I don't know exactly when upscale restaurants started offering happy hours, but I'm ready to kiss the first restaurateur who got that sweet wheel in motion. "Let the discounted food and drink commence," I imagine him saying with a generous twirl of his Monopoly man mustache. No disrespect to foie-gras-laced desserts or hazelnut dust, but high-end happy hours are the greatest thing about fine dining in Seattle. They give the rest of us—who normally couldn't afford these places—a chance to eat there for less.
I used a few guidelines to come up with this list of favorites: Most of the food should be around $5 to $10 and drinks $4 to $7; the menu should feature a few substantial dishes that you can make a meal out of, none of this just-plates-of-wee-toasts crap; and it shouldn't be offered in a space so tiny that only a special few can enjoy it.
I had to make up these rules to winnow down the list, which is clearly a sign we are awash in good things. Lord only knows how long these higher-end restaurants can afford to offer these deals in the age of skyrocketing Seattle rents. Slurp up the half-off oysters while you can.
Happy hour is a great time to visit Ethan Stowell's restaurants, with fantastic discounts on his more popular pasta dishes: Hit Tavolàta (2323 Second Ave and 501 E Pike St) for $12 gnocchi alla romana and $10 rigatoni with spicy Italian sausage (usually $20 and $22, respectively). Happy Hour: Capitol Hill, 5–7 pm and 10–11 pm daily, bar and patio only, $5 beer, $6 wine by the glass, $7 cocktail specials, $8–$9 small plates, $10–$12 pasta specials; Belltown, 5–7 pm daily, $3–$5 select beer, $6 wine by the glass, $7 well drinks, $8 martini and manhattan, $5–$9 bites, $10–$12 pasta specials ($7 happy hour zeppole at both locations).
At Rione XIII (401 15th Ave E), another Ethan Stowell restaurant, the amazing tonn arelli cacio e pepe goes for $12 (normally $18). For some reason, the pasta prices at the Tavolàtas are slightly cheaper, but you can score a bottle of wine for $20 at Rione. A nice selection of wine is featured—rosé and prosecco or sparkling at the Tavolàtas, or rosé and Lambrusco at Rione, in addition to the usual red and white at all three, and at $7 to $8, Rione's cocktail specials are a no-brainer and usually perfectly mixed. Happy Hour: 5–7 pm Sun–Thurs, entire restaurant; 5–7 pm and 10–11 pm Fri–Sat, bar only; $1 off beer, $6 wine per glass ($20 per bottle), $7–$8 cocktail specials, $3.50–$9 small plates, $12 pizza and pasta specials.
A 2016 semifinalist for the James Beard Award for best new restaurant, Girin (501 Stadium Place S) has been earning raves for its ssam plates and dense homemade dumplings (mandu) since it first opened near Pioneer Square in 2015. You'll want to beeline for those dishes and the oysters on the happy hour menu. Get the $6 ssam "cup" with the tenderest kalbi beef short rib (normally $32 for a full-size non-happy-hour plate); it's also offered with grilled pork belly or seasonal grilled veggies. Dumplings are $6 a plate, and the bartender will ask you if you want them steamed or fried. Go fried, and down them with an old-fashioned if it's the drink special—they make a great one here with a stiff pour. Girin is right next to CenturyLink Field, but they don't offer happy hours on game or concert days, so best to call ahead. Happy Hour: 4–6 pm in restaurant and bar, 9 pm–close bar only, daily except on event days; $1 off drafts, $7 wine by glass ($24 bottle), $7 cocktail specials, $6 house brewed makgeolli by the glass ($24 bottle); $6–$8 food specials; $10 half-dozen oysters, $18 dozen.
