Background The location and clinical impact of solitary lymph node metastasis from thoracic esophageal carcinoma have not been evaluated sufficiently. Methods A consecutive series of 91 patients with a solitary positive lymph node who underwent curative surgery for thoracic esophageal carcinoma was investigated. The prognostic impact was evaluated by univariate analysis and multivariate analysis using Cox’s proportional hazards model. Results A total of 52 (57%) of the 91 patients showed a solitary positive node beyond the thorax. While 29% of the patients with an upper thoracic tumor showed a cervical node, 13% of the patients with a middle tumor and none of the patients with a lower tumor showed a cervical node. Tumor depth and venous invasion were found to be independent risk factors for poor survival. Conclusions The solitary positive lymph nodes were broadly distributed depending on the tumor location and tumor depth. Tumor depth and venous invasion were risk factors for poor survival in these patients.