The Best Walk-In Only Restaurants For Date Night (When You Didn’t Make A Reservation)
Don’t compete with the reservation crowd. Go to one of these spots instead.
It’s date night, and you were planning to stay in and order takeout - but your roommate just informed you she needs to stick around and practice some oboe. For the first time ever. Or maybe you just forgot to make a reservation. It happens.
Anyway, it’s too late now to book a table anywhere good. Instead of resorting to a basket of freezer-burned onion rings at that dive bar down the street that just happens to be hosting a Home Improvement trivia night (surprise!), use our guide. It has our favorite date night spots that don’t take reservations anyway - so you have as good a chance as anyone of getting a table.
This moody cocktail bar in Ballard is dark enough to hide the fact that your teeth might need whitening, but not so dark that you run the risk of poking your date in the eye when you try to run your fingers through their hair. The romantic setting is perfect for drinking sparkling Campari drinks on tap and splitting the burger with some charred vegetables. But if burgers aren’t your thing and pizza’s the only key to your heart, Essex could work before or after dinner at Delancey, the classy pizzeria next door.
We’re actually glad Manolin doesn’t take reservations. Otherwise, it would be impossible to ever get in - the seafood and small plates here are that good. We advise sitting at the big U-shaped bar and splitting some salt-and-pepper plantain chips before transitioning to the delicious rockfish ceviche, smoked salmon, and cod with mole or black rice with squid and chorizo. A nightcap on the back patio by the firepit is also something you can do. No, that definitely wasn’t us nudging you with our elbow.
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Harry's Fine Foods
Pull Harry’s Fine Foods out of your back pocket, and your date will be so impressed that it might make up for the moment you revealed just how many Star Wars Lego sets you actually have assembled in your apartment right now. The antique parlor-like setting is the perfect mix of casual and sophisticated, and food ranges from an incredible burger with herbed french fries to lasagna to crudo. Definitely get the seasonal negroni.
If a cinematic romance is something you’ve always wanted, a date at Pair is a good idea. The whole space looks like the set of a short film (that budgeted for a very good production designer) set in the French countryside, with red gingham drapes, old-fashioned picnic baskets, and accents of mint green. Order some delicious steak frites, fontina mac and cheese, and/or rosemary-braised gigante beans with feta, breadcrumbs, and garlic confit. Everything on the menu is under $20, so it’s even a reasonable night out.
D’ La Santa
There are so many reasons to love this Mexican spot in Capitol Hill. The family recipes the kitchen puts out are amazing, the dining room (complete with a life-sized replica of a tree) is warm and inviting, and it’s easy to get in. Which is good, because there’s no time to be wasted when margaritas and incredible garlic butter shrimp tacos are on the table.
An excellent Korean gastropub underneath Pike Place Market. Pop in for a beer and bibimbap, or lychee rickeys with some addicting bulgogi sliders. The fact that it’s sort of hidden makes this spot feel exciting, especially at night when the waterfront gets so quiet.
So, you dropped the ball and forgot to make a reservation at Needle And Thread. Luckily, Tavern Law, the spot right downstairs, is their sister bar, so you can drink similar excellent cocktails in a space that’s almost as slick. You just don’t get to use the cool phone booth in the back - you’ll have to use your personality to impress your date instead. And if that doesn’t work, the corn cracklins and popcorn chicken will.
The Walrus And The Carpenter
Yes, committing to an outing at The Walrus & The Carpenter is a Whole Thing. This is largely because they don’t take reservations - which will make you seem spontaneous and fun at very low risk. Either show up at 4pm when they open, or put your name on the waiting list and then head to Barnacle next door for some cured ham and an expertly-mixed amaro cocktail. Once your table is ready, get some oysters to celebrate.
New Luck Toy
If your date doesn’t have fun at New Luck Toy, start to worry. It’s a dark little bar with big booths, skee-ball, karaoke, lots of decorations, and excellent Chinese food like General Tso’s Southern fried chicken and dumplings with shrimp and pork fat. Do a round of alcoholic slushies and always end with the Rice Krispies Treat soft serve.
If you like someone so much that you never want the date to end, take them to Cafe Munir. Dinner here won’t last a lifetime, but we can promise about 30-45 minutes of wait time before you’re seated. And after walking around the block a few times and potentially spoiling your appetite with pastries from Larsen’s, you’ll be greeted with great Lebanese food like mezzes and kabobs that are meant for sharing. The whole place is tinted pink and smells like grilled meat, so if that sounds like true love to you, it’s going to be a good time.
Bar Del Corso
Bar Del Corso has some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza in the city, plus an elegant interior that works well for a date. You can’t go wrong sharing a margherita with buffalo mozzarella, or the pie with housemade sausage and pickled goat horn peppers - and the fried rice balls are non-negotiable. When it’s nice out, the back patio is a great place to eat, too, and if you show up too late to get a table immediately, Perihelion Brewery around the corner is an ideal spot for a pre-pie beer.
For immediately post-work dates, try Black Bottle. You’ll be comfortable no matter what you’re wearing, from business casual to jeans. You’ll also get to eat great small plates ranging from Korean fried chicken bites to a cheesy Dungeness crab dip with flatbread. Get the guava Aperol paloma to drink if they have it.
For the most casual of casual dates, head to this neon-yellow-painted spot in Maple Leaf. The Cuban food inside is inexpensive and delicious, and the whole place always feels like a party. Mix and match appetizers like arepas and pastelitos before sharing pabellon (a plate of braised meat with rice, beans, and tostones covered in a green sauce) over rum cocktails. Also expect to have some kind of conversation with the friendly owner, who may or may not send tequila shots your way.
You’ve probably cursed the world while waiting for a table at Mezcaleria Oaxaca on a Friday night with seven of your closest friends. Rookie mistake. Come here for a date instead - it’s much easier to get a table for two (or grab two spots at the bar) any day of the week. Then, there’s very little to worry about except what to order. You should order the al pastor gringas tacos. Now you only have to worry about what kind of drink to get. A mango margarita. Cool. Now you only have to worry about not screwing anything up. Can’t help you there, but best of luck.
Itto’s is a small bar in West Seattle that serves good tapas and sangria. On weekends, they open at 2pm, which is ideal if you’d like to start drinking at 2pm. We like that it’s equal parts lively and romantic in here - there’s a front room that’s full of action, as well as a back area where you can share a tiny round table with a candle in the middle and look into each other’s eyes (or into the eyes of the prawn head in the seafood paella, whatever works).