The Best of Silicon Valley 2012
Best Cocktails and Drink Specials
Best Inexpensive Pint
Mission Pizza & Pub
1572 Washington Blvd., Fremont. "No fear—it's only beer! Sitdown—shuddup." Right over the white-tiled bar appears this sage advice to the customers goggling over the positively heartbreaking selection of ales and beers on tap or in bottles at Mission Pizza Pub. The neighborhood, just off I-680, says "Bud," but the momentous selection of ales speaks of a whole different world. The amazing $3.49 happy hour (4-6pm daily) makes this the most economical way to check out the latest breakthroughs in ale-ology. Stick around—there's regularly scheduled live bluegrass Thursday-Saturday nights.
Best Unknown Happy Hour
211 S. First St., San Jose. This was a difficult decision, because why ruin a good thing? Mosaic's Happy Hour (5-7pm daily) has plenty of open seats at the bar, an attentive staff, big-screen TVs, $2 beers and half-priced appetizers, all in a comfortable upscale setting. We'll say that again: $2 beers. And we're not talking about paper cups, but glasses of real beer.
43 W. San Salvador St., San Jose. Singlebarrel brought mixology to the South Bay. Before it opened, many predicted this would just be an attempt to ape the cocktail-throwback movements in bigger cities. But there are no passwords, and you can talk to the bartenders without feeling like you're being judged for ordering something as straightforward (gasp) as a martini. And now that it just made USA Today's list of 10 places to have a drink underground, it's put South Bay cocktails on the map.
Original Joe's 301 S. First St., San Jose
The Grill on the Alley 172 S. Market St., San Jose
Azucar 71 E. San Fernando St., San Jose. Cocktailers whose fear of lime keeps them from trying a mojito need to discover the other 11 varieties cultivated at Azucar. Its mojito is so good, the club exports it, via the innovative "mobile beverage" catering.
Cascal 368 Santana Row, San Jose
Nola 535 Ramona St., Palo Alto
Multiple locations. Like the Matrix, no one can be told what an "Industrial Strength Margarita" is. You have to experience it for yourself. They're only on the menu at Aqui's; same for their "swirls"—a blend-in of sangria that makes this drink even more like candy. Add in the fact that there's a 16-ounce option, and it's powerful magic.
Pedro's 316 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 3935 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara
Mezcal 25 W. San Fernando St., San Jose
Best Wine Bar
1389 Lincoln Ave., San Jose. At one time, the Grapevine was the South Bay's best-kept wine-bar secret, but after a couple years of ruling this category—well, secret's out. What makes it so popular? Easy, it's the wine bar of the people. Both the wine and food are great and affordable, and there's a lot of free live music. If the bigger crowds have been getting to you, fear not: over the next month they're doing a remodeling and expansion.
Cin-Cin 368 Village Lane, Los Gatos
Enoteca la Storia 416 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos