Best of Columbus 2009

Best Late Night Eats

From the 02/25/2009 edition

White Castle

Multiple locations


Your headlights lurch in the shadowlands of after hours. Dancing in your bleary rearview mirror are the tumbling fragments of another night that's not yet ready for bed. So you search for your wallet knowing you don't need much, and as it turns out, "not much" is the exact amount you have left.

Soon bursting your glazed moment of inertia and jerking your head is the familiar glare of large white tiles. Suddenly, with the force of a house afire, out blares that insistent guitar riff, that piercing solo and that immortal lyric: "Ooh, ooh that smell; can't you smell that smell?" That's right, you're pulling up to a White Castle.

I like how onion-screaming White Castle embraces its true cheapie fast-food identity and refuses to give in to healthier or trendier re-branding. And so over and over the Castle nudges you with the live-for-the-moment word crave. And who else would refer to their own greasy burgers as "slyders"?

Yet when those holey little patties have mustard, pickle and cheese fixed onto their soft and dissolving white-bread buns, they do have a way of soaking up the sins of the long evening. That's why the White Castle slyder is the taste that launched a thousand rip-offs.

Note that while White Castle often wins Alive's Best Late Night Eats award, it's unlikely to ever score high in the Best Early Morning Feeling category. Yeah, that smell gets around you.

Runners up: Betty's Fine Food & Spirits, Taco Bell