The Best Walk-In-Only Restaurants For When You Didn’t Make A Reservation

Forgot to make a reservation? Try one of these spots.
The Best Walk-In-Only Restaurants For When You Didn’t Make A Reservation image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

Maybe your old college roommate showed up in town unexpectedly. Maybe one of your core personality traits is an inability to plan, so you forgot to book a table for date night. Or, perhaps you’re just emotionally drained from making dinner reservations.

Enter this guide. Some of these spots might still have a wait, depending on the night, but at least you’ll be entering a level playing field. From ramen shops and sushi bars, to classic Tex-Mex spots, here are some great restaurants that have you covered when you didn’t make a reservation. 


photo credit: Nicolai McCrary


East Austin

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerDrinking Good WineGluten-Free OptionsKeeping It Kind Of HealthyOutdoor/Patio Situation
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If there are two things that 95% of Austinites can get behind, it’s a great patio and a well-made taco. Throw in an excellent natural wine list, and you’ve just won the heart of every Millennial in Austin. The “dining room” isn’t fancy—it’s a large gravel lot filled with picnic tables outside—but that doesn’t stop half of Austin from wanting to be on it on any given night. Like most taquerias in town, this isn’t the type of place that takes reservations. Just get in line like everybody else and use that time to decide just how many tuna tostadas and duck fat refried bean tacos you’ll be ordering. 

Between the ever-present line and the soundtrack that could only have been picked by a DJ-turned-ramen chef (true story), getting into one of Ramen Tatsu-ya’s five locations feels like you just walked into Austin’s hottest club, but without a stuffy dress code, and with food you actually want to eat. Don’t worry, the line moves fast. But if it ever starts to feel too daunting, just grab a beer from the bar inside while you wait. Or, if you’re at the East Austin location, head to Domo Alley-Gato next door—Ramen Tatsu-Ya’s sister bar concept, where you’ll also have access to the full ramen menu, usually with a much shorter line.

The menu at Birdie’s changes constantly, so try not to get too attached to that plate of cavatelli you had the other night that made your Tuesday night feel like a Friday. This natural wine bar and restaurant on East 12th Street is basically a cozy, walk-in only neighborhood cafe with a menu of small, seasonal plates pulling from American, Italian, and French influences. Birdie’s is ideal for date night, so even if you forgot to grab a reservation ahead of time you can just say “Birdie's doesn’t take reservations” and nobody has to know about your last-minute scramble. Don’t worry, the line moves pretty fast, and you can drink wine while you wait.

The menu changes regularly at Vic & Al’s, a cajun spot on Manor Road from some of the people behind the popular food trailer, Patrizi’s. But a few things you’ll usually find include blackened catfish, fried chicken thighs, and slow-roasted pork—AKA cochon de lait—usually served in a po’boy, over sassafras rice, or in a salad. Come here for a casual date night that you don’t have to think too much about or plan ahead. The food might arrive on small metal trays, and ordering might take place at the counter, but dining at Vic & Al’s feels like a big step up from your average walk-up restaurant, with consistently great food and affordable cocktails. 

Despite being a collaboration between two Austin powerhouses—Franklin Barbecue and Uchi—you won’t need to spend hours in line, or grab a reservation a month in advance to eat at Loro. It’s an indoor/outdoor restaurant on South Lamar that looks a bit like a camp dining hall—minus the hair-netted cook and plus a menu made up of Asian-influenced barbecue plates. However, there’s still usually a bit of a wait for a seat, which is the perfect amount of time to drink a frozen mango sake slushie before ordering at the counter. 

Dinner at Matt’s El Ranch is almost guaranteed to come with a wait, especially on the weekends. Half the people in line are probably here for the legendary Bob Armstrong Dip along—the original mashup of queso, beef taco meat, and guacamole. The other half are here because their friends from out of town want to try some of the best Tex-Mex in Austin. And even though you can’t make a reservation, just remember that nobody else can either. It’s a level playing field with easy access to margaritas at the bar while you wait. 

