Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants for Dining Alone in Chicago

Published On 01/22/2016 Published On 01/22/2016
COURTESY OF KANELA BREAKFAST CLUB

The prospect of solo dining may seem borderline embarrassing to many, but if you're dining with shame you're never truly dining alone, leave your skepticism at the door and dig in. Dining alone warrants several unsung advantages: not getting screwed when the check is split, beating out wait times, possibly meeting someone outside in the real world, and being able to dry out wet laundry on the empty chair at your table. No need to shy away from it, especially when Chicago's got these 13 solo-friendly establishments.

COURTESY OF ANI

Ani

Lakeview

Focused on traditional Japanese cuisine that includes sushi, ramen, and robata, Ani offers chill vibes, pleasant décor, and great tasting-menu offerings. Solo diners can order up one-cup sake pours, which is much more manageable than ordering an entire bottle and then wiping away the scalding tears with the check once you see the tab. Plus, diners can grab a seat at the sit-up bar and check out the chefs in action.

COURTESY OF THE BRISTOL

The Bristol

Bucketown

Executive Chef Sean Pharr, under the direction of Chef Chris Pandel, has been cooking up excellent food at The Bristol for several years now, and the staff here always seems to be having fun. Maybe that’s why The Bristol has become a hangout for off-duty chefs. Diners can easily strike up a conversation with their neighbors while seated at the bar or communal table, and happy hour specials (5:30pm to 7pm, Monday to Thursday) offer great deals on High Life cans and charcuterie boards.

FLICKR/ESIMPRAIM

Longman & Eagle

Logan Square

Longman & Eagle visitors can always expect excellent fare, great cocktails, and a serious list of modestly priced whiskey. Additionally, scoring a table here can be a hassle during peak hours, so grabbing a seat at the bar can save a lot of time. The people-watching here is top-notch, and there’s always a good chance you’ll meet a group of denim-clad locals looking to down several rounds of bourbon shots.

COURTESY OF BEEF & BARLEY

Beef & Barley

Lakeview

Beef & Barley is a fun place to hang out at. It’s a neighborhood spot where the staff is super nice and visitors can drink everything from craft beer to house-made punches, while the kitchen whips up inventive pub fare such as chicken-fried pickles, bone marrow with jam, and tikka masala wings. Best of all, you can take advantage of daily specials, including a burger with fries, a Lagunitas IPA, and a shot of house whiskey for $15. That’s a savings of more than 50% compared to buying the items separately, rolling them up in a Persian rug, and setting it on fire!  

Courtesy of DOUG FOGELSON

Blackbird

West Loop

A Michelin-starred establishment, Blackbird has been crushing it like a monster-truck rally since 1999. It’s one of the city’s most-storied restaurants, and its small size also ensures that it’s usually bustling with diners. Not a big deal though, since there’s usually a seat open at the counter, which visitors should definitely take advantage of through OpenTable.  

Kai Zan

Kai Zan

Humboldt Park

Kai Zan started garnering praise for its fresh, inventive sushi almost immediately after opening, which is no small feat considering that it’s located basically in Iowa (aka west of Western Avenue). Twin chefs Melvin & Carlo really know their fish, but that fact is most apparent when you pony up for a chef’s choice omakase dinner, during which you’ll sidle up to the sushi counter and become hypnotized by the maestros as they serve up one tasty bite after another. So money.

Courtesy of MARY JANE FARNSWORTH

Bread & Wine

Irving Park

There’s a loose, community-hub vibe at Bread & Wine that makes it feel more like a corner bistro in a small French town than an eatery on the Northwest Side. Besides serving up great food, it has a wine bar and a small market stocked with good stuff that you’ll definitely want to take home. There’s also a ten-person chef’s counter that’s perfect for solo dining, and visitors can enjoy dishes such as lamb shoulder with horseradish or tempura cauliflower with duck-liver mousse -- all while watching the magic happen in the kitchen and maybe even playing a game of f**k/marry/kill with the chef.

COURTESY OF FISH BAR

Fish Bar

Lakeview

In many ways, the dining experience at Fish Bar’s Lakeview location is pretty much catered to the solo diner. Most of the seats are located at the bar, which is nestled in the interior portion of the restaurant. It makes for a great spot to get chatty with your neighbors and tell them about the bane of your existence: a white whale that bit off your leg many years ago. Plus, Fish Bar’s main dishes and cocktails are offered in two sizes, so those dining alone can sample more items.

