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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  • Maria Fernandez-Davila

    Momo Sushi Shack isn’t in Bed-Stuy! I *WISH* it was in my neighborhood, it’s more the Bushwick, “East Williamsburg” area but agreed that it’s delicious! Also conveniently located around the corner from Roberta’s when you try and go there but there is a 45 min wait….

  • Kritzia

    OMG i stumbled into the burger joint years ago as a teenager and for the life of me couldn’t remember where it was! im so excited im already texting my friends for dinner plans.

  • Leandra Medine

    ~you’re welcome~

  • tmm16

    MR ALWAYS GIVES ME WHAT I NEED ALWAYS. Thanks for these recommendations!

  • Emily M

    lol’ing at CPK. I try not to be a no-chain-snob but I totally am…but my secret love is CPK’s California Veggie pizza on honey whole wheat crust. Thank you for the reassurance, Leandra!

    • Lauren Michele

      I, personally, appreciate Leandra’s suggestion to wear Balenciaga heels to dine there.

  • Adrianna

    We eat out a lot. We’ve had our Momofukus, Jean Georges, and Egg Shops, but that’s not what I’m including in my favorites. Get ready for a long list.

    I always recommend people venture out to Butterfunk Kitchen in Windsor Terrace. (Literally next to F/G train.) It’s soul food with an amish/Pennsylvania dutch twist. It’s not in a trendy neighborhood in NYC, so it doesn’t come up on a lot of people’s radar. The food is honestly better than places in Manhattan and trendy Brooklyn neighborhoods. We’ve been going to the chef/owner’s two businesses for five years, and it’s been exciting to watch him compete on the current season of Top Chef.

    Ramen:
    Mr. Taka – perfect if you’re alone or two people. This is my favorite tonkotsu in the city
    Ippudo – perfect for a group of people. This place is loud
    Ivan Ramen – a Jewish-American man’s take on ramen, after he lived in Japan for 20ish years. Go watch his Chef’s Table episode on Netflix. Delicious appetizers
    Oramen – less frills, delicious
    Minca – no frills, delicious
    Ichibantei – no frills, delicious
    Ramen Lab – there’s a visiting chef every month, so you could try ramen you otherwise would have to travel to Japan, California, etc for

    Fried Chicken:
    Pies n’ Thighs – personally this is my favorite
    Sweet Chick – only place I’ll eat chicken and waffles. I’ve been told other entrees are good
    Bob White – Get the fried chicken plate with biscuit and slaw. Delicious and a bit cheaper
    Peaches White House – we didn’t get the hot chicken. My boyfriend loved the fish
    Jacob’s Pickles – not sure where to categorize this, but it’s great biscuits and unhealthy food

    Asian: (sorry for lumping half of the world together)
    Talde – Take on different Asian cuisines
    Nom Wah Parlor – not overrated. It’s cheap, so set your expectations appropriately
    Nom Wah Nolita – hipster Nom Wah. More expensive, delicious. Great soup dumplings
    Maharlika – My filipino co-worker signed off on this
    Flip Sigi – approachable filipino food
    RedFarm – more upscale? Chinese food

    Latin/Puerto Rican/Cuban:
    Casa Adela – Get the mofongo and/or rotisserie chicken
    Cafe Habana – cuban sandwich!
    Cubana Cafe – cuban sandwich!

    Barbecue:
    Fette Sau – I recently went to Austin. I liked this brisket a bit more.
    Smoke Joint – favorite pulled pork

    Bagels:
    Bagel Hole – Not going to lie, I kind of picked my current apartment because this is nearby
    Murray’s – not overrated

    Dessert:
    Doughnut Project
    Gelato in Eataly
    il laboratorio del gelato
    Cones – they were doing the artisanal thing years before it was a trend
    Van Leeuwen – the best ice cream imo. My anti-vegan BF was shocked by the vegan ice cream here
    The Chocolate Room

    • Lauren Michele

      Butterfunk is amaze. You must live in my neighborhood – I eat at literally all of these places!

      • Adrianna

        My boyfriend lived there for five years, so I spent my weekends there! (He was past the overpass, one block away from the Catholic church.) We recently moved to South Slope, so Butterfunk is walkable but Batata is a bit of a trip. It’s very likely we were at Brooklyn Commune at the same time at one point, because I ate there practically every other weekend. I also enjoy Le Paddock and Hamilton’s. You have no idea how relieved I was that Tonino’s delivered to our new apartment.

        • Sam

          Chiming in because I realized we are neighbors, and you have impeccable taste. Butterfunk’s mac and cheese is beyond.

          I am begging you: Please clue me in to where I can get good pizza delivery here, now that crazy crazy Pauline & Sharon’s shut down?

          • Adrianna

            Thanks! I follow Butterfunk/Brooklyn Commune on instagram. They’ve really pushed the mac and cheese, and it IS that good.

