By Dr. Ink | Come On, Get Happy!
I love Encontro North Park. It has a chef-driven menu of fresh greens and grilled meats that never disappoints. The tap system dispenses excellent craft beers and global wines. And the attractive interior — designed by acclaimed designer Paul Basile — impresses with accordion windows, cedar tables, crafty lighting, and live flora thriving in wall planters behind the bar.
Things get even better for happy hour, when all beer and wines are half-price, with a handful of small plates selling for $6 apiece.
Yet on Mondays, when a little alcohol can make the day less distasteful, you get to gamble for your drinks — and without any upfront investment.
Simply pick the beer or wine you prefer, call heads or tails, and a server will flip a coin at your table. If you win, the drink is only $1. Otherwise you pay full price for it, which isn’t so painful considering the average price of a brew or glass of vino here is only $8.
I called tails on a bottle of Not Your Father’s Root Beer and won. Perched at a communal table, a dude sitting a couple stools away drinking tap beer was on his second win. We high-fived and compared notes on how we never normally win at games of chance, while beaming over our good fortunes of the day.
The “adult” root beer is produced by Small Town Brewery in Illinois. It sent me back to my days of drinking nonalcoholic root beer sodas as a kid in playgrounds and amusement parks. At 5.9 percent alcohol, there is no boozy edge — just a pure nostalgic flavor that doesn’t come across as too sugary. It normally sells at Encontro for $7.50 a bottle.
The soda-pop theme continued with a $6 pair of carnitas tacos I ordered. According to the menu, the finely shredded meat is braised in Coca-Cola. It really didn’t taste as such, but the meat teamed up terrifically with queso fresco, pickled red onions and avocado-lime cream sauce — a swell bargain for the price.
Other noshes discounted during happy hour include “frito misto” vegetables in IPA tempura; ahi poke tostaditos; and tacos made with Encontro’s popular “Cardiff crack” tri-tip, named after a recipe created in the ’80s at Cardiff Seaside Market that apparently hooked the masses.
So with an unexpected win under my belt, not to mention a drink and two tacos, my wallet was barely any lighter than when I walked in. As far as happy hours go, it was indeed a very happy one.