Courtesy of Monica Wang

Mott Street

West Town

Offering adventurous eats in an Instagram-worthy setting, Mott Street basically wants to French-kiss your senses. It’s tough to get bored here, considering that you can order up left-field stuff like a pickle plate, kimchi empanadas, pork jowl, and lamb sweetbreads. Plus, you can go to werque on your meal while seated at one of the gosh-darn-nicest communal tables in town.

Courtesy of Southport & Irving

Southport & Irving

Lakeview

Those pining for a classy, adult dining experience without the pretentiousness of some downtown spots will feel at home at Southport & Irving. The underrated North Center restobar fires on all cylinders with solid cocktails, good food (try the killer potato samosas), a nice selection of wines, live jazz (yes, you did just hear the singer do a jazzy cover of a Juvenile song), and even an upstairs hotel room that’s perfect for passing out in after eating 37 potato samosas.

High Five Ramen

High Five Ramen

West Loop

Ramen is trending pretty hard in Chicago, and there’s no shortage of ramen spots putting out some really good food. However, offering a great bowl of noodles and a sexy ambiance, High Five Ramen takes the cake for hanging out by our lonesome. The subterranean eatery is dark and seats only 16, but this also focuses our senses on the action behind the bar, the spicy, complex broth in our bowl, and the voices inside our head. (They’re all the company that we need.)

Courtesy of Kanela Breakfast Club

Kanela Breakfast Club

Wicker Park (& other locations)

Real talk: eggs are eggs. And we’re not going to make a giant deal about heading out to order up an omelet. Luckily, Kanela Breakfast Club is all about bringing some sanity back to the brunch scene. We’re partial to the Old Town location, but each spot offers relatively spacious digs, solo-friendly counter seating, free Wi-Fi, and reasonably priced drinks. Oh yeah, the food’s solid too, and we love the fresh-squeezed juice blends.

Courtesy of Anthony Tahlier

GreenRiver

Streeterville

Among the best new bars in America, GreenRiver puts a lot of points on the board for those looking to dine alone with it's amazing drinks and kinetic action. Patrons can spot up at the bar and flip through the entertaining cocktail menu, which includes interesting backstories about the shifty characters that drinks are named after. An open kitchen layout offers a peek into the process, and the staff prepares interesting dishes such as saffron spaghetti, pork terrine, and cauliflower soup. There’s also a beautiful rooftop deck, but what you’ll really want to see is the bartenders in action as they assemble next-level cocktails behind the mile-long bar.

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Raf Miastkowski never dines alone, because he's always with his imaginary friend Fred, forever and ever. Hit him up @RafFoSho.
 

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1. Ani 3056 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

Ani (which means older brother in Japanese) is the sibling of Arami. The 40-seat dining space sports clean lines and minimalist décor, letting Chef Shin Matsuda’s innovative-yet-authentic Japanese fare do the talking.

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2. The Bristol 2152 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Bucktown)

The Bristol's a warm, rustic bistro (exposed brick, maple-wooded tables) whose Midwestern/Mediterranean menu's foundation is the in-house butchering of whole animals (pigs, lamb, etc) and the scratch-making of everything from cheese, to pasta, to ketchup.

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3. Longman & Eagle 2657 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

Longman & Eagle, the Michelin-starred gastropub in Logan Square, has an exclusive whiskey selection (clocking in at over 400 labels), a craft cocktail menu, and an extensive beer list all fit for the most pretentious of drinkers, in the least pretentious of atmospheres. Longman takes a flavor-forward, honest approach to eating and drinking, and because it doesn’t accept reservations, there is always a wait for brunch, happy hour, and dinner alike. (And it is always worth it.) While whiskey may be king, the regional American fare has just as much to offer, hence the Michelin star. The menu changes often, but expect anything from beef tallow beignets and veal brains to wild boar sloppy joes, chicken and waffles, and a burger that, if you know what's good for you, you will order.

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4. Beef & Barley 3001 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

This is a great place to go regardless of how many people are in your party, and they have the best daily specials.

