Table for One: New York
Where to eat unaccompanied in a city of food snobs.

By David Feige

We've all been there-settling into a decent-looking pub only to discover that it turns into a karaoke club after 8 p.m., or unwittingly taking a table for one at the local romantic spot, or just plain feeling exposed as an outsider. This is the particular awkwardness of eating alone in an unfamiliar city.To make the process easier, we've assembled a guide to dining alone in New York City-a short list of places where dining solo is convenient, tasty, and above all, stress-free. Each of these outstanding restaurants provides a perfect excuse to ditch the confining refinement of your hotel room and take a stroll through New York's foodie culture.

Though it's been argued that New York is one of the best cities for dining unaccompanied (plenty of people-watching and anonymity), it can still be daunting. There are more than 18,000 dining establishments, and an overwhelming diversity of cuisines. You can find $1 tacos and $250 tasting menus in the same neighborhood. Some places take reservations; some don't. Some will seat you only if you're an F.O.O. (friend of the owner). It's enough to drive even the most intrepid business traveler into the uninspiring arms of room service.

Union Square Cafe

At the flagship of chef-entrepreneur Danny Meyer's eating empire, warmth, elegance, and good food reign. This widely praised restaurant serves expensive but reliable nouvelle American cuisine; on any given evening, the long bar in the front room is likely to contain a couple of solo diners happily tucking napkins over their bespoke shirts, as well as people waiting for tables. Dishes like the whole wheat pappardelle with tomato, walnut, and rosemary, or crispy lemon-pepper duck with roasted apple jus, are complemented by an extensive wine list that inciudes a wonderful selection of half-bottles-among them a 1961 Château Lafite Rothschild, at $525.

Momofuku Ssäm

The loudish pop music may not encourage conversation with strangers, but the food and the layout damn well do. This energetic East Village spot builds on the success of its überpopular sister, Momofuku. It is centered around a massive dining bar, and the young crowd is eclectic enough to get lost in, should that be your desire. The Korean fusion fare is both innovative and accessible. Apple salad garnished with Benton's bacon, spicy peanuts, and a lychee gelée is a must; for a memorable snack, don't miss the fried brussels sprouts sprinkled with chilies and mint and finished with a delicate dash of fish sauce-and wash them down with a rich Hitichino red rice ale. No seats at the bar? Near the kitchen, a square metal island allows one to sample chef David Chang's cuisine while standing up.


Located, fittingly enough, in the meatpacking district, CraftSteak has a genial staff and a bar that skews more toward Wall Streeters than hipsters. Theirs is no ordinary steakhouse menu, though it does include a dozen kinds of steak (28-day dry-aged, corn-fed New York strip from Nebraska, anyone?). The dining room is unusually spacious and uncluttered, and semicircular sandalwood-colored banquettes offer the independent diner a comfortable refuge from bar seating-at least on a quiet night.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar

The feel is part soaring landmark, part 1950s Woolworth's counter. This New York classic will soon celebrate its centennial-and the seafood manages to still be excellent after all that time. At the snaking counter that takes up most of one side of the restaurant, dozens of solo diners can slurp the signature oyster pan-roast or stew. The casual decor and vaulted, tiled ceiling lets anyone feel like a regular. For a post-dinner drink, head to the chic Campbell Apartment, nestled less than 50 yards away in the southwest corner of the station.

The Modern

This culinary extension of the Museum of Modern Art delivers Alsatian-infused food in a minimalist (but not sterile) setting. Aim for the cafélike Bar Room in the front, which takes walk-ins, rather than the more formal dining room. Solos can choose from tables or seats at the long bar. Patrons tend to be well-dressed young professionals and art world insiders. Among the selections, served as appetizer or half-entrée portions, are homemade country sausage with turnips and whole-grain mustard, and beer-braised pork cheeks with sauerkraut and ginger.


Often forgotten after dark, the terrain along Madison Avenue north of the Four Seasons has a few dining gems. Nello offers a Bible-length menu of northern Italian food; its excellent veal chop and unspoken no-gawking policy make it a favorite of people with unlimited budgets, as well as local celebrities. (Yes, that is Sam Waterston at the table by the door.) Suits are the standard uniform and discreet murmuring sets the tone-this is a place where the solo diner can enjoy a fine meal at an astronomical price among anonymous masters of the universe.

Table For One: What, Where, And What To Wear
The inside dish on our picks for solo dining in New York City.

Union Square Cafe

21 East 16th Street

Dress: A mix of jeans and jackets
Prices: Expensive
Reservations: A must for the dining room; open season at the bar
Close to: W Hotel in Union Square

Momofuku Ssäm

207 Second Avenue

Dress: Casual
Prices: Moderate
Reservations: None
Close to: W Hotel in Union Square


85 10th Avenue

Dress: Casual cool
Prices: Expensive
Reservations: Recommended; none for the bar
Close to: The Maritime Hotel, Hotel Gansevoort, Soho House

The Grand Central Oyster Bar

Grand Central Station

Dress: Anything
Prices: Moderate to expensive
Reservations: Easy to get
Close to: The Grand Hyatt, the New York Barclay, the Roosevelt Hotel; convenient to all Midtown hotels

The Modern

9 West 53rd Street
(Past the museum and museum tower entrances)

Dress: Fashionable
Prices: Moderate to expensive
Reservations: None
Close to: Convenient to all Midtown hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton New York


696 Madison Avenue (at 62nd Street)

Dress: Buttoned-down
Prices: Expensive to very expensive
Reservations: Accepted; bar is first come, first served
Close to: Plaza Athénée, Four Seasons, and other Midtown hotels

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