Forget drink discounts, happy hour is about the food. Or, rather, it’s about the food if you’re a deal seeker who also happens to enjoy well-crafted cuisine.
For this installment of happy hour food deals, we headed to Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue, an eating district rich with restaurants and bars that offer deep discounts during happy hour dining.
We couldn’t write about every restaurant in that neighborhood, so we focused on just a few blocks along Sixth – from Pine to Oakes.
Within those few blocks you’ll find four restaurants with sisterly connections: The first pair is Asado and Masa, located across the street from one another and both operated by X Group Restaurants. The second is Primo Grill and Crown Bar, located within about a block of one another and owned and operated by Charlie McManus with wife Jacqueline Plattner.
ASADO + MASA
Think of Asado as the grown-up brother. He wears rimless glasses and dresses in tasteful suits. He hosts sophisticated dinner parties and serves Argentinean wines. Across the street from Asado lives Masa, the younger, hipper brother who wears Converse and slouchy jackets. He throws loud, fun parties where tequila and Mexican beer flow freely. Hipsters like to hang out on his deck when the weather warms.
Silly analogy aside, the scene at Asado’s bar is geared toward more quiet, serene dining. Dark décor and moody lighting make for a romantic tone. Small bar tables are good for intimate parties (the stationary tables in the bar simply cannot accommodate large groups). Across the street at Masa, the bar scene is much more young and social. Small or big parties can mingle at communal bar seating. Flat panel televisions broadcast the sports game of the moment amidst a vibrant, colorful atmosphere.
And now for the food. Asado’s menu features the flavors of Argentina with sophisticated panache. The bar menu is a reflection of the restaurant’s refined dinner menu, but dishes skew more casual. The bar menu is priced around $10-$13, but happy hour brings a $3 discount per dish. Masa has a dedicated happy hour menu with a much cheaper and casually composed menu of Mexican-themed eats with shockingly cheap happy hour prices in the $3-$5 range.
Here’s a look at happy hour deals at both restaurants:
Where: 2810 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Info: 253-272-7770 or asadotacoma.com
Happy Hour: 2:30-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays and 9:30 p.m.-close Sundays-Thursdays
Burger dip ($9.75): A mixture of ground sirloin and chorizo made for a meaty, thick burger. The sandwich was served on a hefty, chewy roll with melted Beecher’s white cheddar cheese. The sandwich oozed with so much burger juice, we deemed the side of veal and garlic au jus sauce unnecessary. Sweet potato fries tossed in a pungent garlic-herb chimichurri butter made for piquant noshing.
Calamari frito ($6.75): Strips of narrowly sliced calamari steak came coated with a crisp breading with a salty dimension. The flavor brightened immensely with the addition of yellow bell pepper aioli and cilantro jalapeño dipping sauces.
Filete parrilla skewer ($6.75): A skewer of marinated skirt steak arrived sizzling hot from a tease of flame. A slightly charred exterior yielded to tender, juicy beefiness. The skewer came perched atop a bed of toothsome lentils infused with cinnamon.
Serrano-wrapped prawns ($10.50): Big, chunky prawns were wrapped up snug in salty slices of silky serrano ham. Mixed greens dressed with truffle oil added bitter bite and cut the richness of the dish.
Chorizo and clams ($12): The white wine sauce came perfumed by meaty chorizo and wafted with garlic and shallots. The dish created a grab-battle for the grilled potato bread, a perfect sponge for sopping up the delicious sauce. The clams were grit-free and tender, as they should be.
Where: 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Info: 253-254-0560 or masatacoma.com
Happy hours: All day Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays during business hours; 2:30-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-late Wednesdays-Saturdays
Free chips and salsa: Happy hour started with complimentary corn chips dosed with Spanish paprika. The accompanying roasted tomato salsa tasted sweet and fresh. Roasted ancho chili pods lended smokiness to the fresh salsa.
Tacos: There are six tacos on the menu, all bargain priced at $2.75 each. Forget standing in the rain at your favorite taco bus, tacos at Masa are the real deal (I won’t quibble about the use of flour tortillas over corn). We dove into the mahi mahi, grilled fish wrapped in a warm flour tortilla and topped with lime-kissed cabbage. The smoked pork taco was a delicious, juicy mess that dripped a sweet grilled pineapple-cilantro topper. The carne asada spilled out of its flour tortilla wrapper with a generous portion of tender, grilled chunks of steak topped with pico de gallo and cilantro.
Empanada ($4.50): This fried turnover was a flavor pop with smoky, sweet, rich ingredients. Smoked chipotle-spiked chicken was mixed up with corn and black beans and laced with punchy spicing. The crispy golden-brown pastry exterior was perfectly fried.
Masa spicy tips ($5.75): This was the sole dish that just didn’t work for us. The seared steak tips came in a pool of oily gravy that separated as it cooled. Pass.
