Here’s the situation: Your sister showed up unexpectedly from out of town. Your friend who had previously canceled your dinner plans due to having “way too much work” decided he actually does want to go out. Or the week simply got away from you, it’s Friday night, and you’d like to go out for a great dinner, despite not having made any reservations.
Sure, you could scroll through OpenTable and pick whichever place still has reservations available. Or, you could take the opportunity to go to one of the many great restaurants that don’t take reservations anyway. Provided you’re willing to wait a while, these are some amazing meals that you can’t get from a reservations app.
Murph’s is a dark, cash-only Irish pub in Fishtown where you have to pay for your beers separately from your spaghetti bolognese. If that sentence isn’t the most Philadelphia thing you’ve ever read, we’d like to see you try to beat it. You have to show up pretty early in the night to avoid waiting for one of the six tables, but the food here is worth sitting at the coin-covered bar up front with a PBR for a few minutes if you show up past 6pm. When you eventually get a table, possibly with a taxidermied goat hanging precariously over it, order things like meatballs and lobster ravioli, and then get into an argument with the bartender over the Eagles’ defensive line. Exactly how it was meant to be.
Oyster House does take reservations if your group has six or more people, or if you want to do one of their “dump dinners” (a New England-style clambake). However, when it’s just you and a friend and you want to eat some oysters at one of the city’s best raw bars, you can easily walk in, split a bottle of wine, and knock back a few shelled creatures.
Dmitri’s is a tiny Greek BYOB in Queen Village that’s been around since Tom Hanks was just the kid from Big who turns into an adult overnight and creepily dates a 30-year-old woman. It’s cash-only and, since they don’t take reservations, there’s usually somewhat of a wait. But if you’re willing to risk it and show up unannounced with a few $20s, you won’t be disappointed. The food is simple but good, from the grilled octopus to the shrimp pil-pil, and even though you’ve probably seen most of the things on the menu before, they do throw in a few wildcards, like a plum pasta that should be on your table.
Being the one in charge of planning your group dinner is hard enough without having to find a last-minute reservation somewhere that everyone can agree on. When that’s the case, just bring all of your friends to Abyssinia. It’s always pleasantly full, but you likely won’t wait too long for a table - even for a larger group - and they have some of the best Ethiopian food in the city. Plus, there’s a cocktail bar upstairs, so you won’t have to argue about where to go once you’ve eaten your way through two combination platters.
The first step to eating dinner at Palizzi Social Club is getting a membership, which only costs $20, but takes a combination of good timing and magic to get your hands on. Though, once you have one, you’ll still have to show up and wait for a table. Thankfully, you can wait at the downstairs bar, which has some of the best cocktails in the city. When you’re finally seated, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but the one thing you really can’t leave without getting is the crispy, buttery pepperoni stromboli.
Kisso is a small sushi bar in Old City with a straightforward menu, but everything here is very, very good - which explains why, on a random Tuesday night, you’ll sometimes encounter a 30-minute wait. If you decide to stick it out, they serve some of the best fish around and have interesting appetizers, like the music box (warm king crab in a soybean wrap topped with creamy soy sauce) and a red snapper carpaccio that we still can’t stop thinking about.
Fette Sau is an indoor/outdoor barbecue spot in Fishtown that doesn’t take reservations, which is good because, frankly, a barbecue spot where you have to book a table beforehand just feels wrong. Since Philly doesn’t really have a regional style, you’re able to get a little bit of everything here, from ribs and brisket to sausages, along with all of the classic sides. Inside there are big communal picnic tables good for group dinners, and there’s an outdoor patio with string lights hanging over it, which makes it a good option for a last-minute date, too.
Most of the dim sum spots in Chinatown don’t take reservations, but Dim Sum Garden is the only one worth waiting in line for. And that’s for a few reasons: it’s cheap, BYOB, and home to the best soup dumplings in the city. If you absolutely cannot handle waiting in line, though, you can skip the issue altogether by going in for late-night shumai, or by joining the 5pm early-bird shift.
For the nights when you want to order in, but also promised your friend that you’d get dinner with them, go to Hardena. There are only a few tables, but since most people take their food to go, there are usually at least a few free seats. They serve Indonesian food that changes up every day, and it all comes over a big pile of rice. You can mix and match whatever looks good to you, but we highly recommend the beef rendang that’s caramelized and slow cooked in coconut milk and the collard greens. When you’re full, just throw the rest into a styrofoam container and you’ll have lunch for the next day too.
Neighborhood Ramen started out as a pop-up that we chased around like it was an old-school Saturday morning cartoon. Now that they have a permanent location in Queen Village, we know exactly where to find them when we want a quick but delicious bowl of shoyu ramen and some of the best gyoza we’ve had to date. The space is minimal, with about 15 tables, and they don’t do reservations or take-out. While that ensures a pretty reliable line out the door during prime dinner hours, it also makes for a fun place to eat really good ramen when you’re willing to wait a few minutes.
To have a meal at Royal Sushi (the omakase bar hidden behind Royal Izakaya), you’ll have to go online at midnight two months out from when you want to eat there and hope that you make the cut. On the other hand, if you’d rather have an easier meal of small bar bites like grilled yakitori skewers and gyoza, you can walk right in the unmarked door on 2nd street with a lantern hanging out front and grab the first table you see. Because Royal Izakaya doesn’t take reservations, you may have to start at the bar and work your way to a table later in the night, but you can order the full menu from anywhere in the room.
It’s a Thursday night and you’re in the mood to celebrate something. Even if the next birthday on your calendar is a month away and the anniversary of John Cena’s big screen debut is the only occasion you can come up with, it’ll still feel like everyone is celebrating something with you at Blue Corn in the Italian Market. Maybe it’s because they leave their decorations for every holiday up for much longer than is deemed socially acceptable, or maybe it’s because everyone there is already on their third frozen margarita. Regardless, for a last minute group dinner that feels like a party, there’s nowhere better.