Better late than never: Late night options for after-dark diners

WHERE'S THE GRUB?

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At The Box, spicy gochujang, twice-cooked crispy chicken wings make a great late-night treat. Photo: Preston Long At The Box, spicy gochujang, twice-cooked crispy chicken wings make a great late-night treat. Photo: Preston Long

This is more about reliability than quality. If you’re looking for something to eat at 1am, how exquisite can you expect the cuisine to be? First thing you need to know is that the place is open. And that alone really narrows the field. And we’re talking mid-week here. We can’t concern ourselves with Friday and Saturday amateur nights.

Downtown, The Box continues to expand its nocturnal promise. It switches over to the late-night menu at 10pm and serves until 1 or 1:30am. There’s a Vietnamese, bánh mi-style cold chicken sandwich: seasoned cold chicken, shredded daikon pickled carrots, cucumber slices, jalapenos, cilantro and spicy mayo, served on a small baguette. There’s also edamame and Kalbi wings, which are available only off and on. What The Box does best is the spicy gochujang, twice-cooked crispy chicken wings (1). They are shock-boiled to eradicate impurities, then deep-fried and slathered in a Korean fermented soybean, red chili, and glutinous rice paste-based sauce with chili oil, ginger, scallion, and black and white sesame seeds. It’s quite tangy and nicely cooled by the freshly made chard-scallion ranch dip. And it’s $6 for six wings.

Miller’s kitchen serves until midnight, but to be safe order by 11:30pm. Options under $10 are sparse but include the Texas chili bowl and the fried green tomato salad, which a very discriminating vegetarian I know loves. Sliding in right at $10 is the small muffuletta, a New Orleans sandwich classic made with a variety of Italian cold cuts—ham, capicola, salami, mortadella, pepperoni—and provolone and Swiss cheeses. But the thing that sets the muffuletta apart is an olive salad spread that involves a variety of minced olives, olive oil, sweet peppers, capers, vinegar, and Italian herbs and spices. The whole thing is piled in the middle of a heavy, round roll with a texture and consistency akin to focaccia. They could probably find a fresher, fluffier brand of roll but the sandwich still hits the spot when most every place else is closed.

On the Corner you’ve got the White Spot, which will consistently hook you up until 3am. The Gus burger (2), a decked out slider with a fried egg on top (probably used more effectively over the years as a hangover prevention than cure) is world-famous and has more web-posted photos than Lindsay Lohan. I tried the gyro sandwich last time and it wasn’t bad. The gyro meat is pre-sliced and packaged and seared on the griddle, but then put together with much gusto: tomato, onion, feta cheese, and tzatziki sauce on a nice, spongy pita. And the fries are top notch. I mean, there’s nothing wrong here.

A couple doors down, Littlejohn’s New York Deli serves all manner of specialty sandwiches of its own design, from clubs to reubens and more, and it’s open 24-7. The menu has subs of most every description from cheese steak to meatball. You can have ’em hot, cold, toasted or not. Pretty much all of it is under $7. There’s a pita pizza among the vegetarian options, but stick with the sandwiches. Littlejohn’s also knows to have a smattering of sauces on hand to ameliorate pretty much any situation.

And don’t discount the Waffle House option, again a 24-7 standby. I was in the Deep South last week and they are impossible to avoid. I took a London chef friend for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. He had The Texas sausage melt and hash browns smothered and peppered (3). Then sulked for the next three days because I couldn’t find the time to take him back. I opt for the patty melt and potatoes done the same way. The coffee is also better than any greasy spoon.

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