Smart diners know lunch is a great time to hit pricier/fancier restaurants. Many offer smaller portions of their dinner menu selections, or similar items, for a fraction of the evening-time price. Smart diners also know that happy hour is an equally ideal time to sample the menu, when almost any well-regarded destination will dish up an array of affordable small plates or sandwiches around which an entire meal can be assembled. The upside, besides a downright reasonable final reckoning, is the chance to sample and share a variety of dishes. Read on for some of our favorites.
Momocho (1835 Fulton Rd.)
Eric Williams' insanely popular mod-mex Ohio City restaurant has taken Cleveland on an enlightened trip South of the Border since its debut. With top-shelf ingredients, artistic plating and surprising pairings yielding unexpected flavors, Momocho feels just as relevant and new as the day it opened. During its Tuesday through Friday happy hour, running 5 to 6:30 p.m., score $2 Tecates, $5 classic margaritas and, most importantly, $9 taquito plates. Options include carnitas, chile ancho braised beef brisket, beef tongue pastrami, al pastor style shrimp, and salt roasted beets — all served with five fresh soft corn tortillas, chile rajitas and salsa verde.
Fat Cats (2061 West 10th St.)
Twenty years in, Fat Cats is as good as ever. The setting remains comfortable if not trendy, carved out of a now-125-year-old house. One of the first true farm-to-table restaurants in Cleveland, one of the first to do a Saturday brunch, and one of the first to broadly embrace vegan and vegetarian dishes, Ricardo Sandoval's Tremont gem has been ahead of the curve from the start. It's hard not to fall in love with the happy hour offerings — more than a dozen in all — ranging from $3 to $6 and including a bounty of veg options. From snack-sized bahn baos to crispy fried shrimp, from spicy Korean ribs to one of the best fried chicken sandwiches around, it's almost impossible not to build an entire meal for two for less than $20.
Pier W (12700 Lake Ave., Lakewood)
What you might think of exclusively as a special occasion destination is actually also home to one of the best happy hour deals in Cleveland. Prices are slashed on the bar menu from top to bottom, and usually by half. Short rib pierogies? $7. Salmon burger? $7.50. Blue cod sandwich? $7.75. Lobster bisque? $6. It goes on from there, but you've probably already hopped in the car to head there, so we'll move on.
Parker's Downtown (2000 East Ninth St.)
The downtown offshoot of Parker's Grille & Tavern in Avon Lake opened in the Kimpton Schofield Hotel just in time for the RNC. Ever since then, diners have been treated to Northeast Ohio favorites updated with a modern twist. Happy hour, Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., is a great chance to see what they've been up to, as a fantastic batch of small plates are priced at half off. Try the warm smoked whitefish spread ($6.50), lamb meatballs with gochujang ($7) and pickled eggs ($1.50).
Luca (2100 Superior Viaduct)
Since the summer of 2013, Luca Italian Cuisine has been attracting lovers of fine food and atmosphere to the Superior Viaduct, where magical skyline views combine with gourmet Italian food and wine to create truly memorable nights. Their attention to detail and flavors runs deep into the happy hour menu, served Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 5 to 9 p.m., when you'll find eight small plates priced at $6. Among the choices, cavatelli alla Bolognese with slow-roasted wild boar, veal and duck; carpaccio di salmon with thinly sliced raw salmon, capers and lemons; penne alla vodka with Italian fennel sausage; and formaggio ravioli with a champagne cream sauce. Assorted beers are just $3.
Luxe (6605 Detroit Ave.)
Gordon Square looks a helluva lot different than it did 10 years ago, and Luxe has played a significant role in that transformation. Since it opened in May of 2008, it's delivered big flavors on small plates, drawing a diverse and enthusiastic crowd to the two-room interior and expansive patio, a summertime favorite in the neighborhood. Happy hour (Monday through Friday, 5 to 7 p.m.) brings seven pizza options at $10 apiece, including pork and goat meatballs, tasso pork, and a fresh herb pie. Six small plates ($6 each) include fried Brussels sprouts, salmon rillettes and local heirloom tomatoes. Pair one or more of those with a potent $5.50 cocktail and you've got a recipe for the perfect evening.
Taste (2317 Lee Rd., Cleveland Heights)
It might fly under the radar, but this Cleveland Heights gem shouldn't. Serving upscale American bistro fare at eminently affordable prices, Taste will leave you stuffed after a trip to happy hour (Sunday through Friday 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 5 to 6 p.m.). Dive into a roasted shrimp piccata for $7, arancini di riso for $6, pizza du jour for $8 and truffle pommes frites for $5, among other options. Beer specials are $4, wine specials $5, and cocktail specials $6.
Spice Kitchen and Bar (5800 Detroit Ave.)
Since Spice Kitchen was built on the practice of making the absolute most of local resources, it's only natural that the menu thrives on the timeliest of options. The ever-evolving seasonal and sustainable dishes keep things fresh all year 'round, leaving guests guessing what delicacy comes next. Whatever it happens to be, it will be local, seasonal and tasteful. Chef Ben Bebenroth's mission to deliver inspired food from local farmers is on full display on the robust happy hour menu, served Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., featuring an ever-updated batch of about 10 small plates. Offered now: duck confit rillettes, a crispy pork belly sandwich, smoked walleye croquettes, fried cheese curds and more. Drink specials hover around $5, and there's a helpful $2 Miller High Life deal as well.
Olesia's Place (11204 Royalton Rd., North Royalton)
We admit we only got hip to these deals thanks to the Plain Dealer's ace happy-hour reporter, John Petkovic. We're just sad he didn't tell us about it sooner. Dishing up American-Ukranian fare, happy hour (Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 2:30 to 6 p.m.) features a dozen bargain-basement, stomach-stuffing options including a salmon salad, pierogi, kraut and kielbasa, and more.