There are more than a few legitimate reasons to eat extremely late at night (despite your doctor's warnings).
Some examples include:
You've stayed too long at the bar and need to line your stomach in preparation for the morning's inevitable hangover.
You plan on drinking more, and need to line your stomach for more drinking, as well as the morning's inevitable hangover.
You're just kind of hungry, and listen: you work hard and you're a good person and you deserve something nice for yourself before you settle down to sleep and that's totally OK.
And since chefs are people, too, they totally get it. But, they just happen to opt for some more sophisticated options than shredded cheese microwaved over Tostitos (not that there's anything wrong with that).
We talked to 25 of the nation's top chefs to see what they personally indulge in when the clock nears (or passes) midnight -- to help with hangovers, cap the day off on a high note, or just fully embrace the culinary hedonism that can come with being a professional chef -- and here are our findings.
Indulge carefully... and maybe keep some Tums on the nightstand.
"I’m not usually hungry throughout the day, most likely because I taste so many items while at work at Tanta, but once I head home late at night my first thought is 'what am I going to eat?' One of my favorite late night snacks since I was a kid is 'Salchipapa' -- the Peruvian street food. I remember going to the corner store as a kid as there used to be a small cart with a very kind gentleman who made the best Salchipapa in the neighborhood.
So once I have a craving for Salchipapa I start by peeling and cutting potatoes into wedges and frying them. After they’re fried I cook some Spanish pork sausage and break it up in the pan – it smells amazing and they have just the right amount of fat. I also cut a good beef hot dog into thin slices and let them cook along with a nice egg over easy finished with avocado, mayo, yellow mustard, ketchup, and Peruvian Aji sauce. Paired with a Riesling or a Lambrusco -- salchipapa is a perfect midnight snack." -- Giancarlo Valera, Tanta, (Chicago, Illinois)
The "big salad"
“After a long day, the easiest and most satisfying meal to make is a Seinfeld-style ‘big salad’! I love crunchy lettuce, so I make sure to have romaine hearts or iceberg lettuce in the refrigerator at all times. Cucumber, tomato, and red onion are always included but the key ingredients to bring this gem of a salad together are artichoke hearts, pepperoncini peppers, and hard salami. I top it off with a homemade dressing made out of red wine vinegar, olive oil, dried oregano and salt and pepper. The best part of this meal is that I put all ingredients into a huge pot, mix it up and eat it right out of the pot, no other plating necessary!" -- Tony Galzin, Nicky’s Coal Fired, (Nashville, Tennessee)
The fridge-cleaning fried rice
“My favorite late-night meal is refrigerator fried rice! I will mix whatever leftovers I have in the refrigerator with some rice, butter, soy sauce, and sambal. It is the best pre-hangover food and helps me clean out the refrigerator at the same time!” -- Greg Biggers, Fort Louise (Nashville, Tennessee)
The late (and simple) spaghetti
“One of my absolute favorite midnight snacks is Spaghetti Aglio Olio e Peperoncino. I love this dish because it is so simple, so delicious, and so easy to make. The dish is done within a couple of minutes and only consists of a few basic ingredients: Spaghetti with Garlic, EVOO, and Red Pepper. All of these ingredients are all items that I always keep home.” -- Simone Falco, SIMÒ Pizza and Rossopomodoro, (New York, New York)
The glutinous raging waffle sandwich
"Use leftover waffles or frozen waffles from your freezer to make a sandwich. Use a skillet to make a hot ham, bacon & American cheese waffle sandwich. Add lettuce, tomato, and a mustard, honey aoili sauce. If you want to get really fun with it you can also add crushed up potato chips drenched in hot sauce to your sandwich to offer a satisfying crunch." -- Jose Guerrero, ViewHouse (Denver, Colorado)
The "instead-of-fast-food" ramen
"My guilty pleasure is McDonald’s but when I’m home, my go-to is instant noodles. I’ll take Shin Ramyun, adding two cracked eggs into the boiling water. While that’s cooking, I fry up whatever protein I have in the fridge -- beef, pork, shrimp, spam -- or a combo of all of it. Once the noodles are done, I pair it with the protein and then add scallions and bean sprouts.” -- David Choi, Seoul Taco, (Locations all over Missouri and Illinois)
The doctor-approved meat wrap
“Right now, my favorite midnight snack, that also happens to be carb-free, is deli ham, salami or corned beef wrapped around Boursin cheese and a Claussen pickle! It’s easy, cold, and my doc would approve!” -- Ryan McCaskey, Acadia, (Chicago, Illinois)
The Elvis smoothie bowl
