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Kaya Happy Hour 

Ah, happy hour, that venerable after-work tradition of meeting friends for wings and beer ... What? You only like cocktails? You're a vegetarian? You don't drink alcohol?

Never fear. Pals and coworkers of every stripe can gather happily at Kaya, that little tropical oasis in the Strip District. The swanky Big Burrito Group restaurant offers a very generous happy hour Monday through Friday, from 5 to 7 p.m.

All the booze is half-off, there's an interesting slate of non-alcoholic drinks, and the snacks are sure to delight veggos and meat-eaters alike. Now that the sun is lingering well past the close of office and into the early evening, the outside seating will soon be at a premium.

Beer knows no season, but "We try to rotate beers pretty frequently," says bartender Joe Deck. "We've been rotating the frozen machine. Right now it's a sangria, it'll probably be a margarita soon." The biggest sellers, though, are the specialty cocktails: the "Tropical Refreshers."

The intriguing list includes plenty of hot-this-minute throwback vintage concoctions. The Dark and Stormy, a mix of rum and ginger beer, has been showing up on well-curated drink lists around the city a lot these days, and at $4.50 (half its usual nine bucks), it's an exotic potion that won't break the bank. Also on offer: the caipirinha, the Brazilian standard made from fresh lime and cachaça.

A couple of the cocktails use tea as a mixer, so they'll perk you up as they bring you down: The Earl Grey Mar-Tea-Ni mixes the flavorful brew with Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon and a sugar rim. Mint Julep Tea packs a wallop of Maker's Mark with mint, sugar and tea.

For the teetotaler -- or the driver -- any mojito can be made "virgin," or alcohol-free. There's also house-made limeade, Kaya juice and sorrel tea. Those aren't on special, but are only $3.50.

All that sipping is sure to work up an appetite. Deck says that the menu varies daily based on the produce they pick up that morning. On a sun-drenched afternoon when CP stopped in, a morel and local ramp sauté looked just about perfect. Tofu cracklins are a crowd-pleaser: It's a generous plate of crispy tofu bits served with peanuts, barbeque sauce and scallions. Yucatan hot bean dip fits the Caribbean theme nicely, and the Cuban pork sandwich enjoys fervent support among the city's meat-with-bread connoisseurs.

And mark the calendar for the upcoming Kaya Fest on May 24. It's a tropical-themed block party full of surprises, many of them sure to be yummy.

 

2000 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-261-6565.

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