Thanks to the 1999 “Rave Law” put into effect by the city of Gainesville, every bar in town must close its doors at 2 a.m. It’s a strange phenomenon, being anywhere in town that late. Closing time rolls around, and streets in Midtown and downtown are awash with drunken students looking for something to treat their munchies. As a Gainesville newcomer, I’ve experienced the quandary of trying to find somewhere to eat this late at night (or early in the morning) several times. After making my rounds around our little city for a few months, I have compiled a brief list of the best restaurants that will serve you quality food later than anywhere else in Gainesville.
For a place that hosts high-energy punk rock shows in its backyard, Boca Fiesta is a surprisingly upscale Southwestern restaurant once you step inside. There is no greasy counter where you place your order. The waiters don’t wear T-shirts, and the restaurant’s lighting is dim, but in a fancy way.
Boca Fiesta is open until 2 a.m. on every night except for Sundays, when the restaurant closes at 11 p.m. Boca boasts a diverse menu, offering original options like alligator burritos, fried mac-and-cheese balls and a series of specials called “weird meat of the month.” Last I checked it was fried rattlesnake. While Boca’s varied selection of meats is enticing, the menu also includes plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. Boca even has a dairy-free version of those fried mac-and-cheese balls.
Boca Fiesta is not perfect, though. With that fancy atmosphere comes fancy prices. Burritos cost $8 and come with no sides, and service is not the fastest. Last time I was at Boca, I had a server wait 15 minutes before getting to me, presumably because I sat down at 9:45 p.m., and the restaurant stop giving out free chips and salsa at 10 p.m.
I guess you could call Gator Baked “American food” because almost everything on the menu is fried. Unlike Boca Fiesta, Gator Baked makes you order your food at a greasy counter, the employees are all wearing T-shirts and the decor is, well, perplexing. There is one wall decorated with a collage of random images, including movie stars like Jack Nicholson.
Still, this is the only place downtown that will serve you a hot, freshly made doughnut after midnight. The shop also offers hard-to-find fried sides like tater tots and onion rings. Last time I was here, I paid $3.50 for a piping hot maple-bacon doughnut and two super greasy McDonalds-style hash browns. Gator Baked is open until 3 a.m. every night and is located downtown in a small brick building next to Cowboys Saloon.
Flaco’s Cuban Bakery
Unfortunately for Midtown dwellers, the past two restaurants mentioned are located downtown. But never fear! Flaco’s Cuban Bakery has both a Midtown location and a downtown location. Though advertised as a Cuban bakery, Flaco’s also offers cheap and delicious burritos. For $6 you can buy a warm and cheesy pressed tortilla packed tight with rice, beans, meat, salsa and sour cream.
Flaco’s also offers tempeh, plantains, lentils and a signature “sunshine” veggie mix for vegetarians. Besides the Southwestern fare, Flaco’s offers a variety of Cuban sandwiches, arepas, rice bowls and Cuban pastries. I recommend trying something with pork in it if you’re a meat eater and the “sunshine” if you’re not. Flaco’s also has cheap Cuban coffee, which is super sugary and caffeinated.
The restaurant’s bare interior makes it obvious that Flaco’s emphasis is on the food, not on the atmosphere. Still, the artwork displayed inside of both locations has a lot of character.
Of course, there are a few caveats to keep in mind with Flaco’s. Though the bakery is open until 2:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, Flaco’s isn’t open at all on Sundays or Mondays. Also, the downtown location of Flaco’s offers burritos at a separate part of the restaurant, behind the main dining room. This extension, or rather, “burrito bar,” is cash only. So if you’re trying to eat one of Flaco’s famous $6 burritos downtown, make sure you don’t spend all of your cash on cover.