“I try to avoid cutting or burning myself at all costs, especially after midnight when I may or may not be inebriated. My current go-to late night favorite snack is an Elvis inspired smoothie bowl. With no sharp objects required, it starts with a heaping spoonful of peanut butter then topped with Greek yogurt and sliced bananas. I typically go on a full pantry raid looking for crunchy and chocolatey items. Some of my healthiest choices have included esoteric food erotica such as cacao nibs, wildflower honey, chia seeds, and Marcona almonds. On the flip side of my culinary scumbaggery, my preference shifts towards bacon bits, chopped up butterfingers, and a few more shots of amaro. Though whichever adventure I choose, this king size snack usually prevents me from getting sick all over my blue suede shoes or otherwise feeling like a hunka-hunka pile of burning poo.” -- Nick Korbee, Egg Shop (New York, New York)
The tacos, via leftovers
“Nachos are my favorite late night snack. I’ll combine all the tasty leftovers in the fridge -- shwarma, roasted chicken, short ribs, roasted veggies -- as well as freshly sliced avocados, a dash of sour cream, and cheese. Even late night I”ll go to my garden and pick my cilantro, chilies and tomatoes for a house made salsa. It’s a fairly simple recipe and only takes a few minutes!” -- John Lechleidner, WP24 by Wolfgang Puck ( Los Angeles, California)
The kitchen sink fried rice
“I almost always have leftover takeout rice, eggs and some random combination of Asian condiments in my refrigerator, so when I need a quick late-nick snack, I’m looking for some way to throw all those ingredients in a bowl. I just scramble eggs into the rice and cook slowly while I get all my other toppings together. My favorite combination is gochujang, toasted sesame seeds or togarashi, green onions, and cilantro. If I have any crunchy vegetables, I'll toss that in some rice vinegar and put it on top to feel better about my life choices!" -- Molly Martin, Juniper Green (Nashville, Tennessee)
The fried bologna sandwich... but fancier
“After a long night out on the town or just a long shift in the kitchen, my go-to is a good and messy fried bologna sandwich. The Sunnyside egg, cheese and bologna provide the perfect amount of protein and fat to help fight off a hangover! The bread helps too! It’s so good, in fact that we serve it in Bobby’s Garage Bar to make sure our guests are ready to go the next morning!” -- Jeff Axline, Tavern at Bobby (Nashville, Tennessee)
“Where I come from in Belgium we have something that is called a "frietkot" or translated a "fry shack." Every town has a couple of them and they are always open very late at night, definitely when there are bars in the neighborhood. I always get a small portion of Frites, topped with mayonnaise and beef stew sauce. The good ones sell mostly Belgian Frites and only a couple of other meaty snacks, all deep-fried.
"There is no other cooking equipment in the shack. If it is a good shack, they fry everything in beef tallow - and they serve Belgian beef stew, beef braised in brown beer, mustard and tart cherries (when I was young it was mostly braised horse meat, but they never tell the people). The sauce has to be sweet, salty and a little sour at the same time. You pour a little of the sauce over fresh Frites, top it off with some mayonnaise and done. You have to eat with your hands. I can eat it every day or night.” -- Dieter Samijn, Bar Boulud, (New York, New York)
The incredibly healthy option
“No junk or indulging late at night here. I usually go for raw vegetables as a late night snack -- cucumbers, carrots, or hearts of palm. Perfect balance and fiber for your body, and won’t make you feel bad the next day. If I have one too many negronis, I usually pop a milk thistle before I go to bed with plenty of sparkling water. Next morning, brand new, ready for another 14-hour shift.” -- Fernando Darin, Ray’s & Stark Bar (Los Angeles, California)
The "oozing cheesy goodness"
“My go to late night bite is what Italians call a 'piadina' which is a thin Italian flat bread and used to make pressed panini. Of course, I don’t always keep piadina on hand, but I improvise with an organic whole grain tortilla, which I always have in the fridge for my daughter’s school lunch. I put sliced fresh mozzarella and prosciutto, or ham or salami and fold it over like a quesadilla and griddle it with olive oil in a non-stick pan until crisp and oozing cheesy goodness." -- Luke Palladino, Sinatra at Wynn Las Vegas (Las Vegas, Nevada)
The "perfect world" tacos
“In a perfect world, I would have a least half an avocado, onion, bell pepper, cilantro, and eggs in my refrigerator alongside tortilla shells. I’d sauté all the vegetables together for a couple of minutes and place two or three scrambled eggs in the mix. Once that is cooked for a minute or two, add cilantro, salt and pepper and some cheese if I am feeling fancy. Throw it all into a tortilla, taco or burrito size, wrap it up and eat my worries away!” -- Jared Pollock, Walden (Nashville, Tennessee)
The New Mexican chicken salad sandwich
“One of my favorite things is to roast chicken, so we pretty much always have some cooked chicken in the fridge. Because of this, one of my late-night go-to’s is chicken salad for sure. I make a super simple chicken salad -- mayo (preferably Hellmann’s or Duke’s), tons of tarragon, salt and pepper. After the chicken salad, the bread is the most important part -- it's must be just white bread or a Big Marty's Seeded Bun, toasted only on one side. This is super important!
