Category Archives: Ballston

The Melting Pot

It’s a twister, a twister!!  A little tornado warning certainly didn’t stop last Friday’s happy hour.  We were going to venture outside of the Ballston bubble (to Clarendon – not far I know, ha), but given the weather we decided instead to just make a quick run across the street to The Melting Pot.  Arriving right around 5pm, it was empty in the first bar (didn’t venture around the restaurant too much, but the hostess mentioned a second bar).  We grabbed the largest table and started to weigh our options for drinks and food.  Being very adult, one of my coworkers ordered a bottle of white wine for the table (that amazingly filled 6 glasses).  It was tasty and priced at $28.  Don’t worry; there were cheaper wine prices.

The next challenge- picking fondue.  Opting for the cheddar cheese and jalapeño selections, our group was very pleased.  With no real rail drink happy hour special, I opted to splurge on a martini for my last drink…but not just any martini, a s’mores martini!  I don’t normally go for these specialty drinks, but this was a wise selection.  Certainly didn’t need any chocolate fondue with a drink like this.  The oreo-covered marshmallows were a perfect topping.  As our happy hour group grew to a total of 9 people, we decided to get two more selections of fondue – the spinach-artichoke mixture and the season special.  During happy hour, the fondue is half-priced.  Now normally all of this still would have been fairly expensive, but luckily one friend had a Groupon that she was generous enough to share :-).  It also probably didn’t hurt that we were fairly engaging with our waitress.  All together we each tossed in about $10.

Does Melting Pot have a great bar scene for mixing with strangers? No, haha.  It was a great place to come with a group of friends though.  While I assume the normal demeanor is fairly reserved, our group was a little on the rambunctious side and lived up the establishment.  I wouldn’t come here all the time for happy hour due to the prices, but I will definitely be back to indulge in some comfort food and quality drink :-).

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El Ranchero

Before you all lose faith in my drinking abilities, I assure you I’ve just been lazy about writing reviews (yes, I have 2-3 other reviews currently in my back pocket for a rainy day).  This week, I ventured to El Ranchero with coworkers.  We attended for a Thursday happy hour, which was a nice change of pace from the extended Friday Happy Hour.  Arriving a little after 5:30pm, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and sat outside. They have a small part of the sidewalk in front of the restaurant dedicated for about six tables.  After we were quickly set up outside, our quirky waiter introduced us to the wonderful deals the establishment offered and took our order.  The deals we most certainly took advantage were $4 margaritas and $1 tacos.  These margaritas were quite tasty and our table got the full array (regular, strawberry and peach).  Personally, I spent the night sipping down peach margaritas, but sampled the others and can assure you of the overall quality.

After getting our initial round of drinks, our taco medley started to arrive.  These may not be gourmet tacos, but for $1 apiece, it’s really hard to complain.  The beef tacos were definitely better than the chicken or bean tacos…or maybe that was just the anticipation because we had a slightly longer wait for them.  To our misfortune, the beautiful weather faded, the clouds rolled in and so did the rain.  We were forced to continue inside.  The interior of the restaurant/bar was quaint.  El Ranchero has a distinct bar area and table area.  What started as us (a slightly loud/rambunctious group) entering a relatively quiet dining area, with time and more patrons, the area transformed to something more homogenous with our group’s attitude – drink and eat cheap tacos.  Now for the nitty-gritty, while I did enjoy this happy hour, the service was not the best.  El Ranchero let some things slip through the cracks – simple things like frequency of the waiter checking on potential refills, forgetting to bring us napkins, the assumption with the rain we would be leaving rather than moving inside, and then being slow with bringing the check.  Don’t get me wrong; I did like the laid-back atmosphere here.  However, if you or your friends are in a hurry (are impatient at all), you might want to reserve El Ranchero for another night.  Given El Ranchero’s proximity to my work, the nice outdoor seating and delicious (yet reasonably priced) margaritas, I would most certainly come back.

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Caribbean Breeze

Friday was absolutely gorgeous outside.  Given the amazing nature of the day, my coworkers were anxious to go to a happy hour with outdoor seating.  The establishment that was selected….Caribbean Breeze.  One of my coworkers and I arrived slightly before the rest of the group to get a feel for the place.  As you enter, you have the choice of being seated at a table inside (the restaurant area), sitting inside at the bar, or going to the outside area. The outside bar area is essentially a portion of the sidewalk blocked out for the restaurant.  It’s not directly on the street, which is nice and provides some privacy, but still open at the same time.  We initially ventured to the outside bar area and looked to claim a table for the rest of our coworkers.  A server then rudely greeted us and said that we could only sit down at a table if we were going to order food.  This was 5pm on a Friday…almost all the tables were empty and people were surrounded at the bar standing all because they have a seemingly pointless requirement of ordering food in order to sit down.  Someone should tell them that people would stick around longer, order more drinks and potentially order food if they aren’t restricted right off the bat.  After this not so pleasant interaction, we decided to wait at the inside bar until others arrived.  Sitting at the bar was really no better.  It took us 10 minutes to get served.  If it were a crowded late night, I might understand this, but it was very mellow and the bartenders were just slow in terms of service.

