Second Helpings: Free Happy-Hour Buffets
Poor? Hungry? Have we got the restaurants for you!
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!
312 Barton Springs, 481-1182
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.
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
A handful of bicycles but no Bombay in this decidedly un-exotic bar/restaurant. Plentiful but low-quality Americana food, moderately priced drinks.
1728 Barton Springs, 474-4452
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.
409 Colorado, 322-0051
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.
4112 Medical Parkway, 452-6258
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!
212 W. Sixth, 397-EARL
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
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.
2010 S. Lamar, 326-8301
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.
612 W. Sixth, 476-0612
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.
512 Trinity, 478-8823
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
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!
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.
1111 Red River, 322-9922
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.
509 E. Ben White, 443-8799
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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