For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
I look for a lot of different factors in a truly great happy hour.
Obviously, the food and beverage prices have to be inexpensive, or at least discounted from their standard cost. But the food and beverages themselves have to be noteworthy to stand out from all the hundreds of happy hours around Houston.
Just as importantly, the restaurants themselves need to have an appropriately "happy" hour vibe. There's nothing worse than dragging your co-workers or friends to a happy hour where no one's at the bar, the service is surly and none of the patrons seem very happy at all.
How long has Oishii had one of the best happy hours in town? I feel like quoting a Dan Fogelberg song: "Longer than there've been fishes in the ocean..." This is an oldie but goodie, a Houston classic that must be experienced at least once. The little Japanese restaurant is consistently packed at happy hour, and the half-off appetizers and beer are only part of the reason -- it's just a fun place to be.
Happy Hours: 3 to 7 p.m., Mondays through Fridays; 3 to 6 p.m. Saturdays
At the most casual of Marco Wiles' trio of Montrose restaurants, you can almost pretend that you're at a European cafe as you sample $1 cicchetti and $2 glasses of wine from the cool marble bar. Those $2 glasses don't get you a full pour, but Poscol does offer a good selection during happy hour of a house red, white, Prosecco and/or sparkling red. And the cicchetti may only be bite-sized, but there's always a nice variety to choose from. You don't want to spoil your dinner anyway, do you?
Happy Hours: 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays
Plenty of sushi places offer happy hour specials. But at The Blue Fish -- yes, the one from Dallas -- the happy hour specials include a broad cross-section of the main menu. It's refreshingly non-restrictive, and most of it's incredibly inexpensive too: $2 for Kirin on draft or house sake (hot or cold) or your choice of yellowtail, salmon or albacore sushi. For $3, you can sample a miniature version of The Blue Fish's famous ahi tower and for $4, you can get a glass of house wine and choose from a huge variety of hand rolls.
Happy Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (at downtown location); 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily (at Washington Avenue location)
Although lunch or dinner at the handsome Montrose bistro can be pricey, happy hour is definitely not. The $5 happy hour menu that's served every day is a way to try some of Mockingbird's best bites -- including its juicy Kobe beef burger -- and a slew of cocktails, wines and local beers.
Happy Hours: 5 to 7 p.m. daily
This gorgeous downtown haunt occupies a beautifully restored building (it's actually the second oldest downtown) on Market Square, with a patio that has one of the best views of the city skyline at night. Happy hour is usually humming with suits in the evenings, which gives the entire affair a dignified, almost Mad Men feel -- something that's encouraged along by all the classic cocktails. And on Thursdays, women rule: It's ladies' night.
Happy Hours: 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays
Half-priced oysters on the half shell on Mondays from 4 to 8 p.m. are Danton's biggest happy hour draw. The Cajun restaurant routinely has some of the best Gulf oysters in town -- huge, fat, buttery things that barely fit 12 to a tray -- and they'll even tell you which local bay or reef they're from each day. During the rest of the week, happy hour specials in the Oyster Bar range from $4 bottles of Saint Arnold to 75-cent Gulf shrimp or a $7 cup of some of the best gumbo in town.
Happy Hours: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
Bayou City's specials are so generous, I'm surprised the restaurant doesn't get totally cleaned out of both food and drink during its long daily happy hours. Those happy hours last practically all day on both Saturday and Sunday, when you can indulge in crawfish specials (in season) for only $5 to $6 a pound alongside $9 pitchers of beer, $4 margaritas and a range of both appetizers and entrees for $5 to $9 a plate.
Happy Hours: 2 to 6 p.m. Mondays through Tuesdays, 2 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays, noon to 6 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Nabi's food is already verging on inexpensive for the quality and portion size you get -- during the daily happy hour, those prices become simply ridiculous. Happy hour even runs twice a day here, every day except Sunday. And in addition to its standard happy hour, Nabi offers daily deals like $16 bottomless Sundays, when it's all-you-can-eat barbecue pulled pork, fried chicken or tempura fish along with $4 sake bombs. On service industry nights -- Mondays from 7 p.m. to midnight -- you can get a Kirin and banh mi for $5 or a Kirin and a hot bowl of ramen for $6.
Happy Hours: 4 to 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Saturdays
A table at Shade near the front windows is one of my favorite spots to unwind after work, with a sunny view of 19th Street through the glass and a plate of shrimp and grits that's perfectly portioned for happy hour snacking. The bar at Shade is effortlessly cool, bright and airy, classic yet modern. And the happy hour menu offers a broad range of entrees and appetizers to choose from, including favorites like Shade's cornmeal-crusted Gulf oysters for $8 or its famous macaroni and cheese for only $5.
Happy Hours: 3 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays
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The happy hour scene at Benjy's on Washington is always hopping, and with good reason. What draws the crowd is not just the consistently excellent cocktails but the unbelievably priced bar menu, where a myriad of dishes can be had for a mere $5. The menu changes, but standouts have been the Asian dumplings served on a tangy slaw, chicken and pine nut pizza with truffle oil, crispy salmon mini-tacos, and beef arepas. The food is delicious, and though service is a bit harried because it's so busy, your food is always served with a smile. If only all happy hours were this good.
Happy Hours: 4 to 7 p.m. daily