Upon finally getting our drink orders in, we were definitely pleased with the quality of the drinks.  I ordered one of their mojitos on special for $5.  My friend ordered a dragon fruit mojito, which was also very tasty, but a bit pricier at $8.50.  Fresh mint and sugar cane in the glass only added to the summery feeling on Friday.  More coworkers arrived shortly and we did finally sit down outside (but only because they ordered a few appetizers).  In terms of service outside, it could have been better.  The staff was not very attentive to new people arriving, taking drink orders, or taking away finished drinks.  Overall, while Caribbean Breeze might have tasty products and offer an aesthetically pleasing layout/seating options, the service is downright poor.

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Uncle Julio’s

My coworkers and I decided to try a little variation from our normal Friday Happy Hour spot last week.  We ventured to Uncle Julio’s in Ballston for a taste of their margaritas.  Arriving just after 5pm, the bar was fairly filled, at least to the point where the five of us couldn’t find a seat there.  Luckily, we were able to sit in the relatively vacant restaurant area (that would later fill up) and still get the happy hour specials.

Mango MargaritaStrawberry Margarita

While we debated on drink orders, it was nice to be able to chow down on tortilla chips and salsa.  This was refilled throughout the visit.  For the first round, everyone ordered a margarita of some variation.  These were priced at a $2.25 discount from the regular price.  My frozen strawberry margaritas rang up as $6 a piece.  I will say this did come as quite the surprise when the check came because the server initially stated that all margaritas were $2.25 (rather than the $2.25 discount).  The drinks around the table were almost all good…with one exception.  The swirl drink was unanimously decided that it tasted like chemicals (more specifically how dog shampoo smells).  Luckily, my friend spoke up to the server and the manager was very nice about coming to speak with us.  He exchanged the drink at no extra charge. Do NOT go to Uncle Julio’s and order the swirl….trust me.  As previously mentioned, the restaurant area quickly filled up with patrons looking for dinner and different intentions than our group’s intention of drinking.  If you do go to Uncle Julio’s just be aware that Friday nights can be rather family-oriented in the restaurant area and you should probably just stay in the bar area if looking for a strictly young crowd.

Dog Shampoo Swirl Margarita

Prior to coming to Uncle Julio’s I was warned of food that was on the expensive side, but that they had cheap drinks.  After visiting, my impression was so-so.  While the staff was friendly and well-intentioned, the terrible drink and miscommunication of happy hour prices left Uncle Julio’s with a warning strike.  If you’re in Ballston, I’d recommend Chevys over Uncle Julio’s for drinks at least.

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The Greene Turtle

The Greene Turtle Exterior

The Greene Turtle may not be flashy, but it certainly is consistent…so far.  I will start this with a caveat that I have only been to the Greene Turtle location in Ballston.  Yes, it may be a trek for you DCers, but I’d certainly hope the other locations could provide a similar experience.  The Ballston location is fairly new, yet it is quickly becoming a favorite work happy hour location of mine.  The happy hour offers $2 rail drinks and $2 domestic beers on tap (select kinds – it’s nothing fancy, but certainly incredibly cheap). The happy food specials are fairly decent.  A gigantic basket of pub fried (with tons of bacon!) is $5.  Well worth it, if you ask me. I have personally not been disappointed with any of the other food I’ve sampled from my coworkers’ plates.

A coworker's standard drink - an Irish Trashcan

The layout of the restaurant is slightly strange and almost everyone I’ve been there with has commented that they could use more bar space.  There is a fair amount of restaurant seating, but the bar gets packed and loud fairly quickly on Friday evenings.  I can’t imagine how this sports bar handles the crowds during big games.  Luckily, our office is less than a 5-minute walk away and someone can generally get there early enough on a Friday to get a table in the bar area.  There are TVs all around the place so as to ensure that you will not miss your favorite sporting event.  I overheard someone saying that it has about 50 TVs throughout the establishment.  If you can’t see the sporting event you are looking to watch, I’m assuming that only reason would be because it’s some obscure sport.

The overall atmosphere at Greene Turtle is jovial and laidback. The wait staff certainly adds to this experience.  They are attentive and more than willing to engage in conversation…that or maybe I just have a very chatty group of coworkers, haha.  I will specifically call out our waitress this past Friday, Kathryn, who memorized everyone’s name just when checking our IDs.  She made our extended happy hour an even better one.  The Greene Turtle is a great experience for big or small groups of people.  The only caveat with larger groups is that you might want to go earlier rather than later to ensure bar seating.  I have never been there that late, but I’ve been told that a DJ starts spinning around 10pm.  There isn’t actual dancing space so I’m not completely certain the purpose of this, but if it’s good music, I will stop sipping the hater-ade.  The Greene Turtle can boast it’s friendly and attentive service, affordable happy hour drinks, and awesome appetizers. I will definitely continue to come here with coworkers.

Vodka Tonic

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