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The best late-night dining in DFW

About our ‘Nighthawks’ homage

(Click image to enlarge, pan and zoom.)

Over the years, so many people have offered their take on Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks that when we learned it was coming to Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum for an exhibit, we just had to get in on the action.

Eats Beat columnist Bud Kennedy suggested the location: Salsa Limon, which recently moved into the all-aluminum, Streamline Moderne-style diner building on University Drive. In the 1940s, the building was home to Topsy’s Cafe, a popular diner.

Salsa Limon owner Milo Ramirez loved the idea of the photo homage, and volunteered to be a character in it. That’s him at the counter. He’s joined by Fort Worth artist Nancy Lamb, the woman in red; Hunter Sebastian, the man in the fedora next to her; and Tyler Bates, the lonely diner at far left.

A huge thanks to all of our models, and to Harris Costumes on Norwood Street for outfitting them. And to Paul Moseley, who captured the magic in a photo illustration for the ages.


Posted 12:29am on Thursday, Apr. 03, 2014

As the crowd files out, amiably jostling you around, your brain and body hum. Maybe it’s the show you’ve just seen. Maybe it’s the bar you didn’t want to leave. But you push out into the street-lit night, not quite ready to pack it in. And like some drunken, cartoonish manifestation of id, your stomach implores you: Feeeed me, Seymour.

Our late-night hunger started gnawing at us after we began talking about the new exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, “Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine.” The show, which opens Saturday, features food and dining-inspired works from the likes of Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, Roy Lichtenstein and yes, Edward Hopper, whose Nighthawks inspired our cover story this week.

The iconic painting depicts three customers and a counter worker in a diner late at night, but Hopper’s 1942 work evokes so much more: the feelings of isolation and indiscretion that come with being out while the rest of the world sleeps, the freedom of digging into a plate of pancakes or migas well after 2 a.m., even the sense that we’ve got unfinished business. There’s always one more person to meet or conversation to have, and if it happens after midnight, you know it’ll be memorable.

Hopper’s inspiration is said to have been a late-night diner near his house in New York’s Greenwich Village, but unlike the city that never sleeps, DFW isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with all-night eateries.

In fact, until a few years ago, Fort Worth was typically in its pj’s by 10:30.

But that has been changing. As our entertainment districts expand, the nighthawks of North Texas are coming out to play — and eat. They’ve got late-night cravings for platters of pancakes, piping-hot mountains of cheese fries, Tex-Mex tacos and banh mi sandwiches. And they’ve got money to spend.

All of which means mores places are keeping their kitchens open later to meet the demand.

So, with art, food, commerce and pre-dawn revelry in mind, we decided to take you on a tour of some of our favorite late-night dining spots in the Metroplex. And pass the syrup, will ya?

Fort Worth

Salsa Limon Museo

Grub: Mexico City street-style tacos, burritos and tortas; quesadillas; and molca bowls — your choice of filling atop rice and refried beans. Breakfast options are available all day, plus veggie options. Four bottled salsas range from mild tomatillo to tongue-frying habanero. We prefer to put the salsas on chips, because the tacos speak for themselves.

Vibe: Salsa Limon was one of the pioneers of Fort Worth’s food-truck revolution, doing such successful business in a truck on Berry Street, across from another night owl, the original Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, that it expanded to three trucks. (There was already a food-court location in La Gran Plaza.)

In 2013, it opened in this small brick-and-mortar in a Cultural District building that has been around since the 1940s, housing such spots as Topsy’s Cafe (George Carlin — then a Fort Worth DJ — and journalist Bob Schieffer hung out there), J&J Oyster Bar, Rush Street Diner and even a Quizno’s. And it still has a food-truck vibe: The inexpensive items attract diners who are young and/or frugal; the menu is unpretentious but still offers a couple of choices for the adventurous ( lengua — that is, tongue — and tripe are among the fillings). You can sit at the counter and watch the cooks at work, at a window seat and watch the world go by, or outside in the funky retro furniture and be the world (many outside diners are accompanied by dogs entranced by the food’s aromas).

Must try: It’s hard to go wrong here, but the barbacoa molca bowl offers a mix of flavors and the best meat option at a place that does meat very well.

