Los Angeles is a culinary wonderland. One of its greatest features is the full range of affordability. Now that you have mastered the taco-and-ramen end of the spectrum, it's time to explore fine dining. Still waiting for your script to get picked up or for your startup to take off? We've got you covered.
Some of the toniest restaurants in town offer a happy hour, generally limited to the bar or lounge area, where you can order drinks and food for less than $10 (mostly).
This spin on happy hour is by no means the cheapest one. However, the precious minutes before prime-time dining begins allow you the opportunity to scope out the place and decide whether you want to invest a day's wages (or more) in a meal. You get to be the judge of whether a restaurateur can shelve the white linen tablecloths and roll up his or her sleeves.
Just leave the flip flops and Dodgers merch at home — you can be poor without being gauche. Come out and schmooze with the elite L.A. foodie crowd. Or at least order cocktails alongside them.
Riviera Restaurant & Lounge, Calabasas
A short jaunt off the 101 in the west San Fernando Valley brings you as far as you need to go for a welcoming high-end happy hour. Riviera Restaurant & Lounge is a popular spot for an elegant night out in the Valley, but the bar offers a window of affordability into a fairly pricey menu. Imagine crossing over a magical threshold where the entire dining menu is available for 20 percent off. Certain nights have additional perks to draw you in: Taco Tuesdays offer $3 tacos (chicken, fish or steak), plus $7 Patron tequila shots with $3 Corona or Dos Equis to complete the boilermaker. On Wednesdays, all house wines are half off at $5, or you can make it a "Happy Meal" and get a pair of Kobe beef sliders, fries and draft beer or house wine for $12. Unlike the rest of the dining room, which features bright white accents, the bar area is warm and relaxed and usually has the game on. It turns out there's a lot more to Calabasas than a certain tabloid-loving reality TV dynasty. Happy hour daily, 5 p.m. to close. 23683 Calabasas Road, Calabasas; (818) 224-2163, rivieracalabasas.com.
Chef-restaurateur Suzanne Goin figures into everyone's dream version of L.A. dining. On a fantasy budget, you would be intimately acquainted with the wine list at Goin's A.O.C. Wine Bar & Restaurant and dine weekly at Lucques' Sunday Supper. But until you graduate to the next tax bracket, try a more accessible approach to this iconic L.A. chef. The happy hour at Tavern in Brentwood is no cheap pub affair, but some classic items are much less expensive than usual. Three burgers are on the happy hour menu, with the beef, pork and turkey burger each coming with salad, fries or onion rings for $15, a few bucks less than during dining hours. The signature cocktails get the best markdown — Lucques Gimlet, Tavern on the Green and Thunderer are $10 ($4 less than dining hours), or you can get away with $4 draft beers, $6 glasses of wine and $8 well cocktails. Think of it as a glimpse into the future of your edible L.A. life. Happy hour daily, 3-7 p.m. 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; (310) 806-6464, tavernla.com.
Bar Bouchon, Beverly Hills
Our perspective of Beverly Hills best aligns with the working-class characters in Pretty Woman and Beverly Hills Cop, which is why the prospect of eating and drinking there makes us a little uncomfortable. Not to worry: Bar Bouchon, the casual extension of Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro, offers a happy hour menu with bites and drinks for less than $9. The house-made potato chips and dip for $5.50 is second only to the $2 shucked oyster — the most popular item on deck. Wine is thematic, so why not have a house red or white for $5, or, if you're eschewing tannins, look for a $4 beer or $7 well cocktail. The traditionally dressed bartenders, zinc bar and decorative floor tiles enrich this already elegant ambiance. Outdoor seating is available if you find yourself conspicuously whistling a certain Roy Orbison melody. We may not be trending toward Rodeo Drive anytime soon, but affordable sustenance never goes out of style. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m. 235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 271-9910, thomaskeller.com/beverly-hills-california/bar-bouchon.
The Church Key, West Hollywood
Don't let the upscale living-room feel of the Church Key in West Hollywood make you think it is as casual as your own abode. The effortless style of this dim sum lounge is disarming. It welcomes and envelopes you, then plies you with delicious, affordable libations. And just when you've made your way back out to the street, you place the two familiar-faced celebrities who were on the chaise next to yours. During happy hour, a generous and playful Tiki menu is available, featuring whimsical boozy Odder Pops. Move aside, Little Orphan Orange and Alexander the Grape, it's time for Peruvian Lai (Pisco Porton, guava, lime) and Singapore Sling (gin, pineapple, lime and more) for $6. Tip: Order in larger quantities and they're cheaper. You are right to order the sliders ($4-$7 each), but if you're there to share, go with a Pu Pu Platter and a Tiki Punch Bowl. The high-end nature of this happy hour is cleverly disguised by a sexy, fun theme that doesn't take itself too seriously. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 5:30-7 p.m. 8730 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd.; (424) 249-3700, thechurchkeyla.com.
The Sky Room, Long Beach
Happy hour at the Sky Room in Long Beach is about much more than discounted food and drink. It's the complete package: elegant service, white linen tablecloths, stunning views. The 1930s Art Deco styling is worth shining your shoes or breaking out the red lipstick. The happy hour menu groups food by price point, featuring items such as truffle fries for $6, braised bison short rib sliders for $9 or the "And the pickles" burger with house-ground filet mignon and Sriracha remoulade for $12. Have a glass of house-made wine or a craft spirit cocktail for $6, or a craft spirit martini or specialty cocktail for $8 (the hibiscus Champagne cocktail is very festive). There's a reason so many wedding receptions happen here — the place just says "special occasion." Go during happy hour and you can afford to make it a recurring occasion. Ascend to the Up Lounge cocktail bar Thursday through Saturday for an even better vantage of the sweeping panoramas that reach from Catalina Island across the South Bay. Happy hour at the bar only, Sun.-Fri., 5-7 p.m. 40 S. Locust Ave., Long Beach; (562) 983-2703, theskyroom.com.
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Vertical Wine Bistro, Pasadena
The entrance to Vertical Wine Bistro is truly enchanting. Sandwiched between two buildings in Old Pasadena, a brick-walled passageway is lit by strings of exposed bulbs that take you up an ornate stairway to the wine bar. You can't help but feel as if you've stumbled onto a chic, hidden gem. The sleek, modern bar is long and offers ample seating. Floor-to-ceiling wine storage underscores the establishment's dedication to the grape. To go beyond wine, from opening until 7 p.m. and all day Sunday, you can order craft beer on tap for $5, or stay the course with house wines and sangria for $7. Classic cocktails provide a little something for everyone at $7, with Moscow mules, Manhattans and margaritas, but the Kir Vertical Champagne cocktail is the way to go if you're feeling flirtatious. Tipple your way off the happy hour menu and you'll be glad you stayed for chef Laurent Quenioux's more elaborate dishes and outstanding cheese selection. Stay within the happy-hour window and you have the most romantic yet affordable date night along the Arroyo Seco and beyond. Happy hour Tue.-Sat., 4-7 p.m.; all day Sun. 70 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 795-3999, verticalwinebistro.com.