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Dining Solo in The Big Apple


Ellen R. Shapiro and Steven A. Shaw

Ellen R. Shapiro, a New York-based travel writer and photographer, has traveled alone all over the world and is the Associate Editor of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel. Steven A. Shaw, her husband, is an attorney and food critic.

No visit to New York City would be complete without sampling a few of this town's unforgettable restaurants. Luckily, the solo woman visitor to The Big Apple has great dining options in every price range.

When looking for a restaurant in which to dine alone, bear in mind that restaurants are, ultimately, in the business of making money. On the one hand, a solo diner at a table in a busy restaurant almost always means an empty seat--and restaurants hate empty seats. On the other hand, a restaurant would much rather have one person at a table than none. Thus, your best bet is to visit restaurants when they are least crowded. Most New York restaurants, with the exception of those in the business districts, are relatively empty at lunch. If you plan to dine alone at dinnertime, go very early or very late for the warmest reception.

Here are four places in New York that not only offer great food but are also particularly hospitable to the solo diner. All are reasonably priced and all are in safe neighborhoods.

Please note that in addition to the restaurants listed here, most sushi bars and hotel restaurants are tailor-made for the solo diner. Plus, many of New York's finer restaurants now offer full menus at their comfortable bars--perfect spots for eating alone.

Yaffa Cafe
97 St. Marks Pl. (Btwn. First Ave. & Ave. A)
Tel. 212-674-9302

Green Salad

Yaffa is one of the hippest restaurants in one of the world's hippest neighborhoods: The East Village. The menu is vegetarian-oriented, healthy and economical. The best choices are the delicious, hearty salads (similar to those that salad lovers make for themselves at home). Yaffa features indoor and outdoor seating (smoking permitted outside) and is open 24 hours. During the off-hours (mid-afternoon or late at night), you can sit at a table forever and take in the funky, young, rambunctious East Village scene. Another competitor for title of hippest restaurant, which also caters to solos and features a similar menu, is nearby Dojo (24-26 St. Marks Pl., Btwn. Second & Third Aves., 212-674-9821).

The Tavern at Gramercy Tavern
42 E. 20th St. (Btwn. Broadway & Park Ave. South)
Tel. 212-477-0777

Goblet and Cheese

The main dining room at Gramercy Tavern is one of America's finest restaurants, but owner Danny Meyer and Chef Tom Coliccio--who wanted Gramercy Tavern to offer something for everyone--also created a restaurant-within-a-restaurant geared towards the casual or solo diner: The Tavern. Solo diners can sit at the bar and order hearty soups accompanied by some of New York's best bread, meats grilled over a wood fire, a selection of fine cheeses from around the world, sublime desserts (particularly the fruit tarts) and an incredible selection of wines by the glass (or, even better, by the half-glass--so you can taste several different wines). The bartenders, like James, are friendly and will talk to you or leave you alone as you wish. No smoking, even at the bar. For another excellent bar-dining experience, try the $19.98 lunch special at Gotham Bar & Grill (12 E. 12th St., Btwn. 5th Ave. & University Pl., 212-620-4020).

Cafe S.F.A. at Saks Fifth Avenue
611 Fifth Ave., 8th Floor (Btwn. 49th & 50th Sts.)
Tel. 212-940-4080


Many people, when they first hear about Cafe S.F.A., say, "I wouldn't be caught dead eating in a department-store restaurant." That was our initial reaction, but the reality is that such establishments often serve good food in attractive surroundings at reasonable prices. Plus, because they cater to the shopping crowd, solo diners are well accommodated (both at tables and at the counter). Cafe S.F.A. offers great salads, sandwiches, soups and other straightforward (but thoughtfully prepared and presented) items. Another good dining choice, along the same lines, is Fred's at Barney's (10 E. 61st St., Btwn. Fifth & Madison Aves., 212-833-2200).

Popover Cafe
551 Amsterdam Ave. (Btwn. 86th & 87th Sts.)
Tel. 212-595-8555


A favorite spot of just about everybody who lives on the Upper West Side, Popover Cafe offers a diverse menu of home-style, hearty, health-conscious specialties. The signature menu item is, of course, the popover. You do not need to eat alone, because the restaurant will gladly lend you a teddy bear to keep you company. The restaurant offers discounts from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday, including a tasty soup and half a sandwich for $6.95. One warning: Popover Cafe gets very busy during the weekend brunch seatings, so stay away at those times. If Popover Cafe is crowded, try nearby Good Enough to Eat (483 Amsterdam Ave., Btwn. 83rd & 84th Sts., 212-496-0163) or E.J.'s Luncheonette (447 Amsterdam Ave., Btwn. 81st & 82nd Sts., 212-873-3444).


More solo travel motivation...

If you need further motivation to try solo travel, here are a few more links you might like to follow...


Keeping yourself safe and happy...

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