You need a great date spot, but for whatever reason, you didn’t make a reservation ahead of time. Maybe you two were planning on ordering in, but then found out that Coco was still purchase-only on iTunes. Or perhaps you’re still keeping things casual and you schedule your nights with a few bitmojis back and forth around lunch time.
Regardless, now it’s too late to make a reservation anywhere good. Rather than being told at three different places that they’re booked for the night and winding up eating half a chicken caesar salad at a bar with hockey on TV, use this guide. It’s full of spots that are great for walk-in dates - spots serving excellent food and drinks that don’t take reservations, and have solid crowds but you can still hear each other speak.
There are a bunch of walk-in spots that serve excellent pizza, but none that make you feel quite as good as Ops. The heavy red curtains here block out the outside world, so you’re left to enjoy your company and the smell of cooking pizza. Mostly the smell of pizza. And if you get seats at the long bar, you can watch the chefs cook them in the big oven in front of you. Ops also has one of our favorite wine situations in the city - you just tell them what you like to drink and the friendly servers bring out natural wines (all at the same price) for you to try until you find one that you like. Your wait time here will be substantially lower than at some other no-reservation pizza spots like Roberta’s or Paulie Gee’s.
Bringing a date to Wildair will make you seem like you’re a person who eats a lot of crudo and casually uses terms like “barnyard” and “austere” when describing wines. Instead of ruining that by telling the server that you like any wine that’s not sweet, trust that they’ll help you find something you like - and focus your attention on choosing which of the excellent small plates (like tempura-fried squid and beef tartare) you want. The communal seating makes Wildair feel casual, but the high-end food and wine selection work for a nice date night.
Let’s say one or both of you has the kind of job where you never know until 7pm whether you’re going to be at work until 9pm, or 1am. If it turns out it’s going to be a 9pm night, and you need to celebrate that fact, go to Vini E Fritti. It’s a wine and cocktail bar that feels a bit more special than most wine and cocktail bars, and also serves excellent small plates. This place is Roman-style, which translates to lots of spritzes on the menu, black and white photos of Italy on the wall, and the reminder that you always have the option to quit your job and move to a place where there’s a designated time of day called “aperitivo hour.”
In early-in-the-game stages of date night planning, you often get texts like “I’m up for anything, you decide.” But you also know that “anything” actually means “nothing boring, and some healthy options would be nice, and definitely good cocktails.” So just go to Suzume. They serve sushi and ramen and good drinks, and nothing is over $13.
Maybe you need to tell him that you’re going to spend the long weekend with your friends in New Orleans instead of at his parents’ house, or maybe you’re still upset that he chose Speed 2 for your last movie night. Keep Frankies 457, the Brooklyn Italian spot with lots of Feel Good Factor, in mind for a date that’ll end on a very positive note - even if you have some difficult conversation topics to cover. Share some pasta and affordable Italian wine in the backyard, and then drop the bombshell that you didn’t even like the original Speed.
The Upper East Side is full of white tablecloth restaurants that work for anniversaries or for showing your visiting ex-girlfriend how far you’ve come since college, but there aren’t many casual date options. Kaia Wine Bar is one of our favorite walk-in spots, serving over 50 types of South African wines, affordable oysters, and plates like elk carpaccio that are great for sharing.
High-end sushi spots are impressive date moves, but many will both empty your wallet and make you feel like you need to focus all your attention on the $17 finger-sized piece of fish you’re eating. Sugarfish, on the other hand, serves very good sushi in a bright, crowded space where you can enjoy both your conversation and your sushi, and you’ll spend a lot less than at most omakase experiences around the city. Just know that waits are still long - bring someone who you don’t get uncomfortable with once you’ve run out of Netflix shows and podcasts to talk about.
If you just want a feel-good, low-key neighborhood spot where you can have some wine or cocktails and share a couple small plates along with a burger or some quality chicken, then Pheasant is a great option. You won’t spend a ton of money, and you can sit at the bar if the handful of tables are all taken.
If your date hasn’t been to Via Carota, it’s the sort of place that will make anyone say, “How have I never been here?” And if they have been here, then they’ll think you have very good taste. The space is bigger than most West Village Italian spots and it’s usually crowded with people drinking negronis and wine, and eating classic Italian pastas, vegetables, and mains. There will probably be a wait, but it’s worth it.
If you live in Long Island City, then you probably already know about Tournesol. If not, know that if Tournesol were in your neighborhood, you would probably go out on more dates. It’s an affordable French restaurant where you can bring a 5’10 owner of three dachshunds after a swipe right, or your girlfriend of three years. Either way, share a few things like escargots, goat cheese croquettes, and the mussels, along with anything from the long list of reasonably-priced French wines.
Coming to Fiaschetteria Pistoia feels a bit like walking into a trattoria in a small town in Tuscany that only local people know about (except a lot of NYC people have also found out about it). The casual walk-in only restaurant has Italian posters on the walls, very good traditional housemade pastas, and friendly servers who show you the wine list by bringing over a basket of bottles with the prices and varietals attached. It’s definitely as close as you’re going to get to dinner in Bolgheri without leaving the East Village.
You’re not going to impress your date by bringing them to St. Anselm at 8pm on a Saturday and being told that there’s no way you’re getting in tonight. Instead, come to this walk-in-only steakhouse on nights when you find yourself out of work early, or on weekends when your brunch layer has worn off before normal dinner time. To be safe, we’d say that’s before 7pm on weekdays, and before 6pm on weekends. If that seems geriatrically early, know that it’s worth it. Plus, 85-year-olds know what they’re doing.
The harder a place is to find, the cooler it tends to think it is. With no website, reservations, or signage out front, Kiki’s must think it’s kind of the sh*t. And while you might think it’s trying a little too hard, Kiki’s actually is pretty cool. It’s a good place to share some wine and small plates, and none of the relatively light Greek food will make you too full to walk around for 30 minutes searching for that speakeasy after dinner.
Eating in a converted dining car underneath the Williamsburg Bridge may sound a bit gimmicky, but Diner is a classic Williamsburg spot that’s still one of our favorite date places around. The menu changes daily, but whatever the server writes down on your tablecloth/butcher paper will probably be great. They own a butcher shop a couple doors down, so make sure to get at least one of the protein entrees or the burger, which comes with some excellent fries.
Most dates would be pretty excited if you took them to a little bar on a side street in Tokyo with excellent cocktails and Japanese bar snacks. But since that possibility is highly unlikely, you should know about Bar Goto on the LES. If you aren’t sure how committed you are to this date, start with a drink at the standing bar near the window, and then either move to one of the small dark tables, or pocket text your friend to call you with that fake emergency. However this ends up, at least stick around long enough to get the miso chicken wings.
Like the original Blue Ribbon brasserie, which is a few doors down on the same block in Soho, Blue Ribbon Sushi is best enjoyed late night. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t also keep it in mind for a date whenever you want very good sushi without a reservation. The dimly-lit space is always a cool scene, but eating fish that was flown in from a different continent feels particularly good at 1am.