People want to hang out with you. Maybe it’s your great personality. Or maybe it’s your okay personality combined with the fact that you read this website and always know where to get great food. Either way, here’s where to go the next time you have to plan a group dinner last-minute. These restaurants have plenty of room, they’re relatively easy to get into, and the food is good enough that you can keep having an alright personality and still have friends.
If an East Village restaurant has tons of last-minute reservations available, it’s typically safe to assume eating there would be settling. Nothing about Huertas, a casual Basque tapas place on 1st Avenue, feels like a compromise though. Between the outstanding Spanish food like charred octopus over potatoes and the big booths, you’ll probably feel like you’ve found a blip in the restaurant universe.
Melba’s in Harlem is never exactly not-busy. Stop by on a weeknight, and it’ll probably be somewhat noisy (in a pleasant way) with a good crowd and plenty of people sitting at the bar. You might even see a birthday party or two. So while a short wait is possible - you can always just make a reservation (even last-minute on a Friday). Once you get seated, order some fried chicken, catfish, or short ribs. All of these things come with two sides, and we suggest you get the mac and cheese and collard greens.
Hwa Yuan in Chinatown is one of the best options for a nice dinner that a certain someone in your group (don’t name names) forgot to plan. We’d happily come to this Chinese spot for everything from a birthday dinner with all of our aunts and uncles to a semi-formal dinner with friends or out-of-towners. Either way, plan on sitting around a lazy Susan filled with beautiful platters of Peking duck and sesame noodles.
There are few anxieties comparable to making a group dinner reservation in the West Village an hour before you eat. But Balaboosta, a modern Israeli restaurant that used to be in Soho, is always there for you. You can almost always book a table, and the menu works well for vegetarians, pescatarians, and anyone with their heart set on eating lamb chops topped with gooseberries.
This place is the total package - as long as your definition of “total package” includes Korean barbecue and private karaoke rooms. Insa is a big, modern space in Gowanus where you can grill meat on your table and/or eat a good number of Korean dishes like bibimbap and tofu stew. There’s also a separate bar area where you can drink fancy cocktails in big booths, and, most importantly, there are several karaoke rooms. Try it for a last-minute birthday.
The beauty of Bati is its proximity to the Barclays Center and BAM area. That and the platters of Ethiopian food, which can be ordered in meat, vegetable, or completely vegan combinations. If you want to have a delicious group dinner near Atlantic Terminal for around $20 a person, this is always our first suggestion.
The next time your friends look to you one evening to make a last-minute dinner decision in the general Williamsburg area, shout “Montesacro!” The real action happens in the all-season greenhouse-like garden in the back of this Italian spot, where there are usually tables available. And once your friends are sitting next to ficuses, sharing mozzarella and sausage-topped Roman pinsas (bread-heavy, oval pizzas), you’ll unfortunately have to continue making last-minute dinner decisions in the future.
Another option in Williamsburg is Ainslie, a converted warehouse near the Lorimer L stop with solid Happy Hour deals and a menu full of pizzas and a burger involving prosciutto and gorgonzola. This spot has multiple floors that stay open until 3am, one of which looks like a ski lodge. No matter how many people you’re with, Ainslie is especially perfect if your group dinner is really more of an excuse to party together on short notice.
If you owned a townhouse in Midtown East, you’d host all of your last-minute group dinners there and wouldn’t need to look at this guide. But since you don’t, it’s important that we tell you about a three-story Indian restaurant called Bukhara. There is no party size this place can’t accommodate (they cater weddings), and virtually no one in your life who won’t enjoy their signature dal Bukhara. It’s made with black lentils and tasting it will probably derail any non-dal conversation.
Memorize Moonrise Izakaya for two situations. When you and some friends need dinner before a night out on the northern Upper West Side, or when your group dinner is the “going out” headliner. This place runs on sake, and it’s likely you’ll be offered a free glass upon arrival. Once seated order a slow procession of Japanese drinking food, like cheesy corn and karaage. Know that Moonrise Izakaya’s space is fairly small, but last-minute reservations are typically available if you don’t want to risk walking in.
