It’s the heat. We're not talking about the weather; food spice finds you like a brass instrument that’s played right in your ear. You feel an alarming jolt, your mouth and brain hurt and then go completely numb. Your eyes water and then the colors of the world — the neon and the washing sound of tires on a street — sharpen. There is nothing like eating spicy, chili-laden food after hours. You want more spice as it dissolves whatever weird $12 shot you had earlier on McKinney.
Splashing hot sauce, for example, on a New York-inspired slice of sausage pie from ZaLat, could stop Waterworld from happening. Shouting “more chili paste” (voice volume goes up when the heat is up) at Dal Dong Nae is a perfect night-ender, along with spicy rice cakes.
These restaurants are part of the kaleidoscope of interesting Dallas establishments that are available — scattered in both location and hours — late at night. From the cheesy to the greasy to the chili-covered and super spicy, these are the best late-night eats in Dallas.
1914 Commerce St. (Downtown)
Open until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday
Pro order: The Cheesebao-ger
It’s the little things that lift us out of the dark places. R&B palms the grind, an oblong column of 80 percent beef and 20 percent fat seasoned with only salt and pepper, to fit evenly in the bao buns. It gets a screaming griddle sear until the beef is armored in char. American cheese melts into a thick blanket, like it should. Darkened, salty-sweet onion jam sits between you and the fluffy bao. It’s like eating a cheeseburger in a cloud. Two pickle coins, each tasting like recently morphed cucumbers, are bright and fresh as rain. By the time you note the seasonings, the bao burger is gone. You’ll want another. Maybe a few hundred more. After 2 a.m., this bao is just big enough currency to purchase the end of a good night.
2823 Main St. (Deep Ellum)
Open until 2 a.m. daily
Pro order: The Late Night “Cookies”
It’s the sauce that you need. Cookie and Spencer Popp moved back to the U.S. around a year ago from Chengdu, home to some of the spiciest food in the world. Cookie Popp has been crafting pork and chive dumplings — affectionately named “cookies” on Harlowe’s 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. menu — since she was a kid.
“My special oil — that’s the key,” she says. It’s a head-warming cauldron of garlic, ginger and Thai chili. “I make the oil by myself. I mix everything together ... it just tastes like home.”
The Late Night Cookies are, essentially, a pop-up within Harlowe’s kitchen late at night. Keep an eye on the clock, and order extra sauce.
2714 Elm St. (Deep Ellum)
Open 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Sunday
Order: The Csavargo
This sandwich is all heat. There’s spice around every corner: Pork belly, tender and fatty, leans against Hungarian sausage that’s bursting with garlic and paprika. Shredded greens and tomatoes cool down the explosion from house-made pickled jalapeños, and a big, clear dose of mustard adds grain. The best late-night sandwiches are the ones with spice enough to clear your head like a fire through dry brush.
Revolver Taco Lounge
Order: The Mexican Hot Dog
There’s a good chance that you’ll catch garlic hitting a pan as soon as you walk into Revolver. The tortilla press, it looks like an ax embedded into a tree — makes a chunk sound. Owner Regino Rojas may be whacking meaty bones with a cleaver behind the counter. His pulpo taco is salty, spicy and extraordinary. The Mexican Dog is a special kind of heartwarming, inspired by the hot dogs Rojas grew up on — bacon-wrapped dogs with white onions rolling in carts around Guadalajara, Mexico. The sizzle steam of the griddle tells you good things. A zigzag of crema lightens the salty juices of the dog, and a fire-blistered jalapeño is placed in the red plastic basket. There are fresh tomatoes and onions, and a scatter of tender mayocoba beans. This is the street food of the sky lords.
Revolver Taco Lounge, 2701 Main St. Friday-Sunday 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m.
2323 N. Henderson Ave. (Knox-Henderson)
Open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Pro order: Chicken Milanese and fried rice
It’s possible that your mind will be screaming for the pasta. Gemma’s late-night menu extends a few dishes from dinner service, including a pappardelle with tender, salty rabbit. It’s great. Better is the sounds of breaking into a crunchy-fried, simple-as-the-moon chicken Milanese, one of chef Stephen Rogers' favorites. It’s bathed in buttermilk, breaded with Panko crumbs and light-fried, topped with shaved fennel and red onion. Order with a friend — the Forbidden Fried Rice — which has duck fat in it. It’s a game-changing late-night food. Also? The fried rice is cooked with hot sauce.
