Apart from serious gluten and grape allergies, there aren’t too many good reasons not to eat pasta and drink wine by yourself every so often. However mundane or celebratory the occasion, taking a solo pasta-and-wine break will never make you ask, “Hmm, should I have done that wonderful thing I just did?” Still, when you’re looking for the perfect place, there are some factors that guarantee success: a relaxed atmosphere, a nice bar where you can sit, and, of course, a variety of reasonably-priced pastas and wines by the glass. Stick to the spots on our guide, and you’ll wish you could do this every night.
Lilia’s host once informed us that the surest way to book a prime time reservation is to call 30 days in advance at 10am sharp. This was obviously upsetting to hear, since we don’t even schedule vacations a month in advance. But we've found that it isn’t too hard to finagle a bar seat by showing up ready to wait or by calling on the early side of the day you'd like to go. (And we firmly believe the bar area is the most idyllic spot in the house.) Order the sheep's milk cheese filled agnolotti, also known as Lilia’s Nobel Pasta Prize. It’s the dish most people order, and there's a good reason why. Glossy tubes are filled to the gills with uniformly smooth sheep’s milk, sitting in a honey-saffron butter sauce. The whole thing tastes earthy somehow. Consider this the glamping of pastas.
Between the green-and-white tiled floors, globe lights, and tables filled with flowery ceramic bowls of mushroom pappardelle and spinach-ricotta ravioli, River Deli has all the usual charms of an aspirational neighborhood corner spot. We especially like coming to this Brooklyn Heights Sardinian-Italian restaurant for a glass of wine and some lasagna at the bar. Another good idea: Stop in for a negroni and some olives while you try to remember if the woman sitting near the door is Emily Mortimer or Rachel Weisz.
It's possible you wish you were in Italy this very second. Maybe because you studied abroad there and fell in love with a person on a moped. Or maybe because you recently watched a History Channel show about Florence and fell in love with a person on a moped. Regardless, eating pasta and drinking wine by yourself at Altro Paradiso’s bar is another way to continue this fantasy. The menu rotates through four or five pasta options, all of which can be ordered as half-portions.
The menu at this casual neighborhood Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side lets you customize your sauce and type of pasta. If you pick the creamy vodka sauce, you’re guaranteed to have a very good meal. The only catch is that other people in the neighborhood will have the same idea as you (it gets pretty crowded here), so we recommend coming on the early side or calling ahead and asking if there are any spaces open. There isn't a dedicated bar area for you to sit at solo, but the atmosphere is casual enough that you won't feel weird eating alone at a table in the dining room.
This is an upscale neighborhood place in Harlem where you can sit and pretend you do casually sophisticated things like eating pasta by yourself all the time. Or, if you indeed already do this all the time, you can pretend you’ve been doing it at a place this charming for years. Our favorite pasta at Clay is the perfectly al dente garganelli (usually mixed with some sort of meat or mushroom), but we also like the the crisped and toasted gnocchi and the chewy bucatini with short rib and parmesan. Prepare to feel the same sort of unconditional commitment to these dishes that Dance Moms feel toward their 6-year-old tap stars.
Barring the construction of your own personal treehouse in McCarren Park, it can be hard to find a comfortable public space to be alone in Williamsburg. Ammazzacaffe is an exception. It’s relaxed, there’s live jazz every Sunday, and it feels slightly hidden from the rest of the neighborhood. They also make pastas that you won’t find on every other Italian menu in the city, like agnolotti with walnut pesto and reginette with pancetta and caciocavallo.
If you’re looking for the whole candlelit-table-red wine-pasta scenario in Washington Heights, try Saggio. This place specializes in handmade pasta, with a rotating list of options so you’ll never get bored. In the past, we’ve had squash and ricotta ravioli with glazed pumpkin seeds as well as some rigatoni with slow-cooked ragu. In case the small, dark dining room is full, they also offer seating in the covered backyard. Both spaces work well for a night of enjoying carbohydrates in all their glorious forms alongside big $10 glasses of Italian wine.
