Which NYC Restaurant Lines Are Worth It?

Lines are the worst, but some lead to good food.
Which NYC Restaurant Lines Are Worth It? image

photo credit: Bryan Kim

Thanks to social media hype, lines in this city are becoming increasingly common. But you probably shouldn’t listen to every single person with an iPhone and a ring light. Some popular spots are worth the hassle, and others are just fads. To help you spend your time wisely, we put together a list of places where you’ll often see lines, with our verdict on each. Check back for updates.


photo credit: Okiboru House of Tsukemen


Lower East Side

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerDining SoloLunchQuick Eats
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The Wait: Okiboru occasionally has a line, but there’s no dilly-dallying here. (This place doesn’t even serve alcohol or dessert.) People come and go quickly, which means the line moves fast. You might have to wait 15 or 20 minutes.

Only two types of ramen are offered at this casual LES spot. The tsukemen comes with udon-like cold noodles that you dip in a warm chicken and fish broth, and the ramen has a super rich, milky broth that tastes like melted pork bones. All seating is at a counter, so prepare to hear all about your neighbor’s dating life.

Verdict: Worth it, even if it’s the middle of August and hot soup sounds awful.

The Wait: Via Carota is mostly walk-in-only, and it’s harder than ever to get a table. By 5pm, there’s often a line down the block. It usually takes around 20 minutes to get through that line, at which point you can talk to a host who will probably quote you a several-hour wait for a table.

Yes, you read that correctly. At this West Village Italian restaurant you have to wait in line in order to speak to a host who will quote you a second, longer wait time. But the cacio e pepe is still chewy and magnificent, and the salads and chopped steak are even better. Also, Taylor Swift stopped by after a recent breakup, so you need to eat here if you want to get the cacio e pepe reference on her next album.

Verdict: Annoying, but worth it. Come during lunch if you want to avoid a wait.

The Wait: Around lunchtime, you’ll see a line 20-people strong outside of this tiny Chinatown spot specializing in roast meats.

Wah Fung No.1 is a no-nonsense, closet-sized place where you can pick up a small combo of roast pork and chicken over rice for around $6. The fat on the juicy chicken melts in your mouth, and the roast pork comes with charred, bacon-y bits on the end.

Verdict: Worth it if you have a long lunch break.

The Wait: Breakfast By Salt’s Cure doesn’t take reservations, and it’s one of the most popular brunch destinations in the West Village. In order to eat here, you’ll have to wait 45 minutes or so in a line on 7th Ave.

Most of the food at this LA transplant is very normal. The breakfast potatoes are fine, the scrambled eggs are scrambled eggs, and the fried chicken sandwich is pleasant in a generic sort of way. But this place is really good at pancakes. Made with oatmeal, their thin “griddle cakes” are crispy around the edges and gooey in the middle. You can even get them gluten-free.

Verdict: Eh. We like Salt’s Cure, but an hour-long wait is a tough sell. It’s only worth it if you’re a serious pancake enthusiast.

The Wait: Lucali doesn’t open until 5pm, but people start lining up outside hours before. Once the restaurant opens, a host will take your name, and you’ll be assigned a time to return. Unless you're one of the first in line, expect to be seated anywhere from 7-10pm.

Lucali serves the best pizza in New York City. That’s a bold statement, and the fact that we can make it without being run out of town should tell you something. Get a calzone to go along with your pizza. And don’t forget to bring your own wine.

Verdict: Worth It, of course.

The Wait: Jack’s Wife Freda has five locations around the city, but the one in Soho seems to get the busiest. Stop by for brunch, and you might see a line of 30 people or so.

If you find yourself waiting in line at Jack’s Wife Freda, you’re either a tourist or you recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence and moved into a nice Kips Bay apartment with six of your friends. There’s nothing bad about either of those things, just like there’s nothing bad about Jack’s Wife Freda. Their Mediterranean food is decent, and each location is, of course, very cute.

Verdict: What? Why? Jack’s Wife Freda? You can do better. (But, admittedly, you can also do worse.)

The Wait: This counter-service spot in Greenpoint only has a few seats inside, with a few more on the sidewalk. They don’t do takeout, which means you have to wait in line until a seat opens up, and the line usually stretches down the block. Expect to wait 30 minutes or more.

There are only a few things on the menu at Taqueria Ramirez. All of them are good, and roughly half of them are incredible. Don’t skip the tripa tacos, and be sure to order a few of the al pastor as well.

Verdict: Worth it.

The Wait: On weekends, the line snakes out the door at Hometown BBQ. You may have to wait around an hour to place your order at the counter.

This huge, barn-like place in Red Hook is so good at so many things. In addition to excellent ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, they also serve some more inventive dishes like BBQ tacos, cauliflower wings, and a lamb bánh mì. Fun spot, great food.

Verdict: On a warm day, it’s actually kind of nice standing in line just a block from the water. Worth it.

The Wait: This place does take reservations online, but only for parties of three to five, and availability is spotty. If you arrive without a reservation, expect to wait behind a line of 20 or more.

Nom Wah has decent dim sum, but its main draw is that it’s the oldest dim sum parlor in New York. They also forgo big banquet tables and pushcarts for a retro diner space with red booths, chrome barstools, and enough cuffed pants and Reebok Classics in the room for it to feel like a “scene.” Some things here could use more flavor, but the steamed rice rolls and spare ribs are solid orders.

Verdict: Worth one visit, for the novelty of eating soup dumplings somewhere that doubles as a historical landmark.

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