Those of the dietary persuasion tell us you should not eat late at night — bad for the digestion and all that. I’ll keep that in mind…for my next incarnation.
My history of eating late has long and somewhat dishonorable roots. I went to college in New York City, where in the midst of pulling all-night study sessions, we’d take a break and head for Chinatown to gobble chow at iconic 24-hour noodle joints like Lin’s Garden and Hong Fat. (There was a 24-hour French bistro in Midtown, but that seemed much too fancy for us!)
Then, I moved to San Francisco. And yup, once again, it was Chinatown that kept me well-fed during long nights spent editing the SF Bay Guardian newspaper, this time going to a fabled late-night dive called Sam Wo, where the food arrived on a dumbwaiter from the ground-floor kitchen. It often was served by a seemingly always annoyed guy named Edsel Ford Fong. (You can’t make this sort of thing up!)
And then, I arrived in Los Angeles, where I found that Chinese restaurants closed at reasonable hours, sometimes as early as 9 p.m. And though it never satisfied as much as a plate of pork chow mein, I had to settle for a late-night steak at The Original Pantry…or a post-midnight hot dog at Pink’s.
At the time, the generally accepted wisdom was LA simply wasn’t a late-night city. But that was then. This is now. And we’ve discovered the joy of eating all the wrong food before going to bed. It wasn’t healthy then, and it’s not healthy now. But I’m still around, so it can’t be that bad.
A big part of our late-night culture comes from the rise of food trucks, which cruise the club scene at 2 a.m, just when the revelers are getting out.
Increasingly, many proper sit-down restaurants have accepted there’s life after 9 p.m. And since daylight lasts far longer this time of year than during the gloom of winter, the temptation to grab a bite as the clock approaches midnight is increasingly tempting.
The server at a local vegan eatery once lectured me on the dangers of eating after 6 p.m. She told me since it was already 7 p.m., I should eat brown rice — and nothing else. I got some steamed veggies with it. I like to live large. And you can…at the following late-night hangs…
16901 Ventura Blvd., Encino, 855-682-4373, www.fatsalsdeli.com
Open until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 a.m. other nights
Fat Sal’s is a tribute to excess, a restaurant (with several other branches around town) that declares it’s over-the-top madness in its name, and it’s slogan, “We’re Makin’ Sandwiches Over Here.” And, yes, they are.This is not food for dieters, teetotalers or the mild of spirit. This is food for livin’ large.
Let us begin with the Big Sandwich, the Grand Gesture, the Monster. It’s called the Big Fat Fatty. (There is no linguistic PC here!) It costs $49.99. It contains cheesesteak, cheeseburgers, pastrami, chicken fingers, bacon, mozzarella sticks, fried eggs, French fries, onion rings, chili, marinara sauce and “Fat Sauce” on a 27-inch garlic hero. It’s not available for delivery. It exists, oddly, only for a Food Challenge — if one Fatty Fan can eat the whole thing in 40 minutes, they get it for free, and a get a sandwich of their own design, which they can name. And dream of while they digest. For a long time.
A word needs to be said about the Fat Fries, which are served in an aluminum pan, and look for all the world like nachos on steroids, or maybe a demonic notion of a casserole. There are nine of them — the Stromboli Fries, which are typical of the breed, are topped with ham, pepperoni, salami, provolone and mozzarella and marinara. Add it to one of the Fat Sandwiches, and you may just barely survive.
For the record, there are three salads — tuna, chicken Caesar and veggie. The veggie comes with fries. Of course it does.
4444 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 7220 N. Balboa Blvd., Lake Balboa; 19920 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; 7930 Van Nuys Blvd., Panorama City; 800-786-1000; www.in-n-out.com
Open nightly until 1:30 a.m.
Well…of course In-n-Out. Whether you choose to drive-through, or eat in (I prefer the latter since I love to watch the process in the kitchen, which is so…inspiring!), In-n-Out is In-n-Out.
Go for the secret menu, which everyone knows about. The protein burgers, served wrapped in a lettuce leaf — and late at night, who cares? The burgers and fries done “Animal Style,” which means with too many condiments.It’s also the simple joy of being at Our Burger Joint. Even if there are branches in Las Vegas and other out-of-state locations, this is still ours. And hopefully always will be.
8910 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; 818-882-3028; www.lumkanaad.com
Open until 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday
The food tastes like the real deal. The service has the sort of abrupt in-a-hurry-ness that I’ve come to expect of genuine ethnic experiences. And the next day, the leftovers are even better than the food seemed to have been fresh from the kitchen.
