Dining Solo

Dining solo doesn’t have to feel lonely. Just choose the right restaurant

All food-loving grownups eventually will have to skip the drive-through and dine alone. That’s right. You. In a restaurant. By yourself. Those soloing for the first time may feel a little trepidation. First, there’s the question of being stared at, and not in a good way. Then there’s the tricky problem of what to do with your gaze. Look straight ahead? At your fingernails? Read the ingredients on the Splenda packet? There’s no reason not to enjoy the experience. A good book, a bit of attitude, and the right restaurant can make the difference between feeling awkward and a solitary confidence others will envy.   

1.  Café Beau Soleil at American Rag
For those who aren’t ready to be alone, dogs—everyone’s best friend—are welcome on the patio, right, of this Fashion Island eatery. If you’re still not comfortable with the idea of a table for one, or if your pup isn’t restaurant ready, arrive before the lunch rush, bring a newspaper, and tuck into one of the cozy bedlike couches. Order an enormous cup of the dark-roast house coffee, an outstanding croque monsieur, and imagine yourself at a Paris café. 953 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, 949-640-4402, cafebeausoleil.net.

2.  Taco Mesa
Waiting for a meal often can lead to self-conscious moments, but here you order at the counter and the food comes quickly. Also, the friendly, sometimes chatty service makes one feel as if she’s among friends. All four O.C. locations have a salsa bar complete with carrot escabeche and an assortment of sauces ranging from warm to incendiary. So, if waiting alone for your food is too much, you can busy yourself gathering condiments. Lone diner plus: Pile on the chilies and onions. Who’s to complain? 3533 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, 714-633-3922; other locations in Costa Mesa, Mission Viejo, and Ladera Ranchtacomesa.net.

3.  The Counter
One of the perks of solitary dining is that you don’t have to dress to impress. Even if you don’t put much thought into your attire, at least your burger will be well dressed. The menu at this somewhat retro burger joint is a do-it-yourself compendium of offerings—more than 300,000 burger combinations are advertised. An advantage for the single diner? No distracting small talk while you decide between horseradish cheddar or jalapeño jack cheese. 6416 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, 949-336-7272; and 1104 Westcliff Plaza, Newport Beach, 949-642-0700thecounterburger.com.

4. Prime Cut Café and Wine Bar
Within striking distance of the Honda Center and Angel Stadium, this is a fittingly masculine spot. But, with comfortable dining rooms and a handsome bar, the large-screen TVs make it easy for the lone diner—who has forgotten her book—to sup on two-fisted burgers or slow-roasted prime rib while resting her eyes in comfort. 1547 W. Katella Ave. #101, Orange, 714-532-4300primecutcafe.com.
5. Hamamori Restaurant Lounge
A seat at the pristine sushi bar is like sitting in a jewel box where the gems are pieces of raw fish. It also means your back is to the dining room, and your eyes are on the talented sushi chefs as they form rice and seafood into works of art. But it’s not all about sushi. Hot-from-the-kitchen shiitake frites are served with white truffle crème fraîche, and crisp rice-cracker-coated asparagus comes sprinkled with sea salt infused with citrusy yuzu. 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa, 714-850-0880.
6. Red Chair Lounge
One of the dangers of dining alone is the fear of clumsy pickup artists. So a hotel bar seems an unlikely place for a single diner—especially a female—to hang out undisturbed. But this low-key lounge in the sprawling Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort & Spa is a haven. Slide into one of the fireside couches or high-backed seats. Cozy in with a Red Chair Martini made from the house-infused strawberry-pineapple vodka. It’s terrific with the Kobe beef sliders served on fresh brioche. 21500 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, 714-689-1234huntingtonbeach.hyatt.com

7. Tommy Bahama’s Island Grille
A recent ad for a cruise line beckons us to escape completely. That’s why this island-inspired eatery is ideal for those who want to get away to a secluded hideaway, if only for lunch or dinner. Tall booths have the feel of private train compartments, so you can munch coconut shrimp or tandoori spiced lamb chops in private. If you’re up for a little more exposure, the leafy patio is like a trip to the tropics. 854 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, 949-760-8686; Laguna Beach location opens in November, tommybahama.com

8. Eat Chow
Sit at the window-front counter and get a wide-angle view of the alfresco patrons. It’s the perfect spot for those who want to be in the restaurant, but not have to make eye contact. Large salads and sandwiches are favorites; the Media Noche Cubano is hard to beat. Truffle Parmesan Fries are suitable for sharing, but since you’re alone, you don’t have to. 1802 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, 949-650-2469eatchownow.com.

9. Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza
Perhaps it’s the department  store-adjacent location, but the staff doesn’t give a second thought to seating a lone eater in this elegant space. Ask for a table at the banquette against the wall for better people watching. Then order a flute of something sparkling. Continue the celebration with choices from the prix fixe menu. The $26 three-course lunch changes frequently, but always is an adventure in taste and texture. One week executive chef Amar Santana serves creamy grits topped with a soft poached egg and punctuated with cubes of candied bacon, another week there’s hanger steak with roasted corn and purple potato—and he always includes dessert. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-352-2525charliepalmer.com.

10. Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine & Cocktails
Dining alone can, and should, be like a meditation, allowing one to mindfully focus on setting and sustenance. Both are noteworthy in this stunning space not far from John Wayne Airport. Hardwood floors and large windows give it the feel of a plush Zen garden, and chef Yves Fournier creates a menu of sustainable ingredients combined in comforting ways. Recent offerings include roasted chicken seasoned with honey and lemon, and braised short ribs scented with orange. Breathe deeply and say, “Yum.” Closed Sunday. 2607 Main St., Irvine, 949-387-8887andreisrestaurant.com.

photograph by Jennifer Becker
This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.

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