Monsoon offers an impressive number and variety of dishes during their happy hour in Bellevue (10245 Main St). You can currently choose from 18 different bites, from grilled pork sausage sliders with hoisin aioli, to grilled beef or lemongrass chicken skewers, to tofu spring rolls. The happy hour menu at the Capitol Hill location (615 19th Ave E) is smaller, but it still has plenty of tasty options. Portion-wise, the salt-and-pepper chicken wings offer the most bang for your buck, and don't miss popular appetizers like the crispy imperial rolls, or the bò lá lot (flank steak wrapped in lá lot leaves and grilled). Happy Hour: Seattle, 3–6 pm daily in the bar, plus 9–11:30 pm Sun–Thurs, and 10 pm–close Fri–Sat (bar only); Bellevue, 3–6 pm and 9 pm–close daily (bar only). Prices are $6 white or red wine by the glass, $7 cocktail specials, $1.50 oysters, and $1.50–$8 bites in Seattle; in Bellevue, $6 white, red, sparkling or rosé by the glass ($22 and $28 select bottles), $3.50 and $4.50 beer, $1.50–$11 bites.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
The Walrus and the Carpenter (4743 Ballard Ave NW) offers a progressive happy hour, which means 50 percent off oysters for the first hour, 25 percent off for the second. Happy Hour: 4–6 pm Mon–Thurs; 50 percent off oysters 4–5 pm, 25 percent off oysters 5–6 pm; $1 off beer, featured cocktails, and muscadet by the glass.
If you want to sample the best oysters Seattle has to offer, you'll have to wait in that almost-out-the-door line at the Walrus and the Carpenter—or do you? Skip it and head on down to Bar Melusine's (1060 E Union St) happy hour instead, where you can still sample the same bounty at another one of Renee Erickson's (less crowded) outposts. Bar Melusine offers half-off all oyster varieties available that day, so you don't have to stare longingly at the un-discounted Shigokus or Kumamotos. There's drink specials and a few special hot items offered on the happy hour menu, like fried oysters and a quarter pound burger—but hell, you're really here for the raw oysters, aren't you? Happy Hour: 5–6 pm daily; $1 off beer, wine, and specialty cocktails, $4 vermouth spritzers; 50 percent off oysters, hot menu items $7–$8 (half a dozen shucker's choice oysters and a koozied Rainier tallboy, $20).
Elliott's Oyster House
There are loads of oyster happy hours in Seattle, but the long-running one at Elliott's (1201 Alaskan Way) is still one of the best, with the additional choice of dishes like Thai curry mussels, fish tacos, and pesto salmon sliders for $4 each. Alas, this is one of those insanely popular happy hours that you can really only do if you have a half day off work—you'll need to get there at 3 pm to make sure you secure a space and grab the oysters when they're still $1.50 apiece, as they go up to $2 at 4 pm, then $2.50 at 5 pm (prices are regularly $2.75 and $3.75 each). Happy Hour: 3–6 pm Mon–Fri; $4–$5 house wine and select beer, $6 cocktail specials, $1.50–$2.50 oysters, $4 small plates.
The happy hour at Momiji (1522 12th Ave) has become so popular that you either have to (a) come at 4 pm or (b) hit up the similar one at its sister restaurant Umi, which feels slightly (but only slightly) easier to get into. What can you say about this much-loved happy hour, besides take advantage of the delicious sushi offerings. Happy Hour: 4–6 pm daily in restaurant; 4–7 pm and 10 pm–12:30 am daily, bar only; $4.50 select draft beer, $6–$7 select wine and sake, $5–$11 food specials.
Umi Sake House
You'll find more "from the kitchen" (cooked) options on the menu at Umi (2230 First Ave), though everyone has their favorite dishes, and I can't seem to leave without ordering their $6 California rolls, $7 grilled garlic short ribs, and $8 salmon sashimi. Happy Hour: 4–6 pm in restaurant daily; 4–8 pm bar and front porch only; Sun–Thurs 10:30 pm–close; $4.50 Sapporo drafts, $5 wells, $5–$6 wine and sake, $5–$11 food specials ($2 oyster shooters, $14 mini chirashi bowl, $12 rotating specialty roll, late night only).
The much-lauded craft cocktail bar Canon (928 12th Ave) offers happy hour specials only on their wines by the glass—half off—and all of the food on their menu is half off, too, which isn't quite as exciting as your $20 drink dropping to $10, but it does make eating there a hell of a lot cheaper. And the markdowns are significant—a half dozen oysters for $10 instead of $20, a seared lamb loin for $15 instead of $30, a $15 pork belly bun for $7.50. Celebrate with a (full price) cocktail. Happy Hour: 5–6 pm and noon–1 pm Mon–Thurs; half-off food and wines by the glass.