Babirusa in Eastlake has a new happy hour. But the best deals, and best flavors, come in the form of the chef’s specials.

Share story

Babirusa is an unassuming bar in a strip mall you’ve passed by a dozen times.

You likely wouldn’t hit it unless you live in one of the apartments nearby, or you happened to be stuck on Eastlake Avenue East during rush hour and figured, “I’ll pull over and have a beer. What’s this bar by Subway?”

Babirusa is a neighborhood bar from the same owners behind the splendid Blind Pig Bistro next door.

The menu isn’t as polished as its bistro but is stellar all the same, with bar snacks, small plates, daily specials and the playlist (Eddie Money and Tom Jones) posted on the chalkboard. The craft cocktails are more fussy than they need to be. But there are good local drafts (a witbier from Holy Mountain Brewery and a pilsner from Stoup Brewing) and summer wines (rosé and Vinho Verde).

When the weather calls for it, grab one of the four tables outside along the edge of the parking lot. Or lean against a railing that’s wide enough to plop a beer on.

Or just hole up inside if the rush-hour honking along the main drag annoys you.

On many nights, the cooks look like bobbleheads, rocking to AC/DC and Iron Maiden while they cook or baby-sit the fryer. On this afternoon, their mood matched the battleship-gray wall as Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” was playing instead of heavy metal.

By 5 p.m., they perked up as more customers staggered in. A couple, first-timers, looked overwhelmed by the options on the chalkboard. “The burger is one of the best,” the barman suggests.

It’s a noteworthy burger, more because it’s distinctive — like a meatloaf in texture, with charred-eggplant aioli, salsa verde and confit onions.

At Babirusa’s new happy hour, plenty of nibbles can be had for under $6. The bowl of crispy, salty pork cracklins ($5) comes with a sweet-and-sour sauce. Chickpea fries ($4), which come with a mint sauce, are mushy. The moral of that story? There’s no substitute for the real thing; get the fried potatoes ($3), crispy chunks that are sweet and creamy on the inside, with an addicting aioli to mop them up with.

The best bites at Babirusa — and a better deal than the happy hour, really — are the daily specials, the chef’s whim: garlicky kimchi pancake, braised beef sopes with mole, avocado and radish, and skewers of chicken gizzards to dip in a BBQ sauce. These shared plates are reasonably priced around $6-$15.

Take your time. Mull over the specials. You’re not going anywhere in this traffic anyway.

Babirusa, 2236 Eastlake Ave. E., Seattle, offers happy hour weekdays 3-5 p.m. with snacks from $3-$12, $8 on selected cocktails, $3 on canned beers and $1 off on draft (206-329-2744 or blindpigbistro.com/babirusa).