There are only a few ways to get into a trendy NYC restaurant. You can stay up all night waiting for a reservation, or you can open your own place and hope it gets cool. Alternatively, you can show up to a trendy spot, put your name in, then slowly adjust to your new life in walk-in purgatory. If none of those strategies sound appealing, here’s a fourth: Go to a place on this list.
These restaurants are all trendy in the sense that they have great food and fun atmospheres—and some of them also happen to be new. They’re perfect for dates you forgot to plan or dinners with any friends you want to impress, and they all seem like they’re very hard to get into. But they aren’t. And that’s exactly why they’re on this guide.
Part cocktail bar, part restaurant, Deux Chats is in a vaulted, Belle Époque-themed space near the Williamsburg Bridge, and it's a great place to have drinks and seafood small plates with a friend. This spot is from the people behind Le Dive, but it doesn't get as annoyingly busy as that LES wine bar (and the food here is better). There are reservations available most nights, and if you can't find one at a peak hour, you can always stop by and see if you can grab a few seats at the long, curvy bar. Drink a martini, eat some oysters, and don't skip the beef tartare.
Zaab Zaab is the best new Thai restaurant in NYC, and it's walk-in only. Take advantage of this, and come by any night of the week for a casual meal with a ridiculous amount of flavor. Don't stop ordering until you can't see your table. The Isan Thai food at this Elmhurst spot is packed with chilies, lemongrass, and various fresh herbs, and the whole salt-encrusted fish stuffed with pandan is a necessary order. Get a hot pot with baby back ribs and tamarind broth to enjoy on the side.
photo credit: & Sons
Go eat at a ham bar. It's what your friends and family would want you to do, and it's the perfect way to get more ham in your diet. & Sons in Prospect Lefferts Gardens serves a variety of American hams, in addition to a few other meats, a small selection of cheeses, and some small bites like chicken wings and shrimp cocktail. Opened by a former sommelier at Per Se, this place obviously has a great (all-American) wine list as well. Bring a date, and share some ham by candlelight.
photo credit: Teddy Wolfe
Red Hook Tavern
It used to be impossible to get into Red Hook Tavern. Now, you can get a table here whenever you want, which is great news because the burger is still one of the best in the city. Think of this place as a cross between a pub, a New American restaurant, and Peter Luger, and plan a dinner here the next time you want to have a somewhat nice night out. The space is dark, narrow, and reminiscent of a well-renovated Colonial Era dive bar. In addition to a standout burger, there's pasta, fish and chips, and a quality wine selection.
Rebel Restaurant and Bar
When you walk into Rebel on the corner of Stanton and Clinton, you might do one of two things: turn around immediately because you're not sure if you're in a restaurant, or start looking for someone to charge you a cover. On any given night here, there's either a live band or a DJ with rainbow globe lights going every which way. It feels like a party, but that isn't the only reason why you come here. The Haitian food—like the tender griot and Barbancourt mussels—is worth seeking out.
Bella Dea is a new seafood spot by the team behind the LA restaurant Crudo e Nudo, which Infatuation LA gave an 8.4 after it opened last year. They’re sharing their space with another popular LA import, Breakfast By Salt’s Cure, now taking over operations in the evenings. New Yorkers are slowly catching on to this place's excellent crudos, oysters, and natural wine, but this West Village restaurant isn't too hard to get into (yet). So stop by and impress a date with black bass crudo and pink-peppercorn limoncello mignonette oysters.
OStudio is a new cafe and wine bar in Bed-Stuy that’s still a bit under the radar if you weren’t already familiar with the mixed-media artists who work in the space by day. From 5-10pm, lights are dimmed and candles are placed on tables, and you can choose from a tightly curated wine list and an impressive menu of small plates. They have a roster of exciting guest chefs who come in for two-week residencies, so you’ll always leave having eaten something you hadn’t tried before (and likely won’t again). You can make reservations online, but for you can also get a walk-in spot easily.
