Maybe you’ve already had a stranger deliver Tony’s three times this week. Maybe you need to sit in silence and not talk about swapping sales orgs or meeting quotas for a while. Maybe you’re just really hungry and would rather catch up on thinking about your own issues than hearing about your friend’s. Whatever the reason, there comes a time for dining solo in every person’s life - and we think those times can actually be pretty great.
There are a few criteria that make restaurants ideal for dining solo, and the places on this list satisfy all of them. One, they must have bar (or communal) seating. Two, they must be places where you’ll feel totally comfortable by yourself - that usually means a casual, friendly environment. Finally, they must serve food suitable for one person. Burgers, ramen, tacos, maybe even a big salad? Yes. A bunch of small plates? Not so much.
We love taking dates to sit at the bar at Nopa, even if we don’t have a reservation. The drawback of bringing a date is that you have to keep one eye on them so that they think you’re listening, and one eye on the bar so you can snag someone’s seat before the ink on their check is dry. If you’re alone, you don’t have to do all of this multitasking. Plus, you can get that one empty seat between groups that couples can never use. Order the burger or the pasta and for once you’ll get to enjoy it all to yourself.
Media Noche has a good amount of seating against the wall and windows, so if you’ve made the normal decision to not share your food with anyone because no one else is around, you can focus on the characters in the show you’re watching on your phone instead. At least until they deliver your cubano, because once that happens, there’s no chance you’re going to look away from it until you’re done.
People regularly wait outside for Elephant Sushi to open because the sushi is reasonably priced and great, and the place isn’t that big. And while some people accidentally put their shirt on inside out in the rush to get a table here, if you’re alone, odds are you can walk in and take a seat between groups sitting at the bar. Order the flaming sea bass roll, and when it arrives at your table on fire, everyone waiting in line will have to stare at an actual example of why dining solo is better.
There are very few stools at this lunch counter spot on California Street, so when you’re alone it can be easier to slide in and grab a spot. We actually prefer coming here solo - something about how this place feels like it hasn’t discovered the internet yet makes it easier to unwind after a long day. Order the five spice chicken while you ponder how light switches work instead of just googling it.
Burritos may be able to feed three people, but they’re meant for one. And while you could pop into any of the great burrito places around town, we like eating alone at Taqueria El Buen Sabor - both because the carnitas is great and they have plenty of bar seating along the wall. Eat in peace while you watch everyone who passes by the window eye your burrito up and down.
Sometimes you only need a quick meal while you wait for the dryer to finish your sheets, but you don’t want to phone it in or just eat those peanut butter-filled pretzels. If you live near Japantown, you could go to Oma San Francisco Station. This tiny sushi counter is right in the middle of the Japan Center, but you’ll be focused enough on your meal that you won’t even notice the amazing deals on Hello Kitty gear happening around you. There are multiple omakase options to choose from, but the $30 one that gets you five pieces of nigiri, a hand roll, and some miso soup is a great place to start. Plus, you’ll most likely be in and out within 45 minutes.
Prairie can get pretty packed, and while the bar can fill up with people drinking negronis while they wait for a table, it’s a pretty ideal place to eat solo. The bar is deep so plates won’t get crowded, the bartenders are generally nice, and the bar shelves are full of strange things like a meerkat statue and a flamethrower that you can sit and try to decipher why they’re next to each other while you eat your pasta.
If you work in the FiDi or SoMa but live somewhere else, and you either have time to kill or are too hungry to wait and have dinner when you get home, a bowl of ramen at one of Ippudo’s communal tables is a great option. There’s typically a wait, but it’ll be shorter for one, and service is quick, so you can be in and out without too much hassle. If you’re starving, add a small plate like the chicken buns.
This Italian spot is excellent, and that’s not exactly a secret, so it can be hard to get in. But the bar, window seats, and communal table are reserved for walk-ins, and if you show up around 5:15pm (it opens at 5:30), you should be seated quickly. It’s not mentioned on the menu, but you can order any of the pastas in half portions, so take this opportunity to try more than one. Pair your pastas with as many rice balls as you want to order and a glass of wine, and you’ll be set for the night.
Sometimes dinner alone is an excuse to get a little bit fancy and still keep the price under control. Other times, you just want to eat some comfort food. Cocotte, a tiny spot in Russian Hill, checks both of those boxes. Grab a seat at the bar and enjoy French classics like coq au vin while you listen to the restaurant’s soundtrack of Sam Cooke and The Crystals. You’ll sit there and wonder why you don’t do this more often.
Getting pizza by yourself is a pain because you may feel obligated to eat the whole thing in one sitting. Unless you go to Golden Boy, where you order by the slice instead. Even if it’s not 2am, the pizza here is still excellent and worth waiting in line for.
Wander deep into the Mission to find where all the Munis are stored, and you’ll stumble upon The Morris. This modern American spot has the feel of a laid back neighborhood place, but is really more of a destination restaurant in disguise. It has a bunch of bar seats in the back, so grab one of those and settle down with some smaller plates or a full entree.