Where: 929 University Drive (The food-truck “mothership” is still at 2916 W. Berry St., and the La Gran Plaza location is at 4200 South Freeway, No. 1099.)

Hours: Beginning this week, Salsa Limon Museo will stay open till 3:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday — and, according to owner Milo Ramirez, if the response is good, they’ll extend hours to 3:30 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday as well. “We have a ton of people looking for late-night food, and we already have a reputation because of what we do at Berry,” Ramirez says. (The restaurant is open 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday.)

— Robert Philpot

Ol’ South Pancake House

Grub: Not just pancakes, although the variety here is hard to beat. There are ’cakes that let you believe you’re eating healthfully (blueberries, spiced apples), and ones that taste like dessert (peanut butter, chocolate chip, whipped cream-topped). But it’s not just pancakes — you can get other breakfast items, or a chicken-fried steak, a sandwich or even a genuinely healthful salad if the mood suits you. Good pies, too.

Vibe: This is the Fort Worth late-night dining institution, open since 1962. By day, it’s a place populated by families and meetings of various clubs (a group of Civil War history buffs meets there monthly), but late at night, it’s a cross-section of TCU students studying (or avoiding studying), late-shift workers, barflies satisfying post-last-call cravings, and assorted characters and eccentrics (it’s a great place to hang out late during the Stock Show). Servers are known for their friendliness and enthusiasm (some like to break into song), and celebrities have been known to drop in. Van Cliburn and his companion, Tommy Smith, were such frequent customers that there’s now a plaque, unveiled in 2013 after Cliburn’s death, commemorating his favorite booth and waitress Dottie Satterwhite, who was such a Cliburn fave that he and Smith didn’t eat at the restaurant if she wasn’t working.

Must try: The German pancake ($6.99), filled with lemons and layered with powdered sugar and whipped butter. You can add fruit toppings, but unadorned is the way to go. If you’re not that hungry, go for the Dutch babies ($4.49), the miniature version of the German pancake.

Where: 1509 S. University Drive, 817-336-0311; www.olsouthpancakehouse.com

Hours: Open 24 hours

— Robert Philpot

Embargo

Grub: Street-style tacos and Cuban sandwiches are on the menu at this downtown club on Eighth Street between Commerce and Calhoun, close to the Convention Center. More known for salsa dancing than salsa, don’t overlook this place, which offers some very tasty late-night noshing.

Vibe: It can be a different crowd every night, thanks to the club’s eclectic calendar: open-mike comedy Tuesdays, bachata dance Wednesdays, salsa night Thursdays and Sundays, and Latin-flavored party nights on the weekends. Note: There is a dress code that prohibits baggy clothes, jerseys or athletic gear and a host of other garb, but if you’re out for a show or cocktails, you’re already dressed to the nines, right?

Must try: The chorizo tacos (a fairly recent addition), the Dominicana sandwich (carne asada, Black Forest ham, grilled onions, cilantro, mozzarella, chipotle sauce and sliced avocados on a bolillo), or La Cubana, Embargo’s version of the classic Cuban, with house-roasted pork loin, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and spicy mustard, all pressed onto toasted French bread.

Where: 210 E. Eighth St., Fort Worth, 817-870-9750; www.embargodfw.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

— Heather Svokos

Picchi Pacchi

Grub: Face it, when you’ve been out boozing, nothing hits the spot like a big slice of pizza. Picchi Pacchi, the perennial downtown Fort Worth lunch favorite, is happy to oblige. The fast-casual Italian place serves classics during the day — pizzas, stromboli, lasagna, ziti and the like — but after midnight, the menu is pizza by the slice, salads and desserts. What else do you really need?

Vibe: You’ll get a cross-section of downtown here: out-of-town hotel guests, wedding parties, and staffers and patrons from clubs and entertainment venues, says owner Al Muric, who once owned Sammy’s Pizza at Houston and Third streets. When he had Sammy’s, he noticed a demand for after-hours dining, so starting in 2005, he kept that place open until 3 a.m. He carried on the tradition when he took over Picchi Pacchi in 2010. Late-night business has only grown since, he says, “especially on Saturday nights. It gets pretty wild in there.”

