There are only a few different ways to get into a trendy NYC restaurant. You can stay up all night waiting for a reservation, you can open your own place and hope it gets cool, or you can show up to one of them, put your name in, then slowly adjust to your new life in walk-in purgatory. And 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 a fun atmosphere, and the majority of them are somewhat 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.
Charlie Bird’s wine program features world-famous producers and glasses that cost as much as Spirit flights to Orlando. And yet, they pull off blasting loud hip hop in a casual Soho space with yellow booths and prints of boomboxes on the walls. Tables aren’t nearly as difficult to get here as they are at places serving similarly excellent salads and pastas, like L’Artusi or Via Carota, and you can usually get an outdoor table during lunch without a reservation.
When you think of a diner, what likely comes to mind is some place that’s been serving the same pancakes and tuna melts since servers rolled up to tables on roller-skates while chewing bubblegum. Golden Diner is not like those places. Nearly everything on the menu at this all-day spot in Two Bridges includes Korean, Japanese, Thai, or Chinese influences, so the breakfast sandwich is served on a scallion milk bun and the club sandwich is packed with chicken katsu cutlets and purple cabbage slaw. Unlike other diners, this place takes reservations, and unlike other diners, you’ll need one on a weekend.
The next time you want a meat-heavy dinner in a cool-space, but didn’t plan far enough in advance to get a table at 4 Charles or Minetta Tavern, go to Holy Ground. It’s an underground spot in Tribeca where you could imagine Duke Ellington sitting in a red leather booth having an old-fashioned and porterhouse. This place isn’t a traditional steakhouse though - the Old Fashioneds are made with mezcal and tequila, and the menu focuses on slow-smoked meats like pork shoulder and wagyu brisket.
Atla is an all-day Mexican restaurant in Noho where you can eat lobster tostadas 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. It’s an equally great option for a nice dinner with a date, and at least then if you’re sitting next to startup founders discussing things like brand strategy and scalability, you can drown them out with some phenomenal margaritas.
Wayan shares some DNA with Meatpacking club-restaurants. The dark space could be in a beachfront resort in Bali, servers wear custom t-shirts you’d find at a Diesel outlet, and the menu includes a “chiquita daiquiri” and $14 chicken satay. But this Indonesian spot from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s son isn’t a place to impress investment banking associates in 1999. It’s a Nolita restaurant where you should go for a casual date, and share spicy, perfectly charred octopus and grilled clams topped with coconut flakes. Just know that the entrees aren’t as good as the small plates, so this place is best for drinks and appetizers in the casual bar area.
If your favorite dog breed is the English Mastiff, or you support sodas as big as kiddy pools, then you might not enjoy Maison Yaki. But if you can get past the fact that everything here, from duck a l’orange to vesper martinis, is miniature, then you should absolutely come to this French-influenced yakitori spot in Prospect Heights. Because even though the duck a l’orange is only four bites, it has as much flavor as an entire bird, and like everything on the menu, it’s less than $10.
Based on how excellent the Vietnamese food is and the fact that the plant-filled, pastel space could easily be used to sell high-end skincare or bikinis, 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 fried daikon rice cake omelettes and bowls of beef pho 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 here.
The Banty Rooster is in the West Village next to the constantly-packed Rosemary’s. Use it for after-work drinks and snacks at the bar, but know that it’s also upscale enough for nice dates or dinner with parents. The American menu isn’t particularly adventurous, and yet you’re going to get sauces and preparations that’ll change your perception of grilled octopus and roast chicken. In other words, it seems like this place should be packed every night. Take advantage of the fact that it’s not.
Walk down a nice side street in Paris, and you’ll probably find a restaurant like Mimi. This is a little spot in Greenwich Village, and it feels like the sort of place where French teens would choose to chain smoke and say mean things about you in a language that you can’t understand. The crowd is a little bit older than that, however, and this place is perfect for any important date you forgot to plan. They serve somewhat fancy and inventive French food, but they don’t really make a big deal out of it. We also like the fact that the servers wear t-shirts, the tiny space stays fun and lively, and they let you pour your own rum over your rum cake.
Most people aren’t just stumbling into Chez Ma Tante. It’s almost all the way to the water in Greenpoint, and there’s nothing about it on the outside that would tell you it’s any different than every other Brooklyn neighborhood restaurant. So take advantage of the fact that you know about this place, and come here for simple, incredible food - like a caesar salad that tastes like every leaf was dipped in garlic and breadcrumbs. Reservations aren’t impossible to come by, but you should make one if you don’t want to have to wait.
Le Crocodile is from the same people as Chez Ma Tante, and while it’s a similarly great option for roast chicken and not-at-all healthy salads, there’s nothing low-key about this Williamsburg spot. It’s in a palatial space inside the Wythe Hotel with big mirrors and even bigger windows, and it’s a great option for an impressive night out in Williamsburg after the host at Lilia tells you to come back around 11pm.
