How to Have a Romantic Date at a Fast-Food Joint
Atlanta, Georgia: Marcel
Look, Waffle House is an indisputable Atlanta late-night eating institution. But since it's also in a ton of cities, and you probably already know you can get steak & eggs there, we're going to name Ford Fry's upmarket steakhouse, Marcel, for its incredible food and prices from 11pm–2am. The menu changes often, but for the moment, all of this is $10: a hulking sandwich featuring a stack of pan-fried bologna draped in gooey American cheese in pain de mie (that's fancy French for white bread), a seared double cheeseburger topped with slabs of thick-cut bacon, and soft-crab omelets with sizable chunks of that delicious sea creature, along with shaved mushrooms. There are even banana sundaes mounded with brownies, peanuts, and salted caramel for $8 if you feel like something sweet. No matter what you order, the portions here are seriously huge even for the price -- that cheeseburger you see above is the rule, not the exception. Marcel is not messing around.
Austin, Texas: Magnolia Cafe
If you're hungry in Austin past 1am and you aren't dipping chips into queso, you do not deserve to be in Austin. And there's no more ideal 1am meal than Magnolia Cafe's magnificent queso omelette -- it combines breakfast and the liquefied cheese along with avocado and -- why not -- even more cheese (cheddar, Jack). Dip a chip in there and dig in between bites of egg, champ. Or just skip the eggs and order the classic Mag Mug; it's easily some of the city's best queso, and you get black beans, avocado, and pico de gallo mixed in. You can't go wrong with any of the pancakes either, especially the gingerbread. And while many late-night spots close by 2-3am, both Magnolia locations are 24 hours. Queso never sleeps.
Baltimore, Maryland: Stuggy's
Stuggy's menu reads like a fever dream of someone who's drank a significant amount of Natty Bo, but forgot to eat all day. "What if you put lump crab meat, mac & cheese, and Old Bay on a hot dog? That could be good, right?" that fictional person would say. Turns out that it would be fantastic and available until 3am. We dare say it should be the official hot dog of Maryland. The Baltimore institution also makes dreams come true with a Cubano-inspired weiner piled high with Swiss cheese, pickle chips, and both pulled pork and grilled ham. You get those with a side of duck fat fries if you know what's good for you. And because that clearly won't be enough food, don't forget to order some fried Oreos for dessert.
Boston, Massachusetts: Hong Kong
Thrillist Executive Editor Matt Lynch noted that when he frequented Hong Kong back in his college days, they'd drop off "boat-sized buckets of plum sauce" to complement its crab rangoons and other greasydelicious (yeah, that's one word!) Chinese apps. It makes sense, as the portions here are seriously huge on the boozy side as well, with enormous Scorpion Bowl cocktails for two. Drinking said bowls is one way to keep your energy up to participate in the karaoke going all night long. On the other hand, after eating ungodly amounts of its sticky chicken teriyaki with pork fried rice or belly-filling beef lo mein, you'll probably fall asleep just after singing the first verse of Britney Spears' "Everytime."
Charlotte, North Carolina: JackBeagle's
If you don't let your stupid brain tell you that eating fried chicken made in a Shell station is a bad idea, you'll be rewarded with the best fried chicken in Charlotte. But for our money, the ultra-gooey mac & cheese (with an emphasis on the cheese) is exactly what the body needs after an evening of boozing, and the six varieties at JackBeagle's fit the bill. Whether it's a Mexi-Mac zipped up with jalapeño and tomatillo, a garlic-laden Jack-Mac, or a Blue-Black Mac with bacon and bleu cheese, you're gonna be happy. If you live enough of a blessed life to be eating late on a Monday night, the kitchen cooks up a new Macarrito special (that's the only-in-America creation: mac-and-cheese burrito) every week. Blindly order it, because it's much easier to justify eating that after you've had a few. Mac aside, there are 12 different types of wings, all-beef hot dogs, five kinds of cheesesteaks, and seven burgers. Plus, you know, fried chicken can be a side, too.
