America's preeminent eater on what to shove in your mouth after you drink your face off.
I think if you look at the landscape of dining right now, the hottest restaurants—the hardest to get into—are serving “chef menus,” meaning menus that represent what chefs want to eat after work. So in a lot of ways, that sort of stoner food/drinking food has become the late-night go-to. Stuff that helps sop up the liquor, that’s what’s hot. And that’s a very good thing.
Photo-Illustration by John Ueland | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
Red ScarePhotographed for Maxim by Matthew Salacuse | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013Photographed for Maxim by Matthew Salacuse | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
For chefs the number one late-night drunken cuisine is really spicy Chinese food. That’s the absolute top of the list. Intensely flavored, really spicy stuff that appeals to jaded palates, sops up the liquor, and wakes you up. At least enough to get you home. The all-time classic is Great N.Y. Noodletown in Chinatown, but if you’re looking for an example of this new kind of food, you can hardly do better than Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York. This is food that’s designed from the get-go to scare the evil out of you: It’s just a whole new dimension of sado-masochistically delicious pain. Not all of it is spicy, but when it is, it’s uncompromising, unrelenting, and merciless. I’ve been with one chef who wasn’t prepared, and he had to get up and run to the bathroom. It was just too much for him. But what’s interesting is that even after that first painful experience, you wake up the next day craving it like a junkie. It’s addictive.
Burger KingsPhotographed for Maxim by Matthew Salacuse | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
Literally, the first thing I do when I land in Los Angeles—before I even go to the hotel—is stop at the airport In-N-Out Burger, and chances are that on the way out I’m grabbing another one. In New York the closest thing is Shake Shack, which I love. I go twice a week. It’s a great burger prepared fresh by people who give a shit. And that’s huge! The best high-end burger I’ve had in a long time was at Holeman & Finch in Atlanta. They make only two dozen each night at 10, then they ring a bell, and the first lucky customers get them. They’re not fancy; there’s no mango-tomato fucking relish on them. They understand that what’s so glorious about a great American hamburger is good meat, a good bun, and no bullshit.
Eat Your VegetablesPhotographed for Maxim by Matthew Salacuse | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
Believe it or not, there is a place for vegetables in late-night eating; it’s just a question of finding chefs who can get really intense flavors out of them: guys in New York like Alex Stupak at the Empellón Cocina, who does some amazing things with carrots, or David Chang at Momofuku, with his Brussels sprouts. The thing about veggies, though, is they’d better not be bland. One of the things that’s pushed people toward Chinese cuisine is the ratio of meat to carbs and vegetables. We’re talking about 20 percent protein mixed with noodles, veggies, rice, or all of the above. You don’t want to take on a 24 oz. porterhouse and then roll into bed. That might lead to a colon-related mishap.
It’s easy to look at Vegas and say, “I don’t like it or respect it,” but the fact is the people who have chosen to do business there are not fucking around. You go to Craftsteak, you’re going to get a great steak. Bouchon is terrific, even the room service. The food in Vegas is a hell of a lot better than anything in Times Square. Slice of Life
To me the perfect slice of pizza is the New York utility slice that you can eat while you’re walking down the street. The slice can’t be too hot or you get that tectonic cheese slide that’s slightly disturbing and possibly disfiguring. A big hunk of molten cheese sliding onto your crotch is not good.
Keep on Truckin'
No matter how entertaining it is to make fun of food trucks, we need more of them. You’d have a hard time arguing that Roy Choi’s Kogi trucks in L.A. haven’t made the world a better place. I’d much rather see people eating some pork belly on a steamed bun than giving money to the King, the Clown, or the Colonel.
Thai FightersPhotographed for Maxim by Matthew Salacuse | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
One of the things we look for when we’re doing our show is not “What’s the best restaurant in town?”—or the hippest—but what’s the go-to food for people who have had too much to drink? Often that’s Asian food, and two of the places that do it best are Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon, and New York City, and Night + Market in L.A. They’re both basically Thai street food that’s been elevated to another level, and they’re unapologetic about it.
Welcome to WienervillePhotographed for Maxim by Matthew Salacuse | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
Everyone loves a hot dog, and they appear in various permutations everywhere we go on the show: strange, totally fucked-up takes on the hot dog. And I think the more the culture drinks, the wilder the variations get. In Sweden they wrap them in flatbread with shrimp salad and mashed potatoes. In Finland they serve them with mayonnaise, chopped pineapple, and ketchup. As for more typical dogs, you can never go wrong with a classic griddled New York dog from Gray’s Papaya or Papaya King. One of those will definitely make you feel better about the world.
Some of the best places for late-night eats are Japanese izakayas—basically beer- and sake-friendly spots that serve casual food. They’re not sushi bars; rather, they serve grilled or fried snacks, like yakitori. Small portions, where you can eat a lot of them. Totoraku in L.A. is a great one. It’s drinking food.
Big Easy Eats
Since New Orleans is such a nightlife town, it’s a good thing there are so many great food options. Take Verti Marte, for instance, a takeout deli in the French Quarter that’s open 24 hours a day, so you call out for a bottle of bourbon, a muffuletta sandwich, and a carton of Parliaments at 4 a.m., and they’ll deliver.