"But you can't just have chicken salad and bread -- I love condiments, and sauce, and stuff! So, I load mine up with Hatch Green Chile, which is a New Mexico thing, and because that’s where my better half is from, we always have some around!” -- Ian Maschal, Eventide Fenway (Boston, Massachusetts)
The "I'm too tired to cook again" option
“I have to be honest, after being in the kitchen literally all day, the last thing I want to do is go home and cook, but if I’m hungry, I keep frozen French bread pizza stocked in the freezer, spicy Korean Ramen, and my all-time favorite -- ice cream! I love any and all types of ice cream, drumsticks, frozen custard, and ice cream sandwiches.” -- Devin Hashimoto, Andrea’s at Wynn Las Vegas (Las Vegas, Nevada)
The quasi-Asian open-faced sandwich
"The main thing I crave when I get home is pretty basic, but delicious nonetheless. I put an over-easy egg on toast with butter and soy sauce -- kind of like an open faced sandwich. Growing up in a quasi-Asian household, soy sauce was always on the table much like people would have salt and pepper.
"For my mom, it was that 'I put that shit on everything' condiment, so the egg on toast with soy sauce was a constant for breakfast. Once I started cooking, I would get home and crave this! Mostly because it’s easy, but also because it’s delicious. I cut the whole thing into bite size portions which inevitably turns into a yolky, soy-saucy bread mash. It definitely satisfies and helps with that hangover the next day!" -- Benjamin Lacy, ArtScience Culture Lab & Café (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
The pretzel au jus sandwich
“I take all the flavorful drippings that come off of the wood burning grill throughout the evening and set them on the stove to slowly reduce with an easy 'self stir' made possible by a magnetic induction burner. I’ll add caramelized onions and make an incredible au jus for grilled gruyere sandwiches served on leftover pretzel buns.” -- Charlie Foster, Woods Hill Table (Concord, Massachusetts)
“Anything I don’t actually have to cook or heat up is always a safe bet after a late night. I usually always try to eat healthier in the evening, so I have no regrets in the morning! My absolute favorite late-night snack is a caprese salad with burrata and local tomatoes tossed in Sicilian olive oil, balsamic, sea salt, chiffonade of basil and fresh cracked pepper.” -- Andrew Garbarino, The Twisted Frenchman (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
The simple, comforting spaghetti cacio e pepe
"My favorite midnight snack is spaghetti cacio e pepe. After a busy service and feeding a lot of people, there is something comforting in the simplicity of it. Spaghetti cooked al dente, lightly toasted coarse cracked black pepper, fresh cracked black pepper, butter, and Pecorino Romano is simple perfection. I like to make my cacio e pepe a little creamy with some of the water that the pasta has been cooked in. For those who have never had it, it almost has a macaroni and cheese creaminess, and the coarse cracked pepper is perfectly balanced with the sharpness of the cheese.
"I make mine with about 2 tablespoons of butter, 4 oz of pasta cooking water, 20 turns of coarse ground pepper, 10 turns of fresh black pepper- not toasted, and about 4 oz of Pecorino Romano. One trick for cooking at home is to cook the pasta in a saute pan and lay the pasta sideways. This ensures even cooking, but it also makes the water more starchy for ensuring you get a nice sauce at the end. Also, don't cook the pasta anymore when you add the cheese." -- Adam Hill, Manzo (Eataly Flatiron) (New York, New York)
The chorizo scrambled eggs (with optional beer)
"Best enjoyed with a nice cold beer or two (add warm, buttered corn tortillas as a total power move!) -- I love this dish as a late night snack because breakfast at any other time than morning is always great, and what’s not to love about spicy food and beer late at night?” -- Andrew Wilson, The Emporium Kitchen & Wine Market (Savannah, Georgia)
The last-ditch sausage sandwich
“The idea of chefs cooking anything when they come home intoxicated is hilarious. A lot of us pick up our phones and order the fastest Chinese takeout. If I was forced to cook something, it would have to be a sausage sandwich.
"You heat a sauté pan and sear a bratwurst (or your favorite sausage). Afterwards, add sliced onions and peppers then crack open a beer; drink half and pour the other half in the pan with the sausage and vegetables. Once the beer is cooked, place the contents in a hero or sandwich roll, melt sharp provolone on top and there you have it! Don’t forget to turn off all cooking appliances before passing out!” -- Eric Rentz, Clinton Hall (New York, New York)
The classic steak Doritos combination
“When I come home from a late night out, I like to cook up a quick steak -- to make things super easy, I cook it in a pan with butter and McCormick seasoning salt, it gives the meat a great flavor and it takes no time at all! I serve it with a side of Doritos -- cool ranch to be exact. They count as a salad because they contain ranch.” -- Dan Sharp, The Meatball Shop (New York, New York)
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Wil Fulton is a staff writer at Thrillist and a passionate doer of other stuff. For more info, you'll have to do a free background check.