A guide to Gainesville’s best nighttime bites

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When 22-year-old Nicholas Verdugo, a UF computer science graduate, walks out of a Gainesville bar at 1 a.m., all he thinks about is which restaurant he’ll go to next to satisfy his late-night cravings.

Like many college students, Verdugo enjoys a midnight snack after a night out with friends, and he’s become a regular at a few night spots around Gainesville. Her favorite is Flaco’s Cuban Bakery.

“The food is always delicious,” Verdugo said. “I especially like going there at night because there are so many people having a good time. The energy is very high.

A combination of recently opened restaurants and long-running staples make up late-night eateries in Gainesville. Highlights include Insomnia Cookies, Naq’s Halal Food and Flaco’s Cuban Bakery.

Flaco Cuban Bakery

This laid-back Cuban bakery transforms by day into a go-to destination for food cravings and an entertainment hub once the sun goes down, staying open until 2:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Located at 200 W. University Ave., the family business opened its doors 16 years ago when co-owner Sara Puyana moved from Miami to Gainesville. Jill Kubisck, the restaurant’s manager, said Puyana aspires to bring her Hispanic heritage to the local culinary scene.

During the pandemic, Puyana also opened Vecinos – the hook-up bar next door – to attract more customers by hosting late-night events like drag shows, comedy shows and karaoke nights.

Flaco’s is always packed with people enjoying their food and dancing to music late into the night, Kubisck said.

“It’s hundreds of people passing by,” Kubisck said. “We have a line out the door.”

A customer favorite is The Gator Cuban, a sandwich with pork, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, and Swiss bread pressed between Cuban bread. Another popular menu item is the quesito, a cream cheese-filled pastry dubbed by staff as the “sexy pastry” due to its popularity.

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“It’s a pretty fun vibe,” Kubisck said. “It’s like you’re partying again.”

Insomnia cookies

Insomnia Cookies has quickly become a Gainesville staple for late-night desserts since opening in March 2021. The store is open 12-1 a.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Wednesday, and 12 p.m. at 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Located at 1702 W. University Ave., the chain’s eighth location in Florida offers a selection of freshly baked cookies, which can be paired with different flavors of ice cream or frosting.

General Manager Brett Nelson has worked at the store since its grand opening, and he said he enjoys making his customers smile with the help of cookies and his positive attitude.

The nighttime crowd at Insomnia Cookies includes college students preparing for exams, people leaving surrounding Midtown bars and couples on a date night, he said.

“We’re here for everyone,” Nelson said. “You have people who have had really, really bad days, and all that could make it better is just a hot, delicious cookie.”

Naq’s halal food

Naq’s Halal Food opened a location in Gainesville in April 2021 and has since brought New York-style halal food to hungry local customers.

The restaurant, located at 1412 W. University Ave., serves a variety of different dishes like gyros, rice platters, salads, and sandwiches. It is open 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday; summer hours may vary.

In the religion of Islam, the Halal diet must be followed according to the Quran. Most foods are inherently halal, but halal meat must be prepared in a specific way.

Derrick Johnson, the catering coordinator and ambassador for Naq’s Halal in Gainesville, is originally from Philadelphia and has worked in the culinary field since 1984.

“I have to commend and commend the UF students for being consistent and buying our food,” Johnson said.

The New York owners of Naq’s Halal Food, Haris Khan, Mustafa Naimi and Shahid Naimi, wanted to open a location in Gainesville to establish a year-round student and local clientele. Naq’s Halal Food’s fast and efficient service also fits the lifestyle of a student on the go, Johnson said.

The restaurant’s late-night hours are aimed at attracting students from Midtown bars and studying on campus, he said.

Among the most popular homemade dishes are lamb, chicken and falafel.

“Our overall goal is to constantly talk to students,” Johnson said. “We engage with all customers as they enter because by communicating with them we can find a way to operate our restaurant even better.”

High

For the nocturnal taste buds, The Top offers the solution to everyone’s appetite.

This popular spot, located at 30 N. Main St., specializes in American cuisine and offers many vegetarian and vegan options. It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Scott Schillington and Hal Mendez, owners of The Top, opened the restaurant 20 years ago. They also own other small Gainesville businesses like The Wooly, Arcade Bar, and Pop-A-Top.

The dinner and late-night hours at Top attract a diverse crowd of families, students, and faculty. Front desk manager Callie Seip said customers are generally curious about the restaurant’s eclectic environment, which includes tchotchkes and other funky decor covering the walls.

“I heard our landlord say it was supposed to be like someone’s house in the 70s,” Seip said. “It’s quite charming.”

Similar to Flaco’s, The Top is a family restaurant during the early dinner hours, but transitions to a late-night eating and hangout spot around 10 p.m.

The Top’s nightly menu consists of simple bar fare, with its breaded chicken fillets and homemade burgers being favorites with customers and staff alike. Seip said corn nuggets — deep-fried creamed corn balls served with garlic aioli sauce — are another popular choice.

“It’s such a simple thing, but people love it,” she says.

Five star pizza

With three locations in Gainesville and 20 locations across the state, Five Star Pizza is a go-to for late-night pizza cravings. The restaurant stays open until 3:30 a.m., seven days a week.

Rebecca Jackson, General Manager of 210 SW. Second Ave. location, lived in Gainesville for most of his life and started working at the pizzeria two years ago.

“Five Star is Gainesville through and through,” she said.

Five Star Pizza founder and owner John Gillespie opened the chain’s first location in Gainesville in 1988 to establish a local late-night pizzeria for UF students, Jackson said.

As one of the newest pizza places to open in Gainesville, the chain has become popular among college students.

“Our busiest time of the whole week is Friday night from one to two in the morning,” Jackson said.

Five Star Pizza’s chicken and bacon ranch specialty chicken pizzas and wings are the restaurant’s best-selling dishes, she said.

“Everything is done in-house. It’s all fresh ingredients,” Jackson said. “Consistency is what matters to us.”

Contact Amanda at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @afriedmanuf.

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