3105 Ocean Front Walk, Mission Beach
For a restaurant located at an amusement park, Draft is much better than it has to be. As many as 69 beers available. Happy hour (Monday through Friday from 4–6 p.m. and then from 9 p.m. until closing) offers $4 pints of Stone, Saint Archer, Modern Times, and Coronado Brewing. The earlier happy hour offers $3 off shared plates like the curried cauliflower (a must-try) and the belgian cheese fries. Wall-sized TVs make this a great place to watch the Padres or drone footage above the city when there’s no game.
1901 Columbia Street, Little Italy
(No longer in business.)
Sirena Gourmet Latin Seafood Restaurant
The vibe is South American sushi bar. Ceviche — lime-marinated seafood — is the hook here. Happy hour (4–7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays) includes $2 fish tacos, $3 local beer. Try the Chileno (red snapper, octopus, scallops marinated in onion and pepper), which is $6 off the regular price. Taco Tuesdays offer $4 gourmet tacos, both seafood and vegan, all night. Wednesdays are for ceviche, and Thursdays are for tostadas. No cocktails but a well-matched wine and beer list.
1555 Camino del Mar, Del Mar
Pacifica Del Mar
Specializes in fresh seafood and fabulous sunset view. The bartenders, many of whom have worked at Pacifica for decades, use premium spirits and lots of blue-cheese-stuffed olives in their martinis. Happy hour (4–6:30 Tuesdays-Saturdays, all night Sundays and Mondays) offers $3.50 Peppered Ahi Takoshimi and $3 balls of goat cheese rolled in risotto and fried. The $16 Ahi Crudo (raw tuna flavored with fennel seed) explodes with flavor. Try the baked oysters covered with spinach, leeks, and romano cheese — a good deal even at $17.
7007 Friars Road #336, Mission Valley
Blue Smoke Sushi Lounge
Just a hundred yards or so from the ever-crowded Cheesecake Factory, Blue Smoke is a hidden sushi gem. During Happy Hour (Mondays–Thursdays, 4–6pm), Sapporo drafts and sake can be had for only $3. Edibles include crispy brussels sprouts ($4) and eggplant caramelized with hazelnut and sesame. Add the Big Popper ($5), a roll with spicy tuna and shrimp and a deep-fried jalapeño and you have an early dinner that will feed two people for close to $20. Peaceful location near the parking garage lets you hide out from the mallrats before your movie.
802 Fifth Avenue, Downtown San Diego
Located where Croce’s used to be, Cafe 21 seems more like a patio in someone’s house than a restaurant. Happy hour (3–6 p.m.) offers 22 tapas at $6 each that are representative of the owners’ Azerbaijan background. The short rib potato pancake is popular, as are the chicken and spinach crêpes. The cabbage rolls, made with beef or organic veggies are filling and flavorful. The top cocktail is the Prawn Star, a Bloody Mary served with veggies and a giant grilled shrimp. The best deal for sharing is the Sangria flight, six types for only $10.50.
4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Nice and dark on the inside, with plenty of natural light coming from the Park Blvd. patio, Small Bar is the type of neighborhood bar that attracts people from out of the neighborhood. One dollar off beer and wine between 5–8 p.m., while Friday happy hours offer flights of IPAs — four for $5. There are 42 beers on tap at any one time, including five sours — that are food-friendly. There is always a crowd on Monday when a steak and a beer is $15 all night long.
750 W. Fir Street #102-B, Little Italy
Between 4–7 p.m., Monello offers tasty small bites (piattini) with every cocktail, beer, or wine served on the patio or at the bar. Those goodies might lupine beans, a scallop with asparagus and white wine, or tortellini in a dash of chicken broth. The housemade vermouth is best appreciated in the “Il Corso,” Monello’s version of the Manhattan, or the “Blood and Sand,” where it’s mixed with scotch, cherry reduction, and orange juice. On hotter days, go with the Bensonhurst, a variation of the Moscow Mule with a cucumber-lime grappa.