Being a travel writer means I travel alone quite frequently. My husband accompanies me when he can but unfortunately he has to work sometimes…so this means I’ve done solo road trips in Southern Spain, Portugal and France and found myself alone in bustling cities like London, Paris and Madrid. Unwilling to compromise when it comes to eating great food, I make a lot of dinner reservations for one. It’s really not as bad as you might think. I find dining alone to be quite liberating. I can really focus on what I’m eating– savoring every morsel– and I am free to choose whatever restaurant my heart desires. There are even some perks like being able to slip into a busy spot because there just happens to be one spot at the bar. Through a lot of trial and error I’ve developed some loose guidelines for dining tout soul:
Bar seating is best.
Communal seating is the worst, unless you’re feeling chatty.
If you need to reserve, a table for two works fine too.
If you’re going to a busy restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, get there early. It’s not that fun to wait standing up in a busy bar by yourself.
If you’re really in the mood for a tasting menu go for it, but realize you will have lots of time to think.
Some great solo dining spots around the world include:
Bestia, Los Angeles
This lively Italian restaurant in downtown LA offers a variety of counter seating where you can watch as the hardworking staff crafts charcuterie plates and salads. Even if you’re only one I’d recommend making a reservation.
Bodega 1900, Barcelona
The Adria brother’s vermouth and tapas bar is much easier to get into than Tickets across the street but you can still sample the molecular gastronomy they’re famous for like the “Olive” made of olive juice served on a spoon and more straight forward dishes like Iberian pork loin with sea salt and house made potato chips served with a zesty paprika sauce.
Cafe Murano, London
This excellent Italian restaurant takes reservations for its bar seating and you can usually secure a space if you book a day or so in advance. The menu that includes small plates or “cichetti” like truffle arancini as well as antipasti and pasta dishes like lamb pappardelle with olives that can ordered by the full or half portion is particularly well suited for one.
This seafood restaurant, from the same people behind Septime, does not take reservations and much of the seating is at a long bar. Light seafood dishes like ceviches, oysters and sashimi are the perfect portion size for one. If there’s a wait, and there often is, simply go across the street to the wine bar Septime la Cave for a glass of wine and a plate of housemade ricotta and anchovies and they’ll call you when your spot is ready.
If you want a table at Paris’s best Neapolitan style pizza restaurant you’ll have to call ahead but the bar is reserved for walk-ins. Snag a seat and you’ll be able to order from the full menu and pick the bartender’s brain about the excellent cocktail and wine offerings.
Tables at this one Michelin star Indian restaurant in St. James’s are booked far in advance, but the two level restaurant has a secret, a dining bar downstairs reserved for walk-ins. The upstairs bar only serves drinks so after putting your name on the list enjoy one of the spiked punches their known for until you’re called downstairs.
The John Dory Oyster Bar, New York City
This bustling oyster bar in the Ace Hotel has seating in front of the raw bar, an excellent selection of oysters, crudo and bar snacks like addictive Parker House rolls.
This neighborhood restaurant near Harvard is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner and you can choose your adventure. Keep it very casual and order from the counter before taking a seat or make reservations for the tasting bar where prix fixe menus might include everything from a Japanese style breakfast to a refined lunch of Andalusian gazpacho, a fluffy omelette with roasted radishes and coconut pineapple bread pudding.
Mezcal Lab, Madrid
The bar at the one Michelin star Mexican restaurant Punto Mx in Madrid has plenty of small tables and you can order from a small menu that features tacos on heirloom corn tortillas, chips and guacamole and excellent margaritas.
Nomad, New York City
The restaurant at the Nomad Hotel offers a variety of nooks and crannies where you can enjoy elegant comfort cuisine like a chicken burger with foie gras on a brioche bun with no judgement. You don’t have to have a reservation to dine in the library or the bar.
The River Cafe, London
One of the first places I ever made a reservation for one was at this iconic Italian restaurant on the Thames. I still remember the experience very fondly. I went for what I like to call an executive lunch–I enjoyed a glass of wine, an appetizer, pasta and dessert and soaked in the wonderful views of the promenade and the river.
Sala de Despiece, Madrid
Presentations of dishes at this highly conceptual tapas bar are very theatrical, like the Asian-style beef cooked with a blowtorch above, making it a fun place to dine alone. It gets busy but if you arrive when it opens for dinner at 8pm you should be able to slip right in.