It’s midnight. You’re out on the town, and suddenly the hunger pangs hit you hard.
You don’t want to hit a fast-food joint. You don’t want greasy. You want something better.
From trendy eateries with late-night menus to gourmet food trucks, your choices are growing across South Florida, making that fourth meal option easier to stomach.
“People want a quality, authentic product, and they’re not settling for fast food any more,” said Brian Connors, a hospitality consultant with Connors Davis & Company. “The college days are over; so are the nights of only having greasy pizza and burgers as an option.”
About one-fifth of all employed Americans now work mostly at night or on a rotating schedule, according to Harriet Presser, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland. Restaurants want to capture that late-night market, Connors said.
Rice and Dough, a restaurant in the business district of Fort Lauderdale, offers a blend of pizza, sushi, sandwiches and salads until 3 a.m. on weekends, owner Goran Perovic said. The restaurant is open until midnight on weekdays.
“There’s a niche for late-night food on this side of Las Olas Boulevard,” Perovic said. “When people are out late having drinks, they get cravings for food, and until now, the only option was to drive to the other end of Las Olas and eat at the Floridian.”
Rice & Dough, which opened on the ground floor of the Camden Apartments building on Southeast Second Street in April, offers lighter fare than the competing late-night fast-food and diner options in Fort Lauderdale, Perovic said.
“We have fresh sushi until 3 a.m.,” he said.
Dada, on North Swinton Avenue in Delray Beach, has been serving a late-night menu every day of the week since it opened off Atlantic Avenue 12 years ago, said Scott Frielich, vice president of Sub Culture Restaurant Group, based in Palm Beach Gardens.
“There’s a nocturnal group out there, whether they work late hours or are out at the bars. We want to cater to everyone,” he said.
All items on Dada’s menu are available until 2 a.m.
“Some people come in and order a full meal at 1 a.m.,” Frielich said.
Dubliner, an Irish pub and restaurant in Mizner Park in Boca Raton, serves food until 2 a.m. Kapow, an Asian fusion restaurant also in Mizner, serves noodles and sushi until 1:30 a.m.
E & J’s Sandwich Shop on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach could be what Primanti Bros. is to the north stretch of Fort Lauderdale beach: a place to grab a sandwich near a busy bar district.
“There really wasn’t a place to grab a sandwich for cheap and just relax on Atlantic Avenue,” said Eric Clark, director of operations for E & J’s, restaurateur Burt Rapoport’s newest establishment.
The 400-square-foot restaurant sells freshly made sandwiches, wraps, beer and wine until 2 a.m. on weekends. The shop is across the courtyard from another Rapoport restaurant, Deck 84.
The late-night trend did start with fast food, and chains like Taco Bell, McDonald’sand Miami-based Burger King still offer many late-night options.
“Our late-night menu, or our fourth day part as we call it, has been growing for several years,” said Phil Gray, an owner and operator of six McDonald’slocations in Boca Raton, Deerfield Beach and Coconut Creek.
There are 179 McDonald’slocations in South Florida, and 131 of those are open 24 hours. Aside from a Big Mac or nuggets, night owls can get lower-calorie options such as oatmeal or yogurt parfait at any time.
Restaurants are a little late to the game. Food trucks often park outside bars and stay into the early-morning hours. Food truck Source parks at Laser Wolf, a bar in Fort Lauderdale, on weekends.
“The interest in late-night food is still convenience,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for the Chicago-based NPD Group. Balzer projects that food consumed between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. makes up about 6 percent of regular eating habits. “There’s something to be said about not having to get out of your car.”