This is a Thai restaurant worth going back to, again and again. With nearly 200 dishes on the menu, you simply have to.
There’s a full bar, unexpected in a Thai restaurant, for Singha Beer is the generally accepted drink of choice. It certainly was for me; that first one went down quite nicely in the heat of the day.
The room is longish, a bit narrow — and packed with groups of locals who cover every inch of their tables with dishes. Like I said, there’s much to choose from. That “much” begins with a ramble of 21 appetizers, divided into “Fries,” “From the Grill” and “Served Fresh As It Can Be!”
There are wonders throughout. The chicken and beef satay, touchstone dishes at any Thai restaurant, are exceptional — chunky chubbettes of tender meat, with tasty grill mark, served with a perfect peanut sauce that made me wonder, once again, why I’ve never managed to replicate a good peanut sauce at home; is it that difficult? Guess so, because so many restaurant get it wrong. Lum-Ka-Naad gets it right.
14612 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 818-788-2178; www.mymidici.com
Open until 1 a.m. weekdays, 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
MidiCi is a very happy place to go in the small hours of the morning, where the good intentions are relentless.Two of the eight pages in the menu are dedicated to long essays about the purpose, meaning and intention of the restaurant, its staff and its food. The first of the essays has the headline, “People. That’s Our Passion.” And what follows is as much a pep talk about the importance of making connections, new friends, even lifelong companions.As the essay begins, “They move us, shape us, excite us and inspire us. We believe people are the best thing that can happen to anyone…”
The last page of the menu has this headline: “The Original. Pizza with a Capital N.” It goes on to offer a history of Neapolitan pizza, and to declare the purity and authenticity of the pies served here.
The reading matter is repeated on the shirts of the servers, and on the takeout pizza boxes. (“We Bring Friends Together…When Shared With A Friend, A Minute Becomes a Moment, And That Moment Becomes A Happy Memory…”) I keep expected the staff to lead the diners in inspiring songs, and to march around the dining room shaking hands and offering hugs.
The Surly Goat
17337 Ventura Blvd., Encino; 818-453-8245; www.surlygoat.com
Open until 2 a.m. nightly
The Surly Goat used to be Sweeney’s Ale House, till restaurateur Ryan Sweeney decided it would do better as an angry critter. Though in both cases, and the cases of Sweeney’s other joints — Verdugo Bar and Der Wolfskopf (along with another Surly Goat in West Hollywood) — beer is the primary element, with food tagging along because, well, you do need something to eat with all those suds, after all.
The beer list is considerable — some 30 brews on tap, along with another 20 in bottles, half a hundred beers, not one of which is standard-issue American lawn mower’s beer — no Coors, no Bud, not even a Heineken or a Corona. Craft beer is what you drink while watch the games, in an assortment of rooms where you can have some good privacy, or just enjoy the camaraderie around the bar.
This is the essence of late-night pub grub. There’s a soft pretzel with pale ale mustard made in-house. There’s a bigger pretzel plate with pub cheese. There are Tater Tots and fries. There’s a mac and cheese that can be tricked up with bacon, avocado, a fried egg or pastrami. There are wings. There are Tater Tots done up like nachos, with chili, cheese, onions, ground beef and more.
But mostly, there are burgers. The All American Burger is exactly that, complete with American cheese.There also are garlic chicken sliders, which don’t have a lot of chicken on them. Or a lot of garlic for that matter.
There’s a black bean burger for the meatless set, along with a Caesar salad. The Goat is perfectly content to color within the lines.
Other late-night choices
- Crave Café: 14504 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, 818-990-7888, www.craveoaks.com; and 11992 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-763-9000, www.cravecafestudiocity.com; open 24 hours
- Dark Horse: 5507 Reseda Blvd., Tarzana; 818-881-8328; www.darkhorsetavernla.com; open until 2 a.m. nightly
- Dough Girl: 6851 Victory Blvd., Lake Balboa; 818-373-7300; www.doughgirl.pizza; open until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday
- El Mariachi: 15627 Ventura Blvd., Encino; 818-380-0160; open until 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday
- The Front Yard: 4222 Vineland Ave., Studio City; 818-255-7290; www.thefrontyardla.com; open until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
- The Sherman: 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 818-485-2200; www.theshermanla.com; open until 1 a.m. Wednesday-Thursday, until 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday
- The Spot: 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino; 818-783-2233; open until 3 a.m. weekdays, 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday
- The Tipsy Cow: 15005 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 818-986-8472; www.tipsycowla.com; open until 2 a.m. Thursday-Sunday
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.