Dinner in the dark
When the mood strikes: Harry's Cafe de Wheels delivers. Photo: Wolter Peeters
It used to be that Sydneysiders wanting a late-night feed were held hostage to the city's dodgier kebab shops and greasy fast-food chains. But more exciting dining options have sprung into being. From lively dive bars, a bevy of Asian eateries and caffeine-fuelled study havens, this guide is all an insomnia-prone foodie needs to know to satiate the midnight to dawn munchies.
The new king of late night
In just eight months, Frankie's Pizza has become the go-to destination of the late-night scene. The brainchild of Anton Forte and Jason Scott, owners of the popular Shady Pines and Baxter Inn, Frankie's is a dive bar where the sounds of gritty overdriven guitars can carry you through until the sun comes up. Frankie's is open until 4am daily, so if you need to blow off a little steam or demonstrate your pinball wizardry, grab a New York slice of pizza or a craft-brew beer, this is the place for you.
Dumpling time ... Mr Wong is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the CBD.
Great Asian eats
For a real midnight feast, you really can't go past Chinatown's treasures. However, Thaitown is also worth a visit. Just opposite the Capitol Theatre in Haymarket is the popular Chat Thai. Queen of the Sydney Thai food scene (soon to be opening a new branch in Melbourne), Amy Chanta says there is a meticulous process involved in choosing her Chinese-Thai fusion supper menu. ''I have to love every dish [on the menu] … sometimes I spend months perfecting just one dish … if I don't love it, it doesn't go on the menu.'' A must-try is the kedgeree, a rice congee with a delicately balanced broth and flaking pieces of ling fish that goes a long way towards curing any self-inflicted ailments. For meatier bites, Korean barbecue restaurant Sydney Madang is deemed a new Golden Century, and with its charcoal-grilled beef ribs and home-made barbecue sauce is quickly growing in popularity among a new generation chefs and hospitality workers.
Sushi with a side of karaoke
Grab & go...Harry's Cafe de Wheels. Photo: Max Mason Hubers
The words ''quiet'' and ''karaoke bar'' aren't often found in the same sentence, but the guys down at Mizuya Japanese restaurant have created ''versatile, weeknight space'' manager Hin Ng says. The entire restaurant section is partitioned into little Wi-Fi-enabled booths, and ordering a plate of seasonal Otoro sashimi from the LCD screen means more time ploughing through that inbox. But if that gets a bit much, you can always belt out your best rendition of Don't Stop Believin' in one of the soundproof karaoke rooms.
Caffeine to keep you going
For surviving an all-nighter, nothing is quite like a freshly baked sourdough roll or pastry. ''Just knock on the door. If we aren't busy, we're happy to come serve you,'' the bakers at Infinity Sourdough Bakery say. Then head around the corner to the 24-hour Cafe Hernandez. If the warm, inviting aroma of coffee roasting alone isn't enough to give you a productivity buzz, then a cup of the rich, full-bodied house blend is sure to.
Worth its wait in gold
On one of the more quiet early evenings, the queue at Gelato Messina in Surry Hills might be 10 people long. On busy nights it can be 20 or 30 people long, even if it's raining. However, go down later in the night to taste its signature salted caramel and white chocolate gelato … you will lick the bowl clean then rejoin the queue for more.
A touch of class
In the old days, the infamous Bourbon and Beefsteak in Kings Cross hosted many colourful characters, from celebrities to gangsters, bent coppers to hookers. After three years of renovations, it's not just the clientele who have gone upmarket; the food has too. At the renamed The Bourbon, chef James Metcalfe, formerly of Becasse and Etch, delivers a Creole menu that aims to bring quality to late-night noshing. ''We wanted to bring some of the life from New Orleans and make it accessible and delicious,'' Metcalfe says. With slow-poached then roasted ribs and a spicy chow chow relish, it's definitely adding a high-class touch to the Golden Mile.
Chinese tea or tacos?
For a high-class Chinese restaurant, Mr Wong is tucked away from the hustle and bustle that is Sydney's George Street. But venture down the side streets and you'll be greeted by a waving fortune cat by the door as you enter what is one of the popular restaurants in Sydney. Merivale executive chef Dan Hong tells us that those looking for a late-night feed are in for treat. ''To me late-night food is about sharing,'' he says. With that in mind, Hong offers a serving of pillowy-soft dim sum and a warm pot of eight varieties of tea. Perfect for an intimate conversation or a late-night negotiation. For something a little more casual and fun, there's also Merivale's other late-night spots, such as El Loco. Hong recounts the motivation behind the menu: ''We spent a lot of time in LA late at night, eating at taco truck after taco truck, and we wanted food that was easy to eat, fun to share but with really high-quality ingredients.''
You can easily mistake the small, dimly-lit entrance of Stitch Bar with that of a tailor's shop. A wall of sewing machines, a small lamp-lit desk and a pair of floor-to-ceiling saloon doors lead the way to one of the trendiest concept bars in the city. This basement speakeasy, complete with its sewing machine tables (squeaky foot pedals included), comfortable booths and a chair or sofa in just about every corner, serves up American foodstuffs from duck, orange and pistachio sausage hot dogs to the mouth-watering David Blackmore Wagyu 9+ BLT Burger with a side of signature spicy curly fries.
Big treats in the small hours
Grab & go
Infinity Sourdough Bakery - 225 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, 9380 4320, open 24 hours (just knock on the door after midnight).
Harry's Cafe de Wheels - Brougham Street, Woolloomooloo, 9357 3074, open 24 hours.
Viet Hoa Bakery (Vietnamese Pork Rolls) - 2/105 John Street, Cabramatta, 9728 2518.
Chat Thai - 20 Campbell Street, Haymarket, 9211 1808, supper menu from 11pm to 2am daily.
Sydney Madang - 371A Pitt Street, Sydney, 9264 7010, open until midnight, Sun-Thu; 2am, Fri-Sat.
Mizuya Japanese Restaurant - Basement/614 George Street, Sydney, 9266 0866, open daily until late.
Thanh Mai Vietnamese Restaurant - 252 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights, 9726 6883, open until midnight, Sun-Thu; 2am, Fri-Sat.
Mr. Wong - 3 Bridge Lane, Sydney, 9240 3000, open noon until late daily.
The Bourbon - 22 Darlinghurst Road, Potts Point, 9035 8888, open until 1am, Sun-Wed; 2am, Thu; 4am, Fri-Sat.
Golden Century Seafood (Chinatown) - 393-399 Sussex Street, Sydney, 9212 3901, open until midnight; supper menu until 2am, Fri-Sat.
Dessert & coffee
Gelato Messina - 389 Crown Street, Surry Hills, 8354 1223, open noon-11pm, Sun-Thu; 11.30, Fri-Sat.
Cafe Hernandez - 60 Kings Cross Road, Potts Point, 9331 2343, open 24 hours.
Bay Vista - 83 The Grand Parade, Brighton-le-Sands, 9556 1727, open until 1am, Sun-Fri; 3am, Sat.
Bars with great food
Frankie's Pizza - 50 Hunter Street, Sydney, firstname.lastname@example.org, open until 4am daily.
Stitch Bar - 61 York Street, Sydney, (02) 9279 0380, open until midnight, Mon-Wed; 2am, Thu-Sat.
El Loco - Excelsior Hotel, 64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, 9211 4945, open until 10pm, Sun; until late, Mon-Thu; 2am, Fri-Sat.
Santa Barbara - 1 Bayswater Road, Potts Point, 9357 7882, open until 2am, Sun-Wed; 3am, Thu-Sat, (kitchen closes just before midnight).
What's your late night go-to place?