Dining in the Dark

Despite Tucson's sleepy reputation, you are not far from somewhere with all-night eats

It's past midnight. You're hungry. You want food and perhaps a place to sit and relax, despite the late hours.

You're in luck: Even in Tucson, it only takes a short drive, no matter where you are, to get a bite to eat any hour of the night.

Your first stop might be the most well-known of late-night eateries: the Grill. Downtown at 100 W. Congress St., Grill makes for a unique experience no matter when you show up. This 24-hour Tucson staple finds its largest customer base through the late-night crowds that have come to love it.

"This place only comes alive after 9 p.m. It dies out only around 4 in the morning," said Karlen Ross, a nighttime worker at Grill.

Strong coffee and an up-front attitude are what you get here, set inside a building constructed in the 1920s.

"It's mom-and-pop, not corporate," said fellow nighttime worker Judy Ruiz.

Also, smokers rejoice: from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., Grill allows people to light up their cigarettes (but not bidis or clove cigarettes--"be a man," the house rule sheet proclaims).

Indeed, if you want, you can get sloshed at Grill's interior bar, the Red Room, and then settle in with the other late-night clientele once it closes at 2 a.m. Or, you could hop a cab to the Broadway Café.

Broadway Café, 4330 E. Broadway Blvd., is plush with 1950s motifs. A former 5 and Diner franchise, the shiny confines of the Broadway Café feature posters, memorabilia and a 24-hour breakfast menu (the dinner menu stops at 10 p.m.).

For lighter fare, there is always Coffee XChange near Campbell Avenue and Grant Road, which stays open 24 hours. This is the only Coffee XChange open past midnight, something that started three years ago in an effort to pull in the college crowds.

There also is the Safehouse, 4024 E. Speedway Blvd., a hip coffeehouse that stays open until 2 a.m. nightly--3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

"It's the only place you'll get bikers next to high school kids next to ... whoever," says Ben Frank, the "roast master" for the joint. Safehouse has been serving late-night crowds for almost a decade with a unique atmosphere. It also has free wi-fi Internet access.

Taking another direction, there are two places within a few blocks of each other on Campbell Avenue where you can easily sate your Mexican-food needs at all hours. Los Alazanes Mexican Restaurant, 2553 N. Campbell Ave., and Nico's Taco Shop, at the corner of Fort Lowell Road and Campbell, both offer a drive-through and sit-down dining.

Nico's has been in Tucson longer, but Los Alazanes has caught on strongly. This is the only Nico's in town that stays open all night.

Also on the late-night radar are the many Los Betos Mexican restaurants in town. This local chain operates 11 stores--one less than the number of Taco Bells here--and almost all are open 24 hours (see sidebar). Los Betos keeps things clean and is a regular winner in the Weekly's Best of TucsonTM.

If your taste buds seek sugar instead of spice, drop by the 24-hour Dunkin' Donuts at 5346 E. 22nd St. While the dining room closes at 10 (midnight on the weekends), the drive-through is always open, and if you want to enjoy those doughnuts and coffee in the desolate late-night outdoors, they have a patio you can sit at. Plus, they sell a dozen doughnuts for about $5.

For those who prefer Krispy Kreme doughnuts, your needs will be satisfied, too. The locations at 4585 N. Oracle Road and 3605 E. Broadway Blvd. offer 24-hour drive-through service.

But the best location for sweet pastries is Something Sweet Dessert Lounge, 5319 E. Speedway Blvd. Open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, Something Sweet offers a classy dining room, free wi-fi and all sorts of pies and cakes, effectively making for a useful late-night coffee shop/cybercafé on the eastside. They also have a to-go menu. Be sure to pick up a slice of cake there.

If you're around the UA on a weekend night, you can get your smoke on at Sinbad's, 810 E. University Ave., a Middle Eastern restaurant that offers a hookah bar until 1 a.m. from Thursdays to Saturdays.

And, if all else fails, there are also a smattering of national chain restaurants open 24 hours, including four IHOP locations, five Waffle House locations and all of the Denny's restaurants.

The clientele at the Denny's on River Road are just "average, everyday citizens," says graveyard shift server Josh Hannah, who sees a few people each hour come in.

Just remember, wherever you are in Tucson, and no matter what time it is, there is always somewhere close to get a bite to eat.

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