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Guide to solo-friendly restaurants
by Kathie Jenkins--

Pioneer Press, St. Paul Friday, Oct. 24, 2003

Walking into a restaurant alone can be intimidating. Yet, what are you supposed to do if you're craving raw fish and you don't know anyone who likes sushi? Or you're out running errands and your stomach starts to growl?

Instead of resorting to takeout, put your self-confidence to the test. Walk into a restaurant and request a table. If you're truly intimidated, start someplace where there's a counter or bar and bring along a good book. To get you going, here's a list of places that are particularly solo-friendly.


The Barbary Fig,
720 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-290-2085
Nice second-floor room, good service and menu offering hearty, healthful stews, couscous dishes and excellent braised lamb shank.

Birchwood Cafe,
3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis; 612-722-4474
This laid-back bakery/restaurant offers a terrific selection of seasonal soups, salads, stews, pastas, pizzas and pies, allowing solo diners a variety of tastes without having to share. No need to worry about anyone watching you — they're all much too busy ordering at the counter, schlepping trays and busing dishes.

Buon Giorno Italian Market,
981 Sibley Memorial Hwy, Lilydale; 651-905-1080
This yuppie deli has become quite a hot spot at lunch. Join the line at the pasta bar and watch the chef whip up your order to your exact specifications. At night, plop down at the bar or a table in the restaurant, I have salad and pasta (they even offer half-portions).

D'Amico and Sons,
975 Grand Ave., St. Paul; 651-227-9933
Order whatever — a turkey and bacon sandwich, a Caesar salad — at the counter and then grab a table by the window. Don't miss out on the unlimited refills of house wine by the glass at this location and the one on Hennepin Avenue.

Downtowner Woodfire Grill,
253 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-228-9500
If Sen. Mark Dayton and St. Paul Police Chief Bill Finney can stop here for a bite to eat, so can you. Try the fettuccine with duck or the bone-in New York strip steak. Spend a little more and you can end your meal with warm apple crisp.

783 Radio Drive, Suite:100B, Woodbury 651-735-1044
It's a little place in an strip mall in Woodbury, but it's so friendly and the food is so comforting that Duc's has become the unofficial commissary for 3M. Don't miss the wonton soup, beef with asparagus and sautéed tofu with deep–fried potatoes.

2260 Como Ave., St. Paul; 651-644-9116
You can't go wrong at this neighborhood restaurant near the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus. The menu is eclectic — pork tenderloin, sesame duck, shrimp scampi pasta and the best chocolate turtle cake you've ever tasted — and solo diners are more than welcome. And, says the restaurant's spokeswoman, "We don't stick them in a corner table, unless they ask for one."

River Room,
Marshall Field's, 411 Cedar St., St. Paul; 651-292-5174
Because it's in a department store, this downtown institution caters to shoppers, so solo diners are well taken care of. The seating is comfortable, the lighting flattering, the prices reasonable. The signature item is a popover, and you get one no matter what you order. The menu includes straightforward fare like steak salad, meat loaf, potpie and herb-crusted pork medallions with mustard sauce.


FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar,
Radisson Hotel, 31 S.Seventh St.,Mpls; 612-216-3473
Since it's in a hotel, the busy restaurant is used to serving solo diners. Grab a seat at the counter and watch your dinner in the making. Try the rotisserie chicken or wood-roasted littleneck clams with linguine.

Highland Grill,
771 Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; 651-690-1173
Dining alone actually can be an advantage at this easygoing Highland Park restaurant, where tables are harder to come by than seats at the counter. Best bites include burger's, steak salad and waffles, blue corn pancakes and oatmeal with brown sugar and cream at breakfast.

380 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651-602-9000
Find a seat at the broiler bar at this clubby steak and seafood restaurant or grab a stool in the huge bar. Grilled salmon with a glass of the house chardonnay is the way to go.

La Bodega,
3005 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-823-2661
Portions are tiny, and the prices are high, but go anyway. The Spanish-style appetizers are served in a setting that will make you feel like you're in Barcelona.

Hyatt Regency, 1300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis;
Belly up to the oyster bar at this swank seafood restaurant with a retro '30s look and slurp down a few briny bivalves. There are always about a dozen varieties available on the half shell.

360 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651-223-7000
The counter with a view of the cooks at work at this stylish dinner-only Italian restaurant is just right for solo diners and a lot more pleasant than the high-topped tables in the bar. Stick with the pastas and you'll be fine.


Cesare Wine Bar,
102 S. Second St., Stillwater; 651-439-1352
Lucky people in Stillwater — they've got one of the top wine bars in the Twin Cities. So grab a seat — the conversation is lively, the wine is plentiful and the food's just fine.

La Grolla,
452 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651-221-1061
It's friendly, inexpensive and it has a menu filled with dishes that you want to eat — appetizers, terrific pastas, assorted meats and fish.

Lake Elmo Inn,
3442 Lake Elmo Ave. N., Lake Elmo; 651-777-8495
For that personal touch, nothing beats the Lake Elmo Inn, especially if you put yourself in the hands of John Currier, who's been presiding over the bar for 18 years. After discussing your food preferences, he will surprise you with a platter that might include a few kinds of shrimp, crostini with grilled mushrooms, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, maybe some sea bass. And that's just for starters. A word of warning: Everyone wants to sit at the bar, so it's best to call ahead to reserve a spot.

1432 W. 31st St., Minneapolis; 612-823-7125
You'll likely have to wait for a seat at this popular wine bar, but the food's worth it, prices are reasonable and service is friendly. The menu changes weekly, and the food is Minne-sota nice, things like pizza, goat cheese salad, mushroom risotto, cheese plates and homey desserts.

Restaurant Alma,
528 University Ave. S.E., Minneapolis, 612-379-4909
Chef/owner Alex Roberts is always cooking up something special like fish stew, seared tuna with shaved fennel and pork loin with mustard spaetzle. The space is comfortably chic, the wine list first-rate. The lively bar along one side of the room is perfect for solo diners.

Ursula's Wine Bar & Café,
2125 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 651-429-9600
The name suggests baguettes, salads and quiche, but the menu says pork tenderloin, prime beef and bouillabaisse. The restaurant is a gem, staffed by people who are passionate about food and wine. And whether it's a party of one or a party of six, everyone gets the same treatment.


All of the Japanese restaurants offer the same basic sushi. Here are two where the ambience is a little nicer and the fish tastes great.

Nami, 251 First Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612-333-1999

Sakura, 338 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651-224-0185