Best-of Guides New York

Best Restaurants for Solo Diners

12 Restaurants
Perhaps the best secret about dining alone is that often you don’t need a reservation—that is if you eat at the bar. At certain New York spots, the bar serves as the beating heart of the restaurant. There’s the all-knowing bartender, the lingering waitstaff, the regular customer who comes in for a quick burger or an expertly mixed martini. New York is a friendly town so it’s easy to strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Of course, you can always read a book but there is such a singular pleasure in just soaking up the atmosphere, the flavors, the textures and the chatter that surrounds you. (Yes, dining alone gives you a free pass to do some innocent eavesdropping.) The always packed Cervos restaurant—an homage to Iberian seafood on the Lower East Side— might appear intimidating at first but it’s worth checking in with the friendly staff to see if there is an empty seat at the bar or the front window counter. Once you’ve scored a spot you’ll find the room’s vibrant energy infectious. There’s nothing strange about asking your neighbors what they’re eating—yes,the Louisiana white prawns are succulent and sweet, and don’t sleep on the manila clams cooked in vinho verde. The bartender will happily let you sample a selection of orange wines as he guides you through the menu. In no time, you will feel at home, breaking bread with your neighbor and sopping up all the delectable, briny flavors coming out of the kitchen. Gramercy Tavern’s front room, with artist Robert Kushner’s colorful cornucopia mural hanging above the handsome wood paneled bar, is one of the city’s most inviting spots. The staff here are seasoned and know exactly what wine to pair with the grilled pork shoulder with parsnips. They also instinctively know when to strike up a conversation, offer another cocktail or just leave you alone. Thai Diner is an all-day restaurant in Nolita started by the owners of the beloved Uncle Boons which shuttered during the pandemic. The wait time for parties of two and more can last hours long but for the single diner, there’s often a space at the counter inside, which looks like a mashup of a tiki bar and a retro dining car. The vibe is casual and friendly, the crowd is an eclectic mix of hipster and construction crews, and the food is pure comfort: think crab fried rice, chicken legs in a creamy curry sauce, Thai disco fries and banana rum pudding. The bonus to a solo outing at Thai Diner? You ‘ll have plenty of leftovers.

New York City by The MICHELIN Guide

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Updated on 16 May 2024
The Commerce Inn
50 Commerce St., 10014 New York
$$$ · American

Named for the street upon which it lives, this intimate "inn" has arrived on the scene, thanks to the venerated team of Rita Sodi and Jody Williams. Here, linen-clad tables and wooden floors are a nod to minimal Shaker style and set the stage for the early American cuisine. Imagine oysters raw, fried or pickled; rarebit; and hearty chowders. Crave-worthy vegetarian dishes have guests clamoring for more.

Inspector notes: "A ginger cake dressed with sea salt and crème fraîche may be best enjoyed with milk punch (from their strong cocktail carte)."

76 Carmine St., 10014 New York
$$$$ · European

Owner Gabby Madden and Chef Nate Ashton have fashioned a quirky, lovable space complete with rose-pink banquettes, light mauve walls, mismatched chandeliers and colorful abstract artwork. But, don't misjudge this frilly space since they are doing some serious cooking here. The modern European menu with small and large plates brims with depth and balance.

Inspector notes: "Chicken roulade with crispy skin is served over farro and sided by sweet parsnip purée and morel mushrooms, delivering hearty flavors in a satisfying, well-rounded dish."

611 Hudson St., 10014 New York
$$ · Middle Eastern

It’s hard to walk by and avoid falling in love with this thoroughly charming Mediterranean favorite and its keen (if wandering) eye on Sephardic cuisine. Rebooted in a quaint new space, the open kitchen takes center stage in this bright and airy space.

Inspector notes: "Yellow cardamom pappardelle tossed with spring peas and curls of shaved feta is a fragrant, surprisingly light dish thanks to the green labne, but oh, those chocolate fingers. Imagine an upmarket Kit Kat with cornflake-crusted bottoms topped with Turkish coffee-laced ganache and you'll get the drift of this decadent dessert."

Van Đa
234 E. 4th St., 10009 New York
$$ · Vietnamese

Restaurateurs Yen Ngo and Chef Hannah Wong are the brains behind this fantastic and exciting offering in the East Village. Noting the deficiency in popular Vietnamese restaurants around town, the duo set out to offer the same nation's lesser-known specialties. With a mission to introduce city-dwellers to specialties that go beyond bahn mi and pho, this menu is divided into street food from different regions, including Hanoi, Hue, and Saigon—each sporting their own style.

Inspector notes: "Standout dishes may include turmeric griddle cake with wild mushrooms and coconut custard; crisped, delightfully chewy mochi balls; and tapioca dumplings steamed in banana leaves."

