Happiest Hour: Iza

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Friday is upon us once again, and as fall continues to settle in we're looking to flood our blood streams with a warming dose of the good stuff. What better than a little rice-based alcohol? Which this week takes us to...

Happiest Hour: Iza

Ambiance: The owners at Iza have gone to great lengths since opening in July 2009 to create a cozy, izakaya-style atmosphere at their plush Hip Strip digs. Izakayas, for those of you not up on your traditional Japanese lingo, are old school sake pubs in the vein of our venerated brew pubs. They serve a variety of tapas-sized meals perfect for your post work appetite as well as a healthy selection of Japanese sakes. Iza takes the idea a step further, adding a full menu along with wines and local brews. The bar is a nice choice for those looking to unwind in the depths of their own cerebellums before the weekend hits—each setting at the bar is already laid out with classy chopsticks. If you've got some friends or coworkers along, slip off your shoes and belly-up to one of the low-set Japanese tables. You can even enjoy some live jazz by local musicians every Wednesday night at 7:30.

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What you're drinking: Sake, d'uh. Iza's got a full line of popular unfiltered sake flavors, from Voices in the Mist to Dreamy Clouds. Happy hour specials include $1 off your sake. If it's chilly, try a $5 warm sake. And if it's martinis you're jonesing for, Iza's got your back. The restaurant offers $4.50 "saketails" in a variety of flavors. The Tropitini—a tasty blend of sake, coconut milk, pineapple and galangal—proved particularly refreshing on a recent afternoon. Waitress Lilly Herro also recommends the Cayenne Cooler, a glass of sake cooled with fresh cucumber and lime juice. "One gal that came in here ordered two and told me it was better than cocaine," Herro says. "She said she just wanted to climb in and swim around in it." Happy hour specials stretch from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and include $3 draft beers.

What you're eating: Iza chef and co-owner Theo Smith says the restaurant is overhauling its menu in the next few weeks to include a long list of traditional Japanese dishes. They plan to offer more soups as the weather grows colder, and Smith says he's also working on some scallop dishes incorporating miso and ginger. The goal? A better pairing of Iza's food and sake. "Lots of places are really developing their menus toward alcohol," Smith says. But don't worry. We're told the dim sum and the hoisin beef spareribs—each a $4 happy hour deal—will remain, due to popular demand.

Why you should stop in: Simple. Iza only started hosting a happy hour this September. It took off fast, and with the promise of a new menu geared even further toward pleasing your palate, we're anticipating Iza will be a pretty hot spot when the snow starts falling. Especially with that warm sake.

Where to find it: 529 S. Higgins Ave., right on the Hip Strip next to the Hob Nob.

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