Chicago, Illinois: Diner Grill
While taco joints and hot dog stands are the most widespread late-night dining choices available to Chicagoans, Diner Grill is a singular experience. Built from an old dining car, it slings greasy magic to hungover, about-to-be-hungover, or just-plain-hungry locals 24/7. And “slings” is the operative word here, because while a no-nonsense bacon double cheeseburger is a fine move, the notorious Slinger is essentially a big ol' delicious, gut-busting pile of fried eggs, hash browns, hamburger patties, grilled onions, and American cheese, all covered in a more than generous helping of chili. You get a certificate if you finish. You’ll have earned it.
Cincinnati, Ohio: Pleasant Ridge Chili
Sure, the Skyline Chili in Clifton is open until 4am. That's great and all, but Pleasant Ridge is also open late (until 4:30am), has the Queen City's beloved chili, and -- drum roll!! -- legendary gravy and cheese fries. You'll need to have a stack of napkins on hand when you eat it, but it's worth it to experience that mix of rich gravy over crispy fries. There's also a ton of options for breakfast, which is a critical need for many late-night eaters. Goetta (the Cincinnati specialty meat mush) and eggs, double-decker sandwiches, and those legendary fries you can cover in gravy, cheese, chili, or a combination of the three. Don't forget to bring cash -- the restaurant's been around since 1964, and doesn't accept the decidedly 21st-century form of payment called the credit card.
Cleveland, Ohio: Happy Dog
First and foremost, let’s have a moment of silence for legendary diner Steve’s Lunch, which would have a been a no-brainer here were it not for the element of fire. OK? OK. (Sigh). But hey! Sometimes you need a gigantic hot dog late at night. And sometimes, after a few drinks, you want to put back a hot dog with Froot Loops on it. Or SpaghettiOs, Brie, or eggs. Or, you know, one with regular toppings. Regardless of your preference on the 50 toppings, it's essential to pair your dogs with the tater tots, which can also be customized with a huge array of options, from Momocho habanero sauce and Alabama white BBQ to pork & beans and pimento cheese mac. It's like a choose your own adventure, set in a rowdy-ass bar with live music, polka, dance parties, and more (there's also a hub in Euclid Tavern). That makes it a really great place to get the late-night munchies, and also a great place to relieve them. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece/monstrosity of a dog just tastes better when you're plopped at a gigantic wraparound bar... if you can get a seat.
Columbus, Ohio: Mikey's Late Night Slice
We've already showered Mikey's with love as one of the nation's finest foods to eat when you're tipsy as hell and attending Ohio State, but enjoying Mikey's isn't contingent on whether or not you're attending a Comm 101 class with a billion other people in an enormous lecture hall. Look, plenty of Columbus spots have pizza. But there's nothing like The Cheezus Crust concoction -- two pizza slices pressed into a sandwich with American cheese between them. It's a dish nothing short of genius, and it's why you go to Mikey's. Don't be a boring dummy and get two plain slices: make Mikey's push together an Italian Sausage and a Spicy Pepperoni with Sriracha. Speaking of genius, there's The Pizza Dawg: a hot dog stuffed with pepperoni and cheese, then housed in a pizza slice instead of a bun. You can also get a gluten-free vegan personal pizza! You won't, but you can!
Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas: Greenville Avenue Pizza Company
There's plenty of good pizza shops in DFW, but try finding one that stays open past midnight. I'll wait. Yeah, not so many, eh? No worries of that happening at GAPC, which heroically is there to feed you until 4am on Friday and Saturday nights. Its "Greenville Style Pies" are on a thinnish crust similar to NY-style, and the pies you're going to want to order include the Supreme (pepperoni, ham, bacon, black olives) and the BBQ chicken. And if you're one of those people who isn't always in the mood for pizza (a stance that's downright un-American) consider the Crack-fried chicken sandwich covered in your choice of seven sauces, like lemon pepper and garlic parm. Wait, Crack-fried?! Greenville is law-abiding and doesn't serve street drugs, but it does have house-made Pizza Crack all-purpose seasoning. You'll want to sprinkle it on everything. The owner says he chains the bottles to the wall because people kept stealing them. Just buy a bottle, you cheap bastard -- it's only $6.
