Where to Eat When You Forgot to Make a Reservation on a Friday Night

No reservation? No problem. Snag a last-minute table at these restaurants around town.

Food at Bolo / Photograph by KC Tinari

We’ve all been there: 6 p.m. rolls around, you’re two drinks deep at happy hour and you want to keep the night going. Whatever plan you had to go home has gone out the window, and now you’re looking for a dinner spot.

Just because you don’t have a reservation doesn’t mean you have to retreat (or sheepishly order mozz sticks at the bar while the sun is still out). It just means you need to be a little strategic, and possibly pick up the phone. Fair warning, this list is not a guarantee for getting into the restaurant of your Friday-night dreams — the rhythms of restaurants are ever-changing and sometimes unpredictable — but rather a suggestion of good options to strategically consider.

Dinner for Two

bok building

Irwin’s / Photograph by Steve Boyle

The bar at Irwin’s, East Passyunk
Irwin’s is a busy restaurant, and for good reason: The menu of Sicilian dishes includes staples like an always-perfect gnocchi sardi studded with eggplant and chewy gnocchi, as well as seasonal options like fritto misto and asparagus tarts with trout roe. Reservations often fill up. But, for two people, you’ve got a good shot at bar seats, since Irwin’s location at the top of the Bok Building makes it less popular for walk-ins. If there’s a wait, you can always grab a drink at Bok Bar across the hall.

The counter at a.kitchen, Center City
Last-minute Friday-night dinners near Rittenhouse Square are tough to come by, especially when the wait time at Parc stretches into the triple digits. But try to walk into a.kitchen and see if they have any room at the counter in front of the open kitchen (or outside, for that matter). O
rder the burger, perfectly crowned with American cheese and cornichon.

Pizzeria BeddiaFishtown
Pizzeria Beddia used to be one of the toughest reservations in town, but these days the hype has calmed significantly, giving way to flexibility in this very large restaurant. Bar seats or outdoor tables are often available, especially for smaller groups. Get the judion beans, a classic cheese pie, and an amaro soft serve to finish.

Monk’s CafeCenter City
Monk’s doesn’t take reservations, and though it always seems busy, there are usually a couple of bar stools available immediately, or a table within 20 or so minutes. The dim, crowded space manages to feel somehow both casual and romantic. And, while the main event at Monk’s is their legendary Belgian beer selection, the burgers and fries are also top-tier. Owner Tom Peters is a pioneer in the U.S. beer scene — Monk’s was among the first American bars to serve a wide variety of Belgian beers, including classics like Chimay and Orval.

Bolo, Center City
Bolo is still new enough that its rhythms are unpredictable. On a Friday night, you might luck into a table upstairs in the sunny, breezy space decorated to feel like you’re in the Caribbean. If not, the downstairs bar area is reserved for walk-ins, and you can still sample your way through Yun Fuentes’s pan-Latin menu. Make sure to try the salmon tiradito, the empanadas, and several kinds of pinchos, along with rum drinks from the well-stocked bar.

Dinner for Four

Pizza and wine at Sally / Photograph by Ted Nghiem

Pizzeria Stina, Point Breeze
A last-minute reservation for four people is tough, because you can’t simply slip into the bar. For four, look to neighborhood restaurants that might have extra outdoor seating or a later reservation where you can dine at 8:30 or 9 p.m. Stina is a great option for this, but we recommend calling ahead to try their menu of pizza and Mediterranean small plates. The dining room is small, but you’ll be pleased to settle into the banquette and order grilled octopus, fried sardines, cheese-filled pide and an incredibly rich chocolate-tahini cake.

Frida CantinaSouth Philly
There’s usually at least one extra table at Frida Cantina, where the enchipocladas are rich and creamy, the mezcal margaritas are strong, and the queso fundido is molten. A night at this restaurant, decorated with Frida Kahlo-themed paraphernalia, can easily go from kid-friendly to late-night party, since the bar doesn’t close until 2 a.m. on weekends.

Sally, Fitler Square
I recently scrolled Resy at on Friday evening looking for a reservation, and found myself face-to-face with an 8 p.m. slot at Sally. I snagged it, and my friends and I
slid into our seats and feasted on slightly fizzy chilled red wine, a platter of oysters, and a charred-ramp-cream pizza. The dining room was buzzing with activity, but it wasn’t so crowded that I wouldn’t try for the same luck again. For a better shot, try calling the restaurant directly to take advantage of no-shows or last-minute cancellations. 

Royal Boucherie, Old City
With two floors, sidewalk seating and an upstairs patio, there’s a good chance this French restaurant can fit you and your friends in for a last-minute dinner of steak tartare, mussels, duck confit and housemade ice cream. This is a particularly good spot to let happy hour run into dinner, as theirs includes several cocktails, lots of snacks, and runs from 4 to 6 p.m. every weekday. 

Dinner for Six

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The dining room at Saloon in Bella Vista / Photograph by Michael Persico

La LloronaPoint Breeze
La Llorona is a surprisingly large restaurant, especially when you take into account the spacious outdoor patio that overlooks West Passyunk Avenue. You’ve got a very good shot at a table for four or six, even during peak hours, partially because so many people treat La Llorona as a bar to hit on their way to dinner. This is a mistake: Double down on frozen mezcal margaritas and split rounds of fried shrimp, crisp tlayudas smeared with black beans and Oaxaca cheese, and aguachile verde among your table.

Han Dynasty, Old City
Han Dynasty’s Old City location is surprisingly large. Housed in an old bank, there are several booths that could easily accommodate six people and all the food you’ll inevitably order. As an added bonus, Han Dynasty’s menu of dan dan noodles, twice-cooked pork, and cumin lamb are served family-style, so it’s the perfect place to sit back, relax and spend a couple of hours sipping on Tsing Tao in between bites.

Banana LeafChinatown
Another surprisingly spacious restaurant, Banana Leaf has both the menu and the table space for larger-group dining. Call ahead to confirm they’ve got a table available, and be sure to grab beer on your way (it’s BYO). Start your meal with a flaky roti canai dipped in red curry sauce, then move through as many of the restaurant’s Malaysian specialities as possible. The signature chicken wings are a crowd pleaser, as are the fried pork chop and the beef rendang.

Saloon, Queen Village
Stretched over several floors and three contiguous row homes, Saloon is a shockingly large restaurant that knows how to make a group feel comfortable with a huge table and plenty of time to eat. Call ahead to confirm they’ve got space, then treat this restaurant like the steakhouse it is not: Get the ribeye and a seafood pasta, plus Caesar salad and an incredibly dirty martini. Save room for dessert from the platter they’ll bring around to your table — all the sweets are baked daily from Isgro Pastries.

L’anima, Point Breeze
L’anima is a crowd-pleasing Italian BYOB good for dining with slightly picky groups or several vegetarians. The added bonus? In addition to a large dining room, their patio is sizable and great for groups. You’ll need to call for this one: Hope for a last minute cancellation or a lucky off-peak-hour table. Kill time a few blocks away at American Sardine Bar if you need to wait before you sit down to plow through plates of tuna crudo, cacio e pepe and grilled branzino.