The Happiest Hours

We do the legwork to find you 30 of the most satisfying places to sip and snack.

2351 Mission (at 19th St.), 282-1813,
4–7 p.m. daily
Charanga's peach-apple-lemon sangria is tasty, potent, and refreshing, especially at happy hour, when it costs only $2 a glass and comes with crisp, delicate chips and a light, fresh salsa. Other attractions include $3 beers (among them Anchor Steam, Peru's Cusqueña, and Costa Rica's Imperial) and $5 fish tacos, chicken fajitas, and one of the city's finer Cuban sandwiches. The place itself is hip yet friendly, with colorful folklorico, sidewalk seating, and a snug six-seat wine bar.

El Rio
3158 Mission (at Precita), 282-3325,
5–9 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 1–3 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Three bucks for wells and drafts and a $5 16-ounce Bloody Mary are impressive enough, but what makes El Rio a fantastic happy hour option is its free Friday oyster feeds and Friday and Sunday barbecues. Head out to the lovely back patio with its arbors, palm trees, picnic tables, and Christmas lights, and join the party. The chicken is on the barbecue, the oyster man is a-shucking, and the inclusive, all-ages crowd is laughing, drinking, and listening to the music: a very San Francisco canvas.

Tsunami Mission Bay
301 King (entrance at Berry and Fourth St.), 284-0111,
5–8 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 6–9p.m. Sat.
Tsunami offers a different daily happy hour half-off sushi special: spider or tekka (Monday), hamachi or tempura shrimp (Tuesday), California or rock 'n' roll (Wednesday), New York or spicy tuna (Thursday), California or spider (Friday), and hand rolls (Saturday). Monday through Friday, all sake bottles are half off, 20-ounce Sapporos are $5, and the $5 cocktail of the day just might be the Spring Green (lime, chartreuse, and one of the bar's four dozen premium gins, up). On Saturday, the daily cocktail is only $4, or opt for the half-off sake or an 11-ounce Suntory Premium Malt for $4. Attractive brick, glass, and blond-wood setting.

Palio d'Asti
640 Sacramento (at Montgomery), 395-9800,
4–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
Lots of places offer pizza at happy hour, but none of them are as delicious and sophisticated as Palio d'Asti's creations. These thin-crusted, top-quality pies burst with hot, bubbly flavor: shaved asparagus, thyme, and fontina Val D'Aosta; wild mushrooms with arugula and asiago; fennel sausage, fire-roasted peppers, and smoked mozzarella; or the Capricciosa, a heady blend of artichoke hearts, capers, and prosciutto. The price is right, too: free with the purchase of two drinks. Eight beers ($6 each), 17 wines by the glass ($8-$16), and several house cocktails ($7-$9) present plenty of possibilities.

Sugar Lounge
377 Hayes (at Gough), 255-7144
4:30–7:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 4:30–11:30 p.m. Sun.
There's more to Sugar than the candy dishes of complimentary Hershey's Kisses, miniature Mr. Goodbars, and other sweet treats. A free buffet of lumpia, crudités, chips and salsa, veggie tempura, chicken tenders, and whatever else strikes the chef's fancy is available during the venue's mellow happy hour. What's more, the potent well drinks are $3; there's an intimate first-come, first-served private lounge in back; and the shadowy black-and-red ambience is casually cool and elegant.

5A5 Steak Lounge
244 Jackson (at Front), 989-2539,
5–7:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri.
San Francisco's newest moving-and-shaking power spot is all dark wood, dramatic lighting, and sensually curvy lounge seating, but what we like most is its 5@5 happy hour. Opt for the $4 shishito peppers, the $5 chicken yakitori, the $2.50 sashimi shooters (the oyster with watermelon and shiso is a good choice), or one of the daily specials: $2 ceviche shooters (Monday), $2 beef kebabs with aioli (Tuesday), $1 oysters (Wednesday and Thursday), or $2 lobster dumplings (Friday). Beer, wine, champagne, and well drinks are $5, and among the specialty cocktails are mango mojitos, pomegranate fizzes, and ginger sidecars.

Blowfish Sushi to Die For
2170 Bryant (at 20th St.), 285-3848,
5–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
The Mission's grooviest sushi joint serves up delectable noshing options for a mere $3 apiece during happy hour: crisp chicken potstickers, irresistible pistachio tempura, and half a dozen top-quality hand rolls (the spicy salmon is particularly enticing). Drafts and well drinks are also $3, as are several skillfully prepared sake cocktails. The anime-tastic setting in concrete, pale wood, and blood-red wainscoting is striking indeed.

The Alembic
1725 Haight (at Cole), 666-0822,
4–6 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
This cool, lively Upper Haight rendezvous is best known for its dazzling selection of whiskeys and carefully crafted cocktails, but at happy hour the focus shifts to its menu of upscale bar bites, all of them half price. Pickled quail eggs ($1), marinated olives ($1.50), honey-cumin-glazed nuts ($2), shishito peppers with smoked salt ($2.50), jerk-spiced duck hearts with pickled pineapple ($2.50), and a platter of four artisan cheeses ($7.50) are a few of the munching possibilities available. The Manhattans and mint juleps are worth investigating as well.

El Toro Taqueria
598 Valencia (at 17th St.), 431-3351,
3–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri.
Made-to-order tacos and a bottle of beer: What more do you need at the end of the workday? Especially when the beer is $2 and the tacos are a buck apiece. El Toro's stuffing options are equally generous: steak, carnitas, tofu, barbecued pork, or grilled or spicy chicken, with mild or spicy salsa and black, pinto, or refried beans. Beer choices include Pacifico, Modelo, and Corona, and to accompany your complimentary chips, there are eight kinds of salsa and two varieties of fire-roasted chiles. ¡Fantástico!

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