Denver, Colorado: Biker Jim's
Pete's Kitchen and Denver Diner are two Mile High greasy spoons that have warmed the hearts (and filled the arteries) of anyone who's been hungry at 3am. But there's something about a Biker Jim's hot dog that does the trick -- ask Anthony Bourdain. Order up an Alaskan reindeer or elk jalapeño cheddar dog and smother that sucker in cream cheese and caramelized onions to ensure all is right in your universe. You'll get salt, sweet, and loads of umami in every bite, and you'll probably want to order two. If you're feeling real adventurous, there are always jackalope, wild boar, and rattlesnake + pheasant dogs, too. And you can't go wrong adding some deep-fried Real Dill horseradish habanero pickles on the side. Or to your dog, if you can handle one more explosion of flavor on the pile.
Detroit, Michigan: Bert's Marketplace
Detroit’s a magic place where you can get a Coney dog 24/7 in most areas, meaning there’s never a bad option for late-night eating. But sometimes, you have to go big in a way that a dog or a Hani or even a Crave Case can’t hit. Bert’s in the Eastside Market is the place to really punch that hangover in the baby-maker: It’s a jazzy soul-food haven in the iconic Eastern Market, dishing up everything from fried chicken to St. Louis-style rib racks and catfish & grits (and pizza... but don't do that) to crowds that flock from all over the Metro area for a late-night taste of Detroit soul soaked in signature sauce. It's some of the best damn soul food in a city famous for it. And because it's in the heart of MoTown, expect your meal to be paired up with live jazz and blues, since the place doubles as a straight-up entertainment complex. Pro tip: Come back for breakfast and karaoke Saturday mornings, where you can watch Uncle Tony rock the BBQ while seemingly the whole city starts singing at 8am.
Houston, Texas: House of Pies
This is a 24-hour diner first and foremost, so you're going to find everything under the sun breakfast-wise (three-egg omelets, rib-eye steak & eggs, biscuits & sausage), but this is the place to be if drinking always leads you to eating bags of M&Ms at 3am. You can do better. Treat yourself to one of many cakes and pies: they're worth the cavities. The Bayou Goo is a must, with its vanilla & chocolate custard, whipped cream, and chopped pecans with sweet cream cheese. Take one bite and you'll understand why it's the one dessert selection you must make. And then once you've finished that slice, take the coconut custard, Key lime, Boston cream cake, and cheesecake, or fruit pies to go. All of them. You deserve them.
Indianapolis, Indiana: Peppy's Grill
An old-school greasy spoon that’s somehow survived its neighborhood's influx of hipsters, this is the go-to place after a show at Hi-Fi or bingo burlesque at White Rabbit. Which is to say, yes, hipsters know about it. But the old-school holdout is also home to old-school patrons, a 24-hour oasis where pancakes and burgers live as symbiotically together as rockers and blue-collar night owls. As this is a classic diner, go with a classic like a football-sized sausage omelet, or a big-ass ribeye & eggs that, at $10.95, manages to be both a steal and the most expensive thing on the menu. And if you're not feelin' the burger, definitely get the Hoosier favorite that is the tenderloin sandwich, a pounded-out, breaded hunk of pork on an impossibly small bun. Indy's constantly changing. But Peppy's, well, Peppy's is unstuck in time. As such, at a certain hour, it might as well be the nexus of all that is great in Indy.
Kansas City, Missouri: Town Topic
Look closely at the building that houses Town Topic and you may note a certain White Castle vibe -- probably because it used to be one. Then again, it’s been Town Topic since 1937, and White Castle no longer operates in Kansas City, so you could say they definitely own the local slider game. And truth be told, these magically griddled burgers are better than anything Harold and Kumar ever chased. Onion-studded with a craggy, flavorful crust, they're waiting for you 24 hours a day. And if you aren’t in a burger mood, you still have options like pork tenderloin and a full classic breakfast spread (go with the biscuits and gravy). But those burgers aren’t that big -- at least get one as a side.
