Here’s the situation: Your sister showed up unexpectedly from out of town. Your friend who had previously canceled your dinner plans due to having “way too much work” decided he actually does want to go out. Or the week simply got away from you, and it’s Friday night and you’d like to go out for a great dinner, despite not having made any reservations.
Sure, you could panic and book ‘La Cerveceria or 111AAA Trattoria or whatever restaurant alphabetically shows up first on OpenTable. Or, you could take the opportunity to go to one of the great many restaurants that don’t take reservations anyway. Provided you’re willing to wait a little, these are some of the very best meals in New York, and you’re missing out if you don’t give them a try. Considering you probably will have to wait, we’re also telling you where to drink nearby while you do.
If you've already worked your way through this list, we've also updated it with some new spots.
Wildair is an excellent restaurant for non-committal people, and a concept we wish were more common in New York: a walk-in only wine bar, connected to a more serious restaurant. If you've considered going to Contra, but couldn't quite commit to the tasting menu, try Wildair. The food is a little weird and generally very good. And while you wait? Grab a glass of wine at the bar at Contra (138 Orchard St.), or hit up the underground bar Nitecap (120 Rivington St.).
Calling Jeffrey's Grocery a "neighborhood restaurant" is like calling Emma Stone "a girl next door." It's not... wrong, but it's also like... imagine if Emma Stone were actually your neighbor? Point is: Jeffrey's Grocery is a place we stop into regularly, for reliable and excellent raw bar, salads, and so on. There's definitely a wait at peak times, so head over to Bar Sardine (183 W. 10th St.), operated by the same owner, for a drink.
Okonomi is basically three restaurants, and two of them don't take reservations. Let us explain. By day, it's Okonomi, serving an incredible, healthy Japanese breakfast. On weeknights, it's Yuji Ramen, which serves a la carte ramen - also awesome. On weekend evenings, it's also Yuji Ramen, but serving a tasting menu. The first two are first-come, first-serve, and both are highly recommended. While you wait, grab a drink (or coffee) at The Blind Barber (524 Lorimer St.).
El Rey is another spot that's essentially two different restaurants, depending on the time of day. It's an order-at-the-counter coffee shop with some light food during the day, and transforms into a full-on seated restaurant after 6. The food gets pretty interesting around that time as well - try the burrata swimming in green mole or chorizo marinated in orange zest. Waits usually aren't too long, but if you want to grab a drink before at a place that isn't a dive bar, hit Wassail (162 Orchard St.). It's a cider bar, but they have wine and cocktails too.
If you've been reading The Infatuation for any period of time, you've probably heard about Upstate by now. This East Village spot always has well over a dozen varieties of always excellent oysters ready for your consumption, as well as some other great seafood-focused items like fettucine with clams. It's a tiny spot with less than 20 seats, so waits are a regular occurrence at peak hours. If you like bitter drinks and don't mind standing, head over to Amor y Amargo (443 E. 6th St.) while you wait. Or, if it's early enough before things get crazy over there, stop into Death & Co. (433 E. 6th St.).
Running the Brooklyn Half Marathon, trying to see Louie at the Comedy Cellar, and eating a burger at The Spotted Pig: all things that were probably on your New York bucket list at some point. It’s hard to do a more perfect New York night than one at The Spotted Pig. Where to drink if you have to wait? The Otherroom (143 Perry St.) or The Rusty Knot (425 West St.)
Arguably the one that started it all, if by “all” you mean small, extremely hyped, simply designed East Village restaurants that don’t take reservations. Even after several years, Ssäm is the heart of the Momofuku empire, and a pork-heavy meal never disappoints. If anything, the waits aren’t as long as they used to be. Regardless, Sake Bar Decibel (240 E. 9th St.) or Booker & Dax (in the back of Ssäm) are both great spots to drink some time away.
There are ramen shops all over town now, but only some of them are worth waiting in line for. That “some” is Ippudo, and in this case, the lines will be very long. But if you have a night with nothing to do (really, nothing, because you’re going to want to go to sleep afterwards), Ippudo is a great place to spend it. For first timers, try the Akamaru Modern and the pork buns. Hit up Black & White (86 E. 10th St.) for beers and well drinks while you prepare for glory.
If you're roaming the Lower Lower East Side, bring the crew over to Kiki's, an almost too-cool-for-school Greek restaurant on Division Street. The food is good, the scene is nothing but entertaining, and they serve carafes of wine in vessels that could be used to water plants.
A trip to Roberta’s is required reading at this point, and not just for the pizza, which, thanks to the constant stream of Madison Square Eats-type situations, is pretty easy to find all over the city. But a trip to Roberta’s is all about the environment, and sampling the entire menu. The vegetables are always amazing and the meats and seafood tend to be exceptional as well. Waits can be long, but if you come in a small group, you can usually grab a first-come-first-serve seat in the back garden or at the bar, where they serve the full menu. While you wait for your table, hitt the garden or bar in the back. Afterwards, The Narrows (1037 Flushing Ave) or Tutu’s (25 Bogart St.) are great spots.
Somehow, the best new pizza and the best new burger in New York live in the same home. #WorldsMostTalkedAboutCouple. The Colony Pizza and the Emmy Burger are must trys, and heading to Emily in Clinton Hill to try them both is strongly advised. The space is small and casual, and we’d suggest going early as they do sometimes run out of the burger. Where To Drink If You Have To Wait? Sisters (900 Fulton St.) or Hot Bird (546 Clinton Ave.)
Here’s a fun fact: Diner opened on New Year’s Eve 1999, a time when most current Williamsburg residents were in elementary school, asking their parents whether the Y2K crash would break their GameBoys. Fortunately, it didn’t, and Diner is still around, serving great food and a fantastic burger. Not just from an anthropological perspective, it’s one of the great Williamsburg restaurants that never seems to get old. Where to drink if you have to wait? Loosie Rouge (91 S. 6th St.)
See that piece of steak? It could be yours for $18. Now you know. Of course, so do a lot of other people – the waits are long at this Williamsburg bar/steakhouse, but where do you have to be? A rave in Bushwick? Didn’t think so. Where to drink if you have to wait? Spuyten Duyvil (359 Metropolitan Ave.) or The Commodore (366 Metropolitan Ave.)
The people waiting for a table at Seamore’s are not there in search of a burger or life-changing pizza, but rather for great salads and bowls topped with fresh fish. We were initially skeptical of the idea of a seafood restaurant owned by The Meatball Shop, but there’s nowhere new we’ve found ourselves back at more frequently. It’s good food, in a bright, happy atmosphere, serving the kind of stuff many people in New York actually want to eat. Wait out your table at Mulberry Project (149 Mulberry St.) or La Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels (249 Centre St.).