NYCGuide

15 Trendy Restaurants You Can Get Into

If you’re looking for an impressive place to get a table when you didn’t plan weeks in advance, here are some great options.
a spread of dishes at kanyakumari, including a dosa, a sorbet, and some curries

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

There are only a few ways to get into a trendy NYC restaurant. You can stay up all night waiting for a reservation, open your own place and hope it becomes cool, or 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 friends you need to impress, and they all seem like they’re hard to get into. But they aren’t. And that’s why they’re on this guide.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Alex Staniloff

Thai

West Village

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsDrinking Good CocktailsBirthdays
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Sappe comes from the team behind Soothr, an East Village Thai restaurant that’s one of our favorites in the city, and the quality of the food here is just as exciting. A night at Sappe feels like a night at the movies, from the bright yellow marquee out front and the mirror on the ceiling to the cocktails inspired by female characters from Thai film and TV. It can be a bit difficult to make a day-of reservation, but if you plan ahead a day or two, you should be able to snag a seating between 6-8pm and order all the chicken skin and squid skewers your heart desires.

Noho’s C As In Charlie is one of those places that should be harder to get into, but we're grateful that it's not. The neon-red space can make even a Tuesday feel sexy and all of their Korean-Southern dishes cost $16 or less. The next time you need a little weekend energy on a weeknight without having to refresh the reservation page at exactly 9am, plan to come here—especially if you're into the idea of ox bone cream pasta, glaze fried chicken, and seoul'sbury steak with galbi jus and gruyére grits.

From the people who brought you one of Brooklyn’s best backyards, Swoony’s is an American bistro where you can sit with some friends and share a wedge salad and some short rib au poivre. The Carroll Gardens restaurant is clubby and old school—the kind of place that feels conducive to several martinis, even on a Tuesday night. Weekday reservations are easy to snag, but book a few weeks in advance if you want to eat here on a Friday or Saturday.

Ensenada should be harder to get into. If you’ve tried the pineapple butter served with their al pastor-style whole fish, you know what we’re talking about. This Mexican seafood spot is one of the top options for a fun, casual meal in Williamsburg, especially if you’re looking for ceviche, aguachile, or crispy fish tacos. The romantically lit room with aquatic doodles on white brick walls hosts a random scene of families and dates, and there’s a nightclub underneath, should you need to dance after dinner.

An international trip can take months, if not a year of planning. But eating at Kanyakumari, whose menu is organized like a travel itinerary across the coasts of Southern India, can be planned the day of. Start your trip with a 6:30pm reservation, order the amma mess fish curry (which includes a whole butterflied branzino that looks like a paper airplane), lounge with a few wafer-thin guruprasad dosas, and finish the meal ogling the mismatched chandeliers and neon lights with a couple friends who care about big flavors.

Gem Wine, a quirky wine bar that looks like a library reading room at the world's coolest college, is perfect for a casual date with someone who appreciates sunchokes and cab franc. The menu is short and geared toward snacking, with options like mushroom schnitzel and salt cod beignets. If you want to eat more than just a few bites, we highly recommend the family-style meal, which costs $75 per person. It may sound pricey, but it can work out to be more cost effective than ordering a la carte, and you’ll get to try a bunch of interesting things.

Naks is a Filipino spot from the team behind Semma and Dhamaka, two reliably tough reservations, and, at the moment, it’s easy to get into. The East Village restaurant is relatively new, however, so that may change soon. For dinner, there are options: You can sit in the back and eat an 18-course kamayan-style meal that costs $135, or you can hang out in the bar area up front and order a la carte. We prefer a la carte—if only for the fried duck—but the tasting, with its lechon and cheese-covered scallop, is unlike any other in the city, so it’s worth trying once.

The words “British cooking” and “trendy” are not often associated, but Lord’s in NoHo is the exception. From the same owners as Greenwich Village seafood hotspot Dame, Lord’s takes traditional British pub grub, like Scotch eggs and meat pies, and executes them near-flawlessly. The room is sexy and low lit, the menu is full of hits like smoked trout with dill and celeriac, or an unbelievable burger with Welsh rarebit cheese, and reservations are easy to come by, especially if you like eating at the bar.

Figure Eight in the West Village makes Chinese-American food inspired by the lowcountry, which sounds a little confusing. What’s not confusing is how to make a reservation here: one simply goes and chooses the time they’d like to dine. At this sister restaurant to Silver Apricot, you can get things like corn and jalapeño bolobao, “hong shao” collard greens, and a $55 seafood tower in a small, lively room that feels like an intimate dinner party. They also do a weekend tea for $88, where you can eat dainty sandwiches and feel fancy.

At this Chinese wine bar in Dimes Square, you can pair squishy XO sauce rice cakes with a zippy white from Austria, or spicy cold poached chicken with chili oil with a funky Alsatian pinot noir. There are usually reservations available if you don’t mind sitting at the bar, which has the best view of the kitchen, where chefs toss crab fried rice in an absolutely massive wok. It’s a great spot for a drink and a bite before going out in this super sceney neighborhood.

photo credit: Kate Previte

At Ariari, you can sit on a leather chair that looks like it was salvaged from a ’70s sedan and eat bibimbap topped with pastel yellow uni cream. The Busan-inspired spot—from the team behind Atoboy, Moono, and many other quality restaurants—used to be an impossible reservation, but as long as you book a few days in advance, you should be alright. Expect lots of fantastic Korean seafood, like DIY scallop gimbap and crackly fried soft shell crab with gochugaru aioli on the side.

Soho isn’t really known for its dining. Balthazar and Pinch are both solid options, and you can always eat a burger and eavesdrop on some venture capitalists at Lure Fishbar—but for something more exciting, try Principe. In a bi-level space with concrete floors and an abundance of chandeliers, this place serves inventive, Italian-inspired dishes like pillowy ndunderi and scallop crudo with pistachio and sorrel. Is the food pricey? Yes, of course. You’re in Soho, where $30 tortellini is not unusual. But you’ll get some free bread with your meal, and that free bread is delicious.

On Saturday nights, Hav & Mar is loud with chatter, and the music has you looking for the non-existent dance floor. Marcus Samuelsson’s Chelsea restaurant is definitely buzzy, but it’s also big, occupying a large enough space that there’s always an empty table hidden in the crowd. You should definitely book in advance for a prime-time weekend table, but you can walk in on a weeknight with no problem. Even if you come when it's quieter, you’ll have a memorable meal of Ethiopian and Swedish fusion dishes like berbere-cured salmon and dawa dawa seared bass.

For trendy spots where you can meet equally trendy people, it doesn’t get much better than Dept. of Culture, the Bed-Stuy Nigerian spot that feels like a dinner party at your coolest friend’s house. Make friends while you sip your BYO-bottle of choice to the tune of Nigerian vinyl. While it was once harder to get a seat at this four-course prix fixe than an in-unit washer and dryer, reservations have opened up recently—probably because they opened a new spot, Radio Kwara, so now’s your chance.

The Chelsea Hotel has always been an absolute scene, with some of the coolest New Yorkers taking up residence there, like Bob Dylan and Patti Smith. There was a rush of virality when Café Chelsea opened due to a grid paper-like ravioles des dauphiné, making it pretty hard to get in. The hype has died down a bit, but the cool factor of the clientele has not. Plus, you can literally eat three meals in one day here and go to the bar for a nightcap, with a trip to the spa in between. Start your day with a perfect omelette or pain perdu, grab a Niçoise salad at lunch, and finish the day with maitake au poivre.

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