What is it about the night that brings out that primal urge to indulge in the greasiest, fattiest fast-food meals we can get our equally greasy, fat hands on? Perhaps it's the mysterious light of a full moon. Or the promise of adventure that every gust of witching-hour wind brings.
But actually, it's probably the booze.
That said, you aren't always in decision-making mode when hitting up your favorite fast-food chain post-midnight. That's why we consulted Thrillist's expert late-night gourmands for the perfect late-night orders at America's best fast-food chains. And by "best" we mean "the ones that are open after midnight."
Order: Large Beef N Cheddar, curly fries, mozzarella sticks You’ve got a 50/50 shot of an Arby’s being open after midnight, but it’s a shot worth taking, if only because the chain’s mozzarella sticks are legit as good as sticks you’d get at like 90% of bars and the curly fries are perhaps the best in the entire fast food game -- crispy, unnaturally seasoned, adorably curved bites of fast food bliss. They go great with the oversized Beef N Cheddar, a tremendous half pound of Arby’s signature, off-color beef sandwiched between a onion-flecked bun and covered in cheddar goo and Arby’s Sauce, which may or may not just be modified ketchup. The sandwich is delicious, but the beautiful alchemy that happens when the red Arby's sauce and cheddar meld and drip onto your wrapper might just constitute the ultimate fry dip. And if you’re one of those haters who pretends to not like Arby’s, heed this: Even if you skip the beef, even if you skip the fries, you owe it to yourself to at least try those mozzarella sticks. One bite, and even Jon Stewart would be thinkin' Arby's. -- Andy Kryza
Order: Original Chicken Sandwich -- two of 'em -- and a Sundae Pie Burger King seems almost sadistically committed to making you forget about its signature Original Chicken Sandwich, practically packing its menu with enough alternative poultry options tempt Gonzo into cheating on Camilla. There are chicken filet sandwiches ranging from vaguely Italian to brazenly ‘Murican (a sandwich with fried chicken, onion rings, bacon, cheese, BBQ sauce, and mayo). There are grilled chicken options. A box of 400 nuggets for like $.73. Chicken fries. Chicken tenders.
Yet through it all, it’s the bizarro Original Chicken Sandwich that remains king in a world of burgers and false idols. It makes no sense why the sandwich oblong, basically a chicken nugget engineered to perfectly fit in a sesame-seeded hoagie bun. But once you take a bite, all sense is abandoned for pure dopamine. The chicken is unnaturally juicy, sending sprays of extremely salty flavor into your mouth as if a tsunami struck a henhouse. It’s flecked haphazardly with pepper. It’s got enough mayonnaise to make a Costco-sized bucket of potato salad. It’s perfect. Never forget, even if BK seems to want you to. Get two. No sides necessary, unless you want to count a Sundae Pie as a side, which you probably do. -- AK
Order: Double Cheeseburger & Spicy Chicken All Star Meal In the ultimate act of defiance against his puritanical father, the oppressive Carl Sr., Carl’s Jr. launched the concept of a chicken sandwich as an acceptable side item for a burger a few years back, igniting a fast-food arms race over who could cram the most stuff in a cardboard box, slap a $5 or under price tag on it, and watch the knuckle-draggers flock. Well, drag our knuckles we did. Gladly. Because late at night, decisions are hard. So Carl the Younger makes that decision for you, offering up a flame-broiled double cheeseburger, a spicy chicken nugget on a bun, fries, a cookie, and a drink all in one big box you need only grumble to obtain. It’s still a wonder of value and excess, two things that go together like, well, chicken and beef. Especially at midnight. -- AK
Order:Five tacos, lots of water While Del Taco slings non-taco options (its burgers are severely underrated), you go to Del Taco late night to sate your need for cheap-AF fast Mexican. Sadly, one cannot simply choose a solitary taco from Del Taco's labyrinthian menu. And choosing two is still pretty hard. Variety is the spice of life, and tacos are the spice of variety. So opt for choosing at least five. Start with the street taco -- late nights and street food go together like beer bongs and the backseat of my mom's Chevy Tahoe at an O.A.R. concert parking lot. Work your way into beer-battered fish, then hit up the super-filling flatbread taco.
