A random cab ride placed me at the front door of Kabob Palace in Crystal City for the first time nearly a decade ago. It was late, I was bombed, and I was hoping to avoid Taco Bell. My driver dropped me off and sped away, leaving me to jockey between a number of off-duty cabs parked out front.

In many neighborhoods, late-night dining relegates you to fast food. If you’re out past 3 o’clock? 7-Eleven might be the only place that can save you. But hot dogs topped with extruded undulating toppings from a whining chili cheese machine make me shudder. Going hungry with a buzz, however, isn’t an option.

Kabob Palace, in comparison, doles out late-night eats with dignity. The lamb may be one of my favorite bites no matter where the hour hand is pointed. Sizable tender chunks of lamb are succulent when they’re not slightly overdone, the meat bearing a bright lemony flavor of a simple marinade juxtaposed against the earthy char of a grill.

Helping myself to a salad plate of onions, minced chilies, lemons, and ginger, I can doctor each and every bite to suit me. Bread baked the instant I order makes a stellar utensil. And when the bread is consumed, I’m not ashamed to let my fingers jump into what remains.

Even so, I’m not hailing a cab for kabob after hours unless the night’s circumstances place Crystal City on my way home. Surely there are other places around where a neon “Open 24 Hours” glows proudly in the window. Now I just have to find them, and hope their condiments aren’t secreted from a machine.

Kabob Palace, 2333 S. Eads St., Arlington, 703-486-3535

Photos by Scott Reitz