With the economy still not entirely recovered, restaurants — and very good ones at that — are betting on happy hour deals to get customers in the door. I like to call it tapas hour, when you can get small bites and cocktails at attractive prices. It's a great way to continue the conversation with co-workers, meet up with friends before a film or wait out the traffic.
Funny thing, nobody seems to know about these newfangled happy hours. I rushed over to Friday night social hour at Red-O, thinking the WeHo Mexican restaurant would be mobbed, to find just two other tables. Same thing with late-night social hour at Lazy Ox. Granted it was a Tuesday night, but nobody there. We closed up the place.
OK now, how about a $3 draft beer or glass of wine starting at 5 p.m. most nights at Lazy Ox Canteen in Little Tokyo? Cut out early and catch an exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum or the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA before heading over to San Pedro Street for some of Spanish chef Perfecto Rocher's little bites? He's got the Spanish thing covered with boquerones and salpicon. Chicken liver crostini covers Italy nicely. But I'm crazy about the fried strips of surf clam with a pickle aioli and the spicy deep-fried chicken bites with a fiery aioli. The social hour selection shifts from day to day, but all of the above seem to be regulars. Portions are generous for $5 a pop. Look out too for skewers of pork belly chicharrón with harissa. Note that you can get the same deals the last hour of service too.
241 S. San Pedro St. (Little Tokyo), Los Angeles, (213) 626-5299, http://www.lazyoxcanteen.com. "Ox Social Hour" 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 10 p.m. to closing Sunday through Thursday, with $3 drafts and select wines and $5 bar bites.
Social hour at Red-O in WeHo starts at 4 p.m. and winds up at 6, so it's strictly for early birds and the flexibly employed. Grab a seat in the tequila lounge with its suave black leather booths or on the outdoor terrace in front to nibble on Rick Bayless-inspired Mexican snacks. Order one of the discounted margaritas and then oysters shucked to order and served with a splash of tomatillo-habanero sauce. Queso fundido is always fun (and filling) too, with either mushrooms or chorizo. And you can choose from three kinds of ceviche (Yucatecan, Fronterizo or Atun Tropical). Still hungry? Go for the Street Food or Tostada Trio, both great and rather substantial for the price. Several margaritas are priced at $8, and selected wines go for $7 a glass, craft beers for $5 at social hour. Quite the deal for this normally high-end Mexican restaurant.
8155 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 655-5009, http://www.redorestaurant.com. Street Food Social, 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday. Bar bites, $6 to $12.
Now that the sad news comes that Campanile will be closing after Thanksgiving, stop in for old times' sake for "social hour" at the bar. That's when Mark Peel and company offer small bites and drinks for just $7 each. Life feels much better with a classic martini or Manhattan at that oh-so-friendly price. Or go for something more adventurous, a blood orange vodka collins, say. Meanwhile, order up some of Peel's deviled pickled eggs, a simple plate of speck or duck prosciutto, and enjoy. A silky chicken pâté or duck meatballs with torn basil fills out the menu. A cocktail and a couple of dishes and you can call it quits. Or move onto the Cal-Mediterranean's regular menu and go for Peel's superb prime rib with flageolets and black olive tapenade to share.
624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 938-1447, http://www.campanilarestaurant.com. Social hour 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. Small plates, $7; cocktails, $7.