By Richard Foss
You know the story – the show was good, but you didn’t have dinner beforehand and spent some time hanging with friends afterward. You feel slightly hollow and look at the clock. It’s after 11, and you want something more flavorful than fast food, preferably in surroundings more congenial than your car.
Fear not, for The Argonaut is happy to present this guide to places where you can get a good meal in a pleasant setting when most people are already in bed. Here is a brief roundup of places where night owls dine in style:
Waterloo & City
Most gastropubs emphasize the pub side of the equation after around 10 p.m., but the kitchen at Waterloo & City in Del Rey stays open until midnight. You have a lot more than fish and chips or a burger to choose from, which is perfect for those nights when you crave a dozen oysters and a green chorizo pizza.
Manager Cicely Dyer confirmed that contrary to expectations, adventurous dishes move as it gets late.
“Some unusual items sell well late at night, including the chef’s specials – we’ve had fried pig’s ears, the PB&J, which is pork belly with jam, and wild boar. We sell a lot of fish and chips and a lot of burgers, but many people come here to try new things.”
When asked if Waterloo & City’s party atmosphere sometimes turns rowdy, Dyer said that since they close at midnight it’s rarely hectic. After a pause, she added, “The restaurant business can be a wild place to be, which is why most of us are in it.”
The crowd can also get lively at Santino’s Express in Venice, the tiny restaurant on Pacific Avenue that serves pizzas, paninis, and Argentine empanadas until 3 a.m.
It’s a boisterous place that sometimes gets crowded – we’d tell you more about what it’s like to work here, but we stopped by late at night when it was so busy that nobody had time to be interviewed. Even without any personal stories, we can tell you one thing – spinach empanadas taste great at 1:30 a.m.
The space is larger and the crowd is usually more laid back at Local 1205, the gourmet market and café in the middle of Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Though the menu options do shrink after 9 p.m., they still serve gourmet sandwiches, freshly made pizzas, and oysters on the half shell until 2:30 a.m.
There’s an added bonus to dining here – you can pick up some fresh bread, salads, or charcuterie for breakfast the next day, and it will taste great even if that breakfast is happening after the sun is high in the sky.
But what if your late night craving is for something from south of the border? La Cabaña will be happy to oblige – the stylish Mexican restaurant is open until 3 a.m., and they’re serving much more than the usual tacos. You can get a crab and shrimp quesadilla, a carne adovada plate, or Veracruz style fish, and watch the tortillas for your meal being made on the griddle in the middle of the restaurant.
It’s a remarkably upscale experience for the wee hours, and as you depart you may wave at the fearsome-looking Aztec deity on their sign. We think it’s the god of insomnia, but we’re not sure.
Pacific Dining Car
The atmosphere is even more stylish at Pacific Dining Car, the elegant Wilshire Boulevard steakhouse in Santa Monica that will be happy to serve you scallops with lobster sauce or a Colorado rack of lamb at 4:30 a.m. The restaurant is decorated with Victorian luxury and is hands down the most elegant place in Los Angeles that is open 24 hours. When asked who is ordering eggs Sardou in the wee hours, a manager responded that they have a varied clientele.
“We have regular customers – some are coming off a shift at the hospital, others are musicians who have played until a venue closed, people who have come away from studio shoots,” the manager said. “Sometimes our customers are stopping by after seeing a movie, and don’t know that the people around them have just finished making one. We occasionally have Europeans or Asians who are still in a different time zone – if they come right from LAX we have a place to put their luggage.”
The atmosphere is more casual at Swinger’s in Santa Monica, the hipster diner that is open until 3 a.m., but night manager, Lily, says the mix of professionals and partiers is much the same.
“We get a lot of people who work at other restaurants, a lot of bartenders who want a good meal. There are performers who just wrapped up a gig too – every once in a while we get someone who leaves the server a little starstruck, but it’s a very relaxed atmosphere in here. We’re friends with a lot of our late-night clients, or regulars, and it’s like family. We just keep the party going.”
Swinger’s covers the bases of traditional diner items like burgers and omelets, and they also serve a clientele that appreciates healthier options. Lily observed that as the night goes on, people’s orders change.
“As it gets later we serve a lot more stuffed grilled cheese, a lot more banana pancakes and shakes, because people want big, sweet flavors. There are people who come in late at night and get an ahi salad and a side of quinoa. I don’t know how they do it. If it was me, I’d get nachos.”
Waterloo & City, 12517 W. Washington Blvd., Del Rey. (310) 391-4222
Santino’s Express, 1611 Pacific Ave., Venice. (310) 450-5313
Local 1205, 1205 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice. (310) 396-6663
La Cabaña, 738 Rose Ave., Venice. (310) 392-6161
Pacific Dining Car, 2700 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 453-4000
Swinger’s, 802 Broadway, Santa Monica. (310) 393-9793