Must try: One of the restaurant’s mammoth slices — pepperoni or cheese for the pizza purists ($3.50 and $3.75), or veggie ($4.75) for those trying to lessen the post-midnight calorie burn. Plus chicken rolls, if there any left after midnight. Smothered in red sauce, please.

Where: 512 Main St., Fort Worth, 817-870-2222

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 a.m. weekends, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday

— Heather Svokos

Velvet Taco

Grub: Just when you thought there wasn’t room for another gourmet, gringo taco spot in Fort Worth, Velvet Taco swoops in on West Seventh Street and changes the game. Its innovative tacos, with everything from fish and chips to chicken tikka to calamari and paneer, have quickly become the talk of the town. Customers are lining up with a gleam in their eyes as they peruse the possibilities on VT’s menu. But the joint, which opened its original location in 2011 on Henderson Avenue in Dallas, doesn’t just tempt with tacos. There are also the luscious elote (street corn) and red velvet cake, and don’t even get us started on the tater tots. All that, and the place is open until 4 a.m. weekends.

Vibe: Located in the former 7th Haven spot, Velvet Taco is perfectly positioned to reel in the crowd spilling out of area bars. On a recent Saturday at 2:30 a.m., the line at the counter was long but moved briskly. The mostly young, well-dressed patrons sat at communal tables and chattered happily about the “awesome” tacos and tots.

Must try: The crisp chicken tikka taco ($3.95) is a spicy, Indian-flavored masterpiece with just the right amount of Thai basil and basmati rice. And, oh, those tater tots and local egg ($5.25)! The perfectly fried potatoes are covered in melted goat cheese and Cheddar, bacon, and basil cream and come with an expertly cooked sunny-side-up egg draped over the whole affair. If this delicious concoction doesn’t sober you up, call a cab.

Where: 2700 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth, 817-887-9810; 3012 N. Henderson Ave., Dallas, 214-823-8358; www.velvettaco.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Thursday, 11 a.m.-4 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-4 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-midnight Sunday, 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Wednesday

— Rick Press

Benito’s

Grub: The new kids on the Magnolia Avenue block have grabbed most of the headlines recently, but Benito’s continues to build a loyal following thanks to its authentic Mexican dishes, generous portions and tradition of staying open late on weekends. The migas, chorizo con huevos and other breakfast specialties really hit the spot after midnight, but so do the enchiladas and pozole soup.

Vibe: Old-school family restaurant with bright colors and a welcoming staff. The late-night crowd is usually a mix of hipsters who’ve been hanging out on Magnolia and ex-TCU students who fondly remember congregating here back in the ’80s and ’90s when Benito’s and Ol’ South were the only locally owned late-night dining options in town.

Must try: The enchiladas con mole rojo ($7.50). With just a hint of heat and sweetness, the Benito’s mole is wonderful. We also love the ceviche ($9.95), a large portion bursting with shrimp, fish, creamy avocado and not too many onions.

Where: 1450 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-332-8633; http://benitosmexican.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday

— Rick Press

Dallas

Cafe Brazil

Grub: Breakfast with an eclectic, international twist, along with familiar fare like chilaquiles, migas, pancakes and eggs Benedict. There’s also the Brazilian breakfast (two eggs, a chorizo empanada with spicy cream sauce, Cheddar cheese and tomatoes, plus rosemary potatoes and a jalapeño) and chipotle steak and eggs. If you don’t want breakfast food, there’s a big sandwich menu (with more spicy items), tacos, chicken dishes and pastas. Plus, a good selection of traditional and flavored coffees.

Vibe: Numerous locations in the Dallas area, but if you really want the late-night feel, go to the University Park one at 6420 N. Central Expressway, where you might have trouble finding a seat at midnight. Popular with SMU students, but also concert- and theater-goers looking for a post-encore bite. The Fort Worth location (2880 W. Berry St.), which opened three years ago, caters to TCU students and Berry Street barhoppers.