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5. Blackbird 619 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661 (West Loop)

Blackbird is the foundation upon which James Beard Award-winning Chef Paul Kahan’s One Off Hospitality Group was built. The West Loop fine dining staple boasts elevated and creative Midwestern cuisine through dishes crafted using simplistic techniques and carrying complex flavor. The space itself mimics the menu with a minimalist approach to design and stark whites to boost its already vibrant energy. The cocktail and wine lists are well-rounded, thoughtful, and complementary to the menu. Blackbird is open -- and bustling -- for lunch Monday through Friday, and reserves its focus for the highly sought-after reservations on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

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6. Kai Zan 2557 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Humboldt Park)

With precision and technique, brothers Melvin and Carlo Vizconde create non-traditional, neighborhood izakaya at Humboldt Park’s Kai Zan. The sophisticated Japanese-style dishes and marble countertops -- where you can watch the mesmerizing knife skills in action -- are antithetical to the restaurant’s unpretentious, inviting atmosphere. Kai Zan is a 22-seat space on West Chicago Ave., where the seats fill up fast, no small thanks to the playful, composed dishes -- like oyster and uni shooters served in ponzu sauce and topped with a quail egg and caviar -- and $50 omakase menu.

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7. Bread & Wine 3732 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago, IL 60618

Certain the meal they cook you will be better than your Last Supper, Bread & Wine wants to make you an apostate from other restaurants by serving up its namesakes and then some, which they're doing in a snug, 60-seat bistro space sporting a counter view of the open kitchen, and rough-cut communal tables made from felled elm (hopefully none of your fellow diners turn out to be a nightmare).

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8. Fish Bar 2956 N Sheffield Ave, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

DMK's seafood concept, with outposts in Lakeview and Navy Pier, reimagines the quintessential seafood shack by taking inspiration from both New Orleans and New England. Expect east and west coast oysters, lobster rolls, po' boys, and gumbo, plus s'mores and oyster shooters and cocktails. The Lakeview location has bar and booth seating, as well as a seasonal patio.

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9. Mott St 1401 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622 (Wicker Park)

Tucked away in an unassuming red brick storefront in Wicker Park, this vaguely Asian restaurant from the Ruxbin crew serves an eclectic menu of family-style plates inspired by the comfort food cravings of the restaurant team. Mott St truly does cook up a little bit of everything, from steamed pork dumplings and soy-glazed wings to congee and udon. If small plates aren't for you (we get it, sometimes you just want an entrée all to yourself), then perhaps the double chuck patty Mott Burger is. The restaurant's communal tables fit all too well with the tapas-like menu.

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10. Southport & Irving 4004 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

This Lakeview restobar is a classy corner tavern that serves upscale but unpretentious American fusion food. You're just as likely to find steak frites and a hamburger on the menu as you are samosas and tacos. Aside from dinner and weekend brunch, SIP serves "late-night brunch" menu Thursday through Saturday nights where you'll find a mix of comfort food and hardcore cocktails.

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11. High Five Ramen 112 N Green St, Chicago, IL 60607 (West Loop)

Brought to you by Brendan Sodikoff, this West Loop resto is a cozy, dimly-lit space offering a concise menu featuring both traditional and modern ramen offerings, eye-popping “canzillas” of Asahi beer, and boozy slushies to temper the heat of the noodles.

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12. Kanela Breakfast Club 3231 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657 (Lakeview)

After opening its first location in Lakeview in 2010, this breakfast-and-lunch spot expanded with a few locations across Chicago. The sort of Greek, mostly American menu splits its breakfast selections into sweet and savory categories -- next-level waffles and French toast make up the former, Benedicts and cheesy scrambles make up the latter. Lunch is all about sandwiches and salads, proving that it's hard to go wrong with a menu that includes a burger, Greek salad, and a reuben. Since most of Kanela's ingredients are organic and locally sourced, no matter how cheesy, meaty, or sugary you go, you'll still feel kind of healthy.

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13. GreenRiver 259 E Erie St Fl 18, Chicago, IL 60611

Between its stunning views of the city skyline and Lake Michigan, an Irish American-informed cocktail menu, and inventive dishes like white fish tartine with egg, radish, and celery, and sturgeon with bean ragout, turnip, and kale, there’s much to love about this swanky Streeterville spot. The space is streamlined, airy, and modern, boasting an attached terrace complete with plush seating prime for lounging over whiskey-infused cocktails.

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