Your birthday is supposed to be the best time of the year. People treat you like star-powered royalty for a day during which you generally do nothing more than stay alive. So why then does it always end up being so goddamn stressful? You don’t know where to go, your friends can’t commit to anything, and you hate planning.
While we can’t sort out your entire life, we can provide some ideas on how to plan that crucial birthday dinner. What’s important? For starters, a space that will accommodate a group. And unless your name is Kristen Stewart, you probably want somewhere that’s fun, festive, and where people are happy. Oh and drinks. Lots of drinks. It’s a simple formula, but one that’s not always easy to crack. Here is your newly-updated guide to the best birthday dinners in Los Angeles.
It was so much easier when you were a kid. Your parents would plan a meal at some family-friendly location, and with no effort on your part, you’d arrive to find fun activities set up and all your friends waiting to scarf down food and then go run around hyped up on sugar. You’re all grown up now, but you can still capture the joy of those birthdays of yore at So Long, Hi. This Thai restaurant is huge, with a grassy patio out back, lots of board games, and a pool table. You and your friends can share some excellent, inexpensive khao soi and too much beer without getting glares from tables nearby.
If your ideal birthday celebration involves a fancy dinner party in the charming backyard you don’t yet own, then reserve a table at Wolfdown. The restaurant is in a raised bungalow in Silver Lake, and the patio is the kind of place where your friends could feel comfortable standing up and giving a speech about you, which you’re not expecting but you’re just putting it out there. As for the menu, it’s Asian-inspired small plates to share and lots of wine to drink. In glasses that someone could clink with a fork to announce a speech, if they wanted to.
Rosaliné feels like it should be the place to go when you want to see a Kardashian - it’s on Melrose, its sign is neon, and it’s full of beautiful people wearing flowing things. Except Rosaliné also happens to have excellent Peruvian food. And while it’s not going to be a real-life E! News segment, eating here still feels like an event - especially if you get a table in the back greenhouse-ish room. Bring a lot of people so you can try every ceviche and paella on the menu.
If you’re planning on spending your birthday at the beach and you want to continue the festivities, book a table for your group at Tallula’s. This new-ish Mexican-ish restaurant is just off PCH in a brightly colored, crowded space that feels just fancy enough for a celebration, but is also somewhere you can show up to with your hair still wet from the ocean. The food is kind of pricey and doesn’t always hit the mark, but the atmosphere is fun and the margaritas are great.
You’re inviting 15 people to your birthday, and you don’t want to only be able to talk to the two sitting next to you. If you’re looking for something a little more mingle-y, head to Highland Park Bowl. This is the most attractive bowling alley in LA - it’s kept the same look it’s had since the 1930s, complete with couches and vintage bowling league posters, and not a television in sight. The setup makes this feel less like the birthday party you had when you were 14, and more like a grown-up night out. Plus, their food and cocktails are actually good.
Your friends are reminiscing about Benihana dinners, but you’re a hard no on the onion volcano. Instead, book a table at Park’s, the best Korean BBQ place in LA. You still get to play with your food at, but everything tastes way better, and you don’t have to politely watch anyone throw a knife. The service is fast, the giant plates of meat are good across the board, and you will leave fuller than you’ve ever been in your life. And because this place is a little pricier, you won’t be surrounded by drunk teenagers.
One could argue that this entirely-outdoor Mexican BBQ restaurant in Frogtown was created solely with birthday dinners in mind. Long communal tables, a family-style shared menu, and excellent cocktails guarantee no matter what sized group you roll in with, you’re in for a good time. The fact that it’s all outdoors also guarantees that you won’t be stuck in some sweaty booth of death all night either. Order everything that comes with housemade tortillas.
Don’t be fooled by Desano’s order-at-the-counter setup. Around back, they have one of the best dining halls in Hollywood. The massive space has vaulted ceilings, bags of dough piled against the wall, a row of gigantic wood-burning ovens in the back, and TVs on the wall playing Champions League games. The whole thing feels like some sort back kitchen rec room, and you want all of it for that casual birthday shindig you have in mind. As for the pizza, go for the namesake DeSano or Bianca pies and definitely order a few calzones for the table as well.
BYOB is pretty ideal for a birthday dinner. And at this neighborhood taqueria in Beverly Grove, you can pretty much roll in with whatever you want and they’ll happily put it on ice. Escuela isn’t big, but there’s a big circular table in the corner that fits up to 13 people if you feel like going all King Arthur (you do). The menu is essentially just a la carte tacos, which works well for all your friends who still can’t grasp the concept of sharing food and splitting the bill evenly.