Must try: The Brazilian breakfast is always a good bet here — and it comes in a vegetarian-friendly version if meat isn’t your thing. We also like the fruit pancrepes, a pancake/crepe hybrid atop fresh fruit and festooned with raspberry sauce, walnuts, powdered sugar and creme anglaise. Frequent pancake specials are always worth checking out.

Where: Multiple locations; cafebrazil.com

Hours: Cedar Springs, University Park and Richardson locations open 24 hours. Fort Worth location open 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 24 hours Friday and Saturday.

— Robert Philpot

BuzzBrews Kitchen

Grub: Eating late often means health has to be discarded as fast as a greasy hamburger bag. That’s where BuzzBrews comes in, serving everything from Cruiser Smoothies (cantaloupe, banana, strawberries and granola, with optional spinach or avocado) to a breakfast tortilla wrap with veggie sausage and mushrooms, to a Baby Huey burger made with a chicken breast, poblano peppers and mozzarella on a French roll.

Vibe: Very casual, with lots of folks coming in from clubs and concerts.

Must try: BuzzBrews is known for its “marbles,” a potato side dish that can be ordered with garlic, mozzarella, Cheddar cheese, sour cream, bacon, chives and pico de gallo for $4.99. (The heck with healthy eating!)

Where: Locations in Deep Ellum, Oak Lawn and on Central Expressway near Knox-Henderson, with a fourth location soon to be announced for either East Dallas or the Cedars (south of downtown); www.buzzbrews.com

Hours: Oak Lawn and Central Expressway locations open 24 hours; Deep Ellum open 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, around the clock Friday and Saturday, and till 2 a.m. Sunday.

— Cary Darling

DaLat

Grub: It used to be that if you wanted to eat late, you weren’t going to get anything more exotic than cheese fries. But at Khanh Nguyen’s Vietnamese cafe/bar — which proclaims that it serves “VietNAMerican comfort food” — you can while away the wee hours over a steaming bowl of pho, a Vietnamese burger (pork patty on banh mi bread), VietMex tacos, ramen, Spam on sticky rice, or even low-carb spring rolls for the Paleo purists among us.

Vibe: The feel is coastal-hipster casual — this place could fit in easily in Silver Lake or Brooklyn. That sentiment is helped along by the neighborhood, a gentrifying stretch of East Dallas not far from Strangeways, the bar named after an album by the Smiths, and all the dining/bar action along Henderson Avenue. Not to mention the retro, Googie-style sign anchoring the parking lot screaming “DaLat, Open Late, Cocktails.” There’s also an outdoor bar that only adds to the level of coolness. It has become a gathering spot for post-concert/movie noshing and for waitstaff and chefs from other eateries looking for a bite on the way home. But there’s no hipper-than-thou ’tude, so don’t let any of the above stop you from slurpin’ down the pho.

Must try: Any of the phos, which come in beef, tofu, chicken and pork meatball varieties. But the Western-style desserts, like the cheesecake, seem fairly average. Stick with the main courses.

Where: 2537 N. Fitzhugh Ave., Dallas, 214-827-3200; dalatdallas.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily

— Cary Darling

Metro Diner

Grub: Above-average diner fare with a menu heavy on burgers, eggs, pancakes and chili.

Vibe: A checkerboard exterior, black-and-white flooring, red booths and the sign declaring “Always Cookin’,” along with the friendly middle-age waitresses who ask you if this is your first time there because they don’t remember seeing you before. Metro Diner has the feel of a place dreamed up by a screenwriter. But this place — formerly the Pitt Grill and built in 1964 — is no exercise in set design. It’s part of a small Texas chain and a mainstay in Oak Cliff that predates the area’s changeover from working-class to foodie fantasy. And the customers, a mix of nearby residents and those coming from shows at the Kessler Theater or other Oak Cliff hotspots, reflects the area’s evolving personality. But the menu doesn’t seem like it has changed in 30 years — and that’s a good thing.

Must try: The vegetable soup is surprisingly hearty and good. And the coconut meringue pie is a sweet footnote for a night out.

Where: 2316 W. Davis St., Dallas; 214-943-7473; www.facebook.com/MetroDinerDallas

Hours: Open 24 hours Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday, opens at 9 a.m. Monday

— Cary Darling

Pop Diner

Grub: American diner food with a full slate of breakfasts (including chocolate chip pancakes, waffle and wings, three-egg omelettes, and chicken-fried steak and eggs), sandwiches (classic Reuben and Philly cheesesteak, among others), burgers and hot dogs.

