The countdown to Best of Phoenix is on. Mark your calendar: This year's issue will be on newsstands September 26. What better way to warm up than by asking some local "experts" to list their own personal bests? This week JK Grence, who pens Chow Bella's Last Call column, shares his five favorite spots to eat after midnight.
For practically as long as I can remember, I've been a creature of the night. I prefer to work evenings, stay up all night, and then jump into bed moments before daybreak brings its compelling case to stay awake. Whether I'm just getting done waiting tables or tending bar, or I've enjoyed a night of wild revelry, I often find myself in want of great food when I have zero desire to cook.
So, these are my five favorite places to go when the midnight oil has burned off. I feel a little bad that the list is mostly Central Phoenix and Scottsdale-oriented, but... well... you try finding a place open past 1 AM outside of Loop 101.
After the Restaurant Closes It's a little after midnight. A burger from the bar at Don & Charlie's would really hit the spot, but they locked up tight hours ago. I could go say hello to Pavle and Charleen at FnB to see what they're cooking for weekend Late Night Love, but they've just finished service. What's a hungry restaurant worker to do? I'll tell you.
Cafe Ga Hyang Cafe Ga Hyang in Glendale is one of the best Korean restaurants in the Valley, if not the very best. No matter the time of day, it's worth a trip from almost anywhere in town. When my taste buds are feeling jaded, the spice and fermented funk of Korean cuisine is sure to snap my palate to attention. The array of banchan (small bowls of a wide array of side dishes, including a few kinds of that hits the table before the main courses arrive is sure to dazzle even seasoned food folks, and quell even the biggest of appetites. Even better, Cafe Ga Hyang is open every night but Sunday until 2 AM.
Carlsbad Tavern If you're at Carlsbad Tavern in southeast Scottsdale late at night and notice there's a lot of people wearing black or white shirts with black pants, there's a good reason: It's a very popular hangout for downtown Scottsdale restaurant staff who just finished their shifts. As one would expect by the name, the food is pub grub with a strong influence from New Mexico. My usual choice is the blue corn enchilada plate, even if I wished they'd automatically top them with a fried egg like any good New Mexican (to their credit, they add one by request), and then ask me the official State Question of New Mexico, "Red or green?" for my chile preference. The default green sauce is pretty darn good, though.
After the Bar Closes Oh God, not IHOP or Denny's again. Food options after 2 AM in this town are sparse, but they are there. Here's my picks.
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Jerry's To be fair, Jerry's is on my list largely because it's more or less in my neighborhood. But, as far as I can tell, this is the best 24-hour greasy spoon in Central Phoenix. Granted, there's not a whole lot of competition, but let's not split hairs. The straightforward menu is competently prepared, the kitchen is generous with grub for not much cash, and the waitresses are always friendly. What more can you ask?
Taqueria Los Yaquis Hardly anyone calls the place by its official name. It's known better as "The taco truck behind Charlie's", over on Camelback and 7th Avenue. While veteran guests will lament that it was better before they upgraded to the full truck, they still churn out serious street tacos at dirt-cheap prices. The best part? Thursday through Sunday, they're open until 4 AM.
Waffle House Yes, Waffle House. If you haven't been, I can only say one thing: Get over yourself. I argue that Waffle House is the quintessential American diner. Every time I go, I feel like I stepped into Edward Hopper's painting Nighthawks. It's clean, brightly lit, and more than reasonably priced. Counter seats have a direct view of the open kitchen. There's good tunes on the jukebox. The graveyard-shift server inevitably has a hair color not found in nature, and probably chain smokes in between customers. After a fun night out, there's nothing like sliding into a booth with your friends, putting on some classic rock, ordering a big plate of hash browns covered with half the contents of the kitchen, and washing it down with a pecan waffle or two. Just don't try to order pancakes.