Nine no-reservation restaurants worth the wait

February 13
(Alex Eben Meyer/For The Washington Post)
(Alex Eben Meyer/For The Washington Post)

Donburi

2438 18th St. NW. 202-629-1047.

Bowls of Japanese comfort food await at this 14-seat counter of umami bliss in Adams Morgan. Everyone has a perfect view of the cooks preparing rice bowls topped with velvety slices of salmon or crispy panko-coated shrimp, pork or chicken. It’s a bargain, too, with most dishes less than $12.
How long is the wait? Parties of two usually wait about 15 minutes, as people tend to eat quickly in the sparse restaurant. But if you’re a party of four and want to sit together, it’s much trickier: A recent Thursday wait for a group of four was nearly two hours.

Wait here: For long waits, grab a beer at Mellow Mushroom (2436 18th St. NW) next door. Since most of the guests stick around for the wait, if you’re planning to go elsewhere, be sure to give a host your phone number so they can find you.

Daikaya

705 Sixth St. NW. 202-589-1600. www.daikaya.com.

Spread throughout two levels in Chinatown, Daikaya has an upstairs izakaya that will take your reservations for small plates and sake. But the downstairs ramen shop has only 40 first-come, first-served seats for noodle bowls that average about $13.

How long is the wait? Co-owner Daisuke Utagawa says it’s usually 45 minutes. Come after 9 p.m. and you likely won’t have a wait. On a recent Friday night at 7:45, the wait was 75 minutes.

Wait here: The adjacent Graffiato (707 Sixth St. NW) is usually packed, so your best bet is to grab a glass of wine at the nearby Flight wine bar (777 Sixth St. NW), or just grab a drink upstairs at Daikaya’s izakaya bar.

Right Proper Brewing Company

624 T St. NW. 202-607-2337. www.rightproperbrewery.com. Closed Monday.

This brewpub next to the Howard Theatre specializes in unique beers and comfort food. And while it has an ample bar, there are few tables, which can result in long waits. If you don’t feel like waiting, everything on the menu is available to go, including growlers of beer.

How long is the wait? More than two hours for a group of four on a recent Friday; 35 minutes for a party of three on a recent Thursday; and no wait for a party of two at 6:30 p.m. on a recent Tuesday.

Where to wait: Cocktail expert Derek Brown’s triumvirate of bars around the corner on Seventh Street NW are popular, but odds are you can find space at one of them for pre-dinner sherry at Mockingbird Hill (1843 Seventh St. NW), whiskey at Southern Efficiency (1841 Seventh St. NW) or oysters at Eat the Rich (1839 Seventh St. NW).

Rose’s Luxury

717 Eighth St SE. 202-580-8889. www.rosesluxury.com. Closed Sunday.

Chef Aaron Silverman’s playful Barracks Row restaurant is the current darling of the District dining scene. The dishes, especially a raved-about pork and litche salad, exude as much creativity as the decor, such as the neon “awesome” sign that sums up the experience.

How long is the wait? Pick a rainy Tuesday at 6 p.m. and you might grab the last two-top before the wait list kicks in; an hour later, the wait could be 90 minutes. On a weekend, brace yourself for a quote of up to three hours. Don’t do that.

Where to wait: The Ugly Mug (723 Eighth St. SE) and Molly Malone’s (713 Eighth St. SE) are both no-frills sports bars with cheap drinks. If you’ve got a longer wait, consider a bar crawl that includes exotic Serbian cocktails on the covered rooftop at Ambar (523 Eighth St. SE) or snacks at Hank’s on the Hill (633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE).

Toki Underground

1234 H St. NE. 202-388-3086. www.tokiunderground.com. Closed Sunday.

Erik Bruner-Yang’s ramen attic accepts a very limited number of reservations — Monday-Thursday before 6:15 p.m. — so if you can snag one, that’s your best bet. If not, the steaming bowls of ramen, topped with whatever specialty is being offered that night, are worth the wait.

How long is the wait? An hour or less during the week, but up to three hours during the weekend peak. You will receive a text message when your spot is ready.

Where to wait: The street-level Pug, which you’ll see as you walk in the door, has a large, unfussy beer list. For a more active diversion, Atlas Arcade (1236 H St. NE) is jammed with coin-operated ’90s arcade games to keep you entertained. Just make sure you don’t become too invested in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

Estadio

1520 14th St. NW. 202-319-1404. www.estadio-dc.com.

The restaurant accepts reservations until 6 p.m., and groups of six to eight can make a reservation anytime. Otherwise, sidle up to the bar for drinks and such tapas as grilled octopus or simple house-marinated olives if you don’t want to wait. Or if you’d rather eat at a table, bide your time with wine or a seasonal “slushito.”

How long is the wait? Less than 30 minutes during the week, but up to 45 minutes during the busiest time on weekends.

Where to wait: Playing pool at Black Whiskey (1410 14th St. NW) is a great way to kill time.

Etto

1541 14th St. NW. 202-232-0920. www.ettodc.com.

The roasted cauliflower with anchovies and the egg-topped Cotechino are two of Etto’s standout pizzas, but the ever-changing selection of charcuterie might be even more tempting.

How long is the wait? Walk-ins can usually find seating in 20 minutes or less early in the week. Prepare to wait 60 to 90 minutes or longer during prime weekend hours.

Where to wait: The tiny space can feel cramped even when it’s not full, so it’s best to wait at the adjacent Drafting Table (1529 14th St. NW), which has board games and snacks — a $7 plate of mixed pickled vegetables is a good option — to keep you entertained.

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

1612 14th St. NW. 202-986-8778. www.pearldivedc.com.

Seafood is the constant at Jeff Black’s 14th Street outpost, from freshly shucked oysters on the half shell to an assortment of seafood gumbos and etouffees.

How long is the wait? Walk-ins can often be seated immediately during the week, but expect to wait 45 minutes or more on weekends.

Where to wait: Walk upstairs to Black Jack, a bar the proprietor built as a place for guests to play indoor bocce and sip beers while waiting for a table. Watch the numbers on the wall to keep track of your reservation; you’ll receive a text to head downstairs as soon as the preceding party asks for the check.

Little Serow

1511 17th St. NW. www.littleserow.com. Closed Sunday and Monday.

The 28-seat Thai restaurant from Komi chef Johnny Monis has won accolades from Bon Appetit and local critics alike, which only adds to its fabled wait times. Guests can expect a $45 seven-course meal spicy enough to make you sweat.

How long is the wait? If you’re standing in line when the doors open at 5 p.m. you’re likely to make the first seating. Too early? While uncommon, there was no wait for a party of two at 6:30 p.m. on a recent Thursday. Sixty to 90 minutes is more like it during the week; up to three hours on weekends.

Where to wait: Go next door to Duke’s Grocery (1513 17th St. NW) for happy hour until 7 p.m., or walk around the corner to Hank’s Oyster Bar (1624 Q St. NW) for a cocktail and a snack. Oysters aren’t likely to ruin your appetite.

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