It’s not what it seems. I’m not turning into a recluse I swear, it’s quite the opposite. In the truest sense of extroversion, I am energized and inspired by people, whether I know them or not. And Austin has no shortage of inspiring individuals. So when I have to eat, and my friends are busy, I have the choice of truly eating alone at home, a familiar but solitary environment, or eating alone surrounded by strangers, where I can imagine their lives, what their worries and hopes are, how they got here and where they’re going, all while pretending to read my book.
Making the decision to go out and eat alone can be hard, faced with questions you might otherwise not have to answer. What if people are wondering about why I’m alone? What if the server resents me taking up a spot for more customers? How long do I stay? What do I look at? My answers are simple: then you should wonder why they don’t have better things to wonder at, you’re going to tip right?, however long you need to stay, and whatever the hell you want to look at.
On recent Amanda-eats-alone-at-restaurants adventures, I’ve learned a few things. The “what do I look at” question can be awkward, but avoided when you’re prepared. I like to try to get a spot by a window so I can get some good people watching in, but I bring a book or have The New York Times on my phone for backup. With this in mind, it’s also helpful to order one handed food (I know, we all love sandwiches, but…) so you can hold your book or whatever you’re “looking” at to pretend you’re not listening to other people’s conversations.
When picking a place, I’ve got a couple guidelines that usually help. Try a coffee shop that serves food or has a food trailer. Coffee shops are used to sitters who come in with their work, buy a $4 coffee and stay for hours. Props to you for spending more money at their establishment. If you’re considering restaurants, many will have a bar that is first come first serve, and there’s often that one seat between two parties that no one can take because, well, they have more than one person. It’s like it was saved just for you! Regardless of where you end up, it’s important that you like the people there, staff and patrons. The staff should be welcoming and make you feel at home, not awkward, and the other patrons should mind their own beeswax, we’re all here for the food anyways.
So instead of Favor-ing some food and watching Netflix like you do all the time, try a solo-dining excursion at one of my favorite places in Austin to eat alone:
Just east of I-35, Cenoté boasts a menu way beyond that of your typical coffee shop. They’ve got amazing sandwiches, salads, and breakfast items, not to mention their daily specials. Forget what I said about one handed food here, because the club sandwich is where it’s at. Also doubles as a place to get that work done that you forgot about that needed to be done, like, yesterday.
Also a great place if you’re looking to eat outside, Radio is home to Veracruz All-Natural, i.e. the best taco ever. While everything at this food truck is great, the migas taco is hands down the best taco I’ve ever had. Ever. Let me say it one more time: Best. Taco. Ever. But beyond tacos, inside Radio they’ve got some baristas who really know how to handle an espresso machine, an array of craft beers on tap, and creative selection of wine. While they do turn the internet off at 5, there are community events most nights of the week, like Bluegrass Night on Mondays and a movie playing most Wednesdays.
This one is filled with a ton of personal memories of “studying” with friends (i.e. using a textbook as a coaster for $3 margaritas) but remains a viable option for the non-university crowd. There’s no shortage of people watching and a diverse, rotating menu. Al fresco dining is a fall theme I’m way okay with (but come on, you’re lying if you say you don’t like a pumpkin spice latte every now and then) and this patio, with its combination of christmas lights, mismatched furniture, and a general confusion about the place, forms a sort of community that any solo-diner is immediately engulfed in.
I’m often found alone mostly during lunch when everyone I know is at work (helloooo unemployed life ;D ) and Counter Café is a perfect place for lunch without a buddy. While the eastside location is a bit larger, the bar is a signature installation of Counter Café and you’re often sat immediately. A great burger and life-changing pancakes, there’s something for everyone. And it’s always amazing. Pro-tip: pick up some Yellow Bird Sauce for home consumption. Some serious shout-outs go to the staff here for always making the lonely lunch-er feel welcome.
Whatever time of day you find yourself alone and hungry, you can count on 24 to be there. Again, this is where the bar comes in handy. The food is a given: it’s delicious. A go-to for the chicken and waffles, but also a seasonal roasted vegetable plate if you’re feeling healthy. The bar is a great place to sit with a book or your phone or neither, because the bartenders are always up to chat.
East Side King – Hole in the Wall
See that dodgy bar on the drag? Yeah, it’s awesome. BUT – in the early afternoon, go through the open gate just to the left, through the alley, and open the door in the back. Ta-da! Get ready for some creative takes on tex-mex ramen and brussels sprouts to end all brussels sprouts. Later in the evening you’ll need to go through the bar, but they don’t bite. Plenty of communal tables and counter service so you can open your laptop, get out some cards and play some solitaire, or just marvel at the mural.
One of the busier spots on South 1st, Elizabeth Street has a beautiful marble bar at a window which looks out onto their courtyard and unsuspecting diners. Go ahead, make up a story about them, they won’t know. This spot is just beautiful, definitely one of my favorites in the house. The bars, both window and barista facing, are full service. Pro-tip: during happy hour, weekdays 3-6, appetizers and alcohol are $2 off.
There are many reasons I love Salt and Time. It’s the place that made me believe in local charcuterie. The grilled ham and cheese sandwich. But again, it’s a place I feel comfortable going with a group or solo. There’s always a spot at the bar, and rumor has it, they have the best burger in town. We should all eat a little less meat, but when you need a carnivorous fix, you gotta have the best, and Salt and Time delivers.
Whole Foods, World Headquarters
If you’re downtown, Whole Foods is hands down the easiest and healthiest option when you need a table for one. Grab a seat at one of their in-store restaurants (shout out to my homies at the wine bar) or fill up a container from their way-more-than-just-salad salad bar and grab a seat inside or on the upstairs veranda (yes, it’s a veranda. Deal).
So there’s my list. If you’re scared, I feel ya. But I promise it’s worth it. So change out of those sweatpants, put on appropriate shoes, and go out and see the world! Are you a pro at dining solo? Any spots that I missed? Let me know your favorite spot in the comments!