Whether you’re traveling alone on business, taking a lunch break by yourself, or simply seeking a bit of solitude, there’s no reason why a party of one can’t still be a party.
In this final installment of our dining alone series (our others explored Beijing, New York City, and London), we’re pointing the way to Washington, DC eateries where the food and the scene are not to be missed and where you won’t feel the slightest bit awkward going at it as a lone wolf.
When you think about dining in Washington, DC, you might picture groups of suited politicos sealing deals over extravagant meals. And while the city's most elite restaurants certainly do host posses of power brokers, its burgeoning hip renaissance has spawned a cool, foodie scene where the grub is of more consequence than the glad-handing.
At these tasty spots, you might still spot cadres of political kingpins—but you won't feel out of place if you're not dining with a legislative quorum. At these spots, the bar and counter seats are welcome to solo parties, and showing up by yourself can in fact be a bonus, as you'll secure a seat sooner than couples and groups. Plus, you'll leave yourself open to some great conversations with staff and fellow patrons—maybe even a Hill luminary or two among them.
The upper crust of the Capitol Hill set flock to this restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental for French-inflected New American fare from a James Beard award-winning chef. While the multi-course tasting menus in the main dining room are pretty lavish, the slick bar offers pared-down (yet still dazzling) three-course tasting menus for almost half the price—perfect for enjoying solo. Think crispy shoat (i.e., young pig) belly, roast monkfish bourguignon, and delicious Mexican chocolate tarts with dulce de leche. The bartenders and other diners and drinkers make for congenial conversation partners if you’re looking for some company.
This classic American saloon chain is hardly part of the trendy foodie wave—it's been serving up burgers and beer to Washingtonians since the 1960s—but that actually makes it all the more appealing for lone diners. The bars draw a convivial, low-key crowd of students and young professionals, so grab a stool and you'll blend right in. The food is solid (even if it's not the most "foodie"), and the atmosphere of this local institution (the Georgetown location is the original) is not to be missed.
3. Little Serow
You'll be glad you're just a party of one when you see how many couples and groups are on the waitlist at this über-popular Northern Thai restaurant with a no-reservations policy. Vying for a solo counter seat means you may actually get in within an hour (just maybe)! And don’t worry: The chef won't cut corners just because you're not dining family style like the “larger” groups there (keep in mind—they only accept parties of four or fewer). Come with an appetite and an open mind (and a tolerance for spice!) to enjoy the seven-course rotating menu.
This tiny, traditional Japanese gem has only 25 seats, so a reservation for one is the easiest to score. The counter seats are in fact the most sought-after, since they have a view of the action in the open kitchen. Once you sink your teeth into the multi-course kaiseki, you'll be glad you don't have to divide your attention between the food and fraternizing. The menu is designed to be enjoyed with all your senses, so prepare to savor with your eyes, your nose, and your taste buds alike.
This buzzing seafood restaurant attracts swarms of fun groups, but don't let the crowds deter you. Head straight to the oyster bar in back for an easier-to-nab seat. You'll fall hook, line, and sinker for the fabulously fresh oysters, but non-seafood items are equally delicious. While you're slurping them up, distract yourself with the handy trivia cards on the counter, chat with the friendly staff, or simply sit back and enjoy the festive scene.
For more information on these delightful restaurants, check out our Passport to Solo Dining in Washington, DC. Additional restaurant ideas, as well as everything else to make your stay in Washington, DC fantastic, can be found in our comprehensive guide to DC online.