Best Happy Hours in Austin

The mussels at Abel's on the Lake are some of the best in town.

Trying to list all of the happy hours in Austin would be like trying to list all of the drummers in town.  While fun and entertaining, they change constantly and you can’t throw a rock downtown without hitting one.  So before you go, call or double check the website to confirm hours and specials.  (Also, please do not throw rocks at drummers.)  A pretty good resource I use is Austin on the Rocks.  I believe they are doing a makeover on the site so hopefully it will be more updated soon but it allows you to sort by area of town and what kind of place you are looking for.

Of course there are hundreds of places that offer drink specials.  My focus is more on the places that offer good food as well, not just the nacho car at Chuy’s (which is also delicious, just looking for something a little more substantial.)

.50 oysters, $3.50 Real Ale beers and Deep Eddy drinks

First up is my newest discovery, Abel’s on the Lake.  Next to the ever popular but overcrowded Hula Hut, Abel’s has a gorgeous deck overlooking Tom Miller Dam and yet it is only a 10 minute drive from downtown Austin. Happy hour is 4-6 Monday through Friday and offers half price appetizers, .50 Gulf oysters, and $3.50 Real Ale beers and Deep Eddy drinks.  Much of what they offer is just pretty good bar food but the mussels here are the real stand out.  Steamed in a butter white wine broth with shallots, capers, and sprigs of thyme I could drink shots of the broth alone but I recommend dipping the grilled bread in it and topping it with those delicious oysters.

Foreground- creamy chicken liver pate Background- wagyu tartare from Fabi and Rosi

Not too far down the road the atmosphere and the food get more upscale at Fabi and Rosi.  Happy hour here goes from 5-6:30 Monday through Friday.  $5 starters and $2 off beer and wine featuring wagyu tartare, chicken liver pate, a delicious cheese plate, as well as some damn fine mussels of their own and even classic escargot.  Thursdays also include half price bubbly both by the glass and by the bottle.  Fair warning, happy hour here easily melts into dinner with such delicious offerings as the classic schnitzel and spatzel made with Richardson’s farm pork or the wagyu steak and frites which is a steal at $19.

 

The beautiful Hibiscus Margarita at Vivo is unfortunately not on the happy hour list but with the rim of black sea salt, it was too pretty not to include.

Vivo has two locations in Austin, one on the east side off Manor Road and one northwest on Lakecreek Parkway.  I am more partial to the north location since one of my favorite chefs, Paul Petersen started working there.  The menu at Vivo is classic San Antonio TexMex with brisket enchiladas that are out of this world but if you go to the north location especially Friday through Sunday, ask if chef Paul has any specials.  His upscale take on TexMex is going to be subject to a full post very soon but take my word for it, what he does with pork belly, scallops, or whatever has taken his fancy that day is a flavor roller coaster worth the ride.

The trio at Vivo features homemade guacamole, old school yellow queso, and a spicy bean dip for half price during happy hour.

 

Happy hour at Vivo runs 5-close on Monday and Tuesdays and 5-7 Wednesday through Friday.  You get half priced appetizers that go beyond just the yellow queso (still delicious, even from the nacho car) like shrimp nachos and comal seared queso fresco.  Drink specials are $5 house margaritas, $2 Tecate and Lone Star, $3 wells, and $3 house wines.  Added draw on any night are the free chips and salsa that I believe are sprinkled with crack because they are so addictive.

For only $8 you can substitute the brie on the sliders at Wink with foie gras. Foie for happy hour, only in Austin.

Wink is one of those places in Austin that has been around forever and sometimes I forget about this little gem tucked away near a dry cleaners off 11th and Lamar.  Shame on me for that.  Next to the formal dining area, Wink opened a wine bar years ago that boasts a very broad winelist that even offers tastings and flights.  From 5-7 daily in the wine bar area you can also get half price appetizers like the brie burgers served slider style, creamy chicken liver pate, house cured salmon, and decadent mac and cheese with truffles.  Note that you can substitute the brie on the sliders with foie gras.  That makes me giggle. Foie for happy hour.

