Find Happiness in an Hour at Il Fornaio

Happy Hour is a good way to try out a new restaurant, enjoy a favorite restaurant and save a bit of money. A win-win!

There are so many great restaurants in the Village but only  offers a Happy Hour with discounts on beverages and food. I wish more of our local restaurants had Happy Hours. They're so much fun.

In downtown Santa Monica, it seems as if almost every restaurant from Ocean to 5th Street has a Happy Hour of some kind.

My favorite, hands down, is Happy Hour at Il Fornaio.

If you are seated at the bar, Monday-Friday, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., dishes normally selling for between $8.99 and $14.59 cost a recession-busting $5. Two dozen specialty cocktails and a selection of wines are also priced at $5. Not to mention, a glass of beer costs only $3.

Unlike many other restaurants, the Happy Hour portions at Il Fornaio are full-sized. No mini-plates here.

The complimentary munchies aren't bad either. Your server will be your bartender and while he or she is busy pouring your drink, you can nibble on the thinnest bread sticks you have ever seen. Standing in a glass right at the bar, you can see the salt crystals that dot the outside of the crispy sticks, making you hungry and thirsty all at the same time.

From the antipasti menu, vegetarians can choose the Rustichella—flat bread with two cheeses (goat and mozzarella), tomatoes, red onions, kalamatta olives, basil and oregano, or Brushetta al Pomodoro—a plate of grilled ciabatta slices topped with garlic, tomatoes, basil and kalamata olives.  

Carpaccio is for anyone who craves a one-on-one with raw beef. The paper thin rounds are topped with farmers market fresh arugula leaves, salty capers, flakes of Parmigiano grana and finished with a drizzle of lemon-scented olive oil.

Pescatorians love the Calamaretti Fritti. Deep fried baby squid, lightly coated with flour, is served with a dish of spicy marinara.

Perhaps just to keep peace in the house, the menu features four pizzas. There are two for vegetarians and two for meat eaters.

Like a tossed summer salad, Pizza Vegetariana has sliced artichokes, zucchini, eggplant, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms and fresh basil with a light tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella.

An old favorite, Pizza Margherita, is perfect for a light snack and a cocktail before a movie. The crisp, thin crust is topped with mozarella, tomato sauce, oregano and fresh basil.

Committed meat eaters, after consuming the carpaccio, will move on to the Pizza Fradiavola with a topping that features crispy Italian sausage, fennel, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, red onions mozarella and seasoned with spicy peperoncino oil.

The Calzone is reserved for those who want a calorie-busting, rib-sticking meal. Loaded with mozarella, ricotta, mushrooms, ham and tomato sauce, the calzone goes best with a glass of beer and a long, post-Happy Hour walk.

The crowded bar fills up during Happy Hour. Some people are on their way home after spending a day at the beach. Others use the "hour" for appetizers and cocktails, before moving to a table in the restaurant for dinner.

On the Westside, Il Fornaio is a stand-out for good quality food at affordable prices in a pleasant setting with a friendly waitstaff.

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