Upstate Craft Beer & Oyster Bar
Upstate’s only pasta dish is fettuccine with clams. But if that’s something you find even remotely exciting, you should make this place a priority. (We’ve been coming back for this pasta for years.) Just know that you’ll probably be tempted by some oysters. This East Village spot can get pretty packed during the early evenings, but after Happy Hour, when things quiet down a bit, it’s usually not too hard to squeeze in a party of one at the bar. Plus, they give you a little piece of pound cake at the end of your meal.
If you spend time in the Clinton Hill/Fort Greene area, we highly recommend this place for a solo meal. It has a nice bar and a pretty long menu of pastas to choose from, and it feels like the the kind of place where people go on dates to mentally assess when they want to tell the other person they love them. But you don’t have to be on a date yourself to reap those rewards. You can just sit at the bar and listen, which is much more entertaining than staying home and watching that CSI episode you’ve seen a hundred times anyway.
Reservations at L'Artusi are hard to come by, but dropping in for a meal alone at the bar is a good way to snag a spot. It’s possible your waiter will interrupt as you're staring at a person who might be Scarlett Johansson to ask about your order, but don’t get too flustered. All of the pastas on the menu are excellent, and if you ask for wine recommendations, they’ll help you find something you’ll really like at a great value. (If L'Artusi's bar is full. Walk over to their sister spot B'Artusi, which has the same menu of pastas and a lot more bar seat options.)
Another fancy-ish option is Locanda Verde in Tribeca. Most people make reservations in advance for dinner here on the weekends, but it’s easy enough to walk in and sit by yourself at the bar almost any night. Prepare for a very Tribeca scene and a bowl of really good homemade pasta. Options include pumpkin agnolotti, spaghetti with crab, and a dense, satisfying dish of ravioli.
Via Carota is a walk-in-only restaurant in the West Village that occasionally has multiple-hour waits. But one of the benefits of eating alone is that you won’t need to worry about that. Definitely consider their pasta special—in the past, we’ve had a really good pappardelle with butter and prosciutto.
Halfway home from work, you realize you have no groceries in the house, and you don’t feel like fighting through the tiny aisles of your local “supermarket” to get any. Plus, you’re hungry right now. If you’re anywhere near the East Village (and it’s on the early side, since this place gets crowded), stop at Frank for a quick bowl of simple, satisfying pasta. The spaghetti limone that you can get any night at Supper or Lil’ Frankies is technically a special here, but if that’s available, you want it. Just keep in mind that this place is cash only.
This place specializes in pizza, which is why there’s a big oven directly in the middle of the restaurant, but they also have a bunch of homemade pasta options that range from farfalle with salmon to linguini with ’nduja. Plus, the setting is laid-back enough for you to sit at the bar and finally commit to reading that think piece about shoelaces that everyone posted on Facebook last week.
There might come a time when you’ll need to avoid everyone you know, and you’ll briefly consider burrowing through the floor of your apartment like a wombat. But that’s impractical and, ultimately, expensive. That’s where San Matteo comes in. This is a big, casual Italian spot on the UES where you can simultaneously hide and have a great meal. It’s one of the only places in the city that serves giant pizza sandwiches called panuozzi, so make a mental note to come back here when you’re feeling more social and order one of those. When you’re alone and on a mission, stick to the ravioli and a glass of red. No burrowing necessary.
Joe & Pat’s stands out from some of the other casual Italian places in the East Village because of how relaxed it is. Even on a Friday night when most people are with big groups ordering a bunch of pizza, the one-room space somehow doesn’t get too loud. In terms of food, the pastas are the unsung heroes of the menu. (There are 12 different kinds to choose from.) They’re mostly $20, but they’re giant, so you’re basically paying for dinner and the following lunch/late-night fridge session as well.
La Pecora Bianca is The Smith of casual Italian restaurants—which is to say that it’s useful if you need a perfectly OK place to eat dinner. Any of their locations works for a solo pasta and wine experience, but the Midtown East one is especially convenient if you work in the area.