And just like that, your birthday is a month away. But after schlepping 28 of your friends in a bus to Medieval Times last year and sending one friend to the ER because of a previously unknown horse allergy, you’ve already decided to keep it low-key this year. Maybe you’ll have a few IPAs with your favorite coworker, or just put a roast in the oven and call your cousin the day of to come over and eat it with you. That sounds fun.
But does it really? As your special day gets closer, the feeling of missing out on a celebration starts to creep back in. Plus, you haven’t seen some of your friends in over two months, and you know this is your only shot of getting some of them to pay for a dog sitter. Ok, you know what? You’re going to do a birthday dinner. But it’s not going to be a big deal. Definitely not. Something low-key and easy, but still sort of special, so you can wear those shoes you just bought. Such in-between type situations do exist - here’s where to find them.
When Salazar opened its outdoor space in Frogtown, we wondered why every other restaurant in LA wasn’t like this. Fast forward a few years, and we’re still waiting for everybody to catch up. Plain and simple, you won’t find a better outdoor venue for big group dinners in the city. The Sonoran-style Mexican restaurant feels like you’re on vacation in Austin, with a crowd mostly comprised of people in their early 30s trying to act more sober than they really are. The housemade tacos are some of our favorite ones in LA, their big plates of grilled meats are great for big groups, and you’ll realize after one cocktail why everyone is so drunk. They call it tequila.
Pulling off a birthday dinner in Manhattan Beach can be difficult. Most places are either too touristy, too expensive, or have 50 screaming children running around drowning out your friends’ compliments about how good your skin looks right now. But Little Sister is a perfect place for a birthday. The modern Vietnamese spot is right downtown, and while it’s certainly on the smaller side, you can still fit a good-sized group at the tables along the wall. The atmosphere is somewhat upscale, but one where you can get a little tipsy with your friends and feel great about it. Get the shaky shaky beef.
Good Measure is the wine bar in Atwater Village without any of the usual characteristics of a wine bar. And by that we mean, you can take a big group of your friends here for your birthday and not be clustered in a dark corner all night. Good Measure is from the same people behind Bar Covell in Los Feliz, which means you’re probably going to get some free pours and also learn more about wine than you ever expected to on your birthday. There’s a very good food menu as well, with everything from charcuterie to burgers to pork rillettes you can’t leave without having.
You just want some drinks with your friends this year. And some good food if they have it. And a fun atmosphere. But nothing crazy, you know? Stop torturing yourself, and just reserve a table at ERB. The Arts District bar/restaurant has one of our favorite patios in the city, with a low-key party atmosphere that always manages to match your mood. Which, we all know, is slightly needy tonight. They also have incredible cocktails, one of the largest wine lists in the city, and bar food that’s actually worth going to the Arts District for.
There’s a reason we find ourselves putting Night + Market on a lot of our birthday guides - it’s a perfect birthday dinner restaurant. And that includes when you don’t want it to be a big deal, but you admitted to your therapist that actually you do. The West Hollywood space is large and loud and feels like a house party most days a week. You won’t find better Thai food in the city, and despite its Sunset Strip location, prices are very reasonable. It’s also their only location that serves beer towers. You can even rent out the whole back patio, because let’s get real, this night is definitely a big deal.
Breva is the ground-floor restaurant of Hotel Figueroa in DTLA. The massive space looks like someone put a bunch of West Elm furniture in a Medieval Times, and if that wasn’t already your dream aesthetic, it is now. The menu isn’t going to blow your mind, but it has a solid array of vegetable plates, a very good burger, and a mushroom and foie gras toast that everyone will fight over. Drinks are also good, and you’re a block away from Staples and LA Live, which is ideal, because you’re assuming somebody in the group must be surprising you with Adele tickets.
The trick to making a big group work at Jones is skipping the main dining room area and taking over the back cafe space that’s far more casual and feels more like you’re in a highway diner than an Italian restaurant in West Hollywood. Because the room is slightly removed from the rest of the restaurant, it serves almost as semi-private dining if your group is big enough. Which it handy, because you accidentally/not accidentally invited your entire yoga class today. Then go to town on all the martinis, chopped salads, and skillet spaghettis you and your friends can handle. Don’t forget the apple pie at the end.
For reasons we don’t understand, people tend to think of this West Hollywood seafood restaurant as being past its prime. Sure, the crowds aren’t what they were when they opened a few years ago, but unless you prefer waiting a month for a table next to drunk reality stars, that’s not a bad thing. Connie and Ted’s is still operating at a very high level, with tremendous seafood and a massive dining room that could fit as many people as you want for your dinner. And now that the manic crowds have left, you can actually enjoy it all. The burger is a must-order.
Korean BBQ is always a great option for a birthday dinner, and Park’s continues to be a step above everyone else. Prices are a tad higher here than other spots in Koreatown, but you get what you pay for - fantastic meat, excellent service, and a low-key crowd who’s still definitely there to have some fun. This is your night anyways, not some screaming 23-year-olds who just open-throated a carafe of soju.
Playa Provisions is best known for being that beachside cafe you stumble into after a long night of drinking looking for strong coffee and a breakfast sandwich. However, it also has a full restaurant component at night called Dockside, and it’s even better than the day cafe. The menu leans toward seafood, but there’s a patty melt you’re definitely ordering, as well as a fantastic open-area patio with big wooden tables and fire pits to circle around when your friend with poor blood circulation inevitably gets cold.
Your birthday dinner last year ended up being 17 people deep, and Tasha still claims that Casey never Venmoed her the right amount of money. Don’t mess with that again. Keep it inner circle this year, and go to Kismet. The modern Middle Eastern-ish restaurant in Los Feliz is ideal for groups of four to six people, with food that’s both easily shareable and fantastic. Get the rabbit for two, and split it with yourself tomorrow.
Some of your friends will definitely roll their eyes at you for taking them to a restaurant inside a mall for your birthday, but you know better. EMC’s seafood-heavy menu is excellent, and with everything from oysters to lobster rolls to a must-order uni pasta, it covers a ton of ground too. Prices are reasonable, and its central Koreatown location puts you right in the middle of the neighborhood’s best nightlife.
At this point, getting a big table at Gjelina and Felix is a lost cause, so just do what we do and go to Salt Air instead. The underrated seafood spot right on Abbot Kinney has a great semi-private room in the back, with a big long table and walls plastered with maps for your one friend who corrects everyone on their geography. Your best route to success here is to go heavy on appetizers and small plates for the table..
Located in that section of town West of the 405 that you always forget is still Culver City, Hatchet Hall tends to get lost in the shuffle. But this Southern restaurant is perfect for when you want your birthday dinner to be just a little bit fancier this year. The space itself is big, with an outdoor patio, a private dining room, and the overall feeling that you’re in a governor’s lake house in Georgia. Despite its mostly Southern menu, the food isn’t so heavy that you won’t be able to grab a drink after. Which is good news, because there’s a hidden speakeasy in the back.