At Chino Grande in Williamsburg, you can sing karaoke and eat a whole lobster with Sichuan au poivre sauce. There’s a long bar along one wall where you can drink, snack, or eat a full meal, and there are a handful of green pleather booths on the other side of the room for you to claim with a day-of reservation. This place is owned in part by one of the people behind Win Son, so you can count on the same sort of energy with neighborhood regulars sharing chilled mussels doused in aioli and charred chicken skewers. Just know karaoke starts at 10pm, and, if you request a song, you’ll have to sing it in front of all the other people here.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
This relatively new Persian restaurant looks like it should be harder to get into than it is, but its particular section of Bushwick (near what is now essentially a historical Bushwick landmark, Roberta’s) has a lot less action going on than it used to. There’s a slight chance you’ll have to wait if you come in peak dinner time without a reservation—of which many are open—but it shouldn't be more than 15 minutes until you can sit down for excellent saffron martinis and a beautiful square of potato tahdig.
St. Anselm isn’t new by any means. It’s been around for a decade now, but it’s still one of the best places to eat steak in the city. Their famous Butchers Steak, though it costs twice as much as it did 10 years ago, is still under $30—and it's easily one of the best pieces of meat you'll ever consume (juicy, salty, butter, etc.). The small rustic chic room is also a perfectly lovely place to bring a date when you want to eat steak at a place that won't feel a hundred years old or put you out hundreds of dollars.
Rolo’s is a little like Applebee's in that they serve a wide range of food that includes a burger, pasta, and ice cream. But this restaurant is located in Ridgewood, where the crowd feels more like a scene out of Bushwick fan fiction. They have an extensive menu and an even more expansive dining room, so this is a great spot for a last-minute group dinner with people who are open to sharing a very good burger and some more inventive stuff like the crab salad with habanada peppers or the Szechuan cabbage that's charred so it's a little like jerky.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
At Contento, the whole dining room—both staff and diners—feels connected in a way most championship-winning sports teams do. This place is known for its attentive service in addition to its Peruvian-leaning menu full of standouts (like a tart ceviche and a hefty burger cradling raclette). You can easily book a reservation or get a walk-in table at this East Harlem restaurant that was pretty much built for everyone, with wheelchair accessibility and the disability community in mind.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
This Vietnamese restaurant existed for years before an ex-Blue Hill at Stone Barns chef took over the kitchen in the fall of 2020. Since then, they’ve switched to serving a list of sub-$30 dishes of inventive food that doesn’t exist elsewhere in NYC, like bone marrow with crab salad and fried rice with Vietnamese mortadella. Falansai exists in the idyllic middle ground between a fine dining experience and a casual dinner. So the next time you’re seeking an upscale Big Night Out in a space that feels like you’re attending one of Brooklyn’s great dinner parties, you can have one here on a casual dinner timeline.
photo credit: Kimika
Eating at Kimika is a reminder that nights out can still feel exciting. Kimika falls into the category of Cool Downtown Restaurant To Be Cool At, but you don't have to clamor for a reservation in decidedly uncool desperation. This place is from the team behind another trendy spot on the Lower East Side called Wayla, and unlike others that fall in the CDRTBCA category, both Wayla and Kimika have real substance and serve inventive, delicious food. Come here if you’re looking to impress someone who will appreciate a sake martini and rice cake lasagna, and be prepared to spend upwards of $50 per person.
photo credit: Adam Friedlander
Despite having the best bún chả in the borough, you can stop by Saigon Social on the Lower East Side pretty much any time. We don’t know why people aren’t standing by, with their faces pressed against the windows, for a lemongrass-scented fried chicken sandwich of their own—but they aren’t, so you can get in here to eat fried chicken or a bánh mì under a mural of Baby Yoda in no time.
We can’t explain why, but Estela almost always has tables available these days. Consider this good news, since those open reservations mean there are fewer logistical obstacles standing between you and America’s most glamorous salad. Bring anyone who has a kink for being nerdy about seasonal food, or come here with someone you want to impress with a best-of-the-best NYC meal that won’t seem like it was planned at the last minute (even though it very much was).
La Vara is Cobble Hill’s best and most charming restaurant. But, since Cobble Hill isn’t exactly known for its restaurants, you can still get in here without much planning. We’ve had great meals at this Spanish spot sitting at the bar and catching up with a friend, but this place is best used for a date night in the area. Some of our favorite food here combines classic Spanish proteins with Middle Eastern and Jewish cooking, like the cantabrian anchovies served with a disc of salted dukkah butter and the fried artichoke hearts lying in hammocks of oil-slicked ibérico de bellota sausage.
