A healthy solo meal probably isn’t the most exciting part of your week. It’s not how romantic comedies begin, and it’s not even the third best way to impress an old coworker during a chance encounter. But the occasional healthy dinner is essential to leading a functional adult life in this city. Our guide is full of casual places where you can get a quick, relatively affordable meal that’s not terrible for you - and several of them are take-out spots, so you don’t even need to run the risk of having the first fast-casual salad meet-cute in history.
If you’re looking to eat something light but you’d rather not interact with too many human beings, this casual Japanese restaurant with a focus on hand rolls is a good choice. The seating is all at the bar, so it’s an easy place to eat by yourself, and you place your order with a pencil and paper. You can get set menus of three or four hand rolls for under $20, or go a la carte.
No one ever sat down and explained it, but somehow we’re all programmed to know how fast-casual healthy restaurants work: pick your protein, pick a vegetable, watch someone use an ice cream scooper for non-ice cream things, spend $15, continue with your life (hopefully feeling better about it than before). Mulberry & Vine in Nomad stays open until 9pm every night of the week, and it’s a perfectly good option when speed and nutrition are your main priorities.
Haile is a quiet Ethiopian restaurant on Avenue B where all the entrees come with two vegetable sides. You could easily have a longer meal with friends here, but since the food comes out very quickly, it also works well for a solo dinner when you don’t have tons of time. You’ll end up with more food than one person needs in a sitting, but you can always save the leftover chickpeas and lentils for later.
If you like hummus, then you hopefully already know about Taim. If you think of hummus as the dip you only eat if there’s no guacamole available, then Taim will turn you into a fan. And if you really don’t like hummus, then that’s kind of weird. Pretty much everything on the all-vegetarian menu here, from falafel pitas to cauliflower shawarma platters, includes hummus, which is a good thing because it’s some of the best you can find around. Sit and eat it on a stool by the window.
There are a few different Little Beet locations around the city, and they’re all ideal when you want something healthier than a slice of pizza and less depressing than the salad bar at your local bodega. When you order at the counter here, you pick a protein like chicken or tofu, then add a grain and two sides. We like the salmon (which they heat up on a grill) with kale and broccoli.
Silver Rice is a small, fast-casual spot in Crown Heights that works for lunch or dinner when you’re looking for quality sushi that will be ready very quickly. Besides whichever rolls look good, definitely get the fisherman’s bowl, which is a bunch of different types of fish and vegetables over crispy flaxseed rice.
Candle Cafe is the sort of place where you can eat a burger or a burrito and convince yourself that it’s healthy - because everything here is vegan, and the burgers and burritos are made with things like seitan and tempeh. But in case you truly do want to be healthy, there are also salads and sandwiches, or you can get a plate of four market sides. Grab a seat at the long bar eat some plant-based things while you fact-check your horoscope.
You could have a salad for dinner, but then there’s a good chance you’ll be hungry again in 90 minutes and end up evening out the Haagen Dazs carton until it’s empty. Instead, go to Gather in Park Slope and make a meal out of a bunch of different market sides. Sit in the bright space a couple blocks from Prospect Park and order the kale caesar and the corn and edamame salad to stay. Then grab a takeout order of the pomegranate couscous so you’ll have that to eat instead of chocolate chip cookie dough when you get hungry watching MasterChef Junior back at home.
Made Nice is from the people behind Eleven Madison Park and the restaurant at the NoMad. Unlike those two spots, though, this is a place where you can come in sweatpants and eat for less than $20. It’s counter-service, but the food - mainly bowls and salads with things like smoked salmon, charred avocado, and curried cauliflower - looks and tastes like something you’d expect to find at a full-service spot.
You could keep yourself entertained during this solo dinner by looking at current pictures of child stars from the ’80s, or you could watch guys shave meat off roasting spits with electric saws. If the latter option sounds appealing, check out Duzan in the Little Egypt section of Astoria. This fast-casual Middle Eastern spot serves really good falafel and kebabs, but you could also make a meal out of side salads and any of the six different varieties of hummus.
Technically, we aren’t doctors or nutritionists, but we’re pretty sure the vegetable combo at Tsion Cafe, an Ethiopian restaurant in Harlem, has every vitamin and mineral you need to continue functioning as a human being. It comes with lentils, beets, sauteed greens, a yellow chickpea stew, and a few other things, all on a big piece of injera. There are plenty of other options here, from salmon to shakshuka, and no one will judge you if you sit at a table in the little dining room by yourself.
Risbo is a counter-service spot in Prospect Lefferts Gardens that feels like a nice neighborhood coffee shop, with white brick walls, a full bar, and a bunch of tables where you seat yourself. The menu has a mix of Caribbean, Mediterranean, and American comfort food, and you can get a salad, a bowl of vegetables, or a platter with a protein and some sides. There’s also a great backyard, as well as some communal tables up front where you can either eat by yourself or attempt to make new friends.
This is a Vietnamese counter spot where you can order food to-go, or have a quick meal while you do a deep dive on Avril Lavigne’s Instagram to see what she’s been up to. Little Mo has things like pho, kale salad, and summer rolls - plus less-healthy options like banh mis and pork buns if you feel your resolve start to crumble.
If you have enough energy left by dinnertime for multitasking, go get some food at Greenpoint Fish & Lobster. It’s a seafood restaurant/market where you can eat some crudo or a fish sandwich, then pick up seafood to cook at home for later in the week. There’s also a great rice bowl here that comes with nori, a soft-boiled egg, and whatever the fish of the day is, and you can eat it at a little table outside if it’s nice out.
Considering the amount of high-quality pizza and fried chicken in Williamsburg, it’s a testament to how good Samesa is that we get takeout from here as much as any place in the neighborhood. This Middle Eastern spot on Lorimer serves dishes ranging from avocado hummus to shawarma to green things like a brussels sprout salad. There are only a handful of seats, and most face the wall - but you won’t mind, because you can scoop hummus and chicken shawarma with your hands without worrying that someone is watching you make a complete mess.
West-Bourne is an all-day counter-service cafe in Soho where you can order salads and grain bowls that come on nice plates. The names of the menu items sound a little like magic spells that turn people into California yoga influencers, but the food is actually pretty good. And since you’re by yourself, you don’t have to tell anyone you said the phrase “Over the Rainbowl” out loud.
Abracadabra is a mostly-vegetarian cafe in Williamsburg that looks like it belongs in Joshua Tree. The space is small, but there’s room to sit down - or you can take your food to-go. From the quinoa-filled burritos and Turkish meatballs to veggie burgers with green hummus on top, nothing costs more than $15 - except the feeling that you’ve achieved a higher level of health, which is priceless.