You’re wandering the barren wasteland of Union Square and its surrounding environs and suddenly you see a shining oasis. Sure, it’s attached to a hotel, but there’s a bar and there’s focaccia and pasta, too. This is Tratto, and it’s ideal for grabbing a quick dinner at the bar. The pappardelle is our go-to, but almost everything here is perfectly acceptable, especially for Union Square. Save room for the donuts.
While the Marina location is made for people-watching, the downtown Delarosa is perfect for eating excellent pasta and panini by yourself. You shouldn’t have a problem getting a spot at the bar, which is important because the cocktails are fantastic and you’re going to want at least one. The burrata bruschetta is one of our favorite things to eat, and coming here alone just means you won’t have to share it.
When was the last time someone asked, “Can I have a bite of your taco?” The answer is probably never, partly because of structural integrity issues, but also because of social norms. Therefore, tacos are the perfect meal for humans dining solo, and Garaje in SoMa has pretty great ones. You can’t go wrong with carnitas, and the fiery Thai prawn version is great too.
If black and white classic movies are more your style, then Finn Town is the move. The bar seats at this Castro spot involve a front row seat to the TV playing old-school films, and the whole place has an enjoyably low-key atmosphere. The burger is fantastic.
Watching sports alone can be a drag. You have no one to high-five when your team scores or to back you up when Celtics fans start mouthing off about how much better they used to be. If you’re alone and want to watch some sports on TV, but also need to not be at home, Marengo on Union is the best place to do it. The menu is heavy on bar food, but the salads are better than you’d think and the chili is also very good.
Pretty much all the seating at 4505 is communal, given that it mostly consists of large outdoor picnic tables. Grab some brisket or their “best damn grass-fed cheeseburger” and revel in the fact that you don’t have to share the bark on your brisket with anyone else.
Hit up the Lower Haight location of Iza, order an obscure Japanese beer, and spend some quality time with a bowl of ramen. There can be a wait for bigger groups, but if you’re on your own it’s easy to get a seat and to receive your noodles at lightning speed.
One of our favorite spots in the city, Cotogna is ideal for treating yourself and only yourself. There are a solid number of bar seats at the back that are usually snag-able. Get a bowl of pasta or an entree and some of the house focaccia, and you’re good to go.
As convenient as Souvla may be, they don’t sacrifice quality. Bar seats line an entire edge of this location, so order at the counter and then hang out back there. It’s impossible to order incorrectly at any of the locations of this place, except if you skip the frozen yogurt for dessert. The menu is short - there are salads or sandwiches with a choice of protein and excellent fries you should definitely consider. Maybe put the fries in the salad. You’re on your own and it’s time to live on the edge.
Barzotto is a classy pasta spot with an order-at-the-front, post-up-in-the-back setup (so no awkward “it’s just me” interactions with waitstaff), and the food is exceptional. We love the spaghetti and meatballs, wines by the glass are well-priced ($10 per glass), and the gelato soft serve is ideal for your walk home.
Sometimes baseball games are fun by yourself. And if you didn’t fill up on garlic fries and beers at Oracle Park, head to Cockscomb for one of the better burgers in the city and great, meat-heavy pastas. This one isn’t for the health-conscious, but you’re alone with no one else to judge that you just ordered the burger and a pasta.
The mussels, the burger, the cocktails, the living wall - there are many things to like about Maven. Add in the fact that the restaurant has two floors of bar seating, and it’s pretty much a dining solo mecca.
Order at the counter, grab a seat looking out over the street, and pat yourself on the back for eating a meal free of any refined sugars, gluten, trans fats, or really anything that has a chance of being included in an upcoming cut-out diet. We’re big fans of the bibimbap and roast chicken. We keep Little Gem in our lunch rotation as well.
Marlowe is known for its burger, and yes, the burger is good. But so are all the entrees. Definitely don’t skip the brussels sprout chips, either. The deep SoMa location is easy to miss, but well-situated for a quick meal near Caltrain or Oracle Park.
Getting a table at Nopalito is usually a bit of an ordeal, but slipping into a bar seat that looks over the open kitchen is usually not. This place is pretty casual (it basically shares an entrance with a grocery store), and is also one of our go-tos for weekend lunch. Make sure to get the carnitas.
This little sushi bar in Hayes is small enough to feel cozy, but big enough for you to position yourself in a corner and fill the surrounding area with rolls. Domo is a relaxed neighborhood spot that you can hit up whether you’re in gym clothes or work clothes and feel perfectly at ease. It’s well-priced, and pretty damn good. The Saba Hit or Wiki Wiki rolls are always in our order.
A grilled cheese is a perfectly respectable thing to eat for dinner as an adult. Union Larder makes theirs in a grown-up size, and also does the wine bar thing in Russian Hill without being snobby about it. And if you don’t feel like returning to your childhood, the menu has salads, charcuterie plates, and a few other solid sandwiches, too.
Causwells is all about the burger. And for good reason - it’s fantastic. The ribs are also a good order. There are a bunch of bar seats inside, but on a nice day, grabbing an outdoor table and watching the humans and animals of Chestnut Street stroll by should provide all the entertainment you need.