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How To Eat Alone

A few weeks ago, Dennis Spielman from Uncovering Oklahoma contacted me with a request. He said,

“Greg, you are a very sad person. When we met previously you seemed like you were on the verge of tears. I’m doing a video about places where sad lonelies like you go to eat when people refuse to go with you. Because you are desperate for companionship, I am sure you will cooperate.”

Okay, he actually was much nicer.

“With December being a depressing month for some people that are alone, I had this idea to make a video about having fun in OKC by yourself. The video would feature a full day of activities of things to do where one won't feel awkward being alone. I wanted to collaborate with you for someplace to eat for lunch and a place to eat for dinner where one wouldn't feel awkward.”
 

Wow. Did you see that shot? Go to 12:10 in that video if you want to see how fat I am. Really drink in the size of that gut. I do this for you, my friends. And also for me, because I prefer eating a lot of food to exercising.

Regardless, Dennis has a great idea. Partly because winter can feel extremely lonely with friends and family leaving town and partly because I know so many people who feel awkward dining out alone. Which is ridiculous! Eating doesn’t have to be a group sport. And just because you’re flying solo doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy all the amenities restaurants have to offer.

While Uncovering Oklahoma’s video covers an entire day alone, we’ll be focusing mostly on food. Because that’s kind of what we do here.

Breakfast

Not all of us are lucky enough to dine out at breakfast on the reg, what with jobs and stocks and bonds and such. Monocles. You know, business stuff.

But when we do, it’s often alone, because everybody else has to work. That makes breakfast one of the least-awkward meals on which to dine alone.

Whether you’re at a donut shop, a coffee shop or a diner, grab something to read. Bring a book or pick up one of the newspapers left on the tables by the regulars. In a pinch, pull out your phone and go to...I don’t know...some humorous food review site or something.

Even if you don’t have anywhere to be, breakfast is a meal that makes your day seem full of possibilities. People who see you eating alone will probably think, “Huh, that guy might be fueling up for a big day at the office.”

Or, more likely, those people will think, “I have my own life, problems and concerns. I don’t give a lot of thought to people eating meals alone because I am more focused on myself.”

That’s kind of a basic here: People do not care about you. I don’t mean that in a harsh way — your friends and family care about you — but random people are too wrapped up in their own lives to give someone eating a meal alone much thought.

In fact, the only reason you’re thinking about it is because it is you doing the eating.

This is a great opportunity to explore some little diner near you that you haven't been in before. Failing that, there are some heavy-breakfast-hitters that always satisfy:

Sunnyside Diner

Hatch

Jimmy's Egg

Rocky Mountain Grill

The Diner

The Miller Grill

Lunch

Here’s a cool thing about eating alone at lunch: You get to pick whatever you want to eat. Are you broke? Go someplace super cheap. Feeling fancy? Hit up a spot with white tablecloths and leather-bound menus.

Having friends is...fine. I mean, it’s great sometimes, but also sometimes you just don’t want to deal with all the provisos that come with picking a consensus restaurant. Sometimes I like fragrant foreign cuisines that don’t appeal to people with sensitive noses. Some people just don’t like Indian food, which is ridiculous, but they’re my parents.

If you've got the time and the money, the restaurant where Dennis and I ate is just about perfect. Paseo Grill does high-class food for a reasonable price and it seems built for intimacy. Lots of little tables for one-on-one conversations can just as easily be tables for one without conversation. There are plenty of curtains, which can hide you away, or grab a spot at the bar.

Chicken pot pie

Bars are wonderful places for eating alone because there's no one across from you except the bartender and he's probably busy prepping fruit for the upcoming happy hour shift. There's no expectation of conversation at a bar. You can sit, eat, watch the TV or play on your phone and then bust out. Get the cast iron chicken pot pie. It's my favorite dish there by far.

Eating solo is almost the only way to enjoy Nic's Grill because it's not a place you can really take a group anyway. Plus, it's always weird to wait in line with a bunch of people. Invariably someone will want to bail and then it becomes awkward. Go alone and you can wait however long you feel is appropriate to eat one of Oklahoma City's most heralded burgers. (The answer is: a pretty long time.)

Dinner

Ah, dinner. My old nemesis.

Of all the meals to eat alone, dinner seems the most difficult. Maybe it's because, unlike breakfast or lunch, there's not really a time limit on dinner. It doesn't have to be close. It doesn't have to be fast. It's the meal of compromise.

So should you just stay home because you're solo? 

Yes. I mean, if you want to. If not, then no. Sorry if I made it seem like solo dining at dinner isn't okay.

Omakase nigiri

In fact, it's so okay that a BUNCH of my friends on Twitter chimed in with their thoughts on where you should eat dinner alone. My vote, as per the video, is Yuzo Sushi Tapas. Sit at the bar, talk to the sushi chef and enjoy a wonderful meal at your own pace. The omakase sushi (aka chef's choice) is always a good idea, especially if you've been chatting with the guy cutting the fish. He can tell you what you might want to try based on what you already like.

Here's what the Twitterati have to say:

There are...a lot of options. And if you're feeling awkward, look at the list of people who happily shared their favorite places to eat alone. It's not a big deal. Sometimes you're by yourself and hungry. That actually describes the majority of my life. And I run a website dedicated to food, so these are all tips I'll be taking, too.

And you see me eating alone, come say hi. Who knows? Maybe we can even sit together.

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About the Author

Founder and Eater-in-Chief of I Ate Oklahoma, Greg Elwell has been reviewing restaurants and writing about Oklahoma’s food culture for more than a decade. Where a normal person orders one meal, this guy gets three. He is almost certainly going to die young and those who love him most are fairly ambivalent about it. You can email Greg at greg@iateoklahoma.com.

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