We all have friends who text minutes before dinner, “The 6 train went local and then got stuck at Astor, I’m not sure when I’ll be there,” or, “I forgot my cousin is in town this week, is it okay if he comes?” Then there’s our personal favorite, “Oh that’s tonight? Oops lol.”
When you need a restaurant that’s as flexible as your friends are flaky, use this guide. It’s full of casual spots that aren’t typically busy and don’t involve any reservations. So you can waltz in with some friends, politely tell your server that you’re still waiting on a few people, get a big table, and order a bunch of great food to share. How you react when your friend arrives 20 minutes late without telling you that she’s bringing someone she met at a bar on the way, well, that’s up to you.
Santa Panza is the restaurant that inspired this guide. We once showed up unannounced to this Bushwick pizza spot with six people (and two more on their way), and lo and behold, Santa Panza made it work. It’s usually somewhat busy but no matter how many friends you have coming late, the friendly staff will somehow find space for your party. It might be along a skinny counter in front of the chef’s window. It might be at a big rectangular wooden table in the back by the massive cans of tomato sauce. But it’ll happen, and you’ll get to eat good and shareable pizzas and kale salads along with $30 carafes of wine with all of your delightfully squished friends.
Some people think of Kiki’s as the ultimate Greek group dinner spot. And, yes, it’s pretty great. But if you have a feeling that your group is going to trickle in and out like you’re all sitting shiva for someone you don’t know very well, Kiki’s will be a logistical nightmare. Go to Bahari Estiatorio with your big group for a fun Greek dinner instead. The grilled meats, saganaki, and octopus at this Astoria spot are all excellent for sharing, and the slight party atmosphere makes it feel like you’re getting a Kiki’s experience without the long waits or cramped space.
The Mekelburg’s location in Williamsburg is similar to the Clinton Hill original - it’s an upscale grocery store up front, with a bar that serves some of Brooklyn’s best sandwiches in the back. Grab a table and a drink while you wait for someone who’s heading over after a Happy Hour. When they arrive, share a couple of sandwiches, like wagyu roast beef, and a banh mi with Peking duck. If it’s nice out, you can always get your sandwiches to-go and eat them in Domino Park across the street.
It’s possible that exactly one person is going to make it to this dinner on time (you). That person will then be tasked with having to hold down a table, promising the servers that the rest of the party is coming, and maybe even ordering food for all the people who swear they’re “10 minutes away.” At Han Dynasty on the Upper West Side, this won’t be too stressful to pull off. There are plenty of round tables and great shareable Szechuan dishes, like dry pepper chicken and spicy garlic green beans. That first person (again, you) definitely has permission to eat the majority’s share of dan dan noodles - they earned it.
When you walk into Saraghina, a neighborhood Italian spot in Bed-Stuy, you’ll notice a couple of things. There are two bars, a birthday party you wouldn’t mind crashing is underway at one of the long communal tables, and a third-tier friend is probably in the back corner with his on-again, off-again ex. Anything can happen at this mysteriously large pizza place. Give yourself a few seconds to process this, then ask the host for a table in the secret garden out back. If it’s Happy Hour, get a few tapas and a $5 glass of house wine while you wait for everyone in your party to show up.
Fish Market is like no other restaurant in the city. It’s half sports bar, half Chinese-Malaysian restaurant. The front has a bar with TVs and a jukebox and the back has tables where people eat things like whole lobsters and extra crispy fried rice. There are virtually no rules for how to operate here. Bring as many people as you want, order the ginger chicken wings, and make sure to say hi to the bartender on your way in (he usually gives whiskey shots to everyone who comes in).
If you’ve ever walked down Fulton Street in Fort Greene, you’ve probably noticed Habana Outpost. During the summer months, this counter-service Cuban spot has rainbow umbrellas covering a huge outdoor patio where groups of people drinking frozen margaritas try to hear each other over loud music. We’re not sure what it is about the experience of eating fish tacos alongside a boozy birthday lunch that’s next to a group of toddlers in strollers that makes sense, but we’re not complaining. The tables also work especially well for a spontaneous game of Chinese fire drill. So bring some cash, and order a few cuban sandwiches and as many ears of cheesy grilled corn as you have non-committal friends.