            I never ate Pauline & Sharon so I’m not familiar with what kind of pizza it is. My boyfriend previously lived next to Little Tonino’s in Windsor Terrace, and I was thrilled to find out that they delivered to our new apartment in south Park Slope. It’s not Di Fara’s or Joe’s Pizza, but it’s a good version of a standard New York slice. (a bit doughy, which I personally like.)

            I’m new to Park Slope, so I haven’t tried many pizza choices. We ordered a pie from Smiling Pizza, and I did not like the dough/crust

          • Sam

            Pauline & Sharon’s was a hole in the wall where a single mad genius pizza guy would make pizzas with stuff like brie and figs or massive chunks of sausage. He also made these elevated cousins of the garlic knot; butter-soaked, cheese-smothered herb croutons. Everyone on Yelp said he was basically the Soup N*zi and he’d randomly close the shop for days at a time, but the pizza was *chef’s kissy*.

            Smiling Pizza is so depressing. Here I am on Yelp if you want to connect on all things local food: https://www.yelp.com/user_details?userid=B9W6b8ahcVxZFOwpf7oq7Q

    • fudk

      This is the real list here.

    • Alicia McElhaney

      Great list, I added a BUNCH to my ~to eat~ list

      • Adrianna

        Happy to hear that! Trying to think of more. My boyfriend and I basically spent six years eating out on the weekends, (“What do you wanna do? I dunno, what do you wanna do? Let’s walk two miles to eat this.”) and now we don’t know what to do with ourselves that we’re on a diet…

    • Harling Ross

      this is everything i ever wanted in a restaurant list and i agree murray’s is not overrated

    • Megan

      Bagel Hole!!!!!

    • I came to list nearly everything you already have, and instead will just second all of these! We eat at all the same places. The only place I would add is La Bagel Delight on 7th ave. Oh also, Bunsmith in Crown Heights.

      And hello fellow Windsor Terrace/Park Slope neighbours!!

  • Lauren Jones

    Bar Primi seems to always have a spot you can squeeze into, even on a Friday night! If you are with a larger group, I always recommend Cafe Medi in the Lower East Side. They have big round tables that make a group dinner more intimate/fun and most of their dishes are perfect for sharing.

  • Lauren Michele

    I just want to say that I’ve never NOT had to wait at Momo, but so worth it. Also, always 1-2 hour wait at Frankies Sputino (Carroll Gardens location); am I missing some pro-tips here?

  • Bee

    I have to try Cowgirl. I grew up in the South and never really resonated with the culture/food, but since moving to the city it’s all I think about. Lol

  • Kate

    Sigh, I can’t believe I’m giving up this family secret but honestly this restaurant is never busy and I’m terrified it’s going to close so FINE. Trix in Williamsburg. Oysters, mussels frites, portabello and goat cheese sandwich, excellent cocktails (the Amelia is perfection!) great happy hour specials, great brunch, ample sidewalk seating. The thing is, the decor is BIZARRE and the menu is like, vaguely French? so the whole vibe is kind of unsettling because you don’t know what KIND of restaurant you’re at but literally everything I’ve had there tastes wonderful and it’s like 2 blocks from the Bedford stop. Stop wasting your time at Sweet Chick.

    • Bri

      Trix is greatttt. My bf and I live a couple blocks away and love how chill it is (plus the drinks knock me on my ass). I could never convince him to eat there so I took my mom when she visited and now it’s a weeknight staple for me. They even brew their own iced tea and it’s bombski

  • Kate

    Oh, and do yourself a favor and take the L a couple stops deeper to go to Houdini’s instead of Roberta’s. <3

    • shayna

      YES

  • kay

    juliette in wburg somehow has summertime rooftop seating, all year round plant-draped skylights in the dining room, a very cozy bar that does a good job of channeling a french bistro, great brunch, a dinner menu that has comfort food and mildly adventurous seasonal stuff, and yet it always has seating. i think its just been around so long that ppl forget about it, but it basically has something for everyone while being adorable. i get the feeling it’s well reviewed in french travel guides bc there are regularly french tourists there having just a casual 3 course lunch. 5 star, would do any day.

    Fada is another wburg french-ish place that’s totally charming, has a garden seating in the summer and great food, and theres never a crowd. recommend any summer salad.

    also, RIP saltie. i have your cookbook but it’s not the same.

  • Alicia McElhaney

    ooooh i gotcha.
    Donut Pub – union square area

    Bushwick
    Chimu Express – get the chicken for 2, it’s $32 and INCREDIBLE
    Zefe’s – best mexican food in bushwick
    Taqueria Izucar comes in a close second
    The Wheelhouse – get the fish sandwich

  • Elizabeth

    Why no mention of the restaurant in the pic?! I frickin love the Odeon!!!

  • Alternatively, you can also compile a favorites list on OpenTable and filter for all your *spots* at once.

