The Toughest Reservations In NYC Right Now (And How To Get Them)
Our thoughts on the busiest restaurants in New York City and advice on how to get in.
At any given time, there are a handful of New York City restaurants where trying to get a table feels like chasing the end of a double rainbow. Right now, these are those restaurants. The spots on this list aren’t necessarily the best restaurants in the city, but they are the hardest ones to get into—and we want you to know if they’re actually worthwhile. We also want to help you get a reservation, so you don’t have to sit at home and write sad songs about how you’ve never been to Lilia. Below, you’ll find our verdicts on the busiest places in the city, along with some info that’ll help you get that table (or bar seat). Check back for regular updates.
Masalawala & Sons: If you book three or four weeks in advance, you can eat at this Park Slope spot from the people behind Semma and Dhamaka. So do the right thing, and plan ahead. Be sure to order the steamed bhetki with spicy mustard paste.
Bonnie's: It pains us to tell you this (because we don't want the tables to get snatched up), but it's no longer impossible to eat at Bonnie's. Stop by this exceptional Cantonese American place in Williamsburg and enjoy a cha siu McRib, even if you have to do so at 5pm.
Gage and Tollner: Well, that took a while. This classic Downtown Brooklyn restaurant, which reopened with new ownership in 2020, is finally easier to get into. This isn't our absolute favorite steakhouse, but it's a fun place, and there are some interesting twists on the menu. Book four weeks in advance for the best results.
Ci Siamo: You can get a reservation at Ci Siamo now. You'll have to make it a few weeks in advance, but that's better than nothing. Plan a celebratory group meal at this upscale Italian restaurant in Manhattan West, and focus on the carbs.
photo credit: Gentl & Hyers
Verdict: Raf's is such a pleasant restaurant, in part because there are clouds painted on the ceiling. Those clouds are nice and relaxing, although the best part of this French/Italian spot in Nolita is their roast chicken. Plan a date night here, and eat that juicy, herb-covered chicken in the candlelit dining room where you'll find iron chandeliers, stiff white tablecloths, and an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven.
How To Get In: Reservations are released 14 days in advance at 9am. The bar has eight seats, all of which are reserved for walk-ins, and there are "a handful of tables" saved for walk-ins every night.
photo credit: Max Lemoine
Verdict: Principe is a new Italian-inspired spot in Soho with velvet banquettes, a Venetian chandelier, and a raw bar station set up like a DJ booth. Obviously, this place is popular—and the popularity is warranted. We're fans of the seafood-focused menu, which features a few interesting pastas and some fantastic chilled shellfish. Get the lobster. And the fries.
How To Get In: Reservations are released 21 days in advance at midnight. There are 16 seats in the bar area (where you'll find a few high tops), all of which are saved for walk-ins. The last time we stopped by, the bar didn't fill up until around 7pm, and it was a very pleasant place to have a meal.
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photo credit: Kate Previte
Verdict: A new arrival to the East Village, Ariari is the most exciting place to eat seafood right now in NYC. From the wildly prolific team (who must be very busy and tired) behind spots like Palpal, LittleMad, and Her Name Is Han, this spot serves food inspired by the Korean port city of Busan in a space that looks like a seaside diner from the 1970s. Highlights include the crispy soft-shell crab and DIY scallop gimbap.
How To Get In: Reservations are released 30 days in advance at midnight. There's no bar area, but the restaurant tries to save two to three tables for walk-ins every night. They also take walk-ins when cancellations occur.
photo credit: Kate Previte
Verdict: This new restaurant in the Deutsche Bank Center (formerly the Time Warner Center) is from the same people who brought you the chicken parm pizza and the Instagram-famous pinwheel lasagna for two. Here, they continue their offbeat antics. Bad Roman is a fun, over-the-top place decorated with fountains and animal statues, but the food is hit or miss.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online three weeks in advance. The bar area is reserved for walk-ins, and it has 20 bar seats in addition to some high-tops.
photo credit: The Office of Mr. Moto
The Office Of Mr. Moto
Verdict: The Office of Mr. Moto isn't the city's first sushi speakeasy, and it isn't even the first sushi speakeasy in the East Village. But this new restaurant still feels special. You have to solve a riddle in order to get in, and the space is decorated with various antiques, like one of the first Japanese pay phones. A meal here costs $180 and includes 21 courses. Expect hyper-seasonal ingredients and hard-to-find pieces like shirako and red gurnard.
