24 Great Walk-In Only Restaurants For When You Didn’t Make A Reservation guide image

SFGuide

24 Great Walk-In Only Restaurants For When You Didn’t Make A Reservation

Forgot to make plans for tonight? Try one of these spots that don’t take reservations anyway.

Maybe your old college roommate showed up in town unexpectedly. Maybe one of your core personality traits is an inability to plan, so you forgot to book a table for date night. Or, perhaps you’re just emotionally drained from the seemingly endless rejection you’ve been facing on Resy.

Enter this guide. Provided you’re willing to wait a little, they’re all excellent options, and their walk-in only policies level the playing field for anyone trying to grab a last-minute meal. From casual dumpling spots to neighborhood pizza places, here are some great restaurants for when you didn’t make a reservation.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Erin Ng

Dumpling Home review image
8.7

Dumpling Home

$$$$

298 Gough St, San Francisco
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Dumpling Home in Hayes Valley has ample indoor and outdoor seating, and it’s where you’ll find some of our favorite xiao long bao and shengjianbao in the city. Even if there’s a crowd waiting outside, it won’t take too long before you’re seated and steamers full of dumplings and plates of green onion pancakes land on your table. Also, come with a group—everything is perfect for sharing.

Listen, standing in line behind a retractable barrier for 45 minutes to over an hour is not our idea of fun. But we’ll gladly do it for what Mensho Tokyo is serving up. This Lower Nob Hill spot makes a damn good bowl of ramen that lives up to the hype. The trick to possibly minimizing your wait time is getting here early (yes, even lining up before they open), coming with a very small group, and accepting a seat at the bar area if it’s offered.

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Udupi Place is where to go when you don’t have a reservation, want to show up in sweats, and catch up with a friend for an hour. It’s also where to eat some of the best dosas in the Mission. The ones at this South Indian vegetarian spot are perfectly crispy, filled with well-spiced potatoes, and, depending on the kind you get (like the mysore) are roughly the size and shape of a small briefcase. This small spot also does saag paneer that’s heavier on the spinach, ultra puffy poori, fried samosas that get a boost of flavor from an array of chutneys, and a big curry section.

Poc-Chuc in the Mission transforms into a karaoke bar with a DJ, fog machine, and dance floor four times a week. And aside from being the most fun place you can spend a Monday night in the area, the Yucatecan spot serves food we’d happily eat even without reggaeton playing at full blast. The crispy panuchos loaded with grilled pork, salsa, and avocado should absolutely be part of your order, as should the titular poc chuc with citrusy grilled pork and rice. Just be prepared to shout across the table to whoever you’re with.

You’ll smell Moku Yakitori-Ya before you see it—the scent of sizzling yakitori wafts out of this tiny Richmond izakaya like a delicious air freshener for the entire block. The walk-in only spot has a ton of yakitori options, from chicken thigh and pork belly to fish cake with cheese, plus other Japanese dishes like agedashi tofu, sashimi, and stir-fried ramen. Know that a meal here isn’t complete without an order (or two) of chewy deep-fried mochi coated in ponzu and chili oil—this dish alone makes any wait for a table worth it. Grab a seat at the bar and watch all of the action going down on the grill, or post up in the back and keep the sake coming. 

Walk into this Middle Eastern spot in the Haight and you’ll immediately smell chicken shawarma sizzling on the grill and freshly fried falafel. Grab a seat in one of the cushioned booths and soak in all the aromas while waiting for a massive spread of meats and dips to land on your table. The hummus loaded with beef and lamb shawarma is a must-order—the explosion of textures from the perfectly cooked meat and creamy hummus is next-level. We come here for casual weeknight dinners and quick lunches when we forgot to plan ahead, or any time we feel like sharing a bunch of things and eating our body weight in pita. 

For carnitas, pozole, and plenty of margaritas, head straight to Nopalito. The Mexican spot in NoPa is where you’ll find all of the above, along with their excellent totopos with crema, lime, and tons of shaved cotija. Plus, their covered, heated front patio is one of our favorite places to chill outside.

Throwing back half a dozen oysters with views of the bay is never a bad idea. It’s even more tempting when you’re in need of a last-minute place to eat dinner before everyone starts getting hangry. Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building has tables and heaters, and it’s all first come, first served. Settle in with a bowl of their fantastic clam chowder and some oysters, and that's really all you need.

Ebisu doesn’t take reservations, but the wait is never too long, which makes it an easy option for a last-minute date or a group dinner with a few friends. This Japanese restaurant in the Sunset makes great straightforward rolls, nigiri, and handrolls, and superb appetizers, like miso-glazed eggplant and agedashi tofu. We love to post up at the sushi counter where things feel less chaotic, stick to the rolls, and pay extra attention to the specials on the board, like half-shell oysters.

We head to this Oaxacan restaurant in the Mission whenever we need an immediate serotonin boost. Everything at this counter-service spot is bright and colorful, from the turquoise and pink walls to the papel picado hanging above the bar. Fun space aside, fantastic food is also why we love Donaji. There are richly spiced mole over enchiladas, tacos on thick housemade tortillas, and frisbee-sized tlayudas loaded with beef, queso, and avocado. Add in rotating agua frescas and gooey churro donuts and you’ve got a spot we return to anytime we're in search of a quick, easy meal.