Vibe: American Graffiti meets early MTV. The colorful interior recalls the diner of ’50s cliche, but all the images — Molly Ringwald, Michael Jackson, Debbie Harry, Madonna, Prince — as well as the music being played is from the ’80s. There’s also a full bar along one wall, something you weren’t going to find at the malt shop on Happy Days. There are other places in Uptown open late on weekends — Union Bear across the street closes at 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays — but life doesn’t always stop at 2 a.m. And Pop Diner rocks around the clock.

Must try: Owner and native Detroiter Nik Gjonaj wanted to bring a slice of the Motor City with him, so he made sure that Pop Diner specialized in “naanis” (naan bread stuffed with chicken), which are to Detroit what the pizza slice is to New York or the hot dog to Chicago. Pop Diner offers four takes on the gyrolike sandwich: the special (chicken, bacon, ranch dressing, cheese), gyro naani (gyro meat or chicken, onions, tomatoes, cucumber sauce), honey mustard (chicken, bacon, green peppers, onions, cheese, honey mustard dressing) and the original (chicken, mayo, lettuce, tomato, cheese).

Where: 3600 McKinney Ave., Dallas, 214-599-8980; popdinerusa.com

Hours: Open 24 hours

— Cary Darling

Sundown at Granada

Grub: Overseen by executive chef Patrick Stark, Sundown at Granada’s menu is arguably the antithesis of what most people think of when they think of late-night eats: It’s healthy. The farm-to-table menu puts an emphasis on organic foods (even “super foods” like kale and quinoa have a home here). In addition to more than 60 beers and a smart roster of craft cocktails, Sundown features an inventive array of small plates, including flatbreads, wraps and vegetarian entrees.

Vibe: A cozy, comfortably appointed ski lodge crossed with great outdoor spaces, upstairs and down. There’s a little rock ’n’ roll edge to the place — fitting, seeing as it’s right next door to the Granada Theater — but whether you come dressed for a fine evening out or just a casual hang with friends, Sundown easily encompasses it all. An extra incentive: Sundown offers free live music (often from many of the area’s top local acts) from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven nights a week.

Must try: Can’t go wrong with the Shiner Bock brisket bites or spicy Southwestern quinoa salad, and be sure to save room for the Sundown burger, topped with goat cheese, pecan-smoked bacon and root beer-caramelized onions.

Where: 3520 Greenville Ave., Dallas, 214-823-8305; sundownatgranada.com

Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (kitchen open until 1 a.m. every day)

— Preston Jones

Fuel City

Grub: No-frills, real-deal tacos that taste like nothing else in North Texas. Served on flour or corn tortillas, the options seem a little limited if you’re accustomed to late-night fast food runs — no gonzo triple-layer nonsense here — but once you take a bite, you’ll never want to run for the border again. Often served piping hot, with nothing more than white onions and cilantro for garnish (don’t forget a squeeze of lime!), these dirt-cheap tacos ($1.40 each) are like dynamite — literally; that hot sauce can make you sweat.

Vibe: Tucked away just outside downtown Dallas, a few feet from a web of highway overpasses, Fuel City is funky before you ever step foot inside. A gas station and car wash, Fuel City also boasts five longhorns, grazing contentedly in a pen viewable from a small outdoor seating area. There aren’t any other seats here — it is a fully functioning gas station, after all — but given how long it takes to devour one of the tacos, perhaps ample seating is beside the point.

Must try: Fuel City offers five types of tacos, but the most delicious, in our humble opinion, are the barbacoa (steamed roast beef), pastor (spicy pork) and chicken fajita. (Note: Tasty breakfast tacos are only available from 5 to 10 a.m.)

Where: 801 S. Riverfront Blvd., Dallas, 214-426-0011; www.fuelcitywash.com

Hours: Open 24 hours

— Preston Jones

Note: For even more late-night dining options, check out the recent piece by our friend at the Food in Fort Worth blog.

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