Perhaps best known for the action-packed sushi rolls, Komé is a low-key, homestyle Japanese restaurant in Ridgetop. The menu is super broad, spanning from gyoza to ramen to bento boxes to yakitori. Also on the menu is a tight selection of nigiri and sashimi—none of it will blow your mind, but it’s all carefully prepared, consistent, and dependable. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations—but they do have a digital waitlist when you get there so be prepared to wait during peak hours. We’ve found that a few glasses of sake on their patio helps make the time go by a little faster.

One of the unspoken requirements for calling yourself an Austinite is dabbling in veganism (or at least vegetarianism) every now and then. That means you’ve probably eaten at Bouldin Creek Café on South 1st Street at some point. But their spins on the classics—like the Wanna-BLTA or the homemade veggie chorizo breakfast tacos—are pretty tasty for meat-enjoying people as well. It’s casual and reliable—the type of place to head after scrolling through reservation platforms for 45 minutes and deciding to say f*ck it, then realizing it was probably better than half the spots you were trying to get into, anyway. 

photo credit: Richard Casteel



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Bufalina and sister restaurant Bufalina Due are some of the best date night spots in Austin. So what happens when you and your date show up and get told that there’s going to be a wait? You order a few glasses of natural wine and hang out outside while you wait. Why? Because it’s worth it to try some of the best Neapolitan pizza in Austin.

Texas Chili Parlor is probably one of the only spots in town where you can sit back with a Mad Dog margarita (that’s as potent as it sounds) and order a plate of enchiladas covered with a giant scoop of Texas-style chili. It’s basically a dive bar that happens to make some excellent Tex-Mex food. Don’t even try asking about reservations here—you probably won’t need them anyway. Unless you show up during a Longhorns game, in which case you’re better off getting as far from campus as you can if you’re looking for a quiet meal.

Sazan is a ramen shop that should be on the radar of anyone with a passing interest in noodles, broth, or Japanese whisky. And if you’re into all three? Well, there are some apartments nearby you might want to consider. The specialty here is paitan ramen—a rich and creamy broth made from boiling bones for a long period of time. But unlike other popular spots in town that just use pork bones, Sazan uses a mix of chicken and pork, resulting in a broth that’s just a little bit lighter, but no less satisfying. The dining room feels much fancier than its location between a Japanese dollar store and a board game shop would lead you to believe, and even though it’s walk-in only, that just means there’s plenty to do nearby in case of a wait. 

A cute neighborhood house turned restaurant in Allandale, the all-day-cafe Epicerie serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Saturday (closed Tuesday), and brunch on Sundays. It’s great for a low-key brunch on the outdoor patio or a healthy-ish dinner with a bottle of wine. And the casual, neighborhood feel of the place means that it gets spared the attention of brunch seekers city-wide. The menu veers French by way of Louisiana, and our go-to dishes are the shrimp po’boy, the burger with epic sauce, and the quiche of the day. No matter what you do, get the fried-to-order beignets for dessert.

Typically, we associate brewery food with small, light bites optimized for soaking up a few beers. But Hold Out is an exception to the rule and a place that we’ll visit for the food alone. During the week, we’re here for the double smashburger or an order of Thai PB&J wings, but once the weekend rolls around we also like to come here for brunch. The patio holds plenty of tables, and they’re all first come, first served, which means you can get Japanese souffle pancakes with crispy fried chicken and maple-fresno chili butter on a whim.

About as Old Austin as it gets, Magnolia Cafe adopts the “breakfast anytime” motto with an enormous Tex-Mex/classic diner menu that spans from migas to burgers, and just about everything in between. And, in keeping with the Old Austin mentality, it’s a casual place where you shouldn’t (and can’t) worry about making reservations days or weeks in advance. It might not be open 24 hours like it used to, but it’s a reliable spot to grab a bite after an afternoon out on South Congress

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