When noodle soup calls to us, we head straight to Kevin’s in the Sunset. This casual Vietnamese restaurant is an institution, as evidenced by the perpetually packed dining room and tightly run operation—it’ll take approximately 0.2 seconds once you sit down for someone to take your order, and big steaming bowls of phở will land on the table soon after. Plus, portions are hearty, and everything on the menu, from phở and vermicelli to rice combination plates, will run you less than $15. 

At Italian Homemade Company in North Beach, you’ll walk up to the casual, counter-serve spot and order your choice of freshly-made pasta and sauce, like tagliatelle with bolognese or prosciutto-stuffed tortellini with butter and sage. We like to enjoy everything on one of their high-top tables inside, or grab a seat on their parklet and people-watch.

If you’re walking around Bernal Heights hungry and reservation-less, get to United Dumplings. In addition to more traditional dumpling fillings like pork and Napa cabbage or fish, they also have more playful options, like bulgogi or chicken, mushroom with truffle, and a massive xiao long bao that takes up its own steamer and comes with a straw for the soup. They also have rice dishes and hand-pulled noodles that are great for sharing.

A meal at Pizzetta 211 in the Richmond feels like going to a candlelit dinner party hosted by a close friend, if that friend also led a MasterClass in how to make perfect thin-crust pizzas. The tiny neighborhood spot only has a few tables, so you might have to wait for a seat—and once you do finally grab one, you’ll want to kick off your shoes and stay for hours. Start with a plate of rotating cheeses, nuts, and olives before diving into the frequently changing pies topped with seasonal mixes, like fried eggs and bacon or spicy coppa with olives and red onions. Throw in some wine and decadent chocolate cake and you have yourself a night.  

Waiting for a table at this Chinese restaurant in the Sunset usually requires the patience of a puppy school trainer. And even though it seems like everyone in the general vicinity had the same idea as you about coming here for dinner, waiting in line is worth it for their crispy pork potstickers, dry black bean sauce noodles, and fantastic dry-fried chicken wings, which are doused in a caramel-like ginger and garlic sauce.

Burma Superstar has been around since 1992, but it’s still packed every night thanks to their excellent tea leaf salad, rich curries, and extensive menu of stir-fried and wok-tossed dishes (which includes a ton of vegetarian options). Be prepared to wait, though, because lines down the block tend to be a permanent fixture here. And also know that ordering extra coconut rice is non-negotiable.

If the line is too long at Burma Superstar, you can always try Mandalay, another great longstanding Burmese spot. It’s less than a five minute walk away from Burma Superstar, and the waits are generally much shorter. Once seated, look to the excellent tea leaf salad and coconut chicken noodle soup. Though Mandalay does take reservations for parties of five and up, most of the tables are first come, first serve.

After an evening of shopping in Hayes Valley for wool shoes, birthday cards, and ceramic pots, you'll probably be hungry. Enter Chez Maman. The French restaurant is home to french onion soup loaded with what seems like an entire wheel of gruyere, and we always hea to their garlicky mashed potatoes with roast chicken whenever we need dinner that feels like a hug from a gentle chinchilla. Nothing, down to the vintage-y decor and the laminated placemat-sized menu, is trying too hard, and that’s why we love this place. 

Bright, energetic, and always a great time, this Mexican restaurant in the Mission does Jaliscan food with a California twist. The panko-crusted shrimp tacos are served on jicama tortillas, fried fish tacos are amped up with a piquin pepper-peanut sauce, and the empanadas are perfect, puffy pockets filled with mushrooms, corn, and cheese. Excellent cocktails and an atmosphere that has more buzz than a deuxmoi rumor drop—a dinner at Loló never fails to add up to a fun night.

Planning a group brunch usually involves sending out multiple reminders in the group chat, possibly a spreadsheet, and a reservation made at least a couple of weeks in advance. But at Plow, all you have to do is show up. Unless you come right at 7am when they open, the Potrero Hill spot practically guarantees a wait, but you’ll just end up extra hungry and more satisfied once fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes and crispy potatoes land in front of you.

We’re always down to drop by Beit Rima in the Castro for dinner—the space is bustling, the menu is super shareable and perfect for groups, and coming here last minute is easy. The food comes out quickly, so you and your friends will be shuffling around platters of muhammara and lebna, whole-fried branzino, and garlicky chicken shish tawook before you know it.

Arm-length hoagies, lots of bottles of wine, and great desserts—you’ll find them all at Palm City. The neighborhood wine shop in the Outer Sunset has tables set up inside and outside if you want to stay a while and enjoy your mortadella-stuffed sandwich in their bright, casual space.

Tony’s in North Beach is always packed with people living out their pizza party dreams. And the slightly chaotic energy makes it a fun place to eat with a group. Just be sure you have as many people as possible to help you take down more than one of their pizzas—they make 12 different types of pies, from Sicilian or Neapolitan to Detroit-style, all of which are excellent.

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