I’m checking out a new happy hour in Madison every other week with my girlfriend, Abby. I’ll report on the hits, misses, and best deals. Suggest your favorite happy hour via email.
Canteen was the first restaurant Abby and I tried when we moved here in August, and it was the first in a series of positive experiences we’ve had at Mexican restaurants in Madison. For reasons unclear to us, we’ve found the Mexican food more consistently delicious here than in the California’s Northern Sacramento Valley, where taco trucks are parked on every other street corner. Go figure.
We recently revisited Canteen, which is located in a funky triangular building near the Capitol. It’s a clean, colorful and stylish place with a floor-to-ceiling mural of flowers and a long bar facing Hamilton Street. On this particular Sunday afternoon, the place was nearly empty. There was a soggy-looking NFL Pro Bowl game on the TV over the bar and winter cityscape in the window.
You’d expect such a place to be pricey, but it’s not, at least when you go for happy hour (which also runs late night on weekends!). Most drinks are half price, including wine, house margaritas and pints of Pacifico. There’s also $2 cans of Tecate, to which you can add a shot of bartender’s choice tequila or mezcal for $3 more. We decided to split a strawberry “daquirito” for $4.50, a margarita made with rum and tequila and served on the rocks with salt on the rim.
On a downer note, there isn’t any food on the happy hour menu. But at $6 for two tacos, it’s entirely possible to have a decent meal for two — with happy hour drinks — for under $20. And that’s nothing to sneeze at, you know? So we ended up getting a tasty chicken burrito and fried cauliflower tacos anyway.
The big takeaway: Canteen is a great place for a quick, light bite. And it’s surprisingly affordable given its style and location. The creative and colorful margaritas match the decorations, and the tacos are small but satiating and delicious. As a restaurant on the Square with inexpensive food and a late-night happy hour on weekends, Canteen is also an excellent choice for post-bar pilgrimages.
Happy hour: 2-5 p.m. everyday and 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday