Seven Great Late Night Eats in Boston
“Boston is a college town with a lot of cooks,” says Uni chef Tony Messina. “We see a lot of college kids and a lot of industry people who are looking for good late night food. Consistently, after midnight, we’ll see a giant rush.” Uni, an upscale restaurant by day, lets loose after-hours with ice cream sandwiches, hot dogs, and ramen. It’s a winning formula that has now become a no-brainer for most new chefs and restaurateurs in the Boston area.
As little as three years ago, the options were scant, and generally disappointing, but now the wee hours are grounds for unfettered creativity as Fairsted Kitchen, La Brasa, and Merrill and Co. have shown this year. Here are seven of our favorite dishes, best consumed late at night.
1. Merrill & Co.: Line Cook’s Whim
When designing his late-night menu at Merrill & Co., chef Jason Cheek turned to the grandaddy of after hours dining: Eastern Standard. “We just wanted to do simple, satisfying grub for people who want something good to eat late at night,” Cheek says. “It’s similar to Eastern Standard’s philosophy, where they feature a couple of their more popular dinner items, like the flat iron steak, to go along with some chalkboard specials that vary from evening to evening.”
For Merrill & Co., that means you can grab Cheek’s burger with bacon-onion jam or fried chicken with waffle fries, as well as experimental one-offs that never make it to the regular dinner menu. Dubbed the “Line Cook’s Whim,” the rotating menu spot has included everything from a smoked trout benedict on buttermilk biscuits to miso- and soy-marinated hot dogs dressed with pickled jalapenos and house-made kimchi. “It’s a creative outlet for a lot of my cooks,” Cheek says. “We’ve designed it to be a little more fun. As long as it’s in a bar food format, they can just go to town and do some really cool stuff.”
1 Appleton St., Boston; 617-728-0728 or merrillandcoboston.com.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 11 p.m.-12:30 a.m.
2. Fairsted Kitchen: Pig Mac
Since taking over for Scott Osif as Fairsted Kitchen’s executive chef, Jason Albus has introduced a number of tasty “Supper” items—sumac-cured salmon, escargots, and a grilled wagyu with ras el hanout—but the oft-rotating late night menu is where he’s truly made his mark. Recent themes have included South Carolina-inspired fare, carnival food, famous regional sandwiches, and Mexican street food.
Currently, Albus is exploring the cuisine of Southeast Asia with dishes like his Pig Mac, a riff on the ubiquitous Big Mac, made with fried pig head patties, tri-level buns from LaVallee Bakery, mint, pickled daikon and carrot, a cilantro cream sauce, and a “Special Sauce,” made from rice wine vinegar, thai chilies, cilantro stems, and a fish sauce reduction. “I take a whole pig head, cook it low and slow in the oven at 275-degrees, pick off all the meat and fat, and roll it up like a compound butter or foie gras torchon,” Albus says. “If a Big Mac had been created in Southeast Asia a really long time ago, that’s what it would have looked like. That’s my theory, at least.”
1704 Beacon St., Brookline; 617-396-8752 or fairstedkitchen.com.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 p.m.-1 a.m. and Friday-Saturday 11 p.m.-2 a.m.
3. La Brasa: Tacos de Carnitas
The overwhelming favorite on La Brasa chef Daniel Bojorquez’s truncated, late-night menu are his tacos de carnitas, a dish he calls the “hamburger of Mexico.” La Brasa’s tender carnitas are made from slow roasted, skin-on Berkshire pork shoulders that have been dry-rubbed with paprika and chilis. After eight hours in La Brasa’s signature wood-burning oven, Bojorquez combines “70 percent soft inner meat with 30 percent crispy outer shoulder” and pockets it in steamed Cinco de Mayo corn tortilla. He tops each taco with grilled chili de árbol, chopped onion, cilantro, lime juice, and a salsa verde made from fresh green tomatillos grown at co-owner Frank McClelland’s Apple Street Farm.
“It’s pretty straightforward because we wanted it to be like the street tacos I used to eat in my hometown of Mexico City,” Bojorquez says. “They’re so popular, we have a joke in the kitchen where we shout out, ‘carnitas for life!’ every time someone orders it.”
124 Broadway, Somerville; 617-764-1412 or labrasasomerville.com.
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 p.m.-1 a.m.
4. JM Curley: Chicken Lil’ Sando
Inspired by a youthful guilty pleasure, JM Curley chef Chris Bauers created a chicken sandwich that has nearly usurped Curley’s widely acclaimed “JMC” burger. “At summer picnics with my family—this was about 20 years ago—we used to always eat these little chicken biscuit sandwiches from KFC, and I always really loved it,” Bauers says. “I figured I could do it better, and obviously they don’t make it anymore, so I said, ‘let’s put a fried chicken sandwich on the menu.'”
Bauers starts by marinating boneless skin-on chicken thighs in buttermilk and egg, then dredging them in all-purpose flour, Wonder Flour, and corn flour for “extra texture and flavor.” After frying the chicken, he places them on scratch-made buttermilk biscuits alongside crinkle-cut dilly pickles and a spicy aioli made from house-made mayo and mustard, paprika, cayenne, sambal, and horseradish. “We introduced the Chicken Lil’ Sando back in March, and it’s already catching up to the hamburger, which is a really nice change of pace,” Bauers says.
21 Temple Place, Boston; 617-338-5333 or jmcurley.com.
Hours: Monday-Wednesday 10 p.m.-1 a.m. and Thursday-Saturday 11 p.m.-1 a.m.
5. Uni: Vegetable Ramen
What more can be said about Uni’s late night ramen that hasn’t already been mentioned ad nauseum? In particular, the veggie ramen—with its savory broth made from mushrooms, white miso, and Parmesan rinds—has been the subject of such fawning adulation, it hardly needs another endorsement.
But despite the liberal amount of praise, and the fact that we’ve now reached a ramen tipping point in Boston, Ken Oringer and Tony Messina’s early precursor (it debuted in the spring of 2012) remains an unrivaled bowl of noodles. Each bowl is meticulously assembled, with garnishes like slow-roasted pork shoulder and XO sauce, and a heaping amount of custom-made Sun Noodles, the same brand favored by David Chang. Messina also says that within the month, joining new late night options like scallion pancakes, takoyaki, and sashimi, will be a rotating wild card ramen that “might incorporate everything from hot dogs to kimchi.”
370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston; 617-536-7200 or unisashimibar.com.
Hours: Friday and Saturday 11 p.m.-2 a.m.
6. Saus: Poutine with Pork Belly and Fried Egg
Saus might be better known for their exquisite Belgian waffles and pommes frites, but owners Renee Eliah, Chin Kuo, and Tanya Kropinicki have also consulted with Canadian culinary experts and visited dozens of Quebec poutineries to master that most famous of hangover salves: poutine.
The merger of spuds, curds, and gravy might seem like a simple formula, but like Buffalo wings and other regional plebian staples, it generally proves problematic the further you get from its homeland. Not at Saus, where the russets are aged for at least a month before being peeled and double-fried, the viscous gravy is house-made from chicken, veal, and dozens of aromatics, and the cheese curds are sourced from Pineland Farms in Maine. But it’s the add-ons that really set Saus’s poutine over the top: bacon and stout braised beef, deep fried eggs from landlord Phil DeNormadie’s farm in Fairhaven, and slow-roasted pork belly that is left untrimmed, so the end result “remains fatty and unctuous,” according to Eliah.
33 Union St., Boston; 617-248-8835 or eatfrites.com.
Hours: Thursday 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Saturday: noon-2 a.m.
7. A4 Pizza: Clam and Bacon Pizza
“What separates great pizza is the time you take to ferment the dough and controlling the temperature in the cooking process,” says co-owner Jeff Pond of A4 Pizza in Somerville. “The 90-second traditional Neapolitan pizza has to do with the heat of the oven, and to me, that’s angry. That’s cooking at 950-degrees, which is out of control, it’s like driving a Ferrari at 150 miles per hour. It’s fun, but it’s dangerous.”
Pond instead bakes his pies at 725 degrees in a custom-built, open hearth bread oven using a sourdough starter he developed 13 years ago at Tomasso Trattoria in Southborough. His toppings adhere to co-owner Michael Leviton’s philosophy on promoting local and sustainable ingredients, like the Niman Ranch slab bacon and Quahog clams on A4’s most popular offering, the clam and bacon pizza. Pond first steams the clams open with a little bit of water and then makes a white sauce from the liquor, mixing in olive oil and garlic that has been blanched three times “to take out some of that hot garlic flavor.” Bonus: After 11 p.m., A4 offers half-priced slices from its menu.
445 Somerville Ave., Somerville; 617-764-4190 or areafour.com.
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11 p.m.-1 a.m.