Crispy calamari with spicy marinara at Moonshine

Another old favorite I revisited for this post was Moonshine near the convention center.  Moonshine was at the forefront of the upscale comfort food movement.  I am happy to report that although owner Larry Perdido is busy with his newest venture over at Hopdoddy’s, Moonshine is as delicious as ever.  These gorgeous days we have been enjoying sure are nice sitting in the carriage house or on the porch of this Austin landmark while sipping on one of the patio cocktails.

I had the charming waiter jot down the specials on a coaster since I had a hard time locating them online.

The menu changes roughly with the seasons and the latest list of appetizers are below.  The calamari were crisp and perfectly cooked, no chewy rubber bands.  The baked brie came served with sliced apples, grapes, and a bed of arugula that made the plate seem like a nice cross between cheese plate and fresh salad.  The biggest seller on the menu are the corn dog shrimp.  Just like they sound, shrimp are dipped in a corn dog batter, fried and served with a honey mustard sauce with a blueberry swirl.  They are worth trying but I have had them so many times I usually go for something new.

Sushi bar at Uchiko, one of the best seats in the house.

 

With Tyson Cole winning the James Beard award last year for best chef Southwest, Paul Qui about to be crowned Top Chef tonight (knock on wood so I don’t jinx it), Philip Speer nominated for a James Beard award for best pastry chef for a third time, a new Uchi open in Houston and a brand new Food and Wine Fest in April led by chef Cole, Uchi on South Lamar and her sister Uchiko on North Lamar have got to be the hottest ticket in town.  And yes, my friends, I am happy to report they have a “Sake Social Hour” daily from 5-6:30.  Word of advice, get there as close to 5 as you can as this place fills up quickly.  There is also a bit more room at the North Lamar location. The menu here changes daily with the freshest fish and produce available.  Always on the menu is the classic shag roll but daily specials are varied as they are delicious.  Note my previous dessert post, it would be a huge mistake to fill up on dinner and skip desserts here.  Make your girlfriend get her own so you can taste more than one.  Now I must share my Uchi porn with you.

Honestly, I don't even remember what was in this one anymore but isn't it gorgeous??

 

Tuna, compressed watermelon, and cilantro
Shag roll with salmon, sun dried tomatoes, and avocado

 

One of the best damn burgers and fries in town for half price during happy hour at Parkside.

Right in the heart of dirty 6th as we like to call it around here, you will find parkside.  I have been here more times than I can count for happy hour as well as long multi course dinner with friends. With so many inventive seasonal offerings, I made the mistake of skipping the burger for years.  Only recently did I finally give in to a craving for “just” a burger and order this hidden gem on the menu.  The burgers should come with a warning.  They are so juicy that you are likely to get a good dribble down the front of your shirt if you are not careful.  And the fries, oh the heavenly fries.  Fries are calories I usually skip even at good old Mickey D’s.  Fortunately for me they come with the $5 burger plate.  They are perfectly crisp on the outside, meltingly tender on the inside, and are tossed with herbs and garlic for a flavor blast.  Bring friends with you, though because there is so much more here to try.  $14 for a gourmet assortment of oysters, $5 for the blond pate with strawberries.  Really anything you get will be good.  Happy hour runs 5-7 daily with 1/2 price bar menu and 1/2 price beer and cocktails.

Grab a pre happy hour nap in a hammock by Lady Bird Lake on the path behind Trio at the Four Seasons.

The last place on my list I am sorry to say will not be having a happy hour during SXSW.  Trio at the Four Seasons recently got a new chef who is revamping the menu including a new happy hour that will launch post SXSW.  The property and the restaurant are gorgeous and worth a visit, especially if your new record label is footing the bill.  If you are not that lucky, keep an eye out and I will post the specials once I get word.

So many more great places not listed here in Austin to enjoy discounted sips and nibbles.  Please list your favorites in the comments.  I am always on the cruise for a new happy hour!

