Betel – Fantastic Happy Hour in the West Village

If you find yourself out of work early (say, by 5:30) and anywhere near the West Village, you have to head to this spot. It is one of the best places in the city to grab some really flavorful food and inventive drinks for great happy hour prices. Though it gets crowded later on, early for happy hour is pretty mellow,so you can get the bartenders’ full attention (and the gentleman who served me was very cute and Australian ladies…or maybe he was just Australian and the accent made him cute…who knows, right?)

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Betel is a year old Asian restaurant, focused on the flavors of Thailand and Malaysia. It is dark, small, and oozes “hip.” You know the type: long communal tables, exposed brick, and sexy music. This is a fantastic first date place – hey, if your date doesn’t like these libations and foods, you don’t want to stick with him/her for long.

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Lychee margarita with lime juice, silver tequila, lychee puree, and raw sugar rim

This is for those of you who like a drink to taste like there islittle alcohol in your juice, but act like there is a little juice in with your alcohol. The tequila is smooth and citrusy, with a little bit of bite that works well with the sweet, aromatic lychee puree and the fresh lime juice. This is more like a sweet and sour juice with just the barest kick of tequila, but after 2 just try to stand up without swaying. It’s in there…

Smoked Duck Sausage with chiles and ginger (right)

Soft duck sausage, smoky and gamey, served on a betel leaf that is slightly waxy but without much flavor. The sausage is intensely meaty, tempered by the sharp pickled ginger and a chile so spicy that you really have to eat it at your own risk. It is positively fiery, picking up the deep woodsy notes of the duck. it adds a high, bright note to a very musky bite, but – once again – with the ginger, this is a lot of heat and not much relief. Consider yourself warned.

Chicken Betel Leaf with roasted shallot and eggplant relish, lemongrass and mint (left)
Now, here is something that everyone can get into.  Diced chicken laced with tangy shallot and eggplant relish, pickled and salty enough to counteract the herbal lemongrass and zip of mint. The chicken is moist and juicy, full of sour and salty flavors. that is toned down by the cool lettuce cup. These small bites are so addictive you might need 2 orders.

Sweet and sour pork ribs

Absolutely the belle of the ball. Saucy, juicy, and satisfying on every carnivorous level. Tender bbq pork, charred at the edges, crunchy and smoky. Underneath the thick lacquer of sweet and tangy sauce, the meat is tender and juicy, striking the perfect balance between melting in the mouth too quickly and having too much chew. Sharp scallions atop the deep, hearty ribs, are the final touch.

 The food here is delicious any time of night, but when you get it for almost half off, there is no excuse to miss it. The bartenders are really great – my glass of water is always full, they are never pushy with the drinks, and food comes out fast and hot. Now that you know about Betel, the only thing keeping you from checking out happy hour is work.

That stuff always gets in the way.