We’re calling it: ‘tis the season of the solo diner. Whether you’d prefer to crack open a book while seated at the bar, set up a temporary office at a neighborhood spot’s corner table, or people watch by a window, the time to indulge in a dinner by yourself, for yourself is now.
One of Philadelphia’s best qualities is how informal dining here can be. Dining alone means you don’t need to rely on a plus one to plan an impressive date, or coordinate a group night out with multiple schedules and dietary restrictions, how to split checks, or what apps to order.
As people find their schedules “returning to normal,” with it comes the increased pressure of calendars overbooked with social engagements. Sometimes, self-care can look like treating yourself to fine dining at a bar without judgment and zero pretension. And for those afflicted with wanderlust, international travel remains limited and complicated, but exploring the city’s food scene is the next best thing.
Some tips: Early dinners are best for happy hour prices with small bites and drinks over a slower, quiet evening. If you nail the timing right, you can relax in an empty restaurant and establish a connection with the bartender or server (hint: Wednesday and Sunday evenings are your best bet). They know all the secrets to the menu, after all. By the end of the night, you might be surprised with the dishes you fall in love with or the people you meet.
Here are the best restaurants in Philly for solo dining.
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South Philly’s Passyunk Avenue is ripe with casual dining spots that are suitable for people of any party size. For over five years, Bing Bing Dim Sum has been a neighborhood favorite for good reason: walk-ins are always welcome and the food is always on point. With outdoor streeteries potentially becoming permanent, solo diners can take their pick on where to slurp some noodles in peace. Inside, Hong Kong street scenes are depicted on the dining tables themselves, and colorful, playful art is showcased in illuminated lights, stickered walls, and zany murals made by local artists.
“Bing Bing is a great solo spot because you can always grab a seat [at the bar] when they’re packed,” says Emma Hobson, a former Bing Bing bartender. “There was one girl who would [come in and] read her Kindle.”
Hits like the cheesesteak bao (formerly the roast pork bao) and caterpillar bread, a long roll filled with char siu Chinese barbecue pork shoulder topped with sesame honey syrup, will always be home on the Chinese-Jewish-Israeli mashup menu. But not to be missed are the always-changing small and large plates of rice, noodle, and vegetable combos.
Is there anything better than eating tacos all night? If you agree, then head to Chestnut Hill cantina, El Poquito. No tablecloths, just the classics here: bottomless chips and salsa, tacos (your choice of 3 or 4 for one serving), esquites, and Jarrito sodas. Happy hour (4-6 p.m.) is the pro move, especially when sipping on a marg (virgin options available) and enjoying your own bowl of handmade guacamole.
West Philly’s Local 44 is a testament to great beer bars, a rare breed in this city, and it’s still thriving more than a decade after its opening. The epitome of a low-key hangout, this is a spot to hide out in anonymity while enjoying impressive pub food and pondering over a dozen craft beers on draft.
James Johnson, a photographer and long-time Local 44 neighbor, frequents multiple times a week, often sitting at the same bar stool with a beer in hand as he awaits a plate of “old faithful” dishes like the hush puppies with honey butter, or the sizable burger. Regulars like Johnson aren’t phased when they bump into strangers-turned-friends as the hours pass by. Nothing matters when lost in a fiery bowl of Sichuan-style broccolini and tofu stir-fry, piled-high poutine with fried cheese curds, or a generous plate of sticky, juicy fried chicken and sour pickles. Local 44 welcomes everyone as they are, meat-lovers and vegans alike. Bring an appetite and grab a plate to-go for leftovers the next day.
Stick to neighborhoody vibes with creative bar food and a bomb playlist at Pub & Kitchen in Fitler Square. The Lombard Street bar and restaurant is a sleeper hit: ignore the TV screens on the walls for a moment, and take in the posh English interior decor, as ‘70s and ‘80s throwback jams play overhead. Into sports? They’ve got a couple of screens for fans, but they don’t detract from the vibe. Grab a seat at the bar and settle in for an evening of deeply satisfying dishes. Recent highlights include the romaine wedge salad with green goddess dressing, everything bagel toppings, blue cheese, and bacon; perfectly greasy and thin double-patty smash burger with fries; and a generously-portioned seared pork chop with microgreens and croutons with mustard seed vinaigrette. Order a glass of Beaujolais and camp out for a while.
The Good King Tavern over in Queen Village leans into French bistro fare minus the pretentiousness. Staff members may have a background in fine-dining restaurants but aren’t afraid to get down-to-earth and curate your experience, especially for solo diners. The low-lit airy space is perfect to cozy up over a glass of natural wine and taste a newly added dish, like fried sardines with garlic saffron dipping sauce, or stick to mainstays like the always comforting steak frites and duck confit.
“You can make this place what you want,” boasts Etinosa Emokpae, South Philly resident, sommelier, and Skurnik Wine & Spirits sales rep. There’s no shortage of seating options to fit your mood: Sit up at the front bar and play dealer’s choice with the bartender, pull up at the center communal high-top to eye what others are eating, or tuck away in a back corner booth for welcome solace. If you’re up for dinner part deux, head upstairs to sister wine bar, Le Caveau, to snack on traditional French hot dogs (sub American rolls for a baguette), charcuterie, and of course — drink more wine while bopping to French disco.
