Wings and nachos are happy-hour staples, but sometimes you want more than a serving of cheap pub grub after work. Maybe you’re trying to impress a date without breaking the bank, or you’ve decided to swear off fried food. Whatever the reason, these upscale-restaurant happy hours go above and beyond, offering delicious food at great prices.
If you can grab two neighboring stools at Alta Strada’s classy, light-filled bar, you’re in for a very affordable date night. Start with a cocktail — a well-made Boulevardier ($8), a classic Americano ($6) or just a glass of prosecco or Lambrusco ($6) — then order a snack, perhaps the crunchy fried meatballs, made from beef, pork and veal shoulder ($8). The menu includes two $7 pizzas (traditional margherita or sauce-free bianca), which can be customized with such $1 toppings as ’nduja, prosciutto, fried Brussels sprouts and broccoli rabe. You might not be able to replicate the gorgeous pies on the dinner menu, but you can come up with some interesting concoctions for about half the regular price.
Monday to Friday, 3 to 7 p.m. Also Friday and Saturday, 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. 465 K St. NW. altastradarestaurant.com.
Oyster happy hours are a dime a dozen in Washington, but the daily happy hour at the Capitol Hill branch of Hank’s Oyster Bar is exceptional. Take your pick of sweet or briny oysters (usually from Virginia) for $1.25 and then move onto heartier fare: Think battered-fish tacos topped with avocado and pico de gallo ($4); a bowl of creamy, cheesy crab dip with house-made tortilla chips ($8); or lobster sliders with large chunks of meat on buttery brioche buns, served with a side of Old Bay-dusted fries ($14). Pair your food with $5 red, white, rosé or sparkling wines, or a $4 Narragansett tallboy. The deals are offered every day of the week, but the best time to go is Sundays, when they run from 3 p.m. until close. You might be surprised by how many oysters you can slurp down over the course of a lazy afternoon.
Monday to Saturday, 3 to 7 p.m., Sunday 3 to 10 p.m. 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. hanksoysterbar.com.
The hours are short — 4 to 6 p.m. on weekdays — and the food menu limited, with four tacos and three small plates. But Oyamel’s Hora Feliz is a happy hour you’ll want to hit as often as possible. Get two tacos for $4, including juicy baby pig in a zippy green tomatillo salsa, garnished with pork rind, or shredded beef braised in a piquant chili sauce and topped with onions. (The only complaint: The sauces can sometimes soak right through the house-made corn tortillas.) Those who inexplicably don’t like tacos can opt for striped bass ceviche or meatballs with crumbled white cheese.
Drinks include Oyamel’s breezy house margarita ($5) and an extra-minty mojito crafted with Demerara rum ($7), as well as Spanish wines by the glass ($5). The bar gets crowded, especially when there are events at Verizon Center; early arrival is essential if you want to find a place at the counter.
Monday to Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. 401 Seventh St. NW. oyamel.com.
The large, modern bar at Kapnos Kouzina is the most inviting after-work setting in Bethesda, where most happy hours are found at chains and sports bars. Vegetarians can do well here: Highlights from the $6 “bites” menu include tangy, rice-stuffed dolmades, served with a smear of minty yogurt sauce; crispy kolokithokeftedes, zucchini fritters with touches of dill and mint; and crunchy, spiced fried Greek potatoes. One of the better deals is a $12 sampler of any three spreads from the full dinner menu, including the melitzanosalata, with roasted-and-smoked eggplant, feta cheese and walnuts. But even regulars will want to drop by for such only-at-happy-hour items as the mini lamb gyros, marinated octopus and an IPA from Laurel’s Jailbreak Brewing. The $6 red and white wines rotate regularly. Don’t miss the Unfaithful, the best of the $7 cocktails, with a mix of bourbon, cider and mint.
Daily, 3 to 7 p.m. 4900 Hampden Lane, Bethesda. kapnoskouzina.com.
At the Source, “people gravitate toward the dumplings,” chef Scott Drewno said. Thus evolved a weekly happy hour devoted to them. The theory: “Let’s give them everything they want, and let’s give them a good price,” he said. Indeed, at $5 per plate, Dumpling Monday in the downstairs lounge is a great way to sample the restaurant’s Asian fare at almost half off what you’d pay other weeknights. (It’s also cheaper and significantly less crowded than the popular Saturday dim sum brunch.) You’d do well to order a bunch of the flavor-packed, artfully plated dumplings — most are four or five to an order — and make a dinner out of it. Options run the gamut from crispy vegetable spring rolls and tender chili “dan dan” chicken dumplings to mild mushroom dumplings and the Sichuan-spiked hot and numbing pork dumplings, a standout even on a very strong happy-hour roster.
Monday, 4 to 10 p.m. 575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. wolfgangpuck.com.
The happy hour at the Clarendon location of this Balkan restaurant has the benefit of being both scene-y and tasty. Expect a pulsing bar busier than the dining room, at least earlier in the evening, and plenty of Arlingtonians chowing down on their choice of $5 dishes from a selection of about a dozen plates. (The Capitol Hill outpost has similar offerings.) The chef’s spread tasting, served with fried sourdough and corn bread, features three dips: a beet tzatziki, a lamb pâté and a zesty cheese concoction called urnebes. The open-faced pork sliders, enlivened with horseradish and cabbage slaw, are another hearty option. It would be easy to turn this happy hour into a multicourse meal, because you can also partake in soup, salad and dessert, plus $5 beer, wine and cocktails.
Monday to Friday, 4 to 7 p.m. 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. ambarrestaurant.com
At the best happy hours, you aren’t stuck in a crowded bar, elbowing your neighbor every time you reach for your drink. That’s why Ottoman Taverna is such a winner. Not only does the Turkish restaurant in Mount Vernon Triangle have a spacious bar, but it also has high tables where you can get a little privacy while enjoying generous servings of such mezze as falafel, zucchini cakes and muhammara, a slightly sweet red pepper and walnut spread. Everything on the happy-hour menu costs $5, including draft beer, wine (cabernet sauvignon, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, sparkling white) and a Turkish sangria. Order enough mezze, and you can easily have dinner for two with drinks for about $40, making it a fantastic (and affordable!) date night.
Monday to Friday, 4 to 7 p.m. 425 I St. NW. ottomantaverna.com.
Getting half-price sushi and alcohol is great anywhere, but Sushi Taro isn’t just anywhere. Consider this: The Dupont Circle spot is regarded as the best sushi restaurant in the area. It offers a prized omakase tasting menu with a price tag in the triple digits. And last year, it earned a Michelin star, as well as high marks from The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema.
Despite all the fanfare, you can visit the restaurant after work and pay 50 percent less on most of the sushi on the bar menu. Think $4 for two pieces of tuna nigiri, $3.75 for a yellowtail-and-scallion roll or, in simpler terms, a delicious dinner with drinks at one of the top restaurants in town for what recently cost us about $35 per person. The happy hour is extremely popular, and the bar has only 11 seats. So dine in small groups (ideally of two), show up early and be prepared to wait. It’ll be worth it.
Monday to Friday, 5:30 to 7 p.m. 1503 17th St. NW. sushitaro.com.