Drunk After Work: Asian Tapas
The Hours: Mon.-Fri. 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
The Deal: All 16 ounce draft beers and domestic beers are $2.00 each, and all 16 ounce imported beers are $3.00 each. Prices on shochu and sake range between $3.50-$7.50 a glass. Special Happy Hour Packages include one cold beverage or beer plus one order of food. Here's the deal: The $3 package can include vegetarian egg rolls or spicy pickled cucumbers or edamame. The $4 package can include chicken wings or cream cheese wontons or shredded beef with bean curd in chili oil. The $5 package can include popcorn chicken or wontons in chili oil.
The Scene: In short, families and just about the standard collection of folks you'd find in any of Irvine's Chinese restaurants make up the crowd. Most will be ordering dinner, but you'll know who among your fellow customers is partaking on the deal by the frosted mugs in their grip.
The Sauce: The preferred drink is beer. Tsingtao is a favorite and goes well to blot out the strong and bold flavors of the often-blazing Northern Chinese dishes. The domestics include the usual suspects of Bud and Bud Light. The latter is available on draft, as is Kirin. Bottled Sapporo Premium and Light and Corona round out the list of brews. The rest of the available libations include plum wine, sake or shochu, cocktails and wines. A C.K. Mondavi Chordannay is the cheapest wine at $3 a glass. 14 Hands Merlot, and a few other notables fill out the middle at $4 a glass. A Merryvale Chardonnay Starmont tops the list at $6 a glass. The list of sake and shochu is too numerous to list here, but include a Hana Lychee and a Hana Fuji Apple, both at $4 a glass.
The Food: As with a lot of these Drunk After Work posts, our intention is to put out an alert on where to get great deals on food as much as it is to locate cheap booze. This entry is exactly that, and then some. Asian Tapas' Happy Hour Package of $3, $4, and $5 drink-and-one-dish deal is, I think, one of the best Happy Hour deals in OC. And this from a restaurant we dubbed Best Chinese in our recent Best Of issue, so you should know that the food excels beyond the typical bar fare even before I describe it.
Also, as you might recall, this Happy Hour deal was also featured on our Happy Hour Issue. This is an update to that article, as a few of the Happy Hour food specials have changed since then (though not entirely).
Still the best dish, and it's hard to say this because everything on offer is excellent, is the wontons in chili oil, a bowl of squiggly soft purses of pork soaked in a chili-laced soupy gravy with just-blanched spinach.
The shredded beef with bean curd can be called a salad, but it needs a classification of its own since it will induce perspiration at the sight of it.
Chicken wings are coated in a batter that has fused with the rice-wine marinated meat, but it's the sugary-salty-peppery dipping powder for dabbing that's the most amazing--no substance short of cocaine is more addictive.
Asian Tapas' cheapest Happy Hour option, the pickled cucumbers, should not be ignored. It can be called a side or a bonafide "tapa", since it does not constitute a meal; but it needs to be ordered even if you don't need the extra beer it inevitably comes paired with in the $3 package. It, too, is spicy, and snappy. On second thought, maybe you do need that extra mug of cold beer after all.
And if you're still hungry after the Happy Hour snacks, there's currently a hard-to-beat anniversary special on offer on the food, but that's fodder for another post.
The Verdict: A basic list of beers notwithstanding, Asian Tapas has food that trumps any Happy Hour menu on price and flavor. Chinese flavor.
The Grade: A+.