Café Mars
272 3rd Ave., 11215 New York
$$$ · Contemporary

This trendy Brooklyn spot from co-chefs Paul D’Avino and Jorge Olarte is quirky from start to finish, and that's exactly what makes it shine. The contemporary menu is equal parts modern and nostalgic, with an outlandish creativity to boot. It's all intended for sharing, so come with a gang and kick off the festivities with four squares of negroni Jell-O with Castelvetrano olives suspended inside.

Inspector notes: "Grilled octopus with roasted pepperoni "cups," tangy ranch and pickled celery is a delightful surprise, as are the market cukes, sliced and topped with salty trout roe and whey granita."

128 Greenpoint Ave., 11222 New York
$$$ · Mexican

Tacos are the main draw, especially when piled with the likes of tender flank steak or soft-shell crab. However, this kitchen team doesn’t stick to merely one dish or area of Mexico. Instead, they reach widely across a myriad of regions, always balancing abundance with fresh and vibrant flavors. The menu thereby tempts and tantalizes with such large and small items as the tropical hamachi agua chile and tlayuda crafted from smoky corn on a shell. Other standouts include the brined, fried and smoked “giant chicken."

Inspector notes: "Apprised diners know never to pass up on creative and clever delicacies like the hoja santa curd, accompanied by roasted strawberries, raspberry granita, and finished with spicy olive oil."

853 Onderdonk Ave., 11385 New York
$$ · American

Ridgewood has a real gem on its hands in this neighborhood grill that goes above and beyond. The first room holds an easygoing bar with a talent for cocktails. Further in, the adjoining dining area comes to life as a roaring wood-fire grill bathes tables in flickering amber hues.

Inspector notes: "Fire here is the key to much goodness, starting with the fluffy, smoky polenta bread smeared with the likes of Calabrian chili butter or sesame and wild oregano. Other favorites include potato croquettes, lasagna, and, for especially big appetites, dry-aged steaks served with green garlic butter."

43 Canal St., 10002 New York
$$$ · Spanish

The cooking has never been better at this high-energy galley built out of mosaic tiles and cozy wood paneling. Inspired by the coastal traditions of Spain and Portugal, the menu is packed with winners. Indeed, this is a kitchen that isn’t afraid of flavor.

Inspector notes: "Fish is a must; swing for the seabream cooked until the skin is crisp as a chip and then covered in sweet Habanada peppers."

61 W. 8th St., 10011 New York
$$$$ · Israeli

This small, sleek space punches way above its weight with dazzling neo-Levantine cuisine. Many kitchens boast about using fresh ingredients, but Shmoné takes that philosophy to another level, creating a new menu daily (though some items stick around). The cooking relies on the grill all the way through to dessert, where grilled figs atop Chantilly cream have made an appearance.

Inspector notes: "Dishes aren't repeated but they're certainly memorable, as in thin slices of hamachi or flatiron Wagyu slid off a skewer tableside and boasting smoky tenderness. The flavors are impressively dialed in and make for a focused meal that is surprisingly approachable and humble."

Thai Diner
186 Mott St., 10012 New York
$$ · Thai

Brought to Mott Street, this charming spot from Chefs Ann Redding and Matt Danzer can be spotted from afar by its corrugated metal-and-wood façade. Inside, the design is just as you'd expect—mashed-up diner with Thai accents, like woven bamboo, rattan screens, and a counter with shiny wood seats. Behind is the kitchen that unlike the décor, exceeds all expectations. Look beyond the Americanized standbys and go for dishes with flavors that are fully realized.

Inspector notes: "Classic-meets-comfort in the laab, featuring fried, not ground, chicken; or turkey- and mushroom-stuffed cabbage with a fragrant broth."

Gramercy Tavern
42 E. 20th St., 10003 New York
$$$$ · Contemporary

This fabled NY icon is high on most people's roll call. It's one of those places that manages the rare trick of being so confident in its abilities and can be all things to all diners. You’ll probably leave happy whether you’re here on a date, to impress the in-laws or seal a deal. The “Tavern” side is a prized spot for lunch, especially if you can sit at the bar. 

Inspector notes: "Focused on impeccable products, the seasonal and creative American cuisine is a perfect match for the woody surrounds."

Tempura Matsui
222 E. 39th St., 10016 New York
$$$$ · Japanese

Tempura Matsui skillfully demonstrates why tempura is a celebrated Japanese cuisine type in its own right. The prized seats are at the counter, especially if you want to see the master at work. The chef uses a mix of sesame and cottonseed oils and the batter is used sparingly.

Inspector notes: "Dishes turned out of this kitchen usually vary according to the seasons, but could include the likes of wonderfully tender squid, succulent Hokkaido scallop, plump matsutake, as well as subtly sweet onion."

Hero image: Max Flatow