Let Them Eat Nachos

Photo by Jessica CalkinsThanks to the economic downturn brought to us by Sept. 11, Wall Street scandals and Dubya's asinine tax cut, it's tough for working stiffs to come up with money to go out to lunch, let alone dinner.

Fortunately, with some creativity, you can get by on two low-cost meals per day. First, eat enough breakfast to carry you through mid-afternoon. From there, it's just a brief stomach pang or two to the magical mealtime known as happy hour.

Sure, cheap dates, college students and your friendly neighborhood lush know all about the inexpensive drinking advantages of this barroom marketing scheme. But few pay attention to the food. Truth be told, you can stuff yourself silly after enough trips to the warming trays.

When you hit happy hours more for nourishment than inebriation, remember to pace yourself. Order an inexpensive drink, sip it slowlyand pile as much dinner as you can onto tiny paper plates—again and again.

There's even a way teetotalers can take advantage of the free or cheap eats. Just identify yourself as a designated driver. Some places will even give you free non-alcoholic drinks.

As for those places with happy hours, fortunately, they're all over OC and Long Beach. The following local happy-hour hosts have our eat-on-the-cheap stamp of approval:

El Matador 1768 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 645-0324. Happy hour: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; drink specials until 5 p.m. Their long-ass happy hour features made-from-scratch Mexican food starting at $5.95, which you can wash down with $3.50 double-shot margaritas. Proof that Newport Beach knows Mexican outside of its housecleaners and cooks. Acapulco Restaurant 6270 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 596-3371. Happy hour: Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.No money for a road trip to Mexico? Acapulco's happy hour is the next best thing—and you won't encounter nightmarish border lines on trip back home. Follow this Thomas Gastronomical Guide: upon entering the restaurant, hang a right toward the sign proclaiming “Cantina” and salsa your way upstairs to the land of tequila. Pull up a bar stool to enjoy the scenic rest stop, which offers a beautiful ocean view to go along with the booze. Keep an eye on the table to your left, where you will note the culinary treasures that make your arduous journey worthwhile: a free antojitos buffet. With the purchase of a $3.25 margarita, that is. But after downing that just-right margarita, all-you-can-eat taquitos, flautas, chips and salsa await your devour. And if you want actual dishes, throw down a little more than free to stuff as many 99-cent tacos and half-priced appetizers as your gut and penny tray can possibly stomach. BJ's Pizza 16060 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-9242. Happy hour: Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m. Appetizers are $2 off during twilight time, which means they're giving it away to you. The appetizer menu includes fine avocado egg rolls, spinach-artichoke dip and garlic-cheese bread. Well drinks are $2.50. You can even munch on their namesake mini pizzas for half-price. And the mini pizzas are good. Steelhead Brewing Co. 4175 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 856-2227. Happy hour: Sun.-Thurs., 3-6 p.m.Need to nod off after one of those sleep-inducing tours of Irvine? Sink into one of Steelhead's La-Z-boy-style chairs and drink those dormant brain cells to where your liver now resides. The restaurant sells their freshly brewed ales at just $2.50 per pint. $2.50 PINTS! Especially chug-worthy is the Barracuda Blonde, which, with its light and creamy body, will delight experienced alcoholics as well as students breaking in their fake IDs. If you're hungry for more than just liquid bread, munch on the brewery's half-priced nachos. Loaded with black beans, cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and jalapeños, these hefty chips will satisfy any quest for the perfect munchies. Off Campus Pub 2736 E. Nutwood Ave., Fullerton, (714) 879-8094. Happy hour: Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.Domestic beer and well drinks for only $2.50. Don't miss Taco Tuesdays and Long Island Wednesdays for their exemplary versions of each. Wine is just $3.50 per glass. And the college students that flock here constitute the biggest meat market outside of a halal store.

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