We all know the feeling: that hunger, rearing its head deep in the night. When a belly full of booze after a long night out demands nutrition of the non-liquid variety. Or perhaps, after your shift, cooking or serving others all night long, you want a meal in a decent setting that you don't have to make yourself.
Traditionally, Atlanta has not been a city of late-night dining, at least not beyond the (admittedly awesome) Earl dog variety. But in recent years, some Atlanta restaurateurs have slowly learned that there's a market for good food past 10 p.m. That, paired with the long-standing tradition of all-night ethnic eats on Buford Highway and beyond, makes for a variety of dining, even in the wee hours. To tackle tracking down the best of these meals, we split the task up: I took the traditional American and Euro-centric intown restaurants, and Jennifer Zyman, our resident cheap eats expert, took the ethnic spots. We stayed up late and ate our way through the city. Here is what we found:
Let's start with the granddaddy of all-night eating, the bizarre, the curious Au Pied de Cochon (3315 Peachtree Road, 404-946-9070, www.aupieddecochonatlanta.com). This upscale French restaurant in the InterContinental Hotel is open 24 hours and becomes stranger the later it gets. Warning: Try not to visit this restaurant if you're awake for ... uh ... unnatural reasons. At 3 a.m., crazy Venetian chandeliers and colorful paintings (kind of baroque Frenchie murals with pink pigs hiding in the loops and flourishes) are trippy enough to freak you out even if you're stone-cold sober. The place offers private booths with heavy red velvet curtains if you'd like some privacy. And you can hear music coming from the piano bar in the lobby. (Recently, the musicians managed to lodge Toto's "Africa" in my head.) The food's not half bad, especially if you stick with safer choices. In other words: French onion soup? Oui! Pork liver pate? Non. Classic steak tartar was delicious, though, and oysters from the raw bar went well with my hankering for 2 a.m. Champagne. (Hint: By the glass is way cheaper – who knows why?)
If you're out for the evening and you're looking for a vibrant scene as well as a great meal, there are now two options: Top Flr (674 Myrtle St., 404-685-3110, www.topflr.com; Mon.-Thurs., 4:30 p.m.-1 a.m.; Fri.-Sat., 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sun., 4:30 p.m.-midnight), and Holeman & Finch (2277 Peachtree Road, 404-948-1175, www.holeman-finch.com; Mon.-Sat., 5 p.m.-1:30 a.m.). After 10 p.m., both have as many folks there to drink as to eat, but that doesn't compromise either kitchen's ability to turn out stellar food late into the night. Top Flr excels at attitude, beautiful customers, and hearty food punctuated with bursts of freshness. A recent dish of gnocchi with duck was the perfect padding for a stomach ready to slurp down wine from the restaurant's eclectic list.
Holeman & Finch serves what's undoubtedly the best late-night food in the city, if only because it's one of the best restaurants in town and also happens to be open late. Charcuterie, offal, and rustic Southern sides are all as delicious at 1 a.m. as at dinnertime, but there are a few distinct advantages to visiting on the later side: 1) The burger. Served only after 10 p.m., this fast-food-meets-high-quality version is a wonder to behold. 2) The scene. H&F's location and pedigree draw the strangest mix of Buckhead debutante types, off-duty chefs and foodie hipsters. Throw a bunch of cocktails at them all and watch what happens. Which brings us to ... 3) The cocktails. Late night gives you more of an excuse to drink up, and drink up you should. Mixologist/owners Greg Best and Andy Minchow deliver some of the most creative and delicious drinks in town, powered by uncommon combinations such as vodka, Lillet Blonde, orange bitters and Miller High Life (otherwise known as the Swedish pinch).
On the other side of town, a slightly more low-key scene goes down on Edgewood Avenue. Noni's (357 Edgewood Ave., 404-343-1808, www.nonisdeli.com; Mon.-Fri., 11:30-2:30 a.m.; Sat., 5:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m.-midnight) serves its Italian menu all night, including the most buttery, decadent mushroom bruschetta ever. Unfortunately, the restaurant now allows smoking in the bar, which detracts from the deliciousness of the house-made pasta, but lord knows night owls love their smokes. Just up the street and under the bridge is Harlem Bar (262 Edgewood Ave., 404-588-0014, www.harlembaratlanta.com; Mon.-Sat., 6 p.m.-2:30 a.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.-midnight), which offers a full soul food menu until closing, sugary cocktails, friendly service and a chill hip-hop glitterati scene. The food here can be more greasy than flavorful, but it'll sure pad your belly if you're starved for fried pork chops or the like.