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Make Happy Hour Your Dinner at Benjy's on Washington

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Happy hours are great for several reasons. You get good, cheap food and discounted drinks and have the chance to socialize with friends. While some happy hours tend to last just a couple of hours and offer a small selection of dishes to enjoy with your drinks, Benjy's on Washington has a happy hour menu that won't break the bank but will definitely fill up your stomach.

Benjy's is definitely not the cheapest place in town to grab a bite to eat, but if you play your cards right and order a few items off the delectable happy hour menu, you'll walk away completely satisfied. Not only will you save some money on dinner (especially if you split the meals with a friend or two), but you'll get to taste a multitude of dishes from the Benjy's kitchen. Who doesn't love variety?

The happy hour menu at Benjy's on Washington lasts from 4 to 7 p.m. every day and doesn't stick to one type of food, as most restaurants do. Instead of just offering a few pizzas or fried foods, Benjy's serves nearly 13 small plates for $6 each that are perfect for sharing or enjoying by yourself. Everything is basically half price.

If you want a more relaxing time during happy hour, sit downstairs at the bar. Upstairs gets quite loud and sitting outside is not even an option during the summer.

Start your meal with a $6 cocktail or martini, $5 glass of wine or mixed drink, or the only beer option, Karbach Weisse Versa -- it's only $3. Each time I have been to Benjy's during happy hour, I always order the Mulderbosh Rose from South Africa; it's cool and refreshing and has enough acidity for my taste buds. If you're looking for a sweet cocktail, you must order the Blood Orange Margarita made with el Jimador tequila, blood orange puree, citronge and sweet & sour; it's a bit more tart than an ordinary margarita, and sugar lines the rim of the glass instead of salt.

As you enjoy your drinks, order a few appetizers to share. I suggest asking the bartender to have them not all come to you the same time. That way, you have time to enjoy each dish separately and not be overwhelmed by a multitude of plates at the bar; there's not that much space.

Order the pistachio crusted goat cheese cakes for a twist on chips and dip. The creamy cheese cakes are coated with crushed pistachios that seal in the light and fluffy goat cheese. Each plate comes with three goat cheese cakes, which are perfect for sharing with two or three people. Use a pita chip cracker to scoop up a piece of goat cheese and golden raisin mostarda for a sweet and savory bite.

My mom and I enjoyed the "Beets" appetizer after the goat cheese cakes; the pickled purple and orange beets sit atop a crispy baguette smothered in goat cheese, making the first two appetizers perfectly complementary to one another. It does come on one slice of bread, so it's best to share it between two people; half of the baguette is just enough for one person. Add a scoop of the watercress and arugula salad to the baguette for a bit more acidity.

If goat cheese isn't your cup of tea, try the salmon sashimi -- a simple, light and refreshing dish perfect for cleansing your palate. Delicate slices of salmon sashimi sit atop slices of grapefruit and wasabi greens. Not only is the dish beautiful, but it's one of the freshest-tasting items on the happy hour menu.

For something a bit more filling, share the chicken and mushroom lettuce wraps. Forewarning: This appetizer is a bit messy, but it's completely worth getting the juice from the caramel sauce in the ground chicken, cashews and cilantro mixture all over your hands. Each appetizer comes with four lettuce wraps, making it easy to split between two or four people.

If you're still hungry after these small plates, order one of the three pizza selections: mushroom, housemade chicken sausage or the margherita. Each pizza is prepared in the brick oven and the crust is perfectly thin and crispy, giving most of the attention to the delicious toppings. The mushroom pizza is more of a white pizza with fontina cheese, pine nuts and truffle oil, while the housemade chicken sausage pizza is an upgraded Hawaiian with pineapple, red onion and feta cheese. The margherita pizza is delectable because it is such a classic -- no frills with this one, just pesto, handmade mozzarella, chunks of tomatoes and slices of fresh basil.

Order a drink or a glass of wine with three or four appetizers (depending on how many people you're with) and walk away with a full stomach. Two glasses of wine with four appetizers comes out to $34, or $17 per person; for dinner and drinks at Benjy's, that's a great deal.

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