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Dinner at a dive bar should be on everyone’s “must-do” list. Head to West Philly to eat at Gojjo, reminiscent of a ‘70s East African outpost with neon signs, wood panel walls, and where older neighborhood men debate politics in their Sunday best. The kitsch is only one reason to return to the Ethiopian bar and restaurant. Here, bold spices like peppers, paprika, cayenne, turmeric, and cumin, bases for the beloved berbere seasoning, flavor classic homestyle dishes from East Africa, spanning Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. While it’s normally a group meeting ground, dare to take this cuisine head-on by trying their award-winning Ethiopian cheesesteak, lentil samosa, or vegetarian “special combination” platter.
Don’t be fooled by this sophisticated French-forward restaurant. The large street-side windows, brown double doors, and white mantel bar adorned with draping flowers often stop people in their tracks before even entering. But this is not an uptight establishment. Fond on 11th and Tasker Streets is intimate and approachable, and after twelve years of calling East Passyunk home, continues to receive “tremendous neighborhood support.” Whether you’re a regular or a newcomer, you’ll immediately be greeted and encouraged to get comfortable.
“It’s fairly often [regulars and newcomers] come in to sit at the bar to chat and make friends with strangers,” says Michael Ringland, Fond’s general manager.
Eating for one here usually includes a small plate, an entrée, and a few cocktails. Popular dishes among solo diners range from oysters and tuna tartare to chicken liver mousse, pork belly, and skate wing: all-around pleasurable fare.
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Savor happy hour deals from 5to 7 p.m. daily at Center City West’s Indian street food restaurant, Veda. Come here early to nosh on rich, flavorful vegan and vegetarian meals. Snag a high-top next to the front window to make Chestnut Street’s passersby jealous as you tear into dishes full of Bengali, Chinese, and British flavors like fried ragda patties, round thick potato cakes topped with creamy stewed chickpeas, plus favorites like goat cheese naan and samosa chaat. Order a homemade seasonal-spice-infused cocktail (with flavors like cucumber, chile, and yes, pumpkin) and move into the royal velvet-draped dining area to round out a typical Indian homemade meal with your choice of protein accompanied by roti, rice, yogurt, and salad.
The scene at Queen Village’s Southwark is an “if you know, you know” jawn, especially during #Winewark Mondays. For a limited time only, former general manager and beverage director-turned-wine consultant Jamie Harrison Rubin stages a one-man show, sharing restaurant cellars’ top bottles by the glass for starting under $20, plus snacks and cocktails at extra cost.
“I wanted a fun and easy-going way to offer some wines that most people don’t get the opportunity to taste,” says Rubin. Attended by regulars and industry folks, “it’s like wine school (with) everyone teaching each other.”
The fun continues on Tuesday “Breeze by BBQ” nights, where chef Chris D’Ambro brings the kitchen outside (even in the cold) for wood-fired grill creations like burgers and porchetta.
“It’s not too loud, so if you want to strike up a conversation with the person next to you, it’s really easy to talk with people and socialize,” says Sharon Thompson-Schill, who’s seen Southwark evolve over the last fifteen years without compromising its classy yet warm atmosphere.
Wednesdays kick off the official dinner menu, a lineup in tune with the seasons. No TV screens here, just lots of plants, beautiful moody nooks, and hearty dishes. Start with the ‘nduja croquettes with blistered shishito aioli or the warm bread basket (pro-tip: take some home), then progress to the delicate pillows of sweet potato gnocchi with braised dandelion greens in a creamy pecorino sauce sprinkled with sesame seed breadcrumb.
Sicily, seafood, and splurges are on the menu at the critically acclaimed Irwin’s inside South Philly’s BOK Building. The pescatarian “nonna cooking” style menu by chef Michael Vincent Ferreri is a stunner from start to finish. Grilled, salted bread with salsa verde is an off-menu starter worth hoarding before your meal even begins. Whole-roasted fish of the day with citrus is a summer benchmark. Pasta is always the correct choice, especially when you can opt for a half or full portion, or you can upgrade to greater head-turners like swordfish milanese, two cornmeal-crusted fried filets with a leafy green salad, and smooth, creamy dill aioli. Be fearless when adding custom drink pairings by bar managerChris Arnone’s team of knowledgeable bartenders, which could mean sending you off with an amaro nightcap. You might run up a hefty bill at the end, but the experience is worth the money.
» READ MORE: Irwin’s Sicilian flavors and grand city views make it a destination restaurant
Fairmount’s Bar Hygge (pronounced “huu-guh”) takes comfort and space seriously.
“You can grab a table all by yourself. You don’t need to talk to anyone!” says Bar Hygge partner Stewart Keener, who’s seen an uptick in people requesting tables for one.
Bookworms looking to have dinner and read; AirBnB travelers in search of local knowledge; and those who’d prefer more space than a bar stool are common. Chef Chris Reed’s locally-sourced and seasonal charcuterie boards change often, while he adapts his menu to available ingredients, whipping up contemporary dishes from scratch and minimizing food waste wherever possible. Try the smoked bluefish dip board, a bright dish with crème fraîche , horseradish, trout roe, and chives. The roasted whole head of cauliflower with housemade tahini, preserved Meyer lemon, and pistachios is an impressive entree for one. Finish your meal off with the limoncello custard tart for dessert.
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