Casa Vega is a Valley institution and one of those special LA places where Kris Kardashian and your tax guy drink margaritas in booths across from each other. Is this the absolute best Mexican food you can find in Los Angeles? Of course not. But it doesn’t matter at this dimly lit (and admittedly somewhat cramped) joint on Ventura. All of your friends are having too good of a time to notice.
Osteria La Buca is one of those places you tend to forget about from time to time, and then remember how perfect it is - especially for a birthday dinner. Too many times large groups of people and bowls of pasta lead to a total snoozefest, but the atmosphere inside this casual Italian spot is legitimately fun. We promise. There’s a great upstairs for large groups, Tom Petty is probably playing on the loudspeaker, and the bucatini carbonara just sent you into birthday nirvana.
Badmaash is probably the smallest place on this list. But if your idea of a perfect birthday dinner consists of you and your four closest friends eating great food without enduring a two-week long email thread planning the whole thing, make Badmaash your move. The modern Indian DTLA restaurant is cool, affordable, casual, and delicious. Everything from the butter chicken samosas to the ghost chili lamb vindaloo is great, but if you don’t order the chicken tikka poutine for the table, you probably shouldn’t even come.
If you want to get all your friends together for a meal, but the idea of a planning an official sit-down dinner terrifies you, Button Mash is the answer to your prayers. The Echo Park hotspot is an arcade bar (and an excellent one at that), but the real secret lies in the menu. The bar food is great across the board, and is ideal for the snack-a-little, pinball-a-little setup.
E.R.B. is where you take the birthday crew when drinking is the focus, food is necessary, and bocce ball is welcomed. The new Arts District spot is definitely a bar, but reserving a table on the fantastic back patio and eating and drinking the night away is about as strong a birthday move as you can make. Think of the menu as worldly drunk food: pork belly baos, taquitos, buttermilk biscuits. And you want all of it. The atmosphere is fun and relaxed, and in the heart of everything cool, if the party decides to venture elsewhere.
If you’re looking to eat, drink, and dance all in one spot on your birthday, Abigaile is your best bet. But don’t fear – Abigaile is definitely not a club. It’s a well-constructed shrine to birthday needs. The welcoming, first-floor dining room serves fantastic American food and great craft beer, while upstairs things loosen up with a full-fledged rooftop bar and the dance floor debauchery that goes with it.
This Westside institution epitomizes old-school Angeleno Mexican cuisine and that means crowd-pleasing food for your entire birthday group (think shredded beef quesadillas and burritos big enough for two). La Cabana is also downright fun, with a live mariachi band (ON THE ROOF) and a raucous back patio for all your drunken birthday desires. The pitchers of margaritas never end and next thing you know you’ll be stumbling out at 3am like a true birthday champ.
El Coyote is not where you go to eat good Mexican food. It’s where you go to eat passable Mexican food and drink the stiffest Margaritas in town in an atmosphere that encourages it. The historic joint is also gigantic, with big dining rooms that will give you and your party crew the room to spread out and celebrate to your fullest potential.
Bludso’s is a perfect birthday dinner spot because it’s big, well-priced, and if someone in your group isn’t keen on eating delicious BBQ, it makes for a good time to realize that your friendship was never going to work out anyways. Also, the Large Party Tray for $100 feeds up to eight meat-hungry adults and we’re fairly certain you won’t find a better birthday deal than that.
Two words: Beer towers. OK, and Thai food. Really amazing Thai food. Night+Market might be one of the most-hyped Thai spots in the city (for good reason), but it’s also a fantastic place to get rowdy with your friends. The Weho location is large and lively, with an open-air back patio that has birthday success written all over it.
The best Mexican restaurant in Hollywood is also one of the best places to celebrate yourself. El Compadre is small-ish and usually quite crowded, but all that means to you and your party is one of the most authentic atmospheres in town. Everyone at El Compadre is there to eat great Mexican food, have fun, and to keep slamming those flaming margaritas.
If you’re looking to publicly swan dive off a table into the arms of a woman you don’t know or cry openly during a Britney Spears lip sync, Tokyo Delve’s is your spot. It’s true insanity, and a place every Angeleno needs to experience once. Open only on weekends, the entire restaurant is seated at the same time and then promptly whisked off on a two hour dancing/singing/sake-bomb extravaganza you simply have to see to believe.