Dining

Secret Service

Where to get the best late-night food in the country
The Best Late-Night Dining in the U.S.
Tamarind orange chicken from a take-out window at Black Rabbit Rose, L.A. | Photo: Jakob Layman

Walk into The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn just before midnight on any Friday, and you won't see the tangles of tagliatelle with pork ragù or artfully plated vegetables this wine-soaked spot is known for. In their place are skewers of tsukune, or Japanese meatballs made with ground chicken, ginger and scallions, and lightly charred chicken hearts from the restaurant's late-night yakitori menu.

Over in Manhattan at Floyd Cardoz's Paowalla, night owls are digging into Bombay-style street snacks, like egg-washed rotis. Down in Atlanta at Ford Fry's pricey steak restaurant, Marcel, diners who show up after 11 p.m. are rewarded with an order of steak frites for just $12. And in L.A., a chef-run pickup window called Crying Tiger dishes out jade noodles until 2:30 a.m., when most of the city is asleep.

Across the country, chefs are using the hours that saddle midnight to try out new recipes and ideas, breathing life into late-night dining and putting greasy slices of pizza and overcooked burgers to shame. Like all-day breakfast and restaurants that open with butcher shops or bakeries attached at the hip, these menus are part of a major shift in modern restaurants that help owners afford rising rents and give diners better food options round the clock.

Come 11 p.m. at The Four Horsemen, "people were really hungry, but we didn't want to offer our full menu. It's so strenuous for the kitchen," chef Nick Curtola explains. He wanted to serve something that would pair well with the house's forward-thinking wine selection but wasn't content with cheese and charcuterie. When he came across Sasso chickens from a local butcher, he settled on a yakitori menu, which allows him to explore a cuisine he's long loved but never cooked professionally.

Cardoz is using the time to "celebrate lesser-known things from India," he explains. "Nobody knows about these unless you've been to India." He also points out that the special menu works, because "guests eat very differently today than they did traditionally. People want to eat and have fun." And that's especially true after drinks with friends or a long day at work.

It's never been a better time to stay up late—here's where to eat when you do.

A Taste of India After Hours

Paowalla, New York City

When Cardoz was a college student in Bombay, he and his friends would go out, often for a second dinner, around 1 or 2 a.m., snacking their way through the city streets on frankies, or egg-washed rotis wrapped around spiced meats, or on kottu roti, a dish of chopped and stir-fried roti with meat and spices. Missing those nights, Cardoz recently launched Paowalla on Fire, a menu dedicated to these dishes and others like lamb offal masala, which are hard to find in New York, giving diners a taste of a nightlife scene nearly 8,000 miles away.

At Paowalla in NYC, Floyd Cardoz is giving diners a taste of Bombay's night scene. | Photo: Katie Burton

When to go: Paowalla on Fire is served from 9:30 p.m. to close.

The Hottest Out of Town Chefs

Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York City

In the late-night dining scene, David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar is a legend, serving the full menu until closing at midnight or 1 a.m. But the best time to go is for the sporadic Late Night Dinner Series, during which executive chef Matt Rudofker invites chefs he admires, like Jeremy Fox from Rustic Canyon, the team from Chicago's The Publican and Michael Solomonov of Zahav, to cook at the East Village spot. The dinners often sell out, so keep your eyes open for tickets when they are announced. Next up? Daniel Patterson from LocoL and Coi in California on May 4.

When to go: The restaurant is open until midnight during the week and 1 a.m. on weekends. Seating times for the Late Night Dinner Series vary for each dinner.

Posole and Tecate to Sooth Your Soul

Comal, Berkley

Chef Matt Gandin says he used to "frequently cut out of work before the end of service," looking for something to eat before heading home. Unsatisfied with the options nearby, he added red posole, a classic Mexican soup with roots that date back 500 years, to his menu as an end-of-shift special. The recipe packs together chiles, chunks of pork and hominy, and comes with a plate of garnishes including cabbage, avocado, radishes and cilantro that's almost big enough to count as a salad. To balance it out, the $10 price tag includes a Tecate or a michelada.

When to go: The posole train departs at 9 p.m. and runs until closing.

A Taste of Tokyo

The Four Horsemen, Brooklyn

Early in the evening at this industry favorite, you'll find dishes like celery root with crab and tobiko caviar, designed to pair with the restaurant's intriguing wine list. But around 11 p.m., the kitchen team switches gears and transitions to yakitori, using every part of those Sasso chickens chef Curtola fell hard for. "I love that Japanese mind-set of showing off just one ingredient," he says. Oh, and those smoky flavors? They play nicely with natural wine.

The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn at night. | Photo: Rachel Vanni/Tasting Table

When to go: The late-night yakitori menu is available on Fridays and Saturdays starting at 11 p.m. 

Fresh-from-the-Oven Biscuits

Callie's Hot Little Biscuit, Charleston

After a night of revelry, few foods are as satisfying as biscuits (the richness-to-carb ratio ranks up there with a slice of pizza). The team at the original location of Callie's takes advantage of the local bar scene and opens the doors of this daytime bakery at 10 p.m. on weekends. While $3 will buy a pair of biscuits, the pro move is to order the sampler of all three biscuit varieties (buttermilk, cheese and chive, and shortcakes) to share with friends. If more sustenance is required, add black pepper bacon, fried chicken or blackberry jam.

When to go: Callie's on King Street stays open from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Late-Night's Ultimate Chef Burger

Eight Bar and Patio, Chicago

For those who can't swing the $145 I Don't Give a F*ck menu at Chicago's white-hot steak destination, Maple & Ash, there's a more affordable choice on the ground floor. And much like your coolest friend's house in high school, this is the place to hang after hours. Chef Danny Grant pares down his menu to dishes that will soak up just about anything you've been drinking (including the house cocktails named for the answers a Magic 8 Ball dispenses). Think: posole ramen with rice noodles and hominy, steak frites with bordelaise sauce if you're feeling fancy and a double-decker burger stacked with cheddar cheese that is a good order no matter the hour.

When to go: Eight Bar and Patio serves its late-night menu from 10 p.m. to midnight daily.

Where the Take-out Game Is Strong

Crying Tiger at Black Rabbit Rose, L.A.

There's a touch of magic at this themed bar, but perhaps the best trick is the late-night fare from the adjoining Crying Tiger take-out window that's operated by the team from L.A.'s beloved Luv2eat Thai. Here, the flavors of Thailand meet China in dishes like jade noodles with roast duck, tamarind orange chicken and braised squid in ink with rice. The dishes arrive at the bar's tables for those staying for a cocktail or can be grabbed to go from the window if you've been imbibing elsewhere and need something to dive into when you get home.

When to go: Crying Tiger's dishes are served at the bar at Black Rabbit Rose until last call, while the to-go window stays open until 2:30 a.m.

Feast like a Chef on a Budget

Marcel, Atlanta

A steak dinner at Ford Fry's two-year-old upscale steakhouse would count as a special occasion for most of us, but show up at 11 p.m. and nothing—not even a steak frites—tops $12. Duck confit poutine nods to Fry's college hangout in Vermont and fits the bill of what he and his team jokingly call "fat-kid food." Don't expect to be the only person seeking out Fry's special menu. "The restaurant empties out by 11, and then it just quickly fills back up," the chef says.

Duck confit poutine at Marcel in Atlanta | Photo: Mary Caroline Russell

When to go: Marcel serves its late-night menu from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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