The Best Walk-In-Only Restaurants For When You Didn’t Make A Reservation
Forgot to make plans for tonight? Try one of these spots.
Did you forget to reserve a table for tonight? Or did you make last-minute plans with someone who'll judge you based on your choice of restaurant? Try one of these spots that don't take reservations. Some of these places might have a wait when you stop by, but they aren't especially tough to get into (except for the last), and they're all worth leaving your house for.
photo credit: Flynn McGarry
Yes, this is a wine bar, but these days “wine bar” is just another way of saying “restaurant that serves small plates.” Gem Wine’s menu usually only has about 10 dishes on it—many of which are snack-sized—but you can definitely eat a full meal here. Expect things like artichoke with bagna cauda and a pork chop with cockles and XO sauce. The little room on the Lower East Side looks like a reading nook in an especially fashionable library, and it’s only open on weeknights.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Malatesta is a place that you’ll inevitably frequent once you spend enough time in the West Village. Sure, you could always try to get a walk-in table at Via Carota down the street, but if you do that, you’ll have to wait three hours before you can eat. This place is easier. Put your name in for a table, and it shouldn’t be long before you can sit in the homey dining room and enjoy some fully decent $16 pasta. Get a carafe of relatively inexpensive wine, and request a table outside if the weather’s nice.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
If you walked down Houston at the northern edge of Nolita, you might see what appears to be a random line of people on the sidewalk. Those people are waiting for a table at Emilio’s Ballato. Open since the 1950s, this red sauce spot is an NYC classic with chandeliers, white tablecloths, and a vintage feel. The food here isn’t the absolute best in the city, but that’s fine, because you mostly come here for the clubhouse-like atmosphere. Eat a big, breaded veal chop while you check out the photos of famous customers on the walls.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Open since 2016, Win Son used to be a pain to get into, but now you can get a table without much of a hassle, even at a peak hour. And, as far as we can tell, this Williamsburg Taiwanese restaurant is only getting better. The pan-griddle pork buns are essential, and the “egg bomb” with its flaky, egg-coated scallion pancake is one of the best ways to consume steak tartare in the city. Come for a casual group meal, or bring someone you need to impress.
photo credit: Okiboru House of Tsukemen
Okiboru House of Tsukemen
Okiburo’s entire menu consists of four types of ramen (with add-on options available). Their namesake tsukemen comes with a rich gravy-like broth on the side that tastes like it was made with a million bonito flakes, and the soupy tontori ramen is rich and porky. There’s typically a line to get into this studio apartment-sized spot—where there’s only counter seating—but the wait’s worth it if you want to eat one of the best one-bowl meals in NYC.
Astoria Seafood is part seafood market, part restaurant, and it's one of our favorite places for a casual group meal. When you get here, you walk to the big seafood display in the back, bag what you want (squid, razor clams, a whole branzino, etc.), then hand everything to a cashier and tell them how you want it cooked. Do this correctly, and you should wind up with a massive spread of grilled, fried, and olive oil-splashed fish and crustaceans. Be sure to bring a bottle of wine (since this place is BYOB), and get here early if you don't want to have to wait for a table.
photo credit: Kate Previte
Bernie's feels like the kind of place where everyone should know your name. Unfortunately this Greenpoint restaurant stays pretty busy, so the staff here can't possibly remember the name of every person they encounter. If you haven't been yet, come for a burger at the bar, or eat some mozzarella sticks and baby back ribs in a booth with your friends. Bernie's is pretty much a better, alternate-universe version of TGI Fridays, and you should make regular appearances in the dim, tavern-like space.
photo credit: David A. Lee
For a casual sit-down meal on the Upper West Side, you could always go to The Smith—but if you'd rather not eat the same burger for the millionth time while listening to some young professionals discuss key metrics, try Bánh. This bright, friendly Vietnamese spot serves some of the best bánh mi in the city, in addition to phở, bún chả, and a bunch of daily specials that are always worthwhile.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Do you like chicken and wine? If so, you'll enjoy The Fly. This Bed-Stuy wine bar from the people behind Hart's and Cervo's mostly just serves rotisserie chicken (as well as a few sides), and you should pair that chicken with a chilled red from Slovenia. Bring a friend or a date and hang out at the big U-shaped bar, or come with a group and see if you can claim one of the booths. This place always feels like a party, but in a non-rowdy, Ina Garten sort of way.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
Noodle Pudding is one of the most charming restaurants in NYC, and it happens to be on one of the most charming streets in Brooklyn. The next time you want to feel like you're on the set of a '90s sitcom in which the main characters frequent the same spot and have alarmingly few concerns, try this old-school Brooklyn Heights Italian place. Bring cash, order the fritto misto, and pretend that you're a regular.
photo credit: Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa
Sugarfish is a popular, relatively affordable sushi chain from Los Angeles, and it now has a few locations in NYC. The one in the Flatiron District was the first, and it gets extremely busy—probably because New Yorkers aren’t used to pretty-good sushi that isn’t super expensive. Also, gratuity is included. Provided you’re willing to endure a long wait, come here. You can enjoy one of the benefits of being in LA without having to deal with all the smog and traffic and droughts and earthquakes.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Le French Diner
Le French Diner is secretly one of the best restaurants on the Lower East Side, and it's the sort of place you should casually mention in conversation if you want to be able to say, "Oh, you've never heard of it before?" The space is tiny, with about ten bar seats and three tables, and it feels like a bistro that only you know about. The French food is simple but excellent, and this is a great option for a last-minute dinner with a friend or date.
Wu's Wonton King
Wu’s is one of our favorite group dinner options in Chinatown. It’s BYO, so feel free to put a bottle (or a case) of riesling in an ice bucket next to your big, lazy-Susan-topped table. You’ll definitely want to share a lot of dishes here, because the menu is huge and everything—from wonton soup that comes in a massive bowl to whole fried crabs—is very enjoyable.
Kiki’s has some of the best people-watching on the LES, and it also has solid, straightforward Greek food. Come with a date or a group, share some octopus and pork chops, and definitely explore the sub-$30 carafes of house wines. There'll be a wait when you stop by, but just kill some time at one of the million bars within walking distance. That's what they're there for.
At Thursday Kitchen, you won’t find any dish that’s over $20. Plus, you can get a cocktail that comes in a glowing pouch. So this is a good place to eat and drink with a bunch of friends. You can all sit around and share some soft shell crab and fried chicken (or other Korean small plates), and everyone can get their own shiny pouch drink. They’re pretty much liquid candy, though, so have one, then spend the rest of your money on food.
Lucali is walk-in-only. But you probably already knew that. This is one of the top pizza places in NYC, and if you want to eat here, you should arrive at 4pm and put your name on the wait list. It's worth it. Once you get seated, order a large calzone in addition to a whole pepperoni pie (and maybe a plain cheese one as well).