The Fly is a walk-in only spot in Bed-Stuy from the people behind Cervo’s and Hart’s, which explains why it feels like the kind of place James Bond would go if he was trying to impress a very successful dog-walker in Brooklyn. While they do have natural wines and plenty of cocktails, this is essentially a rotisserie chicken spot, and rotisserie chicken is arguably the best kind of food to share with a group. There are about eight tables in the back and a couple of booths to the side (all of which you’ll probably have to wait a bit for on a Friday or Saturday night), but the U-shaped bar up front has plenty of stools and space to loiter with a glass of wine, martini, or whole chicken.
The Filipino food at Mama Fina’s is ideal for a group of friends who want to drink beer and enjoy steaming heaps of meat together. There’s something extremely relaxed and communal about this place - so whether you know exactly how many people are going to show or you’re secretly hoping your friend brings his very attractive coworker, just order a ton of garlicky things and don’t worry so much. This East Village spot is known for their sisig (we like the pork and milkfish versions the best) so get a few of those as well as the lumpia shanghai spring rolls and some halo halo for dessert. And since you order everything at the counter, it’s easy for people to trickle in late without causing any anxiety.
When we think about casual Italian spots that work for almost any occasion, Montesacro is at the top of the list. It’s right near the Lorimer L stop in Williamsburg and even though it has a covered garden that sort of feels like the inside a snowglobe, it’s never too packed. There are also a bunch of tables indoors too, just in case one of your friends is allergic to pleasant settings, in which case you should order a couple of extra airy flatbreads (called pinsa) to make up for their lack of a personality.
If you want to seem like a New Yorker who knows Chinatown like the lyrics to “Believe” by Cher, invite some friends to Noodle Village for your next group dinner. The space is nothing too notable, but it’s calm, and feels more roomy than most of the other casual spots in the area. Both the soup dumplings and wonton soup are some of the best you’ll find in Chinatown. You should try to sit at the long table running through the center of the restaurant, but if it’s occupied there are booths along the walls where you can squeeze quite a few people.
The Spaniard in the West Village is consistently busy with groups of friends or coworkers drinking after work. There are a bunch of big booths that can smush up to ten people in. But, if those are full, you can also stand and hang out around the bar. The patty melt and burger here are both pretty good, so order a few things to share and do your best to avoid the guys in the corner shouting and spilling their whiskey gingers.
Taqueria St. Marks isn’t technically a bar, but it’s so low-key and over-decorated with string lights and vintage posters that it feels like one. We’ve brought groups of eight to this East Village spot, and then had two people show up late, and proceeded to order enough tacos for 20 people. The key is to invest in enough margaritas so that the servers don’t hate you (you’re spending money, after all) and to ensure all of your friends have the illusion that everything is totally under control.
Abyssinia in Harlem recommends sharing a combo platter between two people. But in reality, these plates of Ethiopian stews and piles of injera bread could easily feed three or four. If you want to round up to be safe, order a few vegetable and meat platters and then just be patient while people funnel in and out to meet up with someone for drinks or go check on their dog or whatever they may be doing instead of sitting with you. This place is rarely full, and there are plenty of places where you can hold court for a few hours (along with Ethiopian beer to make it all seem a little less annoying).
BK Jani isn’t massive, but it’s incredibly casual and their burger is one of the absolute best in the city. Since it’s counter-service and BYOB, you won’t need to kill 20 minutes waiting around until your friends all show up. Instead, just order a bunch of excellent Pakistani meat at the counter and claim a table with your pre-bought six-pack. A fair amount of people who come into this Bushwick counter-service spot take their food to-go, so there are always a few open spots.
When you’re in Midtown and want to gather with some people after work one day, summon everyone to Bukhara Grill. This is an Indian restaurant that takes up an entire townhouse on East 49th Street. Even if three people show up late and another two don’t ever show because “they got stuck at a networking event,” the staff here will make it work and continue to encourage you to order lots of excellent stews and Indian beers (just go with it). We especially like the dal bukhara, claypot meats, and the naan - which comes in the shape of an actual saddle.
This location of Ovest on 27th street right by the High Line is where groups of friends get Thursday night drinks and pretend they’re not planning on going to work on Friday. If you’re looking to have a deep conversation about how much you love your new trainer, this is not the place for you. It’s too loud and not exactly private. But if you want to eat solid Neapolitan pizza along the bar or at one or the larger tables here while singing along to your favorite ABBA album, this is where you should be.