Where To Go When You Don’t Want To Make A Big Deal About Your Birthday, But You Actually Kinda Do
14 places for when you want to keep your birthday low-key, but you’re also lying to yourself.
And just like that, your birthday is a month away. But after schlepping 28 of your friends in a bus to Medieval Times a few years ago 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 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.
The Old Place
The Old Place is an iconic LA restaurant, but due to its remote location in the mountains above Malibu, many people haven’t even heard of it—let alone eaten there. That’s good news for you and your plan to trick friends into going all-out for your birthday. The historic saloon (it’s been standing since the late 1880s) feels like you stepped into the first level of Westworld, but instead of killer robots, expect good beer and wine, live music, and a steak that puts any pieces of meat you've had on La Cienega to shame. Also, there’s a private dining space in the back.
photo credit: Wonho Frank Lee
Your friends might think you’re taking them to a California rotary youth club for your birthday, but little do they know, this RYLA is an excellent Japanese and Taiwanese restaurant in Hermosa Beach. Unlike most restaurants that sit a few thousand feet from a coastline, RYLA falls into the Dark And Sexy category—the kind of place that makes you feel hot just by walking through the door. The menu is unique, packed with Hokkaido milk bread smeared with tobiko nori, ox tongue curry rice, black bass in a lime coconut broth, and brown butter mochi cake. It’s all very shareable, which will make bar hopping on the pier later much more doable.
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In the middle of Koreatown—and a quick ride to places like The Wiltern, Dynasty Typewriter, and every great karaoke bar—Tokki is an ideal spot for a semi-rowdy birthday dinner before heading out on the town. The lively dining room inside Chapman Plaza doesn’t make a fuss out of anything, and yet, is nice enough that you won’t feel silly wearing those new shoes you just bought. As for the food, we haven’t had a single underwhelming dish. Noodles are coated in fresh soy scallion oil. Raw Hokkaido scallops—soft and supple—are smeared in black truffle pate and dipped in hot brown butter. The kimchi fried rice is so beautiful, it almost looks like a painting. Just like you in those shoes.
photo credit: Jakob Layman
There’s a lot going on inside Yangban Society, a multi-concept Korean American deli/restaurant/minimart in the Arts District. But considering you don’t need reservations, everyone can order their own stuff at the front counter, and no one’s kicking you out if you end up staying for three hours, it’s a great option for a low-key birthday hang that still feels special. We recommend centering your meal around the larger hot dishes like the sweet and tangy chicken wings and kimchi fried rice, and then fill your remaining table space with cold stuff from the deli—and lots of wine and soju from the refrigerators.
Cobi’s is a Southeast Asian restaurant in Santa Monica that toes the line between cute date night spot and all-out party restaurant, though you should know they only serve beer and wine. A meal here is certainly loud (soul and reggae music will be blasting all night) and you might not be able to hear the person across from you, but who cares? The food is excellent and the kitschy, floral decor makes it feel like you’re throwing a birthday inside a 20th-century parlor room. If you want to keep things outside, Cobi’s has one of the best back patios in the neighborhood.
If we know one thing about our friends, it’s that they have the attention span of gerbils at a wheel convention. And that’s why we like dinner at Tokyo Hamburg. Sizzling stone grills, Kpop music videos blaring from the speakers, and pitchers of beer on every table – this Japanese restaurant in Ktown is an ideal birthday spot because it’ll keep everybody at the table entertained from start to finish. The name of the game here is DIY smash burgers - softball-sized patties that arrive at the table covered in grilled onions, then are promptly cooked on a hot stone grill. That said, make sure the curry udon and okonomiyaki make it in front of you as well.
Everson Royce Bar
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 the best patios in the city, with a relaxed party atmosphere that always manages to match your mood. Which, we all know, will be slightly needy on your birthday. 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 to experience.
Mazal is a restaurant that proves big group dining doesn’t have to be some monstrous chore. The casual Israeli spot in Lincoln Heights has a homey, string-lit back patio, a biodynamic wine program with most bottles falling in the $30 range, and an all-vegetarian menu full of very shareable dishes. We recommend going all-in on the spreads (hummus, madbuka, babaganoush) and rounding out your meal with a fresh Israeli salad, a big plate of couscous, and the Jerusalem bagel toast, which comes with melted provolone, spicy schug, kale, and pesto.
Where To Have A Big Group Dinner In LA
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 in Jersey 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 is 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.
Korean BBQ is always a great option for a birthday dinner, and Magal continues to be one of our favorites in Koreatown. This industrial spot on 8th Street strikes a great balance between the rowdiness of nearby Ahgassi and the high-quality meat you find at Parks. While you’ll certainly leave happy if you go all-in on combination platters, we actually recommend ordering mostly a la carte here - you get better cuts of meat for the same amount of money. Focus on the marinated beef options and then add in any pork dish that catches your eye. And do your best to not fill up on the banchan - it’s some of the best in the neighborhood.
We’ve been fans of this Filipino spot since its very first iteration as Lasa - a BYOB pop-up in 2017. While the interior, management, and menu have all changed a little over the years, many of the same bright and spicy flavors (the electric orange salsita is a non-negotiable) and friendly faces are still there in its current iteration to welcome you for a fun, family-style meal. For birthday dinners, our move is to put as many rotisserie chickens on the table that’ll fit, load up on every sauce and side, and make our way through their excellent and affordable (most bottles fall under $40) biodynamic wine list.
The Best LA Bars For Big Groups
Open since 1981, this Westwood landmark is one of the oldest restaurants in Persian Square with a sprawling, lively dining room that can accommodate any size birthday dinner imaginable. We consider their tahchin - a baked basmati rice cake layered with yogurt, saffron, and barberries - to be an essential dish of the neighborhood, and their curry stew isn’t far behind. It’s earthy, spicy, and perfect for passing around the table. From there, load up with tahdig appetizers, kabob platters, and steaming plates of sabzi polo. At Shamshiri, the party doesn’t stop until you do.
The Best LA Bars For Your Birthday
From the second you round the corner and spot Anajak’s alleyway patio, you’re hit with sensory overload. There’s a row of white-clothed tables reflecting dramatic shadows on the massive brick wall. You’ll hear R&B blasting over the loudspeaker, and spot chef Justin Pichetrungsi at the far end preparing his 14-course Thai omakase experience. It’s one of the most objectively cool dining setups in town right now, and that’s the kind of superlative you want on your special day. Whether you snagged the coveted omakase reservation (they only do three seatings a week) or you simply rolled up with some friends to drink natural wine and eat curry, Anajak’s assorted menus are all filled with standout dishes. Yes, there are multiple ways a birthday dinner can go at this Sherman Oaks staple, but don’t stress, because they’re all the correct one.
Located in that section of town West of the 405 that we always forget is still Culver City, Hatchet Hall is a fantastic Southern restaurant and an ideal spot 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.