Las Vegas, Nevada: Peppermill Fireside Lounge
In the Vegas of 2016, every single hotel/casino resort worth its salt has a 24-hour spot with breakfast food. And it's all mostly edible. Some of it's delicious, even! But Peppermill has something none of those places do: solid breakfast offerings, like oversized portions of French toast, eggs Benedict, and biscuits & gravy. Your best bet is the French toast ambrosia, which is piled high with seasonal fruit and more than a dollop of whipped cream, just in case you want more decadence (you're in Vegas, so of course you do). It's exactly the sugar rush you need to hit the tables again at 4am. Oh, and the decor features a megaton of neon. It's like eating in a strip club in the '70s. Actually, in the '00s too. Strip clubs haven't changed much since then, have they? Peppermill also has a legendary bar, plus an indoor fire pit around which you can imbibe that last drink of the night you probably don't need. But hell, it's Vegas. Have another drink!
Los Angeles, California: Shin Jung Soon Tofu & Korean BBQ
Here's the thing: after last call, most of LA late-night pickings are few and far between (unless, of course, you're near a hot dog vendor or a taco truck, in which case, shazam!). Koreatown, however, is still hopping -- and, let's be honest, there's nothing that sounds better after kicking back a bunch of rounds than the words "all-you-can-eat" and "BBQ," especially if the word "Korean" is in between the two. Shin Jung changes names all the time, but always has the big "Korean BBQ Soon Tofu" sign on the outside and the same incredible array of bulgogi, tender pork belly, short ribs, brisket, and sea of banchan. Just remember, you're paying extra if you leave extra meat sizzling on the grill uneaten, and you're going home smelling like you just took a sauna in a meat locker. It's worth it, at least until you come to the next morning with the meat sweats.
Memphis, Tennessee: Earnestine & Hazel’s
Stationed on South Main St between a street-wear shop and a police station, this quintessential Memphis late-night hang serves only one item: The Soul Burger, a $6 mess of a meal that, at 1am, hits the spot like no other. A thin, well-seasoned beef patty is griddled, sandwiched between a soft white bun, stacked with caramelized onions, pickles, American cheese, and drenched in the bar’s famous secret "Soul Sauce." Beyond the burger, E&H might be the most Memphis place ever (besides that whole Graceland situation). It’s a literal juke joint with domestic beers, pockmarked walls, rowdy revelers, a live jazz combo, and actual, confirmed ghosts (the building used to house a brothel... ). It’s even made an appearance in the legendary cinematic masterpiece Hustle & Flow! Trust us -- if you can make your way through the wall-to-wall crowd, you’re probably going to want to order two of those burgers. Or three.
Miami, Florida: La Sandwicherie Brickell
This is one city that likes staying up at night with the help of certain substances (obviously we're referring to sugar-free Red Bull and nothing else), so of course, there's no lack of late-night food spots. La Sandwicherie not only has some of the finest sandwiches in all of the Magic City. And why is that? Well, the ingredients are exceptionally fresh -- every tomato, every piece of lettuce. But you want more than that on your sandwich, so we'd recommend the turkey and Brie. Spend the extra dough and get your meal on a croissant. That way you experience La Sandwicherie's top-notch meats, cheeses, veggies, and bread all in one sandwich. Even better, it also sports a juice bar that's open all night. Acai smoothies, berry-filled shakes, and veggie juices are all healthy options to start undoing all the damage you did to your liver just hours before.
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota: Uptown Diner
Suffering from a late-night hankering for eggs Benedict? Welcome to Uptown Diner, the beloved 24-hour joint that’s saved many a Minnesotan in their time of culinary need. Inside, it resembles your average retro diner -- shiny barstools, bright blue tabletops -- but who notices the decor when you’re faced with something as gloriously indulgent as ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookie-dough pancakes, thick cut, endlessly crispy waffle fries, or Cajun crab cakes drowning in best hollandaise sauce this side of Paris? The clientele varies from hour to hour, but if you’re stumbling into Uptown after last call, we’re confident you’ll fit right in.
