A List of Great New York Restaurants You Can Actually Get Into
01.09.18

The mathematical law of New York dining holds that for all the agony you might experience upon trepidatiously entering a notable restaurant on a cold winter’s eve only to discover there is a 50-minute wait, the ecstasy of serendipitously stumbling into a hidden gem of an eatery with zero wait time and excellent food is ten times as potent.

The latter does not happen often thanks to the tidy handiwork of various “Best Of” lists, Infatuation newsletters and geo-tagged Instagrams, all of which have the capacity to transform a hidden gem into viral sensations with wait times to match.

That’s why when the rare combination of immediate seating and good food strikes, it feels so precious. People are understandably protective over their “spots,” because all it takes is a few too many whispered recommendations and delicious meals for a secret to blow up, but here’s a counterargument: Pete Wells will probably discover it sooner than you think, so why not spread the word and make someone’s day in the meantime?

That’s exactly what I convinced my colleagues at Man Repeller to do. Read their hidden gem recommendations below, and add your own in the comments. Together let’s compile a list of delightful-in-their-own-way New York restaurants where you don’t need a reservation. Yet.


1. Frankies 570 Spuntino

Who dropped this knowledge? Harling (me)

What neighborhood is it in? West Village

Why is it great? I’ve walked in countless times at peak dinner hour and have always been seated immediately. It’s kind of big but the wood paneling makes it feel cozy inside in the winter, and in the summer there’s outdoor seating.

What do you almost always order? The menu changes depending on time of year, but right now there is a brussel sprout salad appetizer that is simple and delicious and chock full of perfect cheese cubes. The cavatelli with hot sausage and browned sage butter is their most famous dish, however, I prefer the garganelli with zucchini and pesto Genovese. It’s one of the best pestos I’ve ever had and I’m a pesto snob.


2. Bunna Cafe

Who dropped this knowledge? Haley

What neighborhood is it in? Bushwick

Why is it great? This Ethiopian restaurant can get packed around 9 p.m. on weekend nights, but even then it’s just a 20-minute wait or so. It’s a medium-sized but cozy place, there is often live music, the people who run it are incredibly nice and the food is DELICIOUS. It’s vegan, but that’s barely advertised (nor noticed by me).

What do you almost always order? I like the weekend brunch menu best — I get the full special (not the exact name) which has a little bit of everything (ful, butecha, kosta) plus the kita flatbread, which is the best tasting flatbread in the whole entire world.


3. CALIFORNIA PIZZA KITCHEN!!!

Who dropped this knowledge? Leandra

What neighborhood is it in? Gramercy Park/Murray Hill

Why is it great? You may laugh now, but once that Thai Linguine is swirling down your throat, you will be glad a born and bred New Yorker finally called a spade a spade and gave CPK the C-P-O-K. It used to be very challenging to secure a reservation at CPK back when I was in high school and the flagship restaurant was still across the street from Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street, but ever since the powers that be made the terrible decision to remove CPK from the enclave that was sandwiched between Dylan’s Candy Bar and this random waxing place, the 29th street location on Park Avenue has remained open and few people seem to remember this. Or care. Call it a byproduct of the health food movement but need I remind you there are salads on the menu? And spinach-artichoke dip? I’d forgo the pizza if I were you but hey, that’s just me.

What do you almost always order? Three things: the Thai linguine, which is pasta DRENCHED in peanut sauce with stir-fried vegetables all up in its business; the Thai crunch salad, which is essentially watercress and soy beans and raw vegetables (plus chicken, wonton sticks and dried rice noodles, which I always omit), similarly drenched in peanut sauce. Finally, the aforementioned spinach artichoke dip. You can request crudités if you don’t like chips!

Proof you don’t need a reservation: I called almost every night last week to ask if walk-ins would be welcome around 7 p.m. and they said, “Of course,” seven out of seven times. Because I am a huge fan of the high-low, I recommend you invite ten friends out in black tie and call it a feast. Here’s an outfit recommendation:


4. Kuma Inn

Who dropped this knowledge? Matt

What neighborhood is it in? Lower East Side

Why is it great? Located in what is seemingly a converted apartment on the Lower East Side, Kuma Inn serves Filipino and Southern Asian small plates and is BYOB. Not only is the food amazing, but the under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path vibe makes me feel way cooler than I am.

What do you almost always order? ***sautéed chinese sausage, sticky rice and thai chili-lime sauce*** (that’s literally how it’s written on the menu).


5. Cowgirl

Who dropped this knowledge? Amelia

What neighborhood is it in? West Village

Why is it great? Listen. It is weird, and it is not fancy, but you will get seated, and you will get a margarita, and you will leave in a good mood. Or ready for a nap. I think it’s so tacky that it swings ironic, but as a result has a funny mix of lucky tourists and in-the-know locals who don’t want to stand in line anywhere.

What do you almost always order? Chicken nachos! And a margarita.


6. Divya’s Kitchen

Who dropped this knowledge? Nikki

What neighborhood is it in? East Village

Why is it great? The majority of dishes are healthy and so flavorful!

What do you almost always order? Seasonal khichari.


7. Tabare

Who dropped this knowledge? Elizabeth

What neighborhood is it in? Williamsburg

Why is it great? It’s one of my favorite brunch spots. I’ve never waited, oddly — even though the place is cozy and small — the food just takes a tiny bit longer if there’s a bunch of people. That’s never a problem when it does, though, because their boozy special (goes until 7 p.m. daily) is a bargain.

What do you almost always order? The fresh pasta is great and I usually get the salad special which has cauliflower puree (my favorite thing on earth other than my dog!!!!!).


8. Extra Virgin

Who dropped this knowledge? Jasmin

What neighborhood is it in? West Village

Why is it great? It’s cute and intimate, feels very neighborhood-y, the food is good and you’re likely to get seated without waiting an obscene amount of time — if you go on a weeknight, that is. It’s insane on the weekends. (That said, I once went at 9 p.m. on a Saturday with a group of seven and we had no problem!)

What do you almost always order? Tuna tartar and fries with gorgonzola fondue.


9. Momo Sushi Shack

Who dropped this knowledge? Ashley

What neighborhood is it in? Bushwick

Why is it great? I like the mood and I love some good soosh. It’s also one of the only restaurants I go to that isn’t like, bagels. It’s not wildly expensive and they have fun sushi shaped like a ball.

What do you almost always order? Spicy tuna bowl.


10. The Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien

Who dropped this knowledge? Edith

What neighborhood is it in? Midtown West

Why is it great? The Burger Joint is hidden in plain sight at the Parker Meridien, an upscale midtown hotel with a Caravaggio painting on the ceiling of the entrance’s revolving doors and also home to Norma’s, a legendary and decadent brunch locale. (Plus, there’s a secret beauty basement in the hotel — your dream dungeon where a Tenoverten salon and Drybar awaits!). Anyway, back to the burgers, which you can eat post-pedicure: They are mouth-wateringly good. And the atmosphere — there’s kind of a reveal. The Burger Joint delivers the same transformative hoodwinkery you might experience at Boston’s premiere streetwear store Bodega, but since I’m under oath, you’ll have to go to either or both to see why.

What do you almost always order? A burger with “the works” and a Barq’s Root Beer.

OKAY! YOUR TURN.

Photos by Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images and Edith Young.

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