The Place: House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, 540 S. Coast Hwy., Ste. 200, Laguna Beach, (949) 715-4500; www.houseofbigfish.com.
The Hours: Mon.-Fri., 2:30-6:30 p.m.
The Deal: 25-cent shrimp-and-wings extravaganza; $1 oysters; $5 margaritas; $1 off all beers. $5 well drinks, plus a handful of other appetizers at “progressive” pricing.
The Scene: The local beach community, plus folks who know a good deal and aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get saucy. A relaxed crowd that avoid using their inside voice, mainly because they wouldn't be heard otherwise. It can get as loud as a Transformers movie on game nights. Being on the second floor, pretty views are aplenty from the back room. However, the bulk of this place is an ocean of a dining space in which the line between bar/lounge area and the rest of the tables is blurred. Except for four booths that flank either side of the kitchen door, seating can be rearranged to accommodate big groups.
The Sauce: Beer, beer, margaritas and more beer. While there's a full bar, beer is the head of this household. Take it draft, big, organic or bottled. If you like your hops, there's something to quench that thirst. Bud Light, Stella Artois and Shock Top are on tap, while the other 40-plus bottles bully the Tecate and PBR cans. Leave the short wine list alone. If you're going to drink something else, might as well go all out and pay the 10 bucks for a cocktail in a 21-ounce schooner. My nonconformist self checked out the simple yet effective blueberry lemonade (icy mix of Stoli blueberri, lemon juice, blueberries and a sugar rim) and left a happy camper.
The Food: A selection of little and bigger plates to choose from. Your best bet is the 25-cent surf or turf bites of shrimp and chicken. Customize your order with buffalo, teriyaki, barbecue, Thai or garlic flavor. Don't forget those $1 oysters on the half shell, either. The remaining happy hour bites are okay, but I'm mildly irked by the new pricing structure, which is what I meant by “progressive” pricing. From 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., larger bites are $2.30; from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., it's $3.30, and so forth. Do I really want to pay $5.30 for a spicy-tuna handroll or crispy shrimp sliders if I know two hours ago it was even cheaper?
The Verdict: Despite the decibel level, House of Big Fish is an ideal place to vent about the workday.Its unusual pricing for certain eats is (almost) balanced out by the easy multiplication of wings, shrimp and oysters–but seriously, guys: leave the progressive pricing to Keno.
The Grade: B+.