Di An Di
Considering how excellent their Vietnamese food is and the fact that their plant-filled, pastel space could easily be used to sell high-end skincare products, Di An Di is easier to get into than it should be. We don’t know why, and we won’t complain. What we will do, though, is continue to eat things like bánh tráng trộn with quail eggs and bowls of beef phở here (and we’d encourage you to do the same). Next time you need a semi-last-minute place to impress your mom or the person you’re legally and/or emotionally married to, book a reservation the day before, and expect to have a really good night.
When you walk into Mission Ceviche on the UES, you might get quoted a wait time somewhere in the ballpark of an hour. But plan your meal a couple days in advance, and you shouldn’t have much trouble getting a reservation. This Upper East Side Peruvian restaurant specializes in cocktails and seafood, like a classic white fish ceviche bathing in a zippy leche de tigre. There are also plenty of options for anyone who wants to share—including their lomo saltado and large format cocktails—as well as single-portion entrees. We recommend sitting on the plant-decorated sidewalk patio.
The menu at Oxalis is just a sheet of white paper with lists of ingredients like roasted duck, sweet potato, fig, and yogurt. If that makes this place sound like a modernist hellscape where every plate of food consists of exactly half a bite, you should know that it isn't. The food at this Crown Heights spot is consistently excellent, and at $120, the tasting menu is less expensive than most others in NYC. Expect things like scallop crudo and rutabaga noodles with fontina foam. The space has an open kitchen and the plain white walls of a furniture showroom, and it’s surprisingly casual for a place with fontina foam. So keep Oxalis in mind for a special occasion when you need someplace memorable but don’t want to have to dress like you’re going to a shiva.
Wildair is the casual counterpart to the acclaimed fine-dining-but-make-it-punk-rock restaurant, Contra. This wine bar has been open for a while now, and it’s not too hard to get a table on the earlier or later end of the spectrum. Build your dinner around a bunch of snacks—like pommes darphin topped with uni or littleneck clams in XO sauce—and drink incredible wine. You could have a great solo dinner or date night here, but the smaller portions and high-top tables make it less ideal for group hangs.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Dr. Clark was destined to be cool from its inception. The Chinatown restaurant lives on Bayard Street in the same space that housed sceney spots like Lalito and Winnie’s, and owner Yudai Kanayama also operates time-tested fun destinations like Nowadays in Ridgewood. Also, before the restaurant even opened for service, it was profiled in Vogue. Most importantly, Dr. Clark is the only place in New York City exclusively dedicated to serving food from Hokkaido. Even still, reservations are easy to come by. Bring four-ish people for a group dinner in a dark booth inside or at a covered kotatsu table on the sidewalk, and focus on the seafood. The smoky-sweet salmon jerky and kaisen featuring sweet crab and assorted sashimi are both great.
This Hamilton Heights restaurant specializes in, you guessed it, turkey. OK, that’s false, and we’re sorry for lying to you. You’re destined to eat chicken here, be it in the form of Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken, spicy fried chicken sandwiches, or buffalo chicken in a salad. Whichever chicken path you choose, get some sides and dipping sauces. (We usually go for the spicy vodka rice and cilantro green sauce.) Chick Inn typically has same-day reservations available for their covered patio or indoor dining room, both of which feel a step nicer than your casual run-of-the-mill Tuesday night dinner spot.
Ops in Bushwick continues to make some of the city’s best naturally-fermented pizza in a room we’d happily get engaged in. If you’ve never been here, picture wooden banquettes, big cans of tomato sauce used as pizza stands on every table, and a wood-fired oven in the middle of the room that smells like a calzone in a sauna. A couple years ago, it used to be impossible to get a table here without waiting several hours. Now, you can pretty much waltz in on a weeknight. (They also take limited reservations online, but half of the tables are saved for walk-ins.)
Atla is an all-day Mexican restaurant in Noho where you can eat flaxseed chilaquiles and the best chicken soup of your life. During the day, it has a cafeteria-at-a-cool-tech-company kind of feel, and the food—which is from the people behind Cosme—is better than anything else you can get at 3pm wearing gym clothes. In addition to daytime snacking, this is also a great option for a nice dinner with a date. If you get seated next to some startup founders discussing things like brand strategy and scalability, distract yourself with a few phenomenal margaritas.