Hao Noodle makes excellent and hard-to-find dishes like doughy mung bean jelly in a Sichuan chili sauce or claypot chicken dumplings wrapped in an egg crepe. As great as the food is at this West Village Chinese restaurant, Hao Noodle’s space inexplicably never gets too crowded. Bring friends who get excited about spicy food, and order everything to share.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya
The Lower East Side is nuts on weekends. Like a zoo, if all the animals were young, drunk, and wearing clothes they couldn’t afford. There’s also a good chance you’ll need to get dinner there sometime soon - so it’s good to know about a place like Blue Ribbon Izakaya. It’s in the Thompson LES Hotel, and it’s a pretty big space. The menu is also big, so if someone wants sushi they can have sushi, and if someone else only eats bone marrow fried rice, they’re in luck. Blue Ribbon Izakaya is on the pricier side, but if you want to have a great last-minute dinner and don’t mind spending a little money, get a booth here.
Dokebi is a Korean/Japanese place where you can cook meat at your table, eat hot pot, or just order a few dishes like pork belly tacos or fried chicken. It’s a very laid-back restaurant/bar, everyone should find something to eat, and after dinner, you’ll be in prime position to check out some bars in Williamsburg.
If you’re instinctively skeptical of any restaurant that happens to be on St. Mark’s place, we don’t blame you. It’s touristy, and ever since Kim’s Video and The Sock Man moved, it hasn’t been the same. But Taqueria St. Mark’s is still there, and, it’s a great place to have a pitcher(s) of margaritas and some guacamole with friends. And also tacos. This isn’t the best Mexican in the city, but it’s solid and incredibly affordable. So if you and your friends are trying to save money for booze, stop by this two-story Mexican spot the next time you’re going out in the East Village.
The Ribbon is one of the biggest restaurants on the Upper West Side, and it’s perfect for when your family comes into town and insists on staying near the Lincoln Center due to its cultural significance. This American restaurant feels upscale but not stuffy, and the menu is serious (and huge). You can have a steak, some bone marrow, an open-faced burger, or a quinoa salad. This place covers all the bases, and you can either go all out with some prime rib and a shellfish platter or you can stick to their very good French dip.
Emporio might not make a lot of “top Italian” lists, but it’s worth knowing about for a few reasons. First off, it’s in Soho, and it isn’t impossible to get into on a Friday night. Even with a group. They also make some good pizzas and salads, and the back dining room has some tables suitable enough for all your friends. It’s a little more expensive than a place like Ruby’s or Westville, but it also feels like you’re eating at a real restaurant. Not a cafeteria for the recently graduated. So come here if a convenient downtown location is one of your top priorities, and you suspect that everyone is down for pizza.
All of your aunts are visiting, and they want to pick at pasta with their favorite niece or nephew. Go to L’Amico. This place is good for when you want to sit in a big, attractive room in the vicinity of Penn Station and have some pizza, pasta, or crudo. The food is solid (especially for the area), and last-minute reservations for large parties aren’t impossible to come by.
As far as places for dinner with friends go, Malaparte is pretty ideal. Everyone will like it, and it isn’t quite as pricey as some other nearby spots. They also take reservations for parties of four or more by phone (which you can often get day-of). And the best part of all? It’s in the West Village. The Cadillac of neighborhoods (and the Escalade of Cadillacs). Eat some spaghetti with pesto so green you’ll be checking your teeth every five minutes.
Golden Unicorn is above a bank in a Chinatown office building that looks like it was built in the early 1960’s, and that’s part the appeal. It’s a little cheesy, but fun. When you get off the elevator, there might be a wedding reception or a birthday party you can pretend to be a part of. Observe it all while you eat some Peking duck with nine other friends around one big table. It’s also pretty inexpensive - and, while you might not see any carts at dinner, they do serve dim sum all day.
Anassa Taverna is basically the defacto Bloomingdales cafeteria (it’s located across the street from the Third Ave. location), and was therefore built to accommodate the masses. Aside from the two floors of accessory-clad people watching and admiring the restaurant’s very own ouzo bar, Anassa is useful for any semi-spontaneous meetup near the East 60s with a group that’s comfortable paying around $30 for their own Greek entree.