One of the questions we get most is, “Where should I have my birthday dinner?” Let us guess, you’re looking for something “fun” but not formal, where you can get a table for six-to-ten people. Believe it or not, such restaurants do exist in Chicago.
So whether your idea of fun involves the potential for dancing on tables (Ok, we can’t really help with that), a relaxed, come-and-go-whenever type of gathering, or something in between, we have ideas. You only celebrate getting older once a year - better make it good.
There are restaurants that are great, really great, and really really great. The latter is the case with Galit in Lincoln Park. The food at this Middle Eastern restaurant is meant for sharing, from the creamy hummuses (get the one topped with brisket), to the light and crispy falafel, to a rich and spicy shakshuka. And though the atmosphere is casual, the whole menu is fantastic enough to make this place worthy of your third 39th birthday.
If you haven’t been to a birthday dinner at Quartino in River North yet, odds are you’re new to town. It’s great for any occasion, and usually easy to get a same-day reservation, even for a larger group. This spot has decent Italian, as well as an inexhaustible supply of dining rooms - so your entire office can show up just to sing you happy birthday.Plus, you won’t have to wait for a table. You won’t have to pay, either (we hope). Win-win.
Bavette’s is one of our favorite restaurants for a special occasion, but unless you want to celebrate your birthday at 4:45pm on a Tuesday, good luck reserving a table for more than two people. Fortunately, Gilt Bar is right next door, has the same speakeasy feel (meaning dark with ’20s jazz playing), and is owned by the same people. It’s much easier to get into and the food is pretty similar too (including the same tenderloin tartare you can get at Bavette’s. There’s even a downstairs area called The Library that can be reserved if you realize you made a lot more IRL friends during lockdown than you realized.
After falling off the stage during your 2019 birthday karaoke performance - at a place that technically wasn’t a karaoke bar - you want something a little more relaxed this year. Invite some friends to meet you at Amaru in Wicker Park. This is a fun but low-key Latin American restaurant where you can share dishes like chicken skewers in a spicy huancaina sauce or yuca gnocchi with a delicious rabbit bolognese. It’s also close to plenty of bars, just in case you decide that the good folks at The Violet Hour need to hear your rendition of “Black Velvet” after all.
Spend your birthday ordering way too much at Daebak, a Korean BBQ spot in Chinatown. It has a fun industrial atmosphere with K-pop music videos projected all over the walls, and it works for a wide range of group sizes. The attentive servers are very good about turning your meat over the gas grill, which is a relief, because birthdays are no time to DIY, and you’re pretty sure your friend is too drunk to cook over live flames. Get plenty of refills on the excellent banchan and don’t leave without ordering a kimchi pancake - maybe put a candle in it too.
For someplace that’s popular and busy but not full of chaotic energy, check out Andros Taverna. This Greek restaurant in Logan Square is spacious, has great food, and you can usually get same-week reservations. They have appetizers like the must-order kataifi cheese pie (shredded filo layered with cheese, baked, then topped with honey and pistachios), mezze spreads, entrees like prawn saganaki in a rich tomato sauce, and the best spanakopita we’ve ever had. They also have a big patio, weather permitting.
Nothing is quite as perfect for a big birthday dinner as a dim sum feast with your friends. And MingHin is large, has several locations, and is open 365 days a year. So if you’re one of the unfortunate souls whose birthday happens to fall on a day like December 25th or January 1st, you have a viable option to guilt trip your friends with. They have tasty entrees like lo mein and rice dishes, but we recommend focusing on the dim sum - especially the pork buns and dumplings.
Rose Mary is a West Loop Croatian spot, and reservations are (very) hard to get. But because you’re the kind of person who sets a calendar reminder to renew your city sticker, you will happily plan your birthday dinner three months in advance. And the fact that Rose Mary is very popular means that your friends will be so excited to hitch their wagons to your reservation-getting star, they (probably) won’t cancel last minute. Plus, the food is really good - with dishes like cevapi, delicious crni rizot topped with grilled
Green Street Smoked Meats
Remember when you were little, and kids with summer birthdays got to have pool parties? This place doesn’t have a pool, but you can channel the same energy with a backyard BBQ-style get together. Plan to start off at the huge bar in the center of the restaurant (since you can’t make a reservation). Once you secure a picnic table, get in the cafeteria-style line, which moves quickly. Then, you’ll have all the time in the world to eat ribs and be glad you’re not relying on your drunk friends to oversee the grill.
Do you love Avec in the West Loop, but know that the cramped, communal seating situation is not ideal for a group and you probably won’t be able to make a reservation until 2023 anyway? Then check out Avec’s River North location. It’s about 56 times larger than the original Avec, isn’t shaped like a shoebox, and everyone gets their very own seat. Plus, it has a longer menu full of Avec classics (like the chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates and taleggio flatbread), along with a lot more small and large plates, pastas, and pizza.
Thanks to the colorful murals, fantastic hip-hop soundtrack, and occasional live music, this place feels like a party. It also doesn’t hurt that they have fantastic food (with dishes like enchiladas, tacos, flautas, and quesabirria) and pitchers of great margaritas. And let’s face it, tacos and margaritas are a birthday gift that you owe yourself.
