Illustration by Peter Oumanski

Solo dining doesn’t have to be taboo. In fact, it can actually turn out to be one of the BEST MEALS OF YOUR LIFE.

GOING OUT TO EAT IS A SOCIAL AFFAIR. EVERY EVENING, restaurants around the world fill with couples, families and groups enjoying a night out on the town. Wine is poured, dishes are shared, stories are told and (most of the time) the conversation is as delicious as the food. But, what if you’re all by yourself?

Good restaurants love solo diners at the bar — it means more money than someone just drinking.

This is the reality faced daily by an army of business travelers and solo vacationers. Few relish sitting alone at a big table in silence with indeterminable pauses between courses, so many opt for fast food, to-go orders, the hotel bar or room service rather than a bona fide restaurant experience. Which is a shame, because quality choices for the single diner are better and more welcoming than ever — and really, why should you have to forgo a great meal just because you’re eating solo? According to Andrew Knowlton, restaurant-and-drinks editor for Bon Appétit magazine, being a party of one actually can be advantageous. “You can often get into the hottest new place by yourself — there’s usually a random seat, while even a party of two might wait two hours.”

“Why should you have to forgo a great meal just because you’re eating solo?”
For those wanting a little more social interaction, communal tables, where parties of one or more are seated­ together at one large table, are increasingly popular. These types of tables are also a way to garner valuable insight on your new surroundings if you happen to be traveling. “I want to feel connected to a new city,” says Mike Hiller, a food-and-wine writer for several publications, including The Dallas Morning News, and editor of the city’s culinary site, “So my first night, I seek out a vibrant restaurant with a chef counter or community table. That’s where I hear about a city’s hot-button issues: Who’s making local news, what do locals think of the new coach/quarterback/stadium? And, most importantly, where should I eat tomorrow night?” But be prepared, warns Knowlton, because communal tables “can be daunting the first time. [But] once you do it, you realize it’s no big deal and you don’t have to talk to people if you don’t want to.”

Want to try more than one dish? Ask the restaurant to do half portions; they often will.

Communal dining aside, to pick the perfect place, Knowlton suggests looking for restaurants with a bar looking into the kitchen. “That’s my first choice.” He likes sushi bars for the same reason. Surprisingly, he recommends avoiding places with televisions (“They kill dining rooms, unless you are talking about sports bars”), tapas bars (“They’re meant to share”) and hotel dining (“It’s easy, but the vibe is totally different with so many solo diners — you’re not part of a regular scene”).

Keeping all this in mind, American Way combed through our past and present restaurant archive, reached out to experts around the country and applied said criteria to develop the ultimate, take-with-you-when-you-leave-the-plane guide to the best solo dining around the country.