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 the most clear state of mind 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 "open after midnight."
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.
Order anything off the Dollar Menu and you won't be disappointed value-wise. 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 $1 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: 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: 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. -- Andy Kryza
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. -- Lee Breslouer
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. -- Matt Lynch
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
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
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: Ham, egg, and cheese on an English muffin, two leftover donuts, a pile of free bagels (if you can get 'em), large latte
Yes, Dunkin' offers dinner-type sandwich options that include chicken salad and steak wraps. But the beauty is in DD's glorious array of breakfast options. 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. -- LB
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: Classic grilled dog, onion rings, a mix of every soda in the machine
Burger King is home of the flame-broiled Whopper, right? Nah, son. The fast-food hot dog has emerged at BK as a true contender to the namesake's throne -- and in my humble opinion, it's eclipsed it. If you're hitting BK after a night on the town, you need to take advantage of this wiener (hehe). Ditto for the onion rings. It's late: Get idiosyncratic. Why get something you can get anywhere else? And while you're at it, try mashing together every single soda flavor in the machine like you're 8. It goes exceedingly well with a flimsy paper crown, plus a handful of onion rings paired up with a hot dog you never knew you needed. -- WF
Order: Animal Style fries, Animal Style Double-Double, Neapolitan shake
Everyone loves this West Coast staple (well, not everyone), and most people really love this West Coast staple after a night of comparing screenplay notes. By Animalizing both your two-tiered Double-Double and your fries (part of In-N-Out's not-so-secret menu) you get the core tenants of their bare-bones menu, fully pimped out (Xzibit-style) with totally-not-Thousand-Island-dressing, melted cheese, and grilled onions. And obviously, since no late-night throwdown should be desert-less, you're going to need to line up a Neapolitan shake to make sure you don't choke on the sheer beauty of your meal (pro tip: don't get the shake Animal-ed).
Somehow, the combination of the burger, cheese, chocolate/vanilla/strawberry ice cream, and Animality becomes a panacea for all alcohol-related ailments -- sucking out the toxins and replacing them with rays of pure California sunshine. I mean, I think that's what happens. Look, I'm not a doctor. -- WF
Order: Beer cheese bacon Thickburger, beer cheese bacon fries, chocolate malt
If you thought Carl's Jr./Hardee's existed solely to create Super Bowl ads with women in varying degrees of undress… you're only kind of wrong. They also make solid burgers. And recently, they decided to start covering those burgers with beer cheese.
For the uninitiated (shame!) beer cheese is sharp, melted yellow cheese mixed with garlic, indeterminate spices, and beer. And after a night swilling pints, why wouldn't you want to incorporate a little booze into your cheese-centric drunchie? Now, don't get it twisted: This is not going to be the best beer cheese you've ever had. Maybe far from it. But the fact that you can roll into a drive-thru when you probably should be sleeping, snag a perfectly good fast-food facsimile of beer cheese atop a loaded bacon burger, pair it with an order of beer cheese bacon fries, and wash it all down with a chocolate malt is a miracle of modern convenience. And it's a much more compelling sell than a half-naked chick eating a burger on a car. -- WF
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