The West Village is a very nice place to hang out. It has quiet tree-lined streets filled with brownstones, shops where you can buy vintage records, and plenty of great spots to eat. The problem is that none of that’s a secret, so most of those great restaurants tend to be packed. But that doesn’t mean a spontaneous dinner in the neighborhood needs to involve wandering around aimlessly until everyone goes home and orders delivery. There are still places where you can go on short notice and have a very good dinner. Here are 12 of our favorites.
You want to walk in to an affordable, healthy spot in the West Village that’s from a famous chef. Cool, we want to find a seat on the L train during rush hour. The difference between your wish and ours is that yours isn’t wildly unrealistic, and that’s because of Kish-Kash. This Middle Eastern spot is from the people behind Taim, and even though they don’t take reservations, it’s usually not tough to get seats. Everything on the 12-item menu is under $21, like the very good hummus with fresh-baked challah, plus six couscous dishes with toppings like Moroccan vegetables and chicken tagine.
As of one hour ago, you’re going on a date tonight, and apparently, you’re in charge of picking the place. After you take some deep breaths and realize that it’s not possible for the room to actually be shrinking, say that you’re going to Fiaschetteria Pistoia. They don’t take reservations, but the waits aren’t nearly as bad as the ones at nearby Via Carota, and the small, brick-walled spot is ideal for pretending to be interested in whatever happened at the dog park today. Order a $30 liter of house wine, some prosciutto with black truffle, and cacio e pepe, and there’s a good chance you’ll be invited to the dog park soon.
You aren’t sure exactly how long it’s been since you last stood up from your computer, but you do know that you’re hungry, it’s late, and aside from Joe’s and some bars on 7th Avenue full of people who wish they were still at Cornell, most places have stopped serving food. Head to Corner Bistro, a classic, paper plate American spot that stays open until 4am everyday. The booths and tables might be full, but you can almost always find a seat at the bar. Get some $5 beers and one of the best burgers in the city. The patties are huge on their own, but you should probably add crispy bacon as well.
Like Eli Manning and any of the Baldwins besides Alec, Frankies 570 shares some similarities with its older sibling, but it’s much easier to book. This Italian restaurant serves the same great meatballs and cavatelli with hot sausage as the Carroll Gardens spot, but the West Village location is bigger and you can almost always walk in and sit down right away.
Maybe one day you’ll meet your friends near their apartments in Hell’s Kitchen or Crown Heights. But for now, your long streak of convincing them to come to the West Village continues. Make it easy on them and recommend dinner at Hao Noodle & Tea. It’s within eyeshot of the West 4th St subway station, and the attractive space looks like a Free People store without the clothes. Any grudges your friends are still holding after their long commutes will disappear once the food arrives. From the clay pot chicken soup with dumplings and glass noodles to the perfectly fried shrimp in a huge bowl of spicy chili, the Chinese food here is all excellent.
Toriko serves a lot of chicken and it’s not hard to get a reservation, but it’s not your standard last-minute dinner option for two reasons. First, it’s expensive - with two set menus that cost $70 and $85, respectively. Second, it doesn’t serve brick chicken with garlic mashed potatoes. Instead, this upscale Japanese spot has a grilled chicken skewer omakase that includes parts like heart, thigh, and wasabi-topped tenderloin. Sit at the chef’s counter with a date and watch as everything is grilled in front of you, or order a la carte at the walk-in-only bar.
You’re walking around the West Village with a few friends, and when you peek inside of some restaurants to get a sense of atmosphere, they’re either dead or as frenzied as the Union Square Trader Joe’s at 6pm on a Monday. Balaboosta is a good middle ground. It’s a Middle Eastern spot from the same people behind Kish-Kash, and while the loud, dark space and shareable food make it a good option for groups, they usually have same day reservations available, as well as a bar where you can get drinks if there’s a wait.
Kubeh is a casual Middle Eastern spot on 6th Avenue that specializes in dumplings filled with ingredients like slow-cooked beef or lamb. They’re served in your choice of four soups, which are all good enough to eat on their own. It’s exactly what you want to be eating when it’s raining or snowing outside, or anytime you want an affordable and totally legal mood-enhancer.
Unless you’re Leo or a starter on the Knicks, you probably don’t walk into restaurants in hotels near Meatpacking and immediately sit down at a table. But Old Rose, which is on the ground floor of the Jane Hotel, is much more casual than most other spots in the area, and you’ll rarely have to wait for a table or a seat at the bar. Get a burger with goat cheese or share a vodka pizza with a friend, and then walk a block north to a spot where the Knicks are probably partying after another loss.
When your parents tell you they’re taking you out tonight, you could tell them it’s an inconvenience because you’re an adult with a busy social schedule. But if you’d rather not tell lies, and if your parents are willing to have a fairly big night, go to Bistro Pierre Lapin. It may be a bit fancier than the places you typically go to on a whim, but the very good French food, like coq au vin and cassoulet with duck confit and pork belly, makes it a useful option when you need an upscale spot you can actually get into.
Rahi is not nearly as busy as it should be. A lot of places in the West Village are exactly the opposite, so this Indian spot on Greenwich Avenue is great to know about. The big, attractive dining room works for groups or cool parents, and the dark bar area is a good option for dates. No matter who you come here with, you’re going to eat some great food, like prawn curry with uni butter and a plate of duck over a sort of sweet green curry.
The original La Contenta on the Lower East Side is one of our favorite Mexican spots in the city, but it’s tiny and consistently packed. If you want to eat similarly great food, like massive enchiladas with tons of grilled shrimp and melted cheese, without waiting an hour for a table on a Monday, go to their location in the West Village. The space is about five times larger, and there’s plenty of space for big groups.