You'll likely still have room in your gut, so dive into the crunchy Del, and then the soft Del (in that specific order). Before you go, order one more soft Del, TO GO. You might not feel great the next morning, physically, but spiritually you should be able to reach a new plane of existence. At least till your hangover kicks in. And that's what the last, to-go taco is for. You forgot to chug the water! -- Wil Fulton
Order:Ham, egg, and cheese on an English muffin; two leftover donuts; a pile of free bagels (if you can get 'em); large latte All-day breakfast sandwiches are a glorious reality across fsat food-dom. But Dunkin's been doing it since the days when the prospect of a 3pm McMuffin involved a microwave and deep disappointment. Dunkin's all breakfast, all the time. So when you go at night, order enough breakfast sandwiches, coffee, donuts, and bagels to trick your body into thinking it's early morning again.
The croissants and bagels are fine vessels for any ingredients, but the real breakfast MVP is its ham, egg, and cheese English muffin, which has plenty of nooks and crannies to cradle that tasty melted cheese. Some DD's make donuts all day, and some just have whatever wasn't sold from that morning. But more than likely they'll have eclairs and old-fashioned cake donuts left. It's just the delicious sugar rush you need late night to stay up a few more hours. And you'd be selling yourself short if you didn't wash it all down with that classic DD coffee. A large latte comes with about a gallon of milk and 47 sugar packets anyway -- boost that blood-sugar! -- and we wouldn't have it any other way. Since you'll be hungry again in a few hours, get some bagels to go. If you ask nicely after hours, they might even be free. -- Lee Breslouer
Jack in the Box
Order:Chick-N-Tater Melt Munchie Meal There's a distinct joy when you order regular fries, only to discover a few curly fries have snuck into the box. So it's with great pleasure that we report Jack in the Box not only designed an entire late-night menu with post-drinking/pre-hangover food in mind, but also includes fries that are a 50/50 blend of curlies and straights.
This sandwich, too, is like somebody raided your fridge at night and put everything great together: two fried chicken patties, a three-cheese sauce, abrasively cheap ranch, and bacon all get crammed between a croissant. You'll basically be wearing it before you leave, especially since the croissant (!!) is about as sturdy as your legs after a night out. Bonus points? It also comes with two tacos. Unfortunately, they're gross. But whatever. It's a side of tacos. Worst-case scenario, you just made a homeless dude's night. -- AK
Order:McDouble, 20-piece McNuggets, small order of fries, vanilla ice cream If daytime at McDonald's is a time to appear respectable and order a legit meal like a Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich (it's got veggies on it), then late night is a time to throw your burdensome sophistication to the wind. Hell, you're probably in a drive-thru on the far side of town, so your regular location's staff doesn't witness what you're about to do.
Since it's late no one will even be around to fault you for treating your 20-piece chicken McNuggets as the entrée and the cheesy, cheap McDouble as a mere appetizer. A lil' pro tip for your McNuggets: Get the creamy ranch and spicy Buffalo sauces and mix them together for something that feels so close to gourmet, you'll almost be tempted to tell a fellow adult about it. -- Adam Lapetina
Order: Mild tenders, biscuits, cajun fries Look, it’s late. You want fried chicken. But there’s baggage. Specifically, bones. Lots of bones. Said bones are choking hazards to folks who are voraciously wolfing down some of the world’s most beloved fried chicken. And they’re also a telltale sign of late-night regret when you wake up and find them scattered all over the table, or stinking up the garbage. That’s where Popeyes tenders come in. They’re arguably the best tenders in the game -- flaky, juicy, explosively flavored -- and perhaps the ultimate late-night fast food order. The fries are basically garnish, but don’t overlook the biscuits, which can be consumed in all their naked, buttery glory, or used to engineer little sliders out of the chicken tenders (get honey… lots of honey). -- AK
Order:Cheeseburger, tots, Oreo cheesecake shake Sonic is famous for its commercials with two guys sitting in a car in the daytime, leisurely chatting while freaking out about tater tots. Real Sonic fans know that the food is more commonly consumed inside a sedan with seven hungry people at 12am.