Dal Dong Nae
11445 Emerald St. (Royal Lane Korea Town)
Open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Pro order: Spicy rice cakes
No, it’s nothing like a bag of Quaker’s papery puff circles that are designed to be “healthy.” An order of these after midnight — when they’re best consumed — will set any ill-tempered mood at ease. Carbs, when the moon is highest in the sky, taste like heaven brought down to earth. The rice cakes at Dal Dong Nae are chewy dough mixed in with gochujang, Korea’s spicy chili paste, alongside glass noodles, scallions and cabbage. Surrounded by Banchan, the beloved array of sides, it’s really like you’ve died and gone to the happy place.
1901 N. Haskell Ave. (East Dallas)
Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Pro order: Queso
On the patio at E Bar, the world disappears. The TVs are cooking with bright colors, and the margaritas keep showing up. When your head starts to thrum from the tequila, it’s time for queso. Dallasites know: There are two ways to order queso under the moonlight. One is the smooth cup of gold, hot, fatty cheese, unobstructed by anything at all. Then, there’s the queso that’s dabbed in the center with ground beef, sour cream and guacamole. How do you do it? Do you swirl it methodically, spiraling it into a beefy, cheesy soup? Queso is a process. E Bar knows it. It won’t take long to arrive.
2800 Routh St. (Uptown)
Open 11:30 a.m.-3 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Pro order: Drunken Noodles
One of the best orders in the city is drunken noodles — pad ki mao is broad, flat ribbons of noodles with loads of garlic, soy, chili and basil — at an absurd hour of the night. Sure, we probably have no business wolfing noodles and basil, thick with good oil, at 2 a.m., but that’s exactly what we’re going to do. It’s served in a flexible cardboard bowl that begs you to eat it in your car, engine running. It’s hot, fast and garlicky. Scoop on extra sauces at the bar to up the heat to jet-engine levels. Your eyebrows will sheer clean off.
Ten Bells Tavern
232 W. 7th St. (Bishop Arts District)
Open 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
Pro order: Carlito’s Dog
Chili simmers with coffee, beer, onion and chili powder. It’s the color of a dark wood. The bun is made in-house, because it’s impossible not to love a local tavern that makes its own bun for a chili dog. Carlito’s Dog, named after Ten Bells’ original chef Carlos Mancera, is wonderful, un-nutritious and surprisingly restrained bar food that was crafted as a life raft to escape the State Fair of Texas. It’s not soggy from overwhelming scoops of chili and bales of cheddar — many chili dogs bury the dog in the hot dog — which can have a flavor profile falling face-first into the Salt Flats.
5818 Live Oak St. (East Dallas)
Open 3 p.m.-2 a.m. daily
Pro order: Nachos
The pool balls crack, and the jukebox interrupts with "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!" The Lakewood Landing comes alive at 11 p.m. The magic of these bar nachos — the right late-night nachos can U-turn even the worst moods — is in the construction: On each chip, there’s a smooth layer of refried beans, cheese, tomatoes, fresh jalapeños and beef. Monterey Jack and cheddar melt evenly over a single tortilla triangle, keeping everything in its correct nacho place. A few green onions top each chip for an herbal crunch because a little fancy and color never hurt anyone. It’s fine to devour these solo at the bar. As the jukebox warms up, you'll realize you’re never alone.
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5629 SMU Blvd. (SMU)
Open until 4 a.m. on Friday and Saturday
Pro order: Katsu Corn Dogs
You need fried breading that crackles after midnight. A good rule of thumb is the louder the crack of the fried casing, the faster a hangover breaks. Sumo Shack's Tokyo Dog, made with house-made Wagyu-blend beef sausage, comes with a neat pile of bonito flakes, scallions, caramelized onions and nori. It works. The katsu corn dogs, a few for less than $5, are spectacular and simple, a snack of breaded Kurobuta sausage.
They crunch — from the bronzed Panko batter — loud enough to set off car alarms. The sausages encase juices, moated inside the coarse breading. Dip them in the spicy mayo for some creamy heat. After that, good night and good luck.