Nashville, Tennessee: Prince's Hot Chicken
When one of America’s most iconic – and absolutely one of its best – fried chicken joints is open until 4am on the weekend, it’s not a matter of where you should eat after the bars close down. It’s a matter of whether you actually want to order the hottest chicken on the menu. Prince's is an institution, an it basically invented hot chicken as we know it today. Here, the bright-red bird ranges to a mild that is still hotter than most other joints' hottest all the way up to XXXHot, which sounds porn-y, but it should also serve as a warning. The meat -- whether breast or wing -- is impossibly plump, with the pepper-spiked breading giving way to an explosion of juices. Basically, it's what one might imagine when thinking about the perfect piece of fried bird, and has been for nearly a century. But, again, mind the heat (and get a side of potato salad as coolant): making questionable choices is understandable, even fun, at 3am. It’s also fun to rub your eyes when you’re tired. Proceed with caution… but definitely proceed.
New York, New York: Wo Hop
In New York, one could live a bountiful culinary existence even if you chose to only eat after 1am. But for our money, the best late-night eats are served in an unassuming Chinatown basement, piled onto floral plates by aging -- but miraculously nimble -- servers who will definitely kick your ass if you skip out on your bill (we’ve seen it!). Wo Hop’s walls are caked with photos of celebrities, cops, and signed dollar bills. Obviously, you aren’t getting anything bougie, or trendy, or even slightly fancy (that's more the "upstairs" Wo Hop, which isn't as good and closes early). You're getting the platonic ideal of cheap, Americanized Chinese food. We're talking heaping mountains of pork fried rice, takeout-menu-picture-perfect General Tso's chicken, and a crispy noodle appetizer that has somehow not become mandatory on every table in every Chinese food restaurant in the country. Add in $4 bottles of Tsingtao and you've got a vision of late-night Valhalla. Wo Hop has been squashing the witching hour hunger pangs of New Yorkers for almost 80 years, even if only half of the servers have even been there that long. Here's to the next 80 years.
Orlando, Florida: Red Mug Diner
Most diners are eons old, with a thick layer of grease on the counter that preserve decades of late-night dining secrets. The Red Mug -- Orlando’s only 24-hour diner downtown -- is less than a year old. It’s shiny and chrome, a ‘50s-themed pastiche serving up all-day breakfast with a French touch, highlighted by a Monte Cristo that would make the folks at Bennigan’s blush thanks to the fresh-baked bread that serves as a palate for a mound of turkey, ham, melted Swiss, and runny egg. That'll happen when you open an upscale diner staffed by French bakers who don't mind ditching Canadian bacon for New York strip on a Benny, or serving its Belgian waffles with boneless fried chicken and bacon. There are sundaes and shakes too (get the Chunky Monkey with peanut butter and banana). Basically, it’s like a theme park attraction based on a classic diner (but with better food). It fits Orlando like an oversized cartoon glove.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Good Dog Bar & Restaurant
Carson Wentz doesn't seem like the type of guy to stay out until 1am looking for food, but any Philadelphian wearing his jersey and talking loudly at the bar about how much the Cowboys suck most certainly is. All Wentzylvaniacs will be lucky to find themselves in a Rittenhouse restaurant loaded with rib-sticking food that also happens to be more imaginative than the typical late-night pizza and burgers you normally shove into your mouth: Stone porter-braised brisket grilled cheeses; 1/2lb cheeseburgers, dripping with roquefort and caramelized onions; and duck pot pies (go Birds!). But don't leave without eating the molten cheesesteak empanadas: it's the best way to get your cheesesteak fix without actually eating at one of the 24-hour touristy cheesesteak stands. And if you still want another drink to go with your fourth meal of the day, the bar is stacked with great PA beers on tap and in bottles or cans.
