Pau Hana Patrol: Bar bests
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Happy-hour spots from Kaneohe to Aiea offer lots of options, from casual to more upscale.
45-620 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe
3-6 p.m. daily
>> $1 off selected drinks
>> Flatbread pizzas, $10-$12
It’s a good thing to have a happy hour option in Kaneohe. Zia’s Caffe, part of the family of restaurants that includes Kalapawai Market and Kalapawai Cafe in Kailua, offers tasty options.
If you’re looking for a bargain, or if pau hana means TV and sports to you, this isn’t your place. Zia’s tends toward the pricey side. If, however, you’re looking for a clean place with delicious food that kids, grandparents and everyone in between can go to (the regular menu is also available during happy hour), then Zia’s is worth checking out.
Pizzas are a special offering at pau hana, made with an oval flatbread and cut into eight squares. We enjoyed this preparation, because the crust didn’t get soggy by the end of our meal.
Also happy-hour specific, beef and pork meatballs ($9) came four to an order, bathed in homemade marinara sauce (yummy and fresh-tasting).
Molokai Sweet Potato Ravioli with a light sage brown butter sauce ($12 during pau hana, regularly $15) had great flavor with or without the balsamic vinegar and olive oil drizzled on the plate. However, the four ravioli could have used more filling.
As for drinks, a lemon drop ($7) was superb, hitting sweet and sour notes perfectly.
Beer, wines and a handful of other discounted house cocktails are available.
This restaurant is also a good choice for dog owners, because the restaurant allows leashed dogs at its two corner tables on the lanai.
UNDERDOGS SPORTS BAR AND GRILL
UNDERDOGS SPORTS BAR AND GRILL
508 Waiakamilo Road
2-7 p.m. daily
>> $1 off drinks
“It’s like Home Bar for 40-year-olds.”
That’s how my friend described Underdogs Sports Bar and Grill. I have to agree.
His observation wasn’t an insult. Hawai’i Convention Center neighbor Home Bar and Grill is a favorite among 20- and 30-somethings for its comfortable atmosphere and better-than-average bar food. Underdogs has both those things going for it, while attracting a slightly older crowd.
The food at Underdogs isn’t discounted during happy hour. That’s probably because the owners know that the food is so good, they can attract customers without cutting prices. The food also isn’t simple. The bar excels at creative and ambitious, sharable plates that hit every delicious corner of the local food spectrum.
We enjoyed the ahi poke pizza ($14), a slightly spicy appetizer of toasted flatbread topped with huge chunks of soy-wasabi marinated ahi mixed with onion, ogo, greens and tomato.
A pork-and-tots dish ($11) was something I’d never encountered before — smoked pork sauteed with onions and soy sauce tossed together with tater tots and topped with two eggs sunny-side up. The smoked pork was some of the best I’d ever tasted, and all the flavors were amazing together.
We also liked truffle mac-and-cheese poppers served in marinara sauce ($10), finding the truffle taste was actually quite subtle and blended wonderfully with the cheese, deep-fried breading and sauce.
My only problem with Underdogs is parking. Because of its fairly small lot, with only a dozen or so stalls, and its location in a busy industrial area, finding a spot during happy hour can be challenging. I circled the area twice before finding street parking a block away.
The bar itself is low-key and comfortable. Black leather couches and tables line the white walls on each side, with several bar tables and stools streaming down the middle.
The lighting is low, but not so dark that it’s difficult to see. And Underdogs is often nearly full. Good for us that Underdogs takes reservations.
HY’S STEAK HOUSE
HY’S STEAK HOUSE
2440 Kuhio Ave.
5-6:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays (4-5:30 through Jan. 3)
>> $8 selected cocktails
>>$5-$15 small plates
Shocker! After more than 35 years, Hy’s Steak House has taken a sharp break from its own internal tradition by adding a happy hour.
This is good news. Hy’s, one of its kind in Honolulu, is a classic destination, with old-school, dignified decor, its reputation based on European-style attention to detail in the kitchen.
That style carries over to happy hour, which offers fine choices at prices ranging from $5 for french fries or panko-coated onion rings to $13 ground beef sliders topped with blue cheese.
The restaurant is extremely comfortable — dark, gleaming, with round bar tables surrounded by curved, leatherlike chairs, designed to evoke Old World flair (as if you were dining in the library of an Olde English heir). The lights are kept dim and waiters close at hand.
Happy-hour customers sit at the shined-up bar or low, two-person tables. You enter by the driveway at Waikiki Park Heights and valet-park at the door of the restaurant.
At 5 p.m. the restaurant may be relatively empty — it opens at 5 — but it quickly fills, with groups celebrating special occasions or couples out for a fine dinner. Folks expecting a table often come into the bar while waiting.
The Classic Cocktails menu for happy hour offers a variety of drinks for $8, including a Manhattan, Cosmopolitan and Moscow Mule. There are also wines and large beers by the glass at $8, including the Japanese rice lager beer Echigo. Service is excellent, as you might expect.
I was especially pleased with the lighter plates. A happy-hour version of Hy’s Nalo baby arugula salad with prosciutto and Parmesan ($8, $12.95 on the dinner menu) was fresh and tangy, prepared with just enough prosciutto to balance the flavors.
There are also choices that can be entree substitutes. The happy surprise turned out to be the fried calamari ($8) — a nicely sized calamari steak, which I hadn’t seen for a while, prepared perfectly so that the calamari was tender and lightly tasty with a splash of lemon.
We were able to enjoy a variety of dishes and two fine drinks for about $65 — and actually shared some of our plates with a third friend. That’s a pretty good deal, considering that the setting, service and preparations were all to fine-dining standards. After a tough workday, Hy’s is a good option to leave you feeling taken care of as you start the evening anew.
ARMBAR SPORTS BAR & GRILL
ARMBAR SPORTS BAR & GRILL
99-115 Aiea Heights Drive, Suite 111
1-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 1-6 p.m. Friday
>> 32-ounce drafts (Bud Light and Stella Artois), $5
>> Mojitos, $5
>> ArmBar Fries, $5
>> Crispy Korean “Zombiefied” Chicken, $5
We couldn’t wait to visit ArmBar Sports Bar & Grill after it opened in mid-October — not only because the food is touted as bar-meets-fine-dining, but because the site has a mixed martial arts fighting cage.
No, seriously, this bar has an actual MMA ring — outfitted as a VIP lounge area that can be reserved — smack dab in the middle of the dining area.
ArmBar — a play on the name of a common MMA move — is a large space on the ground floor of Aiea Shopping Center, in the corner next to Times Supermarket. With high ceilings, MMA-themed decor and enough room to easily accommodate more than 100 people, it’s a popular place to watch UFC or boxing fights. And during pau hana time it’s laid-back and offers good drink specials with great food.
The happy hour is long but early, from 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays — difficult for most office workers to make but a good alternative for, say, nearby Pearl Harbor workers who get off work in the midafternoon. Or you could stop by on a Friday, when happy hour is extended to 6 p.m. Be prepared to adapt to slower service when the bar fills up, as patrons come in for the food, creative drink options and the four 70-inch flat-screen TVs.
Drink specials include 32-ounce Bud Light and Stella Artois drafts for $5 (a great deal considering the size) and mojitos, which come in regular, lychee, coconut, strawberry basil, acai berry and ginger.
The fighting puns aren’t limited to the drinks; they’re found throughout the food menu. But the lighthearted names belie the seriousness of the Asian-fusion dishes.