Masa fries ($5.75): A big, sloppy plate of fries that looked and tasted like nachos, only with potatoes at its base. Refried beans, ground beef and chorizo topped the dish, along with a thick, creamy mild queso cheese sauce that covered the massive portion of crispy fries. A dish meant for digging and sharing.
PRIMO GRILL + CROWN BAR
Like Asado and Masa, Primo Grill and Crown Bar have a big brother-little brother vibe – with both restaurants offering inviting possibilities in their own styles.
Primo Grill is the destination for grown-up dining with a handsome interior that exudes a smooth, swanky feel. The Mediterranean menu is higher-concept cuisine with an emphasis on the restaurant’s star attraction – a wood-fired grill and oven that is viewable from every seat in the dining room.
Crown Bar is the downscale sibling with a laid-back bar atmosphere. The eclectic menu is comfort eats with grown-up flair. Knock-out specialty cocktails will impress – especially the serrano-pepper spiked Thai Tiger.
What I appreciate most about both places is their appeal for gathering friends. Each establishment offers cozy nooks and corners for more intimate dining, but if you have a group of friends you want to assemble, both restaurants offer space. At Primo Grill, the entire restaurant is open for happy hour seating, unlike many bars and restaurants that relegate happy hour deals to only bar seating.
Here’s a look at happy hour deals at both restaurants:
Where: 601 S. Pine St., Tacoma
Info: 253-383-7000 or primogrilltacoma.com
Happy hours: 3-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 8-10 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays; 9-11 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. The menu of nine pizzas is discounted to $8.95 during happy hours. For bargain seekers, stick with the more expensive pizzas in the $13-$15 range to get even more bang for your happy hour buck. Appetizers are normally in the $10-$14 range but are discounted to $7.95 each during happy hour.
Pizzas ($8.95 each): Pizzas at Primo showcase the wood-fired oven. It’s thanks to that oven that the crust at Primo is ethereal – thin and crispy, with just the right amount of chewy resistance. The pizzas come heat-licked with slightly charred edges. The house-cured pancetta and seared radicchio pizza yielded a sweet-bitter flavor combination with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese. I liked that the toppings didn’t burden the crust. The prosciutto and fig pizza was another pizza with a sweet edge from a light smear of fig jam. Pockets of creamy goat cheese added sharp bite while paper-thin sheets of prosciutto gave chewy goodness.
Wood roasted calamari ($7.95): This dish was a copious serving of calamari rings, perfectly cooked with a light chew. Wood smoke deepened the flavor. A zap of saffron brightened the heady tomato garlic sauce. We could smell it wafting from the oven before it hit our table.
Steamed local mussels ($7.95): A healthy portion of mussels was treated to a tasty bath of cream, shallots, chives, lime, cilantro and a boozy shot of wine. An undertone of curry notched up the flavor.
Fire roasted garlic shrimp ($7.95): Another dish fragrant with garlic, we could smell it long before it arrived at our table. A healthy portion of plump shrimp was soaked in a vibrant, lemony tomato sauce.
Where: 2705 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Info: 253-272-4177 or crownbartacoma.com
Happy hours: 5-6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.-close Tuesdays-Thursdays; 4-6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.-close Fridays. Crown Bar offers a specially priced $5 happy hour menu.
Zihua mushroom quesadilla ($5): Queso fresco provided a mellow partner for earthy sliced mushrooms. While the cheese provided gooey texture, the mushrooms offered meaty bite. The side of serrano tomato salsa spiked the flavor to delightful, but the salsa chunks were so big, they tumbled off the quesadilla. Note to kitchen: chop smaller, please.
Currywurst ($5): A manly man portion of bratwurst, sliced, grilled and served with warm curry-flavored ketchup. The grilled bread on the side wasn’t enough for the delicious sauce, request more to sop up the rich tomato sauce.
Falafel sandwich with Greek side salad ($5): Nestled in warm pita were small discs of falafel with a crispy exterior that yielded to soft, fragrant centers. Pungent shreds of cheese topped the sandwich, along with shredded green lettuce and a mellow yogurt sauce. A nutty sesame sauce made for delicious dipping. A tangle of greens was dressed with a tart vinaigrette.
Charmoula beef kebab ($5): Beware of burning embers, our kebab sticks came with fiery ends. On one visit, the meat was leathery and far too chewy, on another it was closer to tender, but the seasoning was applied unevenly, leading to alternating bites of flavorful and flavorless. The couscous on the side was troubling in the same way, with uneven curry seasoning. Pita and raita served on the side.
Sue Kidd: 253-597-8270
Tips for happier hours
Special hours: Call ahead for hours – happy hour times constantly change.
In the bar: Generally, unless noted, happy hour deals are offered only in the bar. That means you need to be 21 to enjoy them. Most bars offer drink discounts along with heavily discounted food.
Go early: The best time for happy hour is in the first hour. After that, the crowds begin to swell.