With the economy still tanking, happy hours are abundant. There are so many to choose from these days that you don’t have to waste your time or calories on bad food in order to save a few bucks. I took a friend and visited several local restaurants to find out which ones had the best deals on the best food and drinks.

Located at 3321 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica, Upper West Restaurant has an airy feel and a comfortable yet semi-upscale vibe. Our waiter was courteous and quite helpful. He apparently had tasted most of the menu, which is a great endorsement in my opinion of the restaurant and its management.

We mulled over an extensive drink menu with specialty drinks for $6 that included a ginger cosmo, a Honey Rye and more. I decided to go for a sweet one and ordered a watermelon mojito. Yum! My dining mate chose a cucumber martini, which was smooth and light with a hint of mint.

We started with some sweet potato fries and some wings, which came in two varieties: classic pepper or spicy sambal/honey sauce. We went for the latter and demolished the large portion in a matter of moments. The sweet sauce had a wonderful kick, with the toasted sesames adding a very satisfying crunch. The sweet potato fries were cooked perfectly.

The lamb nachitos were a bit over-the-top for me, but my dining partner simply adored this unexpected twist. I could understand the seduction as I munched on another re-vamped classic, the Thai calamari with mint chili sauce.

All of the food items were between $6 and $8, and with a good portion size were well worth treating oneself to a nice dinner at a swanky Santa Monica restaurant. 

The Melody Bar (9132 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles) in Westchester was another favorite of mine.  Located by the airport, it has more of a homegrown bar atmosphere, and is a t-shirt and jeans kind of place featuring live music and karaoke. There’s nothing fancy on the drink menu, but basic well drinks were offered at $5.

The food was extremely well priced, with one of the stand-outs being a large $3 plate of tasty garlic shoestring fries. Also you can taste a variety of tacos (steak, salmon or chicken) all for just $2 each.

Since we were not watching calories, we decided to try the BBQ grilled cheese bites: melted cheese with barbecue baby back rib meat in a roll, which was really good. Also on the menu was a plate of three mini burgers (or chicken sandwiches) with cheese and grilled onions on Hawaiian sweet bread…all for under $5.

A final stop and one that serves up a bit more of a casual beach setting is Figtree’s Café in Venice Beach. It has been part of this Venice neighborhood for more than 30 years, and has a wonderful reputation among the locals.

I went with another friend to try out the happy hour specials and enjoyed a gorgeous sunset along with the ever-entertaining people-watching on Venice Beach (from safely behind the protected glass barrier of the café).

I had a tasty BBQ chicken pizza ($4.95) along with a white sangria ($4). It was a good-sized portion, but I of course could stuff in a taste of my friend’s quiche, which was quite delicious with a delicate crust.  All of the happy hour items were less than $6, and when you add the extra benefits of the beach view and the ocean breeze, it’s definitely worth the trip to Venice Beach. Figtree’s Café is located at 429 Ocean Front, right on the boardwalk.