    My Favorites:
    1. Barbuto (impeccable Italian in WV and the best roasted chicken with chimichurri eva…which is also easier to walk in to than it is to reserve)
    2. Bowery Meat Company (duck lasagna, what up)
    3. Carbone
    4. Charlie Bird
    5. Dell’anima
    6. Dirty French
    7. Empellon Taqueria
    8. Gato
    9. Hearth
    10. Il Buco
    11. La Esquina
    12. Lafayette
    13. Lil’ Frankie’s
    14. Locanda Verde
    15. Marta
    16. Root & Bone
    17. Sel Rrose
    18. Speedy Romeo
    19. The Black Ant (also fab boozy brunch with delicious not watered down unlimited margs)
    20. Tijuana Picnic
    21. Vic’s

    +Rosemary’s!! No res’ but nomnomnom.
    *Yes, I love Italian.

    Otis Unfiltered

  • Sabletoothtigre

    Bunna Cafe was a mainstay place I loved going to all the time when I was cohabitating with a vegan.

  • Emily

    Russ and Daughters in the Jewish Museum, especially early or late for lunch on a weekday. Soba ya in the east village for an early dinner, it fills up later on in the evening. Jin Ramen (Ramen) and Massawa (Ethiopian and Eritrean) in Morningside Heights are so good and I’ve never waited for a table at either. love, an upper manhttan dweller!

  • Gigi

    Um I resent seeing CPK instead of Artichoke Bastille…. Just kidding. But seriously.

    as a girl wit spontaneity as a priority I’m a frequent walker-in & these spots of eclectic category have always been kind to me:

    French Roast 🌹
    Veselka
    Mudspot🌹
    Maison Kaiser🌹
    Cilantro UES
    Patsy’s (who Hasn’t lived in NYC & stopped by here for a quick mediocre pizza at some point?)
    Tartine 🌹
    Artichoke Bastille 🌹

    I used to live on 11th st between 8th and Waverly Pl, & found a lil Italian gem round there, ❤️VinSurVingt❤️ I went there with a past girlfriend for Valentine’s Day & they made lil heart shaped cherry red cakes for our romantic occasion. It’s small & intimate & the interior is so gorgeous in mood & dark wood. I’ll be there this weekend stuffing my face with pasta

  • Amelia

    There’s a Burger Joint at Industry City in Sunset Park (Brooklyn) now!!!!

  • shannon

    YES TO MOMO SUSHI!

  • Bri

    Midnights in Williamsburg is one of the weirdest places I’ve been to and I love everything about it. The drinks/food are solid (I get the Berry Manilow and salt & vinegar fries) plus the kitchen is open late!! The owners are frequently there and muy chill. The bartenders are all gems – SO chatty and speedy drinkmakers. There’s a courtyard in the back and a random dj booth inside. It’s like taking all the cool things you’ve seen at different bars and smushing them together into one small space – it’s the perfect amount of too much

    • kay

      AGREE!!

  • Samantha s

    MMMMM the mushroom crusted chicken at Extra Virgin…I don’t live in NY but I had it once and DREAM about it…my husband had ordered some other dish, but then he tried mine and ordered the mushroom crusted chicken as his second entree.

  • lisaznotliza

    Houseman. It’s on Greenwich Street in Hudson Square, which doesn’t get a lot of traffic and I think that’s why there’s never a wait. The food is New American and heavy on the sides and apps, but you could easily order a bunch of them as a meal. Their menu changes almost daily but the steak frites and burger are always there and very good. I hesitate to even list this here because it’s so close to my work and I can always get a table, but if it ever closes I will be heartbroken!

  • BrooklynBridge

    My favorite fancy pasta is L’Artusi, oh my god (WV). Cafe Orlin in EV for a med/american brunch – if you go in a group of two you can get seated fairly quickly. Song in park slope for asian fusion, Bogota in park slope for fun Colombian vibes, Bagel Market for the best bagels in Brooklyn (bite me), Tue Thai in the west village for my favorite happy hour that goes until 8. $5 strong mojitos and it’s always empty?! Yemen Cafe in Brooklyn Heights for amazing yemeni food – you order your dishes family style and they pass giant platters of flatbread around the restaurant.

  • Jolie

    Oh wow, there are so many of these in my arsenal. For when the wait at the Lafayette Jack’s Wife Freda is way too long, wander a few doors down to Bo Ca Phe, which is a Vietnamese place where there’s no wait and the food is great! I recommend the banh mi and matcha.

    I love Paesano’s in Little Italy when you’re ready to acknowledge that you’re corny as hell and want to escape into a little Mediterranean grotto in the middle of Mulberry Street.

    Udon West and Kenka in the East Village for some seriously good food.

    Also love Extra Virgin, which Jasmin mentioned!

  • San Marzano. The best homemade pasta I’ve tasted. No wonder it’s always crowded.