I don't know exactly when fancier 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-game 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 let the rest of us—who normally couldn't afford these places—have a chance to eat there for less.
To come up with this list of favorites, I used a few guidelines: (1) A happy hour shouldn't be offered in a space so small or for a time so brief that only about five people can enjoy it for an hour; (2) it should offer both discounted food and drink options, with most food around $5–$8 and drinks $4–$7; (3) it should feature substantial dishes that you can actually make a meal out of—none of this plate-of-wee-toasts crap.
I had to make up these rules to winnow down the list, which is clearly a sign we're 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.
1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, 206-623-4340
There are many oyster happy hours in Seattle, but the long-running one at Elliott's is still the best, with an additional choice of more filling dishes (oyster stew, fish taco, salmon slider) for $3–$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 p.m. to make sure you secure a space and grab the oysters when they're still $1.50 apiece (they go up to $2 at 4 p.m.).
Happy hour: Mon–Fri, 3–6 pm; $4–$5 beer and house wine, $6 drink specials, $1.50–$3.50 oysters, $3–$4 food specials.
2323 Second Ave, 206-838-8008; 501 E Pike St, 206-420-8355
Happy hour here goes till 7 p.m., but you will want to show up promptly at 5 p.m. to grab a spot in the small bar area. You'll be rewarded with popular pasta dishes for $9–$11 that are usually $18 at dinner, like gnocchi alla romana or the rigatoni with spicy Italian sausage. (I'm still hoping they'll add my favorite dish to the happy hour menu, the tonnarelli.) A nice selection of wines is featured, rosé and prosecco in addition to the usual red and white, and at $6–$7, the drink specials are a no-brainer—usually perfectly mixed Manhattans or negronis. Finish with the $6 pillowy zeppole with a side of melted chocolate for dipping.
Happy hour: daily 5–7 pm, bar only; $1 off drafts, $5 wine and wells, $6–$7 drink specials, $5–$11 food specials.
1305 E Jefferson St, 206-328-7090
Usually only two or three cocktails are featured on fancy happy hour menus, but Seven Beef offers about eight, with special attention paid to liquor preference—Manhattans or old-fashioneds can be made with bourbon or rye, martinis and collinses with vodka or gin. The beef-heavy happy hour at this steakhouse (beef burger, beef tacos, beef belly on toast) feels tailor-made for carnivores, but it's actually the steamed clams I enjoyed the most; the addition of anchovies and cream adds more flavor and substance to the classic white-wine broth. On warmer days, enjoy it with a side of extra bread and butter on the patio.
Happy hour: daily 4–6 pm, in the bar and patio; $4–$5 beer, $6 wine, $5–$7 drink specials, $7–$9 food specials.
205 108th Ave NE, Bellevue, 425-456-0010
While this Bellevue happy hour is not as crazy cheap as it used to be several years back—$4 martini, anyone?—it's still one of the best for quality and portion size alone. Hit the big-ticket items like the generously sized $7 martini with Seagram's and the plump garlic grilled shrimp with mashed potatoes (for $8, it's a small meal unto itself). Funny that a seafood restaurant makes one of the best burgers, a half-pound of beef topped with sautéed cremini mushrooms, fontina cheese, and porcini spread on a brioche roll. I'm breaking my $10-and-under rule to say you can't leave without getting that stupid burger, normally $17 at lunch but $11 at happy hour, complete with a side of shoestring fries.
Happy hour: Mon–Fri, 3:30–6 pm, bar only; $3–$5 beer, $4 or $8 wine (4- or 8-ounce pour), $6–$7 drink specials, $3.50–$13 food specials.
501 Stadium Pl S, 206-257-4259
A 2016 semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, Girin has been earning raves for its ssam plates and dense homemade dumplings (mandu) since it first opened last year. You'll want to beeline for those dishes and the oysters on the happy hour menu. Get the $10 ssam plate with the tenderest kalbi beef short rib (normally $32). Dumplings come four to a plate for $7, 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; best to call ahead first.
Happy hour: daily 4–6 pm and 9 pm–close, except during events; $4–$5 beer, $5 wells, $6 wine and rotating cocktail special; $1.75 oysters ($1 late night), $7–$10 food specials.
1522 12th Ave, 206-457-4068
2230 First Avenue, 206-374-8717
Momiji's happy hour has become so popular that you either have to (a) come at 4 p.m. 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? Everyone has their favorite dishes, and I can't seem to leave without ordering the $5.50 California rolls, $7 grilled garlic short ribs, and $8 salmon sashimi. I've only made it to Momiji's late-night happy hour once, which offers fewer sushi options but does bring out the braised pork shoulder (kurobata no kakuni) and the sautéed seasonal mushrooms for $8 each.
Momiji happy hour: daily 4–6 pm, 10 pm–12:30 am; $4.50 beer, $5 wells, $6–$7 wine and sake, $5–$11 food specials.
Umi Sake House happy hour: daily 4–6 pm, 4–8 pm bar and front porch only; Sun–Thurs 10:30 pm–close.
615 19th Ave E, 206-325-2111; 10245 Main St, Bellevue, 425-635-1112
Monsoon offers an impressive number and variety of dishes during their happy hour; you can currently choose from 14 different small plates at the Seattle location, from pork sliders with hoisin aioli to tofu spring rolls to a noodle salad with braised pork in coconut milk. Portion-wise, the salt and pepper chicken wings offer the most bang for the buck (five for $6), and don't miss popular appetizers like the crispy imperial rolls or the bò lá lôt (flank steak wrapped in lá lôt leaves and grilled), or the light and refreshing coconut daiquiri when it makes an appearance.