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Magic at Chevys

The Emeryville chain's happy hour is highly underrated.

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The Spanish is, quite frankly, a mess. It's inconsistent, and inaccurate, and sometimes wholly hilarious: adjective-noun agreement is all off; -rita and -o are used as suffixes seemingly indiscriminately; sentences and dish names appear to be a completely made-up language. The music, moreover, is an odd mix of boilerplate Latin American pop and late-Nineties R&B smashes; the decor is exclusively Mexican-lite-by-way-of-Cost Plus-World-Market; and the food is nowhere near legitimately Mexican. So in case you were wondering: no sir, authenticity is clearly not a big concern at Chevys. Indeed, this is a chain — actually part of the largest chain of Mexican restaurants in the country — that wears its chaininess on its sleeve (literally: all the servers wear identical T-shirts advertising something called the "Cabo Wabo Rock 'N Rita!" in neon green). It's cheesy and loud and mass-produced and clearly focus-grouped in the way that all restaurants of its kind are.

That said, though: The Emeryville Chevys (1890 Powell St., 510-653-8210, Chevys.com) is easily the most underrated place to drink in all the East Bay. Consider, first of all, the view — a sweeping, heart-stopping vista of the bay (and, if you time it right, the setting sun), framed on the north side of the dining room by the soporific snake of headlights along Frontage Road and on the other by the tall buildings of Emeryville. This is a view that reminds you why you are here and makes you wonder why anyone else would live anywhere else, ever. This view is magic.

Also magic: During happy hour, you can get a (chain-restaurant huge) margarita for $3. Three dollars, people! And they're pretty strong, meaning that you can get appreciably wasted for what's basically pocket change. (Isn't corporate America the absolute best?) They also have other drinks —Tecate, Bud Light, Shock Top, and two kinds of Dos Equis on tap, plus a full bar including a truly impressive tequila selection — but the margaritas are clearly the main event here, occupying a full four pages of bar-menu real estate, plus a little placard on all the tables. There are peach, pomegranate, strawberry, blue agave, prickly pear (!), and spicy mango margaritas, plus a slate of schmancier variations made with various high-end liquor (notable inclusion: the aptly and hilariously named "High Rollerita," which comes with Patrón platinum, Grand Marnier, orange juice, and sweet and sour, for an absolutely insane $30). There are pitchers and glasses and rocks and blended; the mind reels with 'rita-related possibility.

A battery of scientific tests (not really) have concluded that the best bang for one's buck is the original rocks or frozen margarita, available by the well-size pitcher for $22 or by the glass for $6.50 (half that during happy hour, which runs an incredible four hours on weekends): it's straw-foilingly thick when frozen and adequately icy when served on the rocks, less sickly-sweet than most bar-made margaritas, and highly alcoholic. The spicy mango ($8) is sadly, not very spicy (though this is admittedly coming from the kind of person who dumps Tapatío into her salsa), though it's otherwise delicious: thick and alcoholic, sweet in a real-fruit way rather than a corn-syrup way. And the garmentally advertised Rock 'N Rita ($8) is even better, with Cabo Wabo blanco, chunks of real fruit, and a wonderfully tacky bright pink "watermelon sugar" rim that surely contains neither real sugar nor real watermelon but nonetheless manages to be completely delicious. Magic.

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