Among the phrases most likely to trigger a human feeding frenzy, "prices slashed by 50 percent" is near the top of the list. That's why so many bars and restaurants draw crowds with half-price food specials, even if the food is mediocre and uninspired. But during brief windows of time each week, a few spots offer startlingly good deals for surprisingly good eats. For little money, you can dine well at some of the classiest places in town -- as long as you're in the know about these limited-time bargains. Reluctantly, we share the wealth.
Noir, the sleek bar at Harvard Square's Charles Hotel, has never had trouble attracting a late-night drinking crowd. But its after-work food sales were relatively slow. That changed dramatically when Noir introduced its "5-4-3-2-1-0" nibbles special, offered Monday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. Here's what those numbers mean: Excellent pressed and cold sandwiches (such as grilled chicken with pesto, tomatoes, and arugula, or a Maine crabmeat roll that's normally $12) are $5. Thin flatbread pizzas (including a sweet-salty one with dried peach, chevre, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar reduction) are $4. Tasty skewers of beef, chicken, or shrimp are $3. Salads are $2. Desserts (cookies, chocolate-covered pretzels, or strawberries with brown sugar and creme fraiche) are a buck. And mixed nuts are free. If there's a better deal around, I don't know what it is. N oir, 1 Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-661-8010. noir-bar.com
For most of the week, the miniature moat that surrounds the bar at FuGaKyu, a Japanese restaurant in Coolidge Corner, is filled with cute little boats carrying plastic sushi displays. But during "kai ten sushi" from 5 to 8 p.m. every Monday and Tuesday, the boats circle round and round with edible cargo. If you see something you like -- the selection includes sushi and maki made with spicy salmon, yellowtail tuna, soft-shell crab, tempura shrimp, sea eel, sweet potato, and more -- you pluck it off the boat. Each plate is $4. It's an ideal way to sample, and some customers compete over how many empty plates they can stack up. The record? "For a couple, probably 10 plates, maybe a little more," said floor manager Michelle Hung. "It depends on how crazy they go." FuGaKyu, 1280 Beacon St., Brookline. 617-738-1268. fugakyu.net
The Living Room, across from Christopher Columbus Park on the edge of the North End, tends to attract young, tan, skimpily dressed 20-somethings quaffing colorful cocktails. So it isn't the sort of place you'd expect to find quality food. That's why its half-price appetizer deal, every Monday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m., is such a tremendous find. Lots of other places offer discounted late-afternoon apps, but "it's garbage bar food," said manager J.B. Hauck. Not here. Choose among jumbo shrimp sauteed in beautiful saffron-butter sauce (normally $13); pan-seared sea scallops with frisee, wild mushroom salad, truffle oil and balsamic glaze (also normally $13); mini pulled pork sandwiches with caramelized onions and spicy barbecue sauce (normally $8); and avocado-shrimp egg rolls with Vietnamese sweet chili sauce (normally $10). One hitch: You have to eat in the lounge. The Living Room, 101 Atlantic Ave., Boston. 617-723-5101. thelivingroom boston .com
At Sorriso Trattoria, near South Station, Monday used to be the slowest dinner night of the week. Then the restaurant slashed the price of its 12-inch pizzas to $5 on Mondays from 5 to 9 p.m., and news of the dirt-cheap pies (they're usually $12 to $15) "spread like wildfire," said general manager Karleen Williams. Sorriso now sells at least 75 pizzas on a typical Monday, up from about 20 before, she said. And the choices aren't limited to boring cheese and pepperoni. There's spicy fennel sausage pizza with hot pickled cherry peppers. There's asparagus pizza with ricotta, mozzarella, and extra virgin olive oil. There's frutti di mare pizza with rock shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, and scallops (although, unfortunately, the flavors don't meld since the bland shellfish seems dumped atop the already-baked crust). And, in a creative touch, there's prosciutto-artichoke-olive pizza with a fried egg on top. Sorry: The bargain doesn't apply to pizzas to go. Sorriso Trattoria, 107 South St., Boston. 617-259-1560. sorrisoboston.com
With no TVs, no live bands, no darts, and no pool tables, Grendel's Den in Harvard Square needed a way to dissuade customers from taking their business to more action-packed pubs elsewhere. "Since you forgo the Red Sox when you come here," said owner Kari Kuelzer, "we wanted to provide an incentive to choose our bar to get a beer." Here's the enticement: Everything on the already-cheap menu is half-price from 5 to 7:30 p.m. daily (and, additionally, from 9 to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday). Thanks to this deal, the prices at Grendel's can be laughably low. Where else can you find a $4.50 grilled pork tenderloin, a $3 yellowfin tuna steak sandwich, or a $2.50 Greek salad? There are two catches. First, you must spend at least $3 on a beverage, but that can include soda or coffee. Second, you can't eat on the outdoor patio -- for bargains like this, we're willing to be trapped inside. Grendel's Den, 89 Winthrop St., Cambridge. 617-491-1160. grendelsden.com