Phoenix, Arizona: Delux Burger
Let's first shoutout the over-the-top, late-night menu at Bitter & Twisted, with its ramen-bun burgers and fried chicken with watermelon kimchi -- but Delux Burger is Phoenix's best late-night food spot. The burgers are pretty damn great, with the standout featuring a combo of bleu cheese and Gruyere atop a Niman Ranch beef patty. Combining a slab of meat and two rich cheeses after midnight is always a safe bet to hit the spot. And if you spent all your money at the bar, order inexpensive food from the Reverse Happy Hour menu from 10pm-2am, which includes roast beef sliders or mini burgers paired with $4 well cocktails.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: The Original Hot Dog Shop
Almost every Pittsburgher (yinzer) will have a story about Oakland’s O, which opened in the shadows of Forbes Field in 1960 and outlived the damn thing. When you think of the O, you think of its salty, medium-cut, McDonalds-on-steroids fries: order a small and they’ll dump the entire contents of their fryer over a tiny plate, spraying spuds all over your tray. Order a large fry and you may be stuck there for days trying to clear an eye-high pile. The grilled hot dogs are standard-issue, but tremendous. So are the just-hot-enough wing dings and the Moby Dick-esque fried cod sandwiches. Portions are generous. The beer selection is prodigious (the place functions as a great bottle shop, too). It’s no frills, easy on the wallet, open late, and serves up zero bullshit. It’s like a heaping dose of Three Rivers pride, spilled over a plastic serving tray. And you might even see a fist fight, which is very Western PA.
Portland, Oregon: Devil's Dill
For years, the go-to late-night eats in Portland – a city that goes to bed surprisingly early – were 24-hour diners like The Roxy and Hotcake House. But lately a new breed of drunchies has taken flight, and while we’re tempted to recommend hangover-busting pho from downtown's Luc Lac, Devil’s Dill’s combination of late-night delivery and a newly attached bar called "No Fun" has raised its profile. Oh, and it’s one of the city’s best sandwich shops. The red wine-braised beef and the five-spice pulled pork are decadent and seriously test the limits of its fresh-baked buns, but don't discount the weekend special, which has featured everything from cold fried chicken to Kalua pork with miso-hoisin aioli. And for those nights when you need a little comfort but mom just isn't answering the phone (probably because it's 3am on a Tuesday), there's also a fantastic meatloaf sandwich.
Sacramento, California: Ink Eats
A place as obsessed with tattoos as a Portland strip club, Ink brings some serious thunder to Sac’s relatively tame late-night scene. For real, this place looks like a sports bar decorated like a tattoo parlor, and its elevated takes on bar food are blessedly served at all hours of the night. Open until 1am Sun-Tues, 2am Wed-Thurs, and 4-freaking-am Fri-Sat, the late-night menu here rolls with the comfort, including a mighty shaved prime rib sandwich with rich au jus and thick calamari sticks. The breakfast sliders, despite their size, pack enough bacon, egg, and cheese into a Hawaiian roll to give a NY bodega a run for its hangover-busting glory. Only, at 4am, it's a preemptive strike. But save room for the warm brownie sundae, a superior night cap that goes as well with wings as it does with the sudden urge to get an ill-advised lower-back tattoo.
San Antonio, Texas: Zinc
Mark Cuban famously has shit on SA's River Walk for being a "muddy, ugly-ass" place. Good news, this place is not on the River Walk! Yes, it's in a historic building close by, but that's totally different. And because it's a serious wine bar (4,000+ bottles should do the trick), the food you can order past 1am isn't going to involve the greasy, bacon and egg-type fare found in the rest of this rundown. Instead, you can partake of Texas lamb pappardelle, fried shrimp po' boys, lamb burgers with serrano fig jam and Brie, and even soppressata pizza. If you're picturing a fancy bar with tiny portions, think again. The sizable, namesake Zinc Burger has spicy tomato aioli and a Parmesan tuile, which is like a crispy sheet of cheese your burger sits on. We're guessing it's been a long, long while since you had a Parmesan tuile (as in, never), so order that burger and experience a different take on an American classic you've had a million times.
San Diego, California: Night & Day Cafe
If you're not eating Mexican food late-night in San Diego, we can assume you've made plenty of poor choices in your life, and this is just another one. But not you. You're reading this because you're smart and you'd go to this beloved institution to eat breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, and shrimp tacos. Only after 1am does a dish like carne asada fries covered in cheese, salsa fresca, and guac sound like a good idea -- and Night & Day will actually do the dish justice. Order it when you can't decide between a burrito or a plate of fries, and you'll get to enjoy both. This place cares about you, because you can order those dishes 24 hours a day on the weekends, and until 1am on Thursday night. And if someone in your party just has to eat something that's not Mexican food (dumbass), N&D has them covered too, with Denver omelets, French toast, and Monte Cristo sandwiches, which would generally seem like a bad idea at a Mexican joint. Nothing here is a bad idea.