You don't go to Sonic simply for the burgers. Sure, the burgers are solid -- the cheeseburger is the backyard burger that'd be welcome at anyone's backyard BBQ. And obviously the crispy tots are a must. But to appreciate Sonic, you must order the specialty drinks you can't get anywhere else, like a frozen lemonade or Candy Slush made with Jolly Ranchers. Still, since there isn't a better fast-food milkshake on the planet, you're going with the Oreo cheesecake shake. Its ice cream base is loaded with graham cracker crumbs and pieces of Oreo, all topped by a tower of whipped cream. It's a creamy, chocolaty, graham crackery marvel you can only order at one wacky roller-skating-obsessed fast-food joint. -- LB
Steak 'n Shake
Order:Frisco Melt with fries If you go with a traditional Steakburger here no one will fault you. If you go with a shake, you'll probably come to regret it, as they're delicious but rather large. However, the booze-soaking magic of the Frisco Melt is truly something to experience. This patty melt-esque creation packs two smashed burger patties, Swiss and American cheeses, and "Frisco sauce" (it's red and tangy!) between generously buttered slices of sourdough. Throw in a heaping helping of the slightly-skinnier-than-normal but highly addictive fries, and you're right back to even. -- ML
Order: Footlong turkey breast Look, it’s late. Do you really want to play Russian roulette with your digestive system by ordering a Steak & Cheese after hours, or risk turning your shirt into a tie-dye courtesy of the Meatball? Nah. Play it safe. Get that turkey. It's one of the best, most reliable things on the menu. Load it up with whatever you want. You’ll be full, you’ll be content, and you will walk away with zero repercussions. -- AK
Order:Crunchwrap Supreme, hard-shell Taco Supreme, cinnamon twists You could argue that every dish on T-Bell's menu is a prime pick for Fourthmeal, but three things stand out more than a talking Chihuahua with a crippling taco addiction. The first is the beloved Crunchwrap Supreme, a crispy quesadilla-esque delight filled with beef, nacho cheese, lettuce, tomato, and a crunchy tostada shell. Next up is a hard-shell Taco Supreme: Sure, you could opt for the soft shell, but the hard shell is THE exemplary taco of the franchise. Lastly, for a mere $1 you'd be wise to order some cinnamon twists. The sweet and cinnamon-y flavors are the perfect extinguisher to the seven packets of Fire Sauce you've drowned your taco in, and the ideal extra lining to coat your stomach.
But if you're in a hurry, just, you know, get a Taco 12-Pack and call it a night. -- Alex Robinson
Order:Multiple taquitos Whataburger makes a damn fine burger (it's in the name), but late night at this Texas-born, 24-hour haven for the hungry is strictly taquito time. Fine, not really -- it'll still serve you a burger if you want one, but most people will be taquito-ing.
You know those skinny, rolled-up numbers you get in the freezer section? Forget about them, because these are nothing like that! Basically, you're talking about perfectly sized little breakfast burritos with a pillowy flour tortilla, better-than-they-should-be scrambled eggs, melty cheese, and the breakfast additive of your choice. Bacon or sausage make fine choices, but the tater tot-like hash browns are sneaky-fantastic. If you're the hungry type, taking down one of each isn't totally unreasonable. There's a reason the good people at Whataburger serve them from 11pm-11am. -- ML
Order: The Crave Case Is a small sack of steamed, onion-flecked White Castle greatness going to be enough? No. Is a cardboard suitcase packed with 30 of the sweaty bastards too much? Probably. But at this hour, it's better to have more than less. And if you find yourself with a surplus, you can definitely share. Or just blare "Sabotage" by noted Whiteys enthusiasts The Beastie Boys and run around like the Crave Case has a bomb in it. Worst-case scenario, you can always freeze the leftovers. -- AK
Order:Two Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers, small fries, small Frosty The JBC is indisputably the best value on the Wendy's menu and a delight at absolutely any time of day. But its value increases even further in the witching hour, when that slightly sweet bun and the saltiness of the bacon hit just the right notes. Also, there's just enough vegetation to convince you that you aren't making a terrible mistake. And while loading up on dairy isn't the best late-night idea, you obviously can't bypass the fry-Frosty opportunity. Luckily sticking to a small on both yields just the right amount. -- ML
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