Don Chucho in South Philadelphia

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Nightlife eating in Philadelphia doesn’t just mean grabbing a cheesesteak. From Mexican trucks and bodegas in South Philly to 24-hour falafel shops in West, the city offers an array of independent late-night food options.

These neighborhood favorites inspire fierce loyalty, especially after surviving the pandemic. They’re true institutions, serving up their food, their way. Bonus: at these kinds of joints, your munchies fix won’t bust the evening’s budget.

As the city tentatively opens up, it’s the perfect time to celebrate the cuisine these small operations are making with love.

Here are seven places to add to your late-night list in Philadelphia.

Don Chucho, South Philly

This quintessential corner taqueria is owned by business partners Javier Velasco and Jesús “Don Chucho” Mozo, who immigrated to Philadelphia from Veracruz, Mexico, in the 1990s and opened La Veracruzana on Washington Avenue, kicking off the city’s taqueria scene.

Daily specials are hand-written in Spanish on bright poster boards in the windows. Inside, you’ll usually find three older women busy grilling orders of tacos while Spanish-speaking patrons sit and chit chat about their day’s work. Coming here is a joyous opportunity for Latinos to speak their native tongue and get a taste of home.

Tip: The loaded $9 carnitas tacos with onions, cactus, radish, and lime are the perfect antidote to an exhausting day.

1148 S. Snyder Ave.
Open till 11 p.m.

Black Cat, Lower Moyamensing

This tavern reopened post-lockdown in April, about 5 years after it first brought Polish comfort food to deep South Philly.

Co-owner Marlise Tzaczuk replicates dishes from her grandmother’s recipes, including the top-notch pierogies and a creamy potato salad with eggs and celery. Kielbasa sourced from Swiacki Meats in Port Richmond is both char-grilled for shareable platters and ground into juicy burger patties.

And you never know what else will show up on the daily-changing menu. “I always have fun seeing what’s new,” said neighbor Neil Bardhan, who speaks highly of the spot. “Every time I’ve stopped by in the last four years, I’ve been glad I did and wished I could have stayed longer.”

Neil’s advice: start with the $12 Polish sampler and branch out from there.

2654 S. 12th St.
Open till 11 p.m.

The Black Cat Tavern on Oregon Avenue Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Three Countries, Point Breeze

This pizzeria doesn’t even open until 7 p.m., a strategic pivot that benefits folks grinding second and third night shifts in nearby hospitals. It’ll fulfill any pizza cravings with the classics, but also has a giant selection of other easy eats: hoagies, wraps, burritos, gyros, cheesesteaks — even pasta.

Neighbor Ben Novack, who said he’s been a steady customer for two years, described the spot as “meeting a lot of essential late-night needs for our household.”.

If you’re in the mood for sweets, you’re in luck: milkshakes, cheesecake and tiramisu are also on the menu.

1626 Dickinson St.
Open till 4:30 a.m.

El Rancho Viejo, Queen Village

Set apart from the main 9th Street and Washington Avenue strips, this tiny yellow storefront at 5th and Carpenter is almost a hidden gem among South Philly taquerias.

Almost everything’s made in house by the family that runs the place, and the menu is full of standards — giant $10 burritos, tacos of all stripes — plus lots of specialties. Chicken mole platters will fill any size craving, and the fried guacamole (!!!) or handmade sopes make perfect snacks.

Jarritos and other Mexican sodas are available to go along, and fresh-made churros make a great finish for the night.

942 S. 5th St.
Open till 10 p.m.

Makkah Market, Spruce Hill

Part market, part cafe, and part clothing store, this 25-year-old shop is a cornerstone of Middle Eastern culture in West Philadelphia. Doors never close, and hot food is served ’round the clock.

Former neighbor Alexandra Jones said she often shopped the aisles for “big jugs of olive oil, a huge selection of quality but really affordable spices, and harder-to-find items like goat meat and fresh-made injera.”

Whether or not you pick up groceries on your late-night run, the $4 falafel sandwiches, $9 shawarma platters, and other dishes from Moroccan and Egyptian cultures have your hunger covered.

4249 Walnut St.
Open 24/7

Urban Saloon, Fairmount

If you’ve been looking for that low-key neighborhood pub ready to fulfill your pre-bed cravings, this unpretentious sports bar across from Eastern State Penitentiary is ready to serve.

Chicken tenders? Nachos? Tots? Smash burger? Hot chicken? Check on all counts. At about $10 per plate, this spacious tavern with a big outdoor seating area is the spot to end an evening out with friends.

Regulars appreciate the consistent menu and regular Quizzo events. Plant yourself in front of a giant TV screen, order one of everything, and be ready to sink satisfied into your Uber ride home.

2120 Fairmount Ave.
Open till 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at midnight)

David’s Mai Lai Wah in Chinatown Credit: Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

David’s Mai Lai Wah, Chinatown

Sometimes places are famous for a reason. That’s the case with this Chinatown favorite, which has long been a go-to for restaurant industry folks looking for a post-shift meal.

Fried, crispy, and crunchy are the textures to chase, and the Cantonese/Hong Kong style menu offers literally dozens and dozens of options. Bartender Emma Hobson offers her picks:. “My favorite thing is their fried dumplings served with ginger scallion sauce, and salt and pepper wings.”

David’s has been a late-night crowd favorite for over 30 years — step through darkened doors to the always bright interior and find out why for yourself.

1001 Race St.
Open till 3 a.m.

Alisha Miranda is a food and travel writer based in Philadelphia. Her stories have been featured in The Inquirer, Thrillist, and Edible Philly, among others. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram...