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Best Cheap Restaurants for Solo Diners in the St. Cloud Area – Top 5

Abby Faulkner
(Abby Faulkner, WJON News)

Here’s the breakdown. I’m a single girl with a busy schedule, a tight budget and good, but simple, taste. As such, my ideal meal outing is fast, cheap and delicious.

Cheap eats for the single set.

After 5 months here in St. Cloud, I am pleased to report that I’ve found a handful of non-big chain places that fit these criteria quite nicely.

Still, there’s a question eating at me, (pun intended) and I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way — which places are the best for grabbing a bite to eat by yourself?  And no, fast-food drive-thru lanes and pizza slices from the gas station don’t count, thanks. We’ll tackle them another time.

A dilemma for some of us “lonely diners” (an industry term for a solo eater – sad? funny? you be the judge) is finding a place to eat where we don’t have to feel like…well, losers.  While I enjoy fine dining as much as the next person, “Table for one, please” at Anton’s is not my ideal form of confidence-boosting “me time.” (The giant popovers with honey butter are amazing… but I digress.)

So, may I present to you, my working list of tasty, affordable restaurants that make you feel like a winner… even if you show up without a wingman.


1) VAL’S RAPID SERVE

Dinner from Val's Rapid Serve
Double cheeseburger, fries and strawberry shake from Val's Rapid Serve. (Tim Lyon, WJON News)

While this is likely a “no, duh” moment for someone who’s lived here for a while, as a recent transplant, I can assure you that I’ve never eaten at a place like this before. If you ignore the obvious fact that a regular diet of it is disturbingly bad for you, Val’s is ideal for the individual diner. Not only is it cheap, but there’s nowhere to sit. You HAVE to go home, or sit in your car – which is fine, because in my experience, I wolf down my Val’s burger so fast, I’d rather not have an audience. Now, of course, it takes considerably longer to get through the mountain of seasoned fries in the bottom of my bag. I don’t want an audience for that, either.

So to recap — I can order my double cheeseburger, fries and mint shake on a TOUCH SCREEN, pay less than $6, count to 60, get my meal, speed off in the car, and enjoy one of the best diner meals around on my own couch? Seriously? This place is the best.

Val’s Rapid Serve
628 East Saint Germain Street, St Cloud, MN   (320) 251-5775

2) BRAVO BURRITOS

Combo burrito, beans and rice, chips, salsa and a soda from Bravo Burritos. (Tim Lyon, WJON News)

Last Thursday was a rotten day. I”ll spare you the details, but by two-o clock, all I wanted was a hug, a nap, a cigarette…and a burrito. So, I decided on Bravo’s – which I had heard of but never tried.  I had planned on getting my comfort food to-go, but when I arrived at 4 p.m., the place was so nice, inviting and, well, empty, that I decided to have a seat. I ordered the deluxe pork verde burrito, fully loaded, with the medium-spiciness salsa, also called “verde.” It came with chips, I stuck with water, and my total was $6.95. As a fan — and self-described aficionado — of all foods Mexican, I was very impressed with the authenticity, the portion size and the price. Emphasis on the size. The thing was gigantic. Bravo, Bravo Burritos. I only smoked half that cigarette before slipping into the food coma I so desperately needed.

Bravo Burritos
68 33rd Avenue South St. Cloud, MN 56301 – (320) 252-5441


3) CHARLIE’S CAFE (FREEPORT)

Abby Faulkner and new friend at Charlie's Cafe
Me with a new friend at Charlie's Cafe in Freeport.

I know, I know – it’s a little bit of a trek from St. Cloud, but I will drive many miles for a killer potato pancake, a great cup of coffee and the opportunity to chat with friendly strangers.  I’m also a little nuts. But moving on – no matter what you order at Charlie’s, you won’t be disappointed. It’s easy on the wallet, the caramel rolls are KILLER (screw your diet) and you couldn’t ask for a nicer staff or friendly, inquisitive collection of locals, who are more than happy to visit with you or just let you enjoy sitting in your booth, reading the paper.

FYI — Charlie’s has a great history, and the classic diner atmosphere is charming. Make sure you do a walk-through to look all the articles and photos hanging on the wall. All told, I’ve spent $12 + tip in my two trips to Charlie’s, and left with a full stomach each time. I’ll definitely be back.

Charlie’s Cafe
115 Main Street East, Freeport, MN 56331 – (320) 836-2105


4) STAR OF INDIA

Star of India
A sampling of food from the Star of India. (StarOfIndiaMN.com)

Let’s step away from the burger for a second and think global cuisine – Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, etc.  Big fan. So, I was so excited to discover the “Star of India” which opened in St. Cloud’s Division Place Fashion Center right about the time I moved here. They’re open 11 to 2:30 (with a killer lunch buffet) and again for dinner, (no killer buffet, but great menu) from 5 to 10. Honestly, full-on feasts are a little pricey, but for $9 at lunch, you can sample curries and tandoori delicacies, lamb, chicken, and beef in a variety of sauces, traditional Naan bread and Indian desserts.

I’m a freak and put hot sauce on hot sauce – but If you’re like most Minnesotans and don’t like really spicy food, don’t fret – the Star of India folks make all the buffet foods for the Minnesota palate (and they‘ll make menu items spicier upon request) So, not the cheapest meal on the list — but one with a lot of value.  And really, it’s cheaper than a tank of gas to the Twin Cities – or a plane ticket.

Star of India
2812 Division St, St.Cloud, MN, 56301 — (320)281-3388


5) COPPER LANTERN

Copper Lantern breakfast
The All American Breakfast at the Copper Lantern (Tim Lyon, WJON News)

This is my in-town weekend breakfast joint, and really, there’s nothing NOT to like about the Copper Lantern. The portions are generous (I usually have pancakes and hash browns) the coffee is bottomless, there’s wireless internet, and lots and lots of space so you don’t feel like a jerk for occupying a booth all to yourself.  My average bill comes to about $7.00 + tip. And don’t worry if you’re not a weekend early bird like yours truly — they serve breakfast all day, every day.

Copper Lantern
St Germain St E & Hwy 10, St. Cloud, MN 56301 — (320) 252-0672

And that’s all she wrote. As I said before, this is a work in progress. I’d like to add to this list, and so I’ll leave you with a question, “Where’s YOUR favorite, cheap solo meal spot?”

Leave me a comment, or just check out any of these spots.  I’m the girl in the furry bomber hat in the corner reading the newspaper.

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