There are several restaurant spaces on Capitol Hill that do nothing but swallow the hopes and dreams of hapless entrepreneurs whole. The odd upstairs space one door north of Smith, which housed The Bagel Deli forever, then Sur 16, then, most recently, the Olive Tree, is one such space.
But there is, as ever, a new challenger. Bites of Bangkok has taken over the cavernous, semi-hidden restaurant, a new project from Jai Thai Broadway’s former bar manager. And friends, it is good. Especially the happy hour, which is dangerously cheap.
Dangerous for you, because you will think nothing of ordering basket after basket of their satisfyingly unctuous wings, and dangerous for them, because how are they going to survive in a very difficult location while charging anachronistically low prices? From 3-6pm, and again from 10pm-close, they ask a mere three American dollars for craft beer. $3!!! It’s like the aughts all over again.
It’s not out of line for fancier restaurants to charge $7 for a pint these days, and a $4 happy hour beer is a very rare find indeed, especially on Capitol Hill. But $3 for a small but solid selection of microbrews is, in 2019, where every day brings new sorrows to drown, like manna from heaven. And if your sorrows are many and your monies are not, cans of Rainier are $2. Wine and wells are $4, which, again, makes me feel like I’m sitting in the front room at Charlie’s in 2004 smoking cigarettes and eating guac fries.
The portions for happy hour food are not enormous, which is perhaps why all but one item (the pork spare ribs) can cost less than $5, but they are certainly not stingy. And when you consider how well done they all are, and how handsome of a space you’re enjoying them in, you can’t help but marvel at the meager amount of coin they’re asking for the experience.
While I haven’t sampled all their happy hour delights yet, which has more to do with time than cost, I can wholeheartedly endorse it as exactly the type of satisfyingly unhealthy food you need to soothe yourself after a day of wage slavery.
Their Crab Rangoon, that classic excuse to eat whole knobs of cream cheese and fried dough, spends just enough time in the fryer, with the wrapper being exactly as crackly as you want and not the least bit greasy. Their Thai wings, on the other hand, are greasy in the best possible way. Beneath their crispy, just-spicy-enough crust, the meat is a juicy, oily delight, and a very welcome companion to a pint of the crisp pilsner they’ve got on draft. Despite coming on a plate, sans broth, I thoroughly enjoyed their garlic mussels ($5), which opened with a pleasantly bracing hit of Thai basil. The spicy garlic green beans ($5) offered similarly intense flavor.
On the extra affordable end of things, $3 gets you about a half dozen tiny egg rolls, which are perfectly counterbalanced by that same bright, not-too-syrupy sweet and sour sauce that comes with the crab bites. While fusion tacos are usually something scoff at, their Bangkok chicken tacos actually work pretty well. For $4, you get two pieces of supple flatbread filled with tangy chunks of chicken, the tanginess of which is boosted significantly by an accompanying lime wedge.
All in all, it is a bright spot amidst a sea of overpriced swill. In 2019, things have flipped—culinary foppery is more commonplace than simple, well-made weeknight food. Besides their weekly comedy shows, what Bites of Bangkok is doing is nothing special, but that’s a rarity for new restaurants. Whether they can get away with it in such a daunting location is anyone’s guess, but, uh… may fortune favor the bold?