How To Get In: This place is booked through May, but there's a waitlist you can put your name on. New reservations are released at 10am on the first of every month for the entire following month, so set a reminder for May 1st if you want to eat here in June. Reservations are prepaid, and they sell out quickly. The Office of Mr. Moto is not currently accepting walk-ins.
photo credit: Kate Previte
Verdict: Foul Witch is from the Roberta's team, but they don't serve pizza here. We aren't complaining. At this narrow, buzzy East Village wine bar, you'll eat small plates that are equal parts satisfying and inventive. Start with the stracciatella served over 'nduja, and be sure to get the uni with polenta. It's exactly what it sounds like, and it's fantastic. Even if you aren't a wine nerd, ask to take a look at the wine list.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online two weeks in advance at midnight. The eight-seat bar is reserved for walk-ins and a few tables are as well.
Verdict: The Lincoln Center is cool now, and you have Tatiana to thank for that. Located inside David Geffen Hall, this restaurant feels like a quiet nightclub, with soft blue lighting and beaded silver curtains, and serves food that blends Afro-Caribbean flavors with iconic New York dishes. Expect things like egusi dumplings, a truffle chopped cheese, and short rib pastrami suya.
How To Get In: Reservations are released four weeks in advance at 12pm. If you can't snag one of those, try the six-seat bar that's held for walk-ins.
photo credit: Kate Previte
Torrisi Bar & Restaurant
Verdict: Torrisi Bar & Restaurant is an Italian place in Nolita from the people behind Carbone, but it's a different sort of production. Unlike Carbone, the space is huge, and the menu shows a range of influence (chicken livers with Manischewitz, octopus Nha Trang, etc.). This is a great choice for a big night out, and it's probably going to be annoyingly hard to get into for quite some time.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online 30 days in advance at 10am. There's also a large bar area up front that's saved for walk-ins. We recently stopped by on a weeknight around 6pm to see if we could snag a few of those seats, and they quoted us a four-hour wait. So, um, maybe bring a crossword to do after you put your name in.
photo credit: Monkey Bar
Verdict: Revamped by the team behind Au Cheval and 4 Charles Prime Rib, Monkey Bar is a great time. The big sunken dining room is filled with retro red leather booths, and the expansive menu is full of crowd pleasers like steak, fried chicken, and one of the best new burgers.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online 14 days in advance at 9am. You'll find the occasional day-of reservation for 5pm, but if you don't want to eat before Jeopardy! airs, your best bet is the walk-in-only tavern area up front. Monkey Bar also serves lunch now, and it's very easy to get an afternoon table.
Verdict: Claud is a wine bar, although nowadays that term mostly just means "small restaurant with an open kitchen." The narrow, earth-toned dining room is located down a set of stairs on East 10th Street, and it's perfect for a casually impressive date night. Bring someone you like, order the razor clams, and finish with a slice of chocolate cake.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online two weeks in advance at 9am. Unlike many places on this list, Claud usually has a few open reservations for anyone who's willing to book a full two weeks in advance. Six counter seats are saved for walk-ins every night.
Verdict: The view alone is worth the hassle of getting a reservation, but the grilled Israeli food is what makes Laser Wolf worth getting excited about. Plan a group dinner at this Philly import on top of the Hoxton Hotel in Williamsburg.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online 21 days in advance at 10am. It's no longer impossible to book a table, but available reservations tend to be at 10pm or later. So wake up early to make your reservation, or try to get a seat at the bar. They save 10 bar seats for walk-ins, although, according to the restaurant, getting one of these seats can be “challenging at times.”
Verdict: Keep trying to get a table at Dame. This English place in Greenwich Village (one of our favorite new restaurants of 2021) serves some of the best seafood in town, and we aren’t just talking fish and chips. Although they do serve that, and their version is exceedingly crispy.
How To Get In: Dame used to be walk-in-only on Mondays, but, unfortunately, that's no longer the case. The good news is: It's slowly becoming easier to eat here. Reservations are released online three weeks in advance at noon, and you can usually find a handful of tables for 9pm or later.
Verdict: Every single dish at Thai Diner is a highlight. It’s a disorienting experience, and you’ll be confused by how good the food is. Whether it’s for lunch, brunch, or dinner, you should be eating khao soi and Thai disco fries here at least once a week. It’s surprisingly doable.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online six days in advance at midnight, but most tables are actually reserved for walk-ins. When we stopped by on a Saturday night, the wait for four wound up being 1.5 hours.
photo credit: Will Ellis
Verdict: Dhamaka is, currently, one of a kind. This restaurant in Essex Market is serving fantastic regional Indian specialties that are hard to find elsewhere in NYC, and it’s great for a group meal. Eat here—then go try its sister restaurant Semma (which is slightly easier to get into).
