Photographs by Marcus Nilsson
Something magical happens after the bars close and the concert venues empty out. The crowds get sparser, the mood mellows, and your stomach calls out for something hearty to cut the hard stuff. After you go a good five hours or more without eating, the appropriate fix is not a bag of chips or a soggy slice of pizza but truly great food that does a big night justice. These are the places—each open until at least 3 A.M.—where hunger and the hour converge to make dry-aged steaks, flawless omelets, and fiery Thai noodles taste better than ever. JJ Goode
NEW YORK CITY: Katz's
A pastrami sandwich on rye, the house specialty at Katz's
If the combination of steaming-hot pastrami, rye bread, and mustard doesn't get your mouth watering at 2:30 A.M., you must be a vegetarian. Hand-cut into marbled slices and piled high, Katz's version of the cured meat has no equal. Along with the corned-beef and sliced-tongue sandwiches—which come with a dish of pickles—it makes the 120-year-old spot the rare tourist destination that's worth a local's money. The later the hour the more natives and fewer When Harry Met Sally fans you'll find there.
205 East Houston Street, 212-254-2246; open Friday and Saturday until about 3 A.M.
NEW YORK CITY: Blue Ribbon
Beef marrow with oxtail marmalade and toast at Blue Ribbon
The city that never sleeps also never stops eating, and the standards are high. At the original Blue Ribbon, which opened 16 years ago and remains a favorite of chefs, you can sit down to a meal that's as carefully executed as it is casual. Your choices—thick slabs of flawless foie gras terrine, impeccably crunchy fried chicken, fatty bone marrow for slathering on toast—may not be the traditional after-hours indulgences, but that just makes them all the more satisfying.
97 Sullivan Street, 212-274-0404; open daily until 4 A.M.
LOS ANGELES: Krua Thai
The offbeat shrimp pad Thai at Krua Thai in Los Angeles
Only L.A. affords you multiple options for exceptional Thai food in the wee hours, but Krua Thai—with no-frills outposts in North Hollywood and West Covina—is the place for masterly takes on the classics. That means stewed-until-melting pork leg with rice and pickled mustard greens, and expertly rendered pad see ew noodles—a barely sweet heap tossed with Chinese broccoli, fluffy egg, and your meat of choice. Noodle snobs approve even of Krua Thai's version of pad Thai, which is heavy on chilies and fish sauce, making it perfect, if pungent, post-drinking chow.
13130 Sherman Way, 818-759-7998, and 935 South Glendora Avenue, 626-480-0116; open daily until 3:30 A.M.
LOS ANGELES: Pacific Dining Car
Grilled artichoke with mustard-sherry dressing and sautéed scallops with steamed spinach and lobster sauce at Pacific Dining Car in Los Angeles
If you'd kill for a huge plate of steak at 4 A.M.—and have learned better than to fire up your own grill—there's a bone-in rib eye with your name on it at Pacific Dining Car. This is not some wan cut of meat that's prime in name only but a 16-ounce slab of dry-aged beef. The classic restaurant, located in a converted railroad car, has endured through stock-market crashes as well as boom times, when it's also been a venue for prolonging the party, thanks to a 300-bottle wine list.
1310 West Sixth Street, 213-483-6000; open daily, 24 hours
CHICAGO: Wiener's Circle
Windy City-style dog and fries, with a side of attitude, from Wieners Circle
All day, locals trickle into this Lincoln Park institution for a flawless incarnation of the Chicago dog: a wiener from the venerated local purveyor Vienna Beef (order yours charred), a poppy-seed roll, unnaturally green relish, onions, mustard, tomatoes, and celery salt. Much, much later, though, the scene warps as a rowdy, boozed-up crowd fills the stools and spills outside—even during the brutal Chicago winters. The drunken masses elicit trash talk from the ladies behind the counter ("For here or to go, motherfucker?"), and some raucous inebriated patrons dare to jaw right back.
2622 North Clark Street, 773-477-7444; open Sunday through Thursday until 4 A.M., Friday and Saturday until 5 A.M.
SAN FRANCISCO: El Farolito
In a city where everyone has a great burrito joint he swears by, it's a good thing there's only one real contender open at 3:30 A.M.: El Farolito. The hulking tortilla-encased torpedoes wrapped up at this grungy hole-in-the-wall don't disappoint. They're filled with juicy caramelized carne asada and add-ons like homemade salsa verde, and they're so satisfying that they make you forget about the throngs of track-bike-riding hipsters who frequent this Mission District spot.
2779 Mission Street, 415-826-4870; open Friday and Saturday until 4 A.M.
PHILADELPHIA: Jim's Steaks
Whoever shrewdly snipped the last word from the term Philly cheesesteak sandwich was probably a Jim's devotee. Unlike the recipes at Pat's and Geno's—homes to the city's other after-hours cheesesteaks—the one at this South Street institution is not so much a between-bread proposition as it is a hulking mass of beef, sweet onions, and molten cheese set on a doughy raft. Another Jim's calling card is a staff of famously curt cooks who practically mince the meat on the griddle, nicely browning each piece.
400 South Street, 215-928-1911; open Friday and Saturday until 3 A.M.
LAS VEGAS: Joyful House
Sure, there are the all-night hotel buffets in the land of eternal slots, but a short cab ride takes you far away from the fishy crab claws and sunken soufflés of the Strip to Joyful House in Las Vegas' small Chinatown. Ignore the exterior, which has all the allure of an Applebee's, and head inside for the salt-and-pepper pork chops, the roast duck, or any fish that's been freshly pulled from one of the restaurant's four tanks. If the tables have been kind to you, splurge on a bottle of Opus One or Château Lafite—the wine list here would be at home at the Wynn.
4601 Spring Mountain Road, 702-889-8881; open daily until 3 A.M.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Ben's Chili Bowl
History matters when it comes to concert venues, not fourth-meal hubs. Still, it doesn't hurt that chili this good—poured on top of fries, burgers, and hot dogs—is served in a storefront whose 50-year past is studded with visits from Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. The Bowl's standout is Bill Cosby's Original Chili Half-Smoke—a sausage browned on the griddle and topped with raw onions, mustard, and, of course, the signature meat concoction—named for another regular.
1213 U Street NW, 202-667-0909; open Friday and Saturday until A.M.
MIAMI: Hiro's Yakko-San
To uncover Miami's top spot for post-debauchery dining, don't follow the sweaty clubgoers—stick with the city's premier chefs. After work, the culinary masterminds hit this tiny, bustling restaurant in North Miami Beach and sit at the counter, where cooks dish out Japanese pub food. Between sips of sake, the boisterous patrons gorge on glistening hamachi kama (the flesh from a yellowtail's collar) paired with tart ponzu sauce, deep-fried panko-breaded oysters, and bowls of ramen heavy with roast pork.
1704046 West Dixie Highway, 305-947-0064; open Friday and Saturday until 3 A.M.
AUSTIN, TEXAS: Sam's BBQ
Pitmasters keep notoriously quirky hours, so when you hear of a barbecue joint open after 9 P.M.—let alone after midnight—you generally assume it's a place that cuts corners by using liquid smoke and standard ovens. But this is Austin, just a 30-mile drive from meat meccas like Lockhart and Elgin, and at this dive outfitted with photos of loyal customers, the ribs, brisket, and mutton piled on Styrofoam plates are the real deal—juicy with or without Sam's thick, tangy sauce.
2000 East 12th Street, 512-478-0378; open Friday and Saturday until 3 A.M.