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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.

RESTAURANTS

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.

Duc's,
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.

COUNTERS

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.

Kincaid's,
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.

Oceanaire,
Hyatt Regency, 1300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis;
612-333-2277
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.

BARS

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.

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.

SUSHI BARS

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.

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