How To Get In: Reservations are released online a month in advance at midnight—so wake up early and book a full month out, while those reservations are still available. Walk-ins are accepted based on availability/cancellations, and, according to the restaurant, the best time to show up is at 5pm. Walk-in attempts become “very difficult in the later part of the evening.”
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Verdict: This isn’t just one of the top KBBQ places. It’s one of the best places to eat red meat in the city, and the $68 Butcher’s Feast with banchan, tofu stew, four cuts of beef, and soft serve is one of our all-time favorite prix-fixe meals.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online 30 days in advance at 10am. Walk-ins aren’t accepted, but you can call for a reservation, and we’ve been told it’s easier to get a table that way.
Verdict: Carbone is overhyped. It’s so overhyped, in fact, that you’ll hear people claim that the food here isn’t even any good. That is untrue. The red sauce Italian food at Carbone is consistently delicious. This is just such a sceney restaurant, and there are so many other places where you can get excellent Italian food in this city. The only real reason to struggle for a table here is if you want to sit in a chair that Rihanna might have once occupied.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online 30 days in advance at 10am. Walk-ins are not accepted, even if you’re Justin Bieber. Best of luck.
Verdict: Lilia isn't that good. That's a lie, and we apologize. We just want you to stop trying to get a table at Lilia, so we can go more often and enjoy a better quality of life. This Williamsburg Italian restaurant continues to serve top-tier pasta, and, yes, those sheep's milk cheese-filled agnolotti are still on the menu. So is the gelato. Order it.
How To Get In: There’s one very important thing to keep in mind when it comes to getting a table at Lilia: They take reservations over the phone. In fact, it’s easier to get a table over the phone. Reservations are released 30 days in advance at 10am, and whatever isn’t booked over the phone gets released online at midnight. Bar seats and a few outdoor tables (weather permitting) are saved for walk-ins. The last time we stopped by, we had to wait around two hours after putting our names in. It was worth it.
Verdict: I Sodi is just about perfect. Come here to eat unpretentious and extremely well-executed Tuscan food in an intimate space the size of a studio apartment. Your meal should look something like: artichokes, lasagna, negroni.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online two weeks in advance at midnight. There are 16 bar seats available for walk-ins, and you should take advantage of this. Just swing by around 5pm one night and put your name in with the host. That’s the easiest way to eat here.
photo credit: Kate Previte
Verdict: This is still one of the best fine-dining options in town, and it’s not that stuffy. Dinner (starting at $375) takes place at a U-shaped counter, with around 12 Korean-influenced courses accompanied by illustrated flash cards. The attention to detail is impressive, and the food is always pristine, satisfying, and inventive.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online on the first of each month at 3pm. It’s important to note that the month’s entire slate of reservations becomes available on the first. So that’s your only window. There’s also an online waitlist you can join.
4 Charles Prime Rib
Verdict: We’d like to be eating at 4 Charles Prime Rib right now. Unfortunately, this small, subterranean West Village spot somehow hasn’t become any easier to get into since it opened in 2016. Try to get a seat here. We believe in you, and we think you should start your meal with a burger before moving onto creamed spinach and prime rib.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online 21 days in advance at 9am. They don’t save seats for walk-ins, but you can put your name on a waitlist and hope for cancellations.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Verdict: Even though it’s always packed, we still think Don Angie doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Their Italian menu—with its stuffed flatbread and sesame-sprinkled gnocchi—is very much doing its own thing, and the cocktail list is pretty cool too. Try this place at least once. You'll appreciate the creativity.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online seven days in advance at 9am. The bar is reserved for walk-ins, and bar seats are surprisingly attainable. Sure, you might have to wait an hour or so, but don’t be afraid to stop by and put your name in.
Verdict: By this point, you've probably noticed a theme: New Yorkers really like to line up for pasta. From a chef who trained in Emilia-Romagna, this Flatiron restaurant serves immaculate spaghettoni, gramigna, and ravioli. The dishes have names like "grandma walking through forest in emilia," and there's a pasta tasting in case you feel like that's what you really deserve.
How To Get In: Reservations are released online 30 days in advance. The bar has 11 seats, all of which are saved for walk-ins. If you get too frustrated trying to eat here at night, book a table for lunch (Tuesday through Friday).