokes, the cheese plate, seven bucks. But the kicker is you can also get half-size versions of regular entrées like steak frîtes or coq au vin ($10 instead of $20) or sea bass ($13 instead of $26). Beers are $3.50, house wines $5, cocktails $6. Just be careful to stay on-message because the regular entrées average $25.
544 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
For looks, this is about as real as it gets. The owners collected all the Irish paraphernalia that’s crammed in here, from plows to blacksmith’s bellows. Happy Hour is generously long and includes corned beef and cabbage croquettes ($5), lamb sliders ($2.75 each), and, my favorite, the sausage rolls (“Irish sausage wrapped in puff pastry,” $5.50). The pastry is incredibly light, like a croissant, and the honey mustard dip is perfect. A 20oz pint of Guinness costs $5.50, house wines $4, well cocktails $3.50. Fridays, they have a free buffet of, say, wings, from 5 till 6:30pm.
932 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Happy Hour: Monday-Friday, 5-7pm
Condoleezza Rice eats here. PGA bigwigs eat here. So, yes, tiny Primavera’s not for the faint of wallet. But even they have a Happy Hour. Most HH items are between $8 and $13. Mac and cheese is $7, steamed clams are $13, bacon-wrapped scallops go for $12. Best surprise: Crostini Florentina ($10). They’re “toast points smothered in goat cheese and topped with filet mignon, spinach, and porcini mushrooms.” Totally delish, surprisingly filling. Glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc costs $6. All drinks are $3 off during HH. Not the cheapest, but if it’s good enough for Condi...
Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro
Happy Hour: 3-7pm Tuesday to Saturday, all day Sunday
This restaurant is our nearest window to the Baja-Med locavore phenomenon. Lots of HH choices, and every one interesting, even the three short-rib sliders, not much more than a buck each. The ahi tostada ($5.85) is a beautiful combo of spinach leaves, tuna, peppers, avo, and cream, drizzling down to the corn tostada. All-time fave: lengua en pipian (tongue in pumpkin-seed sauce) in an iron cazuelita. What’s great: owner Javier Plascencia is making it up as he goes along. HH wines include Guadalupe Valley Merlot, earthy, tasty, $5. Dollar off beers, $2 off wines, $6 margaritas, $7 house martini.
2600 Calhoun Street, Old Town
Happy Hour: 4-6pm Monday-Friday
Yes, it’s in the eye of the tourist storm, but the Cosmopolitan, the old Casa de Bandini, has a truly beautiful patio and Happy Hour deals that make it easy to soak up the atmosphere without getting soaked. Like, $3 draft beers, half-price wines, $4.50 cocktails, $4 fish tacos, $6 burgers and fries. Among $5 HH appetizers, the mushroom, artichoke, and spinach bowl is a great dipper, and the steamed mussels go on forever. Do this at dusk so you can settle in to the courtyard and talk with employees about the ghosts they’ve felt, the chairs they have seen moving.
2760 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill
Croce’s Park West
Croce’s is reborn a mile up Fifth, after being ousted from the Gaslamp. Their HH menu has just two serious dishes: ancho agave glazed chicken drumettes with a blue-cheese dressing ($7 for 6 pieces, $11 for 12 pieces), and Jamaican jerk baby-back ribs with a creamy polenta and mango/papaya mint salsa ($8). This is the dish. The ribs are tender and a nice contrast to the fruit-laden salsa. Also great: HH draft beers are all $3, for quality offerings like Lost Abbey’s Lost and Found, Acoustic Ales’ Mad Dub. And specialty cocktails are all $6. This Happy Hour feels like a keeper: 4-6pm and 10pm-closing