This upscale Southern restaurant is our favorite spot to go for a celebratory dinner in Hyde Park. The dining room is large, bright, and airy, and there’s a separate, dimly lit bar area that’s great for just grabbing cocktails. The menu has small plates like gizzards with rice, asparagus with pig ears, as well as entrees like creamy shrimp and grits and some very rich short ribs.
Here’s another restaurant from The Bavette’s team that’s a lot easier to get into than Bavette’s. Trivoli serves upscale bar food like truffle mozzarella sticks and fish and chips, along with entrees like prime rib and fried chicken. The restaurant has the same speakeasy thing going for it (there’s a theme with these places) but it’s much more casual than its River North counterparts. Plus they’re part of Gin Alley, which means they also have a cobblestone outdoor patio that’s full of string lights and is just very cute.
Sushi-san is huge and (if the poop emoji by the bathrooms is any indicator) doesn’t take itself too seriously. And while that irreverent attitude is perfect for a relaxed birthday celebration, it doesn’t extend to the excellent sushi, which they take very seriously. You can’t go wrong with anything you order here, whether it’s the nigiri (order a “San-set” to try a bunch of different things), the rolls, the small plates, or the very fluffy pancakes topped with matcha butter and black sugar - AKA the only birthday cake you’ll need.
You don’t want to celebrate your birthday in a neighborhood where someone could get run over by a party trolley, but you still want a spot where you and your friends can catch a bit of a party vibe. Etta in Wicker Park, is a useful workaround. The busy space has a lot of round tables and booths that are perfect for groups of all sizes, and you have the option to guzzle drinks from a porrón if you choose. Plus, the menu has delicious housemade pastas and pizza, plus other wood-fired dishes like vegetables and pork shoulder.
Say “birth certificate be damned, I’m still 29 assholes” by having your birthday dinner at the best Italian restaurant in Chicago. Ok, please don’t say that. But every dish at Monteverde is fantastic, from the housemade pastas like cacio e pepe and tortelli di zucca, to the ragu alla Napoletana with perfectly-cooked pork shank, sausage, meatballs, and fusilli that is one of the most delicious plates of food we’ve ever eaten. Come here with a group, or just sit at the bar and celebrate by ordering every single pasta on the menu.
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba has been around since 1985, and it’s a Lincoln Park neighborhood staple for a reason - this Spanish spot has great tapas, like chorizo-wrapped dates and chicken empanadas. When it’s warm outside, you and your friends want to be out on the patio drinking sangria. And in case your birthday meal isn’t a dinner, come for brunch to get things like mini pancakes and mimosa pitchers.
Goree is a spacious Senegalese restaurant on the border of Kenwood and Hyde Park, and it’s one of our favorite spots to roll up with eight people and not worry about having a reservation. Order one of their fantastic stews (our favorite is the vegetarian maffe made with tomatoes, peanut butter, and yams over rice) and entrees like the grilled red snapper or dibi chicken. The portions are so large that even if you split an entree with the group, you can plan on having leftovers. Just be prepared to argue over who gets to take them home.
From the guy wearing an earpiece at the elevator to the dressed-up people, there’s no mistaking that Aba is a scene. There are also two busy, large bars, and a huge rooftop patio. But it’s a scene with great food. Most things on the Mediterranean menu are meant to be shared, so you can come here with friends and split six types of hummus, plus five varieties of kebabs.
Beatnik is all about atmosphere, and if you want to eat things like chicken curry kebabs in a jungle full of tropical plants while a DJ plays - come here. This place feels like a movie set, and is perfect for cocktails and sharing ceviche, baba ganoush, and huitlacoche arepas. It’s also ideal for pretending like you and your friends are hiding out to avoid the fictitious Chicago paparazzi before heading to the next club.
Mama Delia in Wicker Park is from the same team as Beatnik, and has a similar atmosphere - meaning loud music and ornate furniture, all of which make you feel like you might be an extra in a Wes Anderson movie. Come here to celebrate your birthday over cocktails, and share dishes like conservas, tartare, or a cheese plate. And if you come during the summer, try to grab a seat on their equally elaborate patio.
Not only is the food here excellent, but generally speaking, The Publican is a great spot for get-togethers, birthday or otherwise. The giant communal table works for groups of all sizes, and the ambience is casual, so no one will feel like they have to dress up. The menu is well-rounded (with equal space devoted to vegetables, seafood, and meat), and the dishes are reasonably priced - meaning everyone can afford to bring you a present. Not that you’re expecting one or anything.
Some spots are good for celebratory groups without being obvious about it - meaning they aren’t full of giant tables, neon signs you’ll want to take pictures under, or crowds of people holding gift bags waiting for their tables. Ema is one of those spots. Its menu of affordable Mediterranean small plates is designed for sharing, and there are plenty of round tables that can easily seat mid-sized groups. It is a total sleeper birthday spot, and also sparkler-free.
Daisies is a moderately upscale farm-to-table spot in Logan Square. And it’s the kind of place where your server will let you know not only where your lettuce came from, but its entire origin story, including when its birthday is, too. The menu here is mainly vegetable- and pasta-focused, but there are also appetizers like chips and onion dip (which is a must-order). Daisies pops up frequently on people’s “I’ve been meaning to go there” lists, so when you suggest it to your friends, it’s basically like a birthday present to them.