Llama Inn
Photograph: Time Out/Ali Garber

NYC’s best restaurants you can get into without a reservation

It’s not totally impossible to snag a great table at New York’s top restos.

Christina Izzo
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Scoring a reservation at one of the best restaurants in NYC has basically become a competitive sport: you have to navigate reservation release schedules, set notification alerts for services like Resy, Opentable and Tock, or, most drastically, fork over some dough on the restaurant reservation black market—yes, that exists—to snag a seat at an in-demand dining room. 

But it doesn’t always have to be such a nightmare making dinner plans in New York City. Here are 10 top tables that won’t require a reservation weeks in advance or a multi-hour wait while your hanger is setting in, from casual downtown cafés to fancy fine-dining restaurants.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best new restaurants in NYC

Best NYC restaurants you can get into without reservations

  • West Village
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

The “early American tavern and cookery” with Shaker influences is the latest from hospitality superstars Rita Sodi and Jody Williams, whose previous partnership Via Carota (2014) is still perpetually packed. (Sodi also opened I Sodi in 2008 and Williams followed with Buvette in 2011, among other West Village-dynasty establishing destinations.)

However, you can still get that same high-quality cooking at this sister restaurantwhich pulls from 19th-century cookbooks for inspiration, with fuss-free classics like an excellent roast chicken—and with way less hassle than its sibling spots. Walk-ins are welcome every evening in both the tavern and the dining room, and limited reservations are offered online two weeks in advance, though a recent perusal on Resy showed plenty of open options. 

  • American creative
  • Flatiron
  • price 4 of 4

A New York City classic if there ever was one, Gramercy Tavern has maintained its status even after minor tweaks and changes over its nearly three decades in Manhattan. But if you ever get discouraged looking for reservations on Resy, breathe easy: the restaurant only releases a portion of its available tables through services like Resy.

Instead, go to gramercytavern.com and you’ll find that nightly available at the somewhat dated but darling back dining room—with its five-course menu and white tablecloths that are more effortless than anywhere else above 14th Street—are graciously more extensive than you initially thought. Plus, the tavern up front, bordered by a long bar on the left and serving à la carte items like duck liver mousse and grilled striped bass, is available for walk-ins at all times. 

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  • Peruvian
  • Williamsburg
  • price 2 of 4
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Any Lima lover could tell you that there’s more to Peruvian food than citrusy ceviche and crisp-skinned rotisserie chicken, though both are dutifully on offer at Llama Inn, a lively terrarium of a restaurant disjointedly set beneath the BQE. Its chef is first-generation Peruvian-American Erik Ramirez who, following a sous stint at Eleven Madison Park, parlayed that heritage into an executive-chef post at high-end ceviche spot, Raymi.

Though the menu is less a graduate course on Peru’s vast cuisine and more New Peruvian 101, you can easily register for this delicious education—seating is regularly available in the dining room, at the bar and at the chef’s counter.

  • French
  • Little Italy
  • price 3 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

It’s a scene out of Ratatouille: the open kitchen lined with copper pots and hand-glazed tiles, churning with chefs whose two-foot-high toques blanche skim the range hoods as they plate hazelnut-freckled leek vinaigrettes and foie-marbled veal terrines with an almost cartoonish hustle. It’s no movie—rather, it’s the animated stir of Soho’s Le Coucou, the graceful French spot from the prolific restaurateur Stephen Starr (Buddakan, Morimoto) and chef Daniel Rose.

But just because it’s fancy doesn’t mean it has to be a fuss: the scenic sprawl of the dining room means that there’s plenty of tables at which to tuck into those Gallic classics updated with youthful verve. Sure, those 8pm Saturday rezzies might be few and far between, but Le Coucou is a surprisingly easy get pretty much any other day of the week. 

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  • Italian
  • Brooklyn Heights
  • price 2 of 4

As with any good Italian spot in Brooklyn, it helps to know a guy—buddy up to the bartender (hint: his name is likely Tommy) at this cash-only, no-reservations spot on Henry Street and just maybe he’ll give you a friendly little boost on the hostess’s seating list. But even without that insider assist, we’ve never had to wait more than 20 minutes for a seat at one of the checkered-clothed tables, where you can find a riotous range of red-sauce cooking. 

Strozzapreti pasta with eggplant, tomato and ricotta is a sassy blast straight from Sicily. Rabbit that’s braised, then roasted with vegetables and herbs and served with polenta, tastes of Tuscany, and schiaffoni all’amatriciana (fat, cylindrical noodles in a sauce of tomato, pancetta and onion) is a glorious postcard from Rome. All in all, it’s a swell trip.

  • West Village

Yes, this Keith McNally production is still chic (the decor is quintessential Parisian bistro—think aged tiles, nickel bar and distressed mirrors), still reliable (you’ll find buttery organic pan-seared salmon and thick, succulent steaks served with slender fries) and still (very) crowded.

And though the clamorous nighttime scene may initially seem like there’s no hope for sneaking a spot, the impending warm weather means that the dining area will practically double when the outdoor seating opens, with plenty of tables and just as much of a fun-loving vibe.

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  • Hamburgers
  • Nolita
  • price 1 of 4

Eating at this petite Australian cafe is more about the social scene than the food; gaggles of Aussies cram around the space’s five wooden tables or hang around outdoors.

And though you might initially be apprehensive upon first sight of the people overflowing onto the sidewalk outside of the diminutive den, waiting for a spot at one of those few tables, the kitchen’s easy menu of salads, sandwiches, grain bowls and casual pastas means that table turnover is graciously quick. (Just make sure to make room for that essential native dessert: sweet, sticky date pudding.)

  • Steakhouse
  • Midtown West
  • price 4 of 4
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If carne-focused contemporaries like Peter Luger, The Grill and 4 Charles Prime aren’t cutting it when it comes to open reservations, this swanky steakhouse minichain is a tasty alternative, with locations in Midtown West and Greenwich Village.

Even busier nights like Fridays and Saturdays regularly have availability, so you won’t have to miss out on signature Strip House dishes like steak tartare hit with a punch of horseradish-egg yolk jam, that oh-so-tender filet mignon (which you can enhance with everything from crab “Oscar style” to cold water lobster tail), and the famous 24-layer chocolate cake.

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  • Japanese
  • Flatiron
  • price 2 of 4

Kazunori Nozawa helped shape Los Angeles sushi culture with his 25-year-old omakase den Sushi Nozawa in Studio City (it shuttered in 2012), hand-roll bar KazuNori and high-quality sushi chain Sugarfish, which the raw-fish legend and his business partner, Jerry Greenberg, brought to New York with its Flatiron location.

However, while wait times at some of the chain’s small downtown dining rooms can regularly result in an hour-plus quoted wait (the restaurant does not accept reservations and seats parties on a first-come, first-serve basis), recent trips to the Midtown West offshoot only required a chill 15 minutes before we were able to snag a table.

  • Taiwanese
  • Williamsburg

Josh Ku and Trigg Brown’s restaurant, Win Son, proffers inventive takes on Taiwanese-American bites. (We’re partial to the fried eggplant with black vinegar and spiced cashews, the pan-griddled pork buns with chili vinaigrette, and the wagyu tartare with fried seaweed and egg yolk.)

Though reservations are available for larger parties (of 6 to 9 guests), the majority of seats in both the dining room and the outdoor patio are reserved for walk-up guests. Just note, they do only seat complete parties, so be sure to hassle that perpetually late friend into being on time.

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