Trio dining room

Taste of Austin 2010- Review

2010-01-27_20.23 TASTE OF AUSTIN GARRIDOLooks like tomatoes on top of a mini nacho but that is watermelon.  Slow cooked pork on top of goat cheese with pepitas and a spicy piquant watermelon sauce was Gariddo’s little bite at Taste of Austin last night.  It was crunchy and creamy with a touch of heat and the slightly sweet notes from the watermelon.  I was all set to name this the best bite of the night.  http://www.garridosaustin.com/menu/ 

2010-01-27_20.26 TASTE OF AUSTINAnd then I tried this.  Green chile mac from Moonshine.  Grilled chicken, corn relish, and a green chile cream.  Warm, spicy, creamy comfort in a cup with a sweet crunch of corn.  I loved them both and declare a tie.  http://www.moonshinegrill.com/menus.php

 

I had a great time at Taste of Austin last night at the Palmer Events Center last night.  Around 50 restaurants participated in this scholarship fundraiser.  It is a fun way to try both new restaurants and old favorites in one location as well as socializing with your fellow foodies. 

I have been debating since last night if I should also post the worst bites at the event.  There was a crunchy risotto, bland bangers and mash, and a cold, mushy stuffed mushroom from a place that was advertising their catering services.  Serving from a small booth at a tasting event is a far different animal than serving from your own kitchen so I am inclined to cut some slack to those that showed poorly but if you are there to plug your catering services, you need to figure out how to serve a hot hors douvres.  I have decided to hold my tongue for now.  A restaurant deserves a fair review over several visits, especially if you are going to publish something negative.  But please, veal osso bucco should not taste like it has barbecue sauce on it.  You know who you are.

Back to the good!  One of my favorite cookie places in town is Kevin’s Cookies.  http://www.kevinscookies.com/  Trey and his adorable wife Jen run this little operation.  They now only have a location south, so I don’t make it over there much but Trey sends out a great newsletter that makes me feel like part of the family.  Last night they had half a dozen different varieties of their delicious cookies.  Crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle, and full of chips, nuts, etc.  My favorite last night was probably the white chocolate chip.  And I hate white “chocolate”.  I believe the darker the chocolate, the better.  But these gems were delicious. 

Spec’s had a booth and I <3 Spec’s!  http://www.specsonline.com/  Very knowledgeable wine staff, great prices on wine and liquor, and a decent assortment of gourmet goodies.  Some of the stores have a bigger selection than others.  I frequent the one at Arbor Walk which also has a deli case but I hadn’t gotten around to trying it yet.  I am pretty picky about my sandwiches, so when I got the sample from them, I thought, “Turkey on white, just another sandwich.”  But it was really good.  Fresh bread with very flavorful turkey.  If they do that well on a little sample for the masses, I will be trying them in store soon.

I recently had Craigo’s pizza for the first time and was impressed.  http://www.craigospizzaandpasta.com/  Last night they were serving pasta.  There was an ok lasagna that had a little too much fennel for my tastes but they also had a spinach ziti that I believe was vegetarian and it was yummy. 

One of the most exotic offerings came from Frank, the “purveyor of artisan sausage” at Fourth and Colorado.  http://www.hotdogscoldbeer.com/ That is  tony talk for $7 hot dog.  Last night they were offering the Jackelope- antelope and rabbit sausage with a huckleberry compote, siracha aioli, and applewood smoked cheese.  Good, different, innovative-  yes.  Worth $7 a hot dog?  Not so sure but I was intrigued enough to want to at least check out the happy hour sometime soon.  

There was a classmate of mine from culinary school passing out little bundt cakes from franchise outfit Nothing Bundt Cakes.  http://www.nothingbundtcakes.com/index.php For something ever so slightly different from a cupcake, these cute little cakes were moist and rich with a bit of cream cheesy icing.   

There were a few places I did not get to try because the lines were way too long.  I tasted the sushi from Piranha Killer Sushi at La Dolce Vita this year and really liked it but the line only got longer last night as the evening wore on.  What is really frustrating is when you see a full tray of food at the head of the line and people obliviously standing there and grazing like there aren’t 50 people behind them in line.  Move it, people!!!!!

Taste of Austin is usually my first big foodie event of the year.  It signals the beginning of my favorite time in Austin, spring means festival season!  Before you know it, Austin Restaurant Week http://restaurantweekaustin.com/ will be here.  Then my personal favorite, Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Fest! http://www.texaswineandfood.org/  You can buy discounted tickets for the Sunday Fair now for $25 (reg $45) through this link.  http://twff.frontgatesolutions.com/choose.php?b=1&lid=39935&eid=46543  Price good only till February 1.

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