Kichin has a DJ booth. There might not be a DJ inside of it when you stop by for dinner at 8pm - but it’s still nice to know it’s there. This Korean spot in Bushwick also has two floors and a bar up front where you can hang out, drink cocktails, and eat fried chicken. But if you’d rather sit at a table, reservations are as plentiful as ballpoint pens in an Office Depot. This is confusing, seeing as how you can get some excellent food like kimchi fried rice and rice cakes topped with halloumi here, but just go with it.
The menu at Oxalis is just a sheet of white paper with ingredients like roasted duck, sweet potato, fig, and yogurt. And 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 Prospect Heights spot is consistently excellent, and at $70, the tasting menu is less expensive than most others in NYC. You’ll get things like scallop crudo and rutabaga noodles with fontina foam - or, if you prefer to order a la carte, you can hang out in the bar area. The space has an open kitchen and the plain white walls of a furniture showroom, and it’s surprisingly casual. So try it for a semi-special occasion when you need something kind of trendy but don’t want to have to dress up.
Dirty French is from the same people behind Carbone and The Grill, but it’s a little more of a party. Which makes sense, seeing as how it’s on the Lower East Side. We aren’t saying people are dancing on tables here, but the music stays loud, and people will be going through bottles of wine like they’re at a holiday party or a wedding reception. Dinner here will be pricey, but the French food is very good, and, at the end of your meal, you’ll feel like you had a real night out.
We’ve always liked Win Son. But every time we go, we wind up liking it even more. The food we eat here is always great (the pan-griddled pork buns in particular), and it’s never too hard getting a table. There’s always good music playing, and it feels like a neighborhood clubhouse where you can show up in sweats or a velvet tuxedo and maybe see one of your friends eating a bowl of noodles with a big Taiwanese beer on the side. Bring a group, and put your name in for one of the round tables up front with lazy susans in the middle.
Eating at Turk’s Inn is sort of like being in a dream. And in this particular dream, you’re in a 1970s supper club where there are golden tassels hanging above the bar, decorative plates on the walls, and around 30 or 40 paintings (include one of a big fluffy cat). This is a festive place (modeled on an actual 1970s supper club), and the Mediterranean food here is pretty solid. We especially like the dips with crudité and the lamb ribs that come on a big metal skewer. It’s a great spot for a fun group dinner, and once you finish eating, you can head to the bar on the roof.
If you’re looking for a dark and lively place in Park Slope where you can grab some drinks and share a bunch of small plates with a group, go to Haenyeo. It’s a Korean spot on 5th Ave serving things like rice cakes with chorizo and grilled oysters with seaweed butter and brioche. Organize a double date here or bring a few friends and finish several bottles of soju. With its hardwood floors, marble tables, and candlelit atmosphere, this is one of the most impressive spots to grab dinner in the area, and getting a table is easier than finding an empty seat at JFK at 2am.
Llama Inn is always busy, but it’s never impossible to get a table here. Maybe that’s because it’s a somewhat large space (with big windows and modern furniture) or maybe it’s because people don’t like eating so close to the BQE. Either way, you should get some food here the next time you need a fun, last-minute spot in Williamsburg. The food is Peruvian-inspired, with everything from beef heart to ceviche to a quinoa salad with bacon and banana. It’s unlike anything else in the city, and there’s even a little rooftop for outdoor seating.
Hunky Dory is the neighborhood restaurant you’d have if your life were a made-for-Netflix movie and you lived with several best friends who offered constant and unconditional emotional support. It’s a great-looking place with a skylight in the back and bright blue walls that make you feel like maybe you aren’t so stressed out, and it’s open all day. You can treat it like a breakfast spot and stop by for an exceptional egg sandwich at 9am, or you can sit at the bar all night, drink cocktails, and have some pork schnitzel. Service is extremely friendly, and it’s a great spot to hang out and meet someone to co-star in your Netflix-romcom life.
If you like seafood, you’ll like Cervo’s. That’s mostly what they serve here - and, if you don’t like seafood, you can always get lamb burger or just drink a lot of wine from Spain and Portugal. Do so at the long bar up front, where you’ll typically find a lot of people swirling liquids in glasses whilst talking about whatever’s currently on HBO. There’s a little dining room in the back that’s perfect for an impressive date night that involves things like manilla clams and a whole mackerel, and the whole space sort of feels like a nice, casual wine bar.
The fly is from the same people behind Cervo’s and Hart’s, and much like those places, it’s somewhere we’d eat several times a week. It’s in Bed-Stuy, and the emphasis is on rotisserie chicken and natural wine. There will most likely be a wait if you stop by on the weekends (and they don’t take reservations), but think of this as an opportunity to hang out at the bar and make friends. Even if it’s 10pm, you’ll find a bunch of people hanging out, and there’s a decent chance you’ll see someone you’ve dated drinking a chilled red from the Canary Islands. Once you get seated (or decide to eat at the bar), we recommend you get a chicken sandwich in addition to a whole or half chicken and some roasted potatoes.
At Una Pizza Napoletana, you can get a Neapolitan pizza that’s fairly close to ideal. The only catch is that it will cost $25, and there aren’t many options beyond your basic margherita. But if you want a sit-down pizza dinner with a date or someone who doesn’t really enjoy loud restaurants, it’s perfect.