If there’s one city where dining alone is celebrated, it’s New York. Forget takeout in your tiny apartment: Here in the culinary capital of America, it’s easy – and sometimes preferable – to fly solo. Restaurants across New York City lure solo diners with inviting bars helmed by chatty bartenders, communal tables that smash strangers together and meditative tasting menus that are often best enjoyed without the interruption of conversation.
Plus, it’s easier to book during prime time when you’re just looking for a table for one. In fact, many restaurants will let solo diners slip in without any wait at all. The culinary enjoyment factor also goes up: Without the distraction of a conversation, you can focus on your food, savoring every bite – and every sip. And when you need a distraction, there’s always the nightly New York theater of people-watching. Here’s our roundup of the top spots to indulge solo.
Since opening in 1998, Babbo has consistently been one of New York City’s toughest reservations, but solo diners can usually squeeze in at the bar with no wait. The buzzy front bar – run by especially friendly, knowledgeable bartenders – is a perfect spot to dine while watching the downtown crowd flow in and out. But chances are that your attention will be on your plate: Chef Mario Batali’s seductive pastas are all the companion you need. Taste your way through the famous chef’s superlative pasta menu, from black tagliatelle and silky garganelli with mushrooms to agnolotti al pomodoro. The setting, too, caters to soloists: The cozy townhouse feels like a friend’s well-appointed home. And, the excellent negronis are the cherry on top. 110 Waverly Pl., 212-777-0303, babbonyc.com
Sushi of Gari
This soothing sushi experience is ideal for the solo diner. Instead of losing yourself in chatter with a companion, concentrate on watching the artistry and skill of the sushi chefs at work. Grab a seat at the sushi counter and put yourself in their hands by ordering the Gari’s Choice, an omakase (tasting menu) made up of the best seasonal items of the day. Dishes might include steamed monkfish liver, deep-fried bean curd, pale-pink shrimp and black seaweed. Leave the books and magazines at home – this is one culinary experience that’s as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the belly. 402 E. 78th St., 212-517-4340, sushiofgari.com
It’s been a long week. You deserve a burger. And not just any burger, but the legendarily juicy burger from a teeny-tiny diner car – Diner in Williamsburg. You could grab one of the booths with friends, but then your attention would be diverted from the main event: the meat. Instead, snag a solo seat at the counter and sip a draft beer or cocktail while musing over important questions like: What’s better – the anticipation of the burger, the burger itself or the memory of it after it’s gone? Once satiated, explore the rest of Williamsburg, which is tailor-made for solo revelers – pop into one of the many boisterous pubs, quiet wine bars and lively pool halls. You won’t be solo for long. 85 Broadway, Williamsburg, 718-486-3077, dinernyc.com
Gotham West Market
Follow your nose to Gotham West Market, an indoor emporium of temptations, from ramen to tapas to Italian sandwiches. Markets and food courts are made for solo diners, and Gotham West Market is a perfect example. Communal seating and ample counters are scattered about, so you’ll find plenty of spots to sit comfortably alone. Plus, with no companions judging your gluttonous ways, why not taste your way through a bunch of the stalls? Start at the counter of Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop for a bowl of noodles before nibbling gin-cured scallops and pungent cheeses at Cannibal. Top off the meal with a meticulously prepared coffee at Blue Bottle Coffee or a glass of wine at El Comado. Cheers! 600 11th Ave., 212-582-7940, gothamwestmarket.com
Uninterrupted wine and cheese = the perfect solo evening. With a nice long bar and roomy tables, Terroir in Tribeca calls out to wine geeks. The affable staff at this “Elitist Wine Bar for Everyone” is seriously well-informed about every bottle on the list – so go ahead, get chatty and ask a few questions. Your conversation will likely spark an impromptu wine tasting, where you can sip your way down a line of glasses until you settle on a favorite wine. Refuel on cheese, gourmet snacks like calamari salad and duck Panini and another glass or three. Life is good. 24 Harrison St., 212-625-9463, restauranthearth.com
Not every solo meal needs to be a production. Sometimes you just want a big ole plate of comfort food. For that, turn to the no-fuss Harlem Shake. The burger is comprised of two (yes, two) Pat LaFrieda patties topped with melted cheese, piled onto a classic potato roll. Other favorites include the hefty chili-cheese dog and a gooey grilled cheese with a pickled cherry pepper-bacon relish. Wet the throat with one of their signature Harlem Shakes (red velvet flavor – yum) or go for something stronger, like a frothy draft beer. Order right at the counter, and then grab a table with views out the floor-to-ceiling windows of buzzing Lenox Avenue. 100 W. 124th St., 212-222-8300, harlemshakenyc.com
A long gleaming bar with high-back stools: This is seating made for the solo diner. At Aldea, get ready for a savory night: The 9-course tasting menu by Chef George Mendes highlights tastes from Spain and Portugal, from warm croquettes with garlic aioli to mussel soup to octopus with smoked-cinnamon paprika. Make a reservation in advance for one of the six coveted seats at the counter that overlooks the busy kitchen – these are the best seats in the house. And by all means, splurge on the paired wine tastings: Dining alone is the perfect opportunity to expand your wine knowledge by discoursing with the sommelier. 31 W. 17th St., 212-675-7223, aldearestaurant.com
Any place named after butter has to be good. And it is: Thick-cut veal bacon, homemade ricotta with fennel, crisp pork chops with collard greens. This is not the kind of food you want to share. And at Butter, you don’t have to. A long bar and communal tables appeal to solo diners, where you can relax over a cocktail before digging in to the farm-to-fork delicacies. And the dessert? You won’t want to share that either. Try the raspberry beignets with vanilla dipping sauce or chocolate malt ice cream with brandied cherries. 70 W. 45th St., 212-253-2828, butterrestaurant.com