San Jose, California: Nick The Greek
Nick The Greek might sound like a guy you'd put in your bet on the Rams giving three points as a home dog in next week's game, but it's also the name of one of the finest places to eat a gyro in downtown San Jose until 3am on the weekends. You can't go wrong with a chicken gyro wrapped in pita, jammed with fries, and topped with house tzatziki (order extra sauce on it, then uses the fries to sop up whatever comes exploding out of the pita). Or cut to the chase and get a big-ass order of Nick's Fries, which are topped with feta, garlic, yogurt, and meat or falafel, making it something of a Greek version of poutine.
San Francisco/Oakland, California: It's Tops Coffee Shop
It’s not every day you find a low-key, family-run, honest-to-God retro diner smack dab in the bustling tech empire that is present-day San Francisco. Unless you live by this place, in which case it is every day. It’s been serving standard diner fare like pancakes, hot apple pie, and some damn fine blueberry milkshakes 24-hours a day since 1935, which could make it the most legit retro diner many West Coasters will ever encounter. In the early morning hours, old folks line the counter while families pile into the red vinyl booths, but come 11pm, it’s all belly-busting cheeseburgers and Anchor Steam on draft. Also, the place ain’t huge, so trying to cram your squad into this wood-paneled, charmingly cable car-sized space wouldn’t be ideal. You probably wouldn't want too many people vying for the tabletop jukebox, anyhow.
Seattle, Washington: The 5 Point Cafe
It’s a dive bar. It’s a Seattle icon. It’s open 24 hours, most importantly for our purposes. This Belltown institution has seen it all, from Prohibition to Grunge to Macklemore backlash. And all along, it’s been doing it with stiff drinks you can instantly soak up with a legendary 11oz chicken fried steak, thick cheeseburgers, and a big-ass, one-pound platter of chili cheese tots. The servers are rowdy. The customers are rowdier. This is a microcosm of Seattle under one roof, pre-dawn. And everybody has food on their faces.
St. Louis, Missouri: Sandrina's
Back before there was a craft beer bar on the corner of every street in America, there was a tiny brewer named Anheuser-Busch that got its start in St. Louis. It's still there today, in fact! And where you have a town full of drinkers (and brewers), there will naturally be many 24-hours diners like Uncle Bill's, Courtesy Diner, and Coffee Cartel. But our pick is Sandrina's, thanks to its local delicacies like Gus' chewy pretzels, St. Louis-style fried ravioli stuffed with meat, and a Cuban sandwich on challah bread. OK that last one isn't specific to the area, but it is delicious. In a town with as much beer as St. Louis, you owe it to yourself to eat something with beer in it.
Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Florida: Kings Street Food Counter
Kings’ Street Food Counter’s a newcomer to the St. Petersburg scene, but the joint’s elevated diner fare -- served until 3am on weekends – has already more or less become an institution. That’ll happen when you pair craft beer with upscale takes on classics, like hand-breaded chicken tenders, poutine made with crinkle-cut fries, waffle-battered hot dogs, and mac packed with queso and pulled pork. It also has chopped-to-order salads for the more health consc… oh, fuck off. It’s 2:59am on Friday. You’re getting that waffle dog.
Washington, DC: Julia’s Empanadas
Ben’s Chili Bowl gets much of the DC late-night fanfare, but the best way relieve your after-hours hunger is Julia’s Empanadas, whose two open-until-4am locations in Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle sit strategically near much of DC’s “in need of a late-night sobering calorie bomb” population. The huge, flaky pockets are wisely served just below mouth-burning temp to protect any eaters who might be a little too eager to dig into their hot number in all its beefy, curry-tinged glory. It's a take-out joint, but handheld foods were made for walkin’. Which you should very certainly be doing at this hour.