Second Helpings: Free Happy-Hour Buffets

Poor? Hungry? Have we got the restaurants for you!

Tasty, bite-sized restaurant listings compiled from new and previous reviews, guides, and poll results. This week's entries were compiled by Chronicle staffer Angela Miller. When you need quick, reliable information about Austin eateries, check here.

Ah, the happy hour, when the work is done, the sun is setting, and the drinks are cheap. Although many establishments have discounts for early birds, only a handful take the extra step and offer patrons a free food buffet. Of these relatively few, proud, and brave establishments, I have a few simple requirements for inclusion below: that the atmosphere of the restaurant be pleasant and refreshing, the food free, decent, and plentiful, and the drinks cheaper than usual (I'm calling drink prices under $2.25 cheap and $2.50-4 moderate). Many establishments listed here rise to the occasion, but since happy-hour buffets are oftentimes only a lure to attract customers to a new business, keep in mind that many will not last forever. Half of the work of the happy-hour connoisseur involves keeping up with the openings and closings of new happy-hour buffets. Consider this list not as an end-all-be-all compendium, but as a guide to the options available around downtown Austin at the moment. Enjoy these happy-hour buffets while they last, and be ever-vigilant in your search for new ones!

Al Capone's

312 Barton Springs, 481-1182

Mon-Fri, 4-7pm

Pasta-based happy hour buffet sized in direct proportion to the bar area (small), lures only a few customers to Al Capone's sunny, well-ordered restaurant. Not a full meal, but a decent, light snack for the pasta and crudité aficionado. Moderately priced drinks.

Azucar

400 Lavaca, 478-5650

Fri, after 5pm; Sun, 7:30pm till the food is gone

Sizzling salsa/merengue dance club by night, fajita-lovers palace by early evening. Great homemade, catered food, sometimes arriving late on Fridays, and moderately priced drinks. Stuff yourself silly, then dance away the calories!

Bombay Bicycle Club

5804 N. I-35, 454-4531

Mon-Fri, 5-7pm

A handful of bicycles but no Bombay in this decidedly un-exotic bar/restaurant. Plentiful but low-quality Americana food, moderately priced drinks.

Chuy's

1728 Barton Springs, 474-4452

Mon-Fri, 4-7pm

Cute, cheeky chain provides a great queso/nacho bar, but you'll have to fight for it late in the week, when it gets pretty crowded. I've always wondered if there's something addictive in that queso. Drinks moderately priced.

Cue Lounge

409 Colorado, 322-0051

Wed-Fri, 3-7pm

Newest outpost of the Austin Java empire tempts passersby with drink specials and a plentiful and nice queso/nacho bar. Free food, discount beer, and hours of pool ... not a bad way to while away an afternoon. Cheap to moderate drink prices.

Draught Horse

4112 Medical Parkway, 452-6258

Wed, 5-8pm

Packed with regulars and for good reason! Plentiful pizza made before your eyes with a variety of toppings, accompanied by moderately priced beer. Play darts, lounge outside, and tip the cooks!

Earl Campbell's

212 W. Sixth, 397-EARL

Mon-Fri, 2-6:30pm

Great barbecue fixins, sausage, and cheap beer make this happy hour a carnivore's dream. TV watchers can take in seasonal sports while readers will find plenty of literature and historical artifacts detailing the sports career of Earl Campbell.

Hole in the Wall

2538 Guadalupe, 472-5599

Fri, 5-7pm-ish

Food at the Hole leaves a little to be desired, but they do leave it out for the latecomers. Cheap beer and dysfunctional-family atmosphere make this a popular Friday spot for regulars.

La Feria

2010 S. Lamar, 326-8301

Mon-Fri, 5-7pm

Hard to make a meal of quesadillas alone (La Feria's only happy-hour offering), but for a light snack the fun, family atmosphere and moderately priced margaritas make La Feria a wise destination for a nice afternoon.

Ninfa's

612 W. Sixth, 476-0612

Mon-Fri, 5-7pm

Small bar area may cramp your style and the varying food offerings can be a little sparse, but moderately priced drinks from the well-stocked, high-quality bar can go a long way to making a memorable happy hour if you can spare the cash.

Maggie Mae's

512 Trinity, 478-8823

Thu, 5-7pm

Sixth Street mainstay opens its rooftop patio for a decent nacho/queso bar, frequently accompanied by the kind of music that has earned Austin the moniker "Live Music Capital of the World." Drink specials, prices ranging from cheap to moderate.

Mother of Pearl's

9033 Research, 719-4455

Mon-Fri, 4-7pm

Cajun decor and great, well-stocked Tex-Mex buffet. De-lish-us food, friendly Southern service, and cheap to moderate drink prices -- laissez les bon temps rouler!

Oilcan Harry's

211 W. Fourth, 320-8823

Mon, Thu, Fri, 5-8pm

The lack of selection and care put into the buffet make this spot less than ideal for the free-food seeker. Regulars note that instead of the food, it's the spiritual nourishment, lively environment, and moderately priced drinks that keep them coming back.

Serrano's

1111 Red River, 322-9922

Mon-Fri, 5-6:30pm

Greasy, generic food and moderately priced, low-quality drinks. The grackle-infested patio doesn't improve the atmosphere, either -- Serrano's could learn a thing or two from its locally owned Tex-Mex competitors.

Warehouse Saloon

509 E. Ben White, 443-8799

Mon-Fri, 5-7pm

Nice home-cooked, catered buffet with varying main courses and sides -- a hearty, complete meal. Play pool and enjoy moderately priced drinks but leave your bandannas, cut-off shirts, and freight shorts at home: The dress code is strictly enforced!

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