Want to try Ap­ple­bee’s new dol­lar cock­tail? Be­ware

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Avoid gas sta­tion sushi. Be sus­pi­cious of dol­lar store meat.

Never, ever visit a buf­fet after 8 p.m.

Those are all truths I hold firm as a pro­fes­sional food writer of 20 years.

Avoid­ing the dol­lar cock­tails at Ap­ple­bee’s of­fi­cially joined that list this week.

I’m mov­ing my re­la­tion­ship sta­tus with the monthly cheap cock­tail spe­cials at Ap­ple­bee’s from “com­pli­cated” to “kicked to the curb.”

It took three tours to get there.

Last De­cem­ber, I called the chain’s dol­lar Long Is­land Tea dol­lar cock­tails a lit­tle like Moun­tain Dew mixed with gin­ger ale, Crys­tal Light and rocket fuel (it was ap­pro­pri­ate that the res­tau­rant called them L.I.T. for short).

In Fe­bru­ary, I de­scribed the dol­lar Ba­hama Mama cock­tails as hav­ing the as­sertive scent of 80s-era sun­tan lo­tion that reeked of fake co­conut.

This month’s dol­lar cock­tails — called “The Dol­lar Jolly” and avail­able through Dec. 31 — are a merge of vodka and seem­ingly straight-from-as­podie mixer al­legedly mod­eled after cherry and green ap­ple Jolly Rancher candies.

Was the cor­po­ra­tion be­hind Jolly Rancher hard candies even part of the fla­vor de­vel­op­ment for this one? I’ve al­ways liked those candies.

Th­ese, in no way, re­sem­bled a Jolly Rancher — or a drink­able cock­tail. I call shenani­gans. It tasted more like a cor­po­rate team-up with NyQuil. The cock­tails even had the same cough syrup ef­fect. The af­ter­taste elicited a pro­nounced shud­der and quickly in­duced sleepi­ness and a light headache. I will point out that a Dol­lar Jolly is far cheaper than NyQuil at one dol­lar a 10-ounce glass.

Lucky me, I brought along a gag­gle of jour­nal­ists, so of course every last sip was fin­ished. Re­porters are not waste­ful when it comes to booze on the com­pany dime.

One re­porter called the green ap­ple ver­sion some­thing like wa­tered down Crys­tal Light. I’d say that was kind of ac­cu­rate, so long as “bad Korean soju” and “su­gared dish­wa­ter” also were listed with that de­scrip­tion.

We agreed the green ap­ple fla­vor was su­pe­rior to the cherry fla­vor, but that’s only be­cause there was some kind of men­thol-like top note in the cherry ver­sion that we all found un­ap­peal­ing.

Both cock­tails were elec­tric red and green, which seemed ap­pro­pri­ate for fla­vors not found in na­ture. They’re also fes­tive. So, so very fes­tive.

OK, OK. I’m be­ing pretty harsh here.

Let me soften this up a bit be­cause I love food, but I’m no food snob.

The no-strings-at­tached bev­er­ages fit a spe­cific need. There’s no min­i­mum pur­chase or add-on menu items re­quired for what I’m gen­er­ously call­ing “strug­gle cock­tails.”

I ap­plaud a res­tau­rant for of­fer­ing cheap eats and drinks dur­ing a time when $45-per-per­son Brazil­ian buf­fets are open­ing in Ta­coma. Not ev­ery­one can af­ford an $11 cock­tail or a $45 buf­fet.

This I also know: Ap­ple­bee’s of­fers an up­beat sound­track, an inof­fen­sive menu of be­nign Amer­i­can eats and al­ways friendly ser­vice no mat­ter if a tab is $6 or $60. You can bring your boss, your picky sis­ter-in-law, your hi­lar­i­ous aunt or your chil­dren, and ev­ery­one will find some­thing to eat at Ap­ple­bee’s.

At happy hour, three half-price ap­pe­tiz­ers and four $1 cock­tails are about $20, in­clud­ing tax and tip. Where else can a group of four strug­gling (21-yearold) stu­dents get a cock­tail and apps for $20? I can’t think of a sin­gle an­swer in Ta­coma.

A seg­ment of Ta­coma din­ers are be­ing priced out of our lo­cal res­tau­rant mar­ket, and I find that end­lessly frus­trat­ing.

So dol­lar drinks clearly have their time and a place: Broke peo­ple who don’t care what their booze tastes like. We’ve all been there. Strug­gle cock­tails are real.

My job here is to tell you about din­ing bar­gains, no mat­ter your in­come level.

If you’re strug­gling, I feel you. Here’s where to get good, cheap food when you need it from lo­cally owned restau­rants that make ter­rific food.

Friendly Foods/Euro­pean Del­i­cates­san in Ta­coma sells $1.49 potato or cab­bage piroshki and $1.59 chebu­reky week­days at lunch (3612 Cen­ter St., Ta­coma; 253-752-5649).

Ta­coma’s best se­lec­tion of tamales is at Los Tamales in East Ta­coma. Chicken, pork, jalapeno-cheese and more fla­vors are $1.99 each, with a serve-your­self salsa bar (1018 72nd St. E., Ta­coma; 253-301-0849).

House of Man­doo in Lake­wood has pork, sweet bean or kim­chi-pork Korean dumplings for $2.50 each and they’re huge. (In­side Paldo World, 9701 South Ta­coma Way, Lake­wood; 253-267-0609).

From 2-5 p.m. at Ta­coma’s Ta­que­ria El Sa­bor, get 97-cent pork or chicken tacos (1636 S. Mil­dred St., Ta­coma; 253-565-0501).

Paste­les Fi­nos del An­gel in South Ta­coma has 40-cent cook­ies that are but­tery, snappy and de­li­cious. (5102 S. Wash­ing­ton St., Ta­coma; 253-448-2649).

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