We’ve all been there. All the new restaurants that you want to try for dinner are all booked up, thanks to recent press or social media or Obama or whatever. The good news for you is that you live in the greatest food city in the world, and there are excellent places to eat quite literally everywhere, some of which you can actually get into with little to no advance planning.
Here’s our list of accessible restaurants that we think are still great. Your friend will never know you forgot to plan her birthday. At least until you give her that super thoughtful Best Buy gift card.
There are two reasons why you can get a table at Covina. The first is that’s in the bottom of a hotel that no one really talks about (the Park South). The second is that there’s an abundance of Italian food in NYC. But Covina isn't just another Italian place. The pizzas are charred and excellent, and they serve an obscure pasta called mandilli. It’s like if someone started making lasagna then had to take a phone call and left it on your table. And it tastes like a wonderful mistake.
Reservations are available at Cherry Point, but they encourage you to just walk in. The burger is always a solid choice and so is the steak. Charcuterie should also be consumed. (Meat’s kind of a thing here.) Walk in whenever and get a seat the bar, or grab a table for a more intimate vibe. If Cherry Point were in Manhattan, there would probably be lines out the door. Fortunately, it’s in Greenpoint, and your server or bartender will probably be nicer and cooler than you.
The original High Street is in Philadelphia, and it’s popular for a reason. Both locations bake bread in house and use that bread to make trip-worthy sandwiches. At night, the one on Hudson serves more adventurous stuff like seaweed bucatini and smoked potato gnocchi. It's a good place for an interesting dinner before a night out in the Meatpacking District. And your night will get even better if you decide not to go out in the Meatpacking District.
Prospect is a deceptively laid-back neighborhood spot where the food is more impressive than you'll probably expect. The menu is “New American,” but that really just means they make whatever they want. They have baba ganoush, burrata, Peruvian spare ribs, and a Thai-style chicken dish. The food is interesting and well-made, and it’s close the Barclays Center if you need a good sit-down post-event dinner. Go here with someone who claims to know the best places in town, then shame them deeply for not knowing about this one.
Freemans is still at the back of Freeman Alley, and it’s still the place to go if you want to feel like you’re eating in a hunting lodge on the Lower East Side. It’s dark and cozy, and there are two floors with plenty of taxidermy. The menu is essentially fancy bar food, with stuff like artichoke dip and pork belly. There are salads and veggies too, but meat feels more appropriate around all those stuffed animals. Freemans has earned its place as a quintessential New York spot, and it's a good thing for you that many people seem to have forgotten about it.
Contra’s wine bar next door, Wildair, is the place everyone is talking about, which means that a table at Contra itself is gloriously easy to obtain. Even at the recently increased price of $67, this is still one of the better tasting menu experiences you can have in this town. There’s also a three-course option available at the bar, should you want to drop in and keep it casual.
Raoul’s doesn’t serve avocado toast and the lighting sucks for Instagram, so does it even really exist? It does if you like martinis and steak frites. Let the masses crowd themselves into the trendy restaurants while you do NYC the right way. We like Raoul’s best while sitting at the bar, but tables can typically be secured as well, albeit with a short wait.
We get asked a lot about last minute dinner in Flatiron, and to be honest, there aren’t a lot of good answers. So many restaurants in this neighborhod either aren’t good or aren’t easy to get into. Luckily, Hanjan is almost always both of those things. The menu is modern Korean, but pretty much anyone who likes hot rice and meat will find something to like here. If not, meet them after.
Looking for a “fun” night of “margaritas” and upscale Mexican food, but not looking to end up at “Rosa Mexicana?” Empellon Cocina shouldn’t even really be mentioned in the same breath as that other restaurant, but it does serve a similar purpose with infinitely better and more interesting food. And it’s usually pretty easy to find a seat, assuming you’re not rolling with 11 of your best girlfriends.
Another East Village date night spot that you can dial up in a pinch, Tuome is an Asian-Influenced American restaurant with a menu that can please pretty much anyone. Bonus points if the person you’re looking to please is pleased by pork belly. Tuome’s Pig Out For Two is a must order.
Dying to try food from New Zealand? Surprised to learn that they have food in New Zealand? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you should get yourself to The Musket Room. It’s a nice restaurant that serves excellent food, and you’ll get in with a little bit of maneuvering. Spoiler alert, New Zealand food is a lot like American food, with just a hint of Lord Of The Rings.
When was the last time you were at Al Di La? You should change that soon, and you won’t even need all that much advance planning to do so. This Park Slope restaurant is still one of our all time favorites, especially for their amazing tagliatelle al ragu.
If you find yourself looking for a last minute move near the south side of Prospect Park, Krupa Grocery is where you should be headed. It’s an excellent neighborhood restaurant with a nice bar and even outdoor seating, and there usually isn’t too long of a wait for some seats.
Meadowsweet is a restaurant that just makes you feel good. So much so that we coined the term Feel Good Factor™ to better articulate what exactly goes on here. Read our review for more, but Meadowsweet should be on your list for a spontaneous upscale meal in Williamsburg.
Frannys moved from a tiny restaurant into a less tiny restaurant down the street a few years ago, and the end result is improved accessibility. You still might face a wait on weekends, but reservations are typically attainable, as is a drink or three at the bar if you find yourself waiting.
Casa Enrique is the best Mexican restaurant in New York City, and if you live on the east side, it’s likely just as close to you as many places on the west side of the island would be. The restaurant is always busy but we usually hit it without a reservation and have great success. Call ahead if you’re extremely risk averse, but it’ll be worth your time either way.
This Mediterranean restaurant on the border of Midown and the Upper East Side was good when it opened a few years back and has only gotten better with age. It's a versatile place that'll work for a business dinner or a date, and we even like hanging at the bar for the occasional drink. Reservations aren't typically needed.