Maybe the memory of having a group of strangers at a chain restaurant sing some remixed version of “Happy Birthday” while you turned bright red haunts you to this day. And all these years later, you still don’t want to make a big deal out of the day you were born. But also, you want people to know you exist - and ever since you deleted your Facebook, everyone’s been forgetting your birthday. So maybe you should organize a dinner to celebrate.
Of course, you don’t want some sort of blowout party with pyrotechnic vodka bottles. You also need a place that’s not so small that your group sticks out as an obvious celebration. But it also can’t be somewhere people only go to celebrate because that’s a lot of pressure. It has to be just nice enough to make you look sophisticated, but not so fancy that everyone thinks you’ve got something to prove. These 11 spots are right in that sweet spot.
Every time we go to Ironside Pizza, there’s almost always a party of 15-20 people sitting at a long table with a dozen bottles of wine and a lot of pizza. This spot in Little River is great for a group because everyone loves pizza (their pasta is pretty good too), the BYOB policy means supplying booze will be cheap and easy, and the mostly outdoor restaurant is a very pretty place to have a two-and-a-half-hour dinner. Just make a reservation and the rest will be a lot less stressful than deciding whether or not you should invite Jessica, who knows what she did.
Los Félix Taquería
Los Felix in Coconut Grove is the kind of casual restaurant that’ll make it look like you’re not trying too hard. But as dinner progresses, it becomes clear that this is one of the best restaurants in Miami. Will your friends realize you actually do want to make a big deal of this birthday? No - they’ll be too busy drinking wine and enjoying the crispy sweet potato tetela, pork cheek carnitas, and the spectacular raw chocolate tart to notice.
If you want your birthday dinner to be a little more on the energetic side without teetering into the realm of a clubstaurant, go to Cafe La Trova. This Little Havana restaurant and cocktail bar is the kind of place that gives you the chance to get a little loud and wild without forcing that kind of behavior on any innocent tables. There’s really good live music, perfect daiquiris, and food as good as you’ll find anywhere on Calle Ocho. Make sure to get all the empanadas.
Phuc Yea is the kind of restaurant that was made with groups in mind. No one person could possibly consume the great lake they call a bowl of pho on their own. And some other really good dishes - like the veggie curry and PY noodles - are meant for sharing too. The cocktails here are also very tasty, and there are some big, round tables that’ll ensure no one gets wedged into a corner and resents you for the next 365 days.
NIU Kitchen and Arson are two sister restaurants that combined forces during the pandemic, and the Downtown spot is a great call for a dinner that hits that sweet spot between fancy and casual. The food, which includes lots of delicious Catalan dishes, will make you feel sophisticated, but not in a way that’ll give you anxiety that you’re getting old and boring. If any of those feelings start to arise, just take a sip of orange wine and a bite of NIU Kitchen’s Ous, a bowl of runny poached eggs, truffled potato foam, black truffle, and crispy bits of jamón ibérico. It’s a top-five dish in Miami.
99 times out of 100, having a birthday dinner in South Beach means you’re trying to go all out. But one of the very few exceptions is Orilla. It’s not a cheap, casual restaurant - but the Argentinian spot is a refreshingly laid-back option for the neighborhood it’s in. Plus, it’s a stylish restaurant where you can get some excellent steak and the only martini in Miami that might actually be worth $24 since it comes with a cool tableside presentation.
Do you long for the days of celebrating childhood birthdays with a stack of pancakes at a diner? Well, Chug’s is a Cuban diner serving some really excellent food, and it’s both nostalgic and exciting enough for a celebration dinner. The Coconut Grove spot has great cocktails, the best meatloaf we’ve ever had, and cakes and pies you can stick a dollar store candle in while your friends sing an off-key version of “Happy Birthday”. Oh, and they have an outstanding cast iron pancake too, so you can keep that tradition going.
Sweet Liberty is for those birthdays that call for at least three drinks. It’s more of a bar than a restaurant, but a good chunk of the place is reserved for tables where you can eat comfortably without people shouting drink orders over your head. The menu has a lot of agreeable favorites - tater tots, a very good burger, and fried chicken. The cocktails are better, though, and they also have the best piña colada in town, which is a drink that feels like it should be a Miami birthday tradition.
There are a lot of waterfront restaurants where parties arrive via yacht and order magnums of rosé that look like small rocket ships. Amara is not one of those places, but it does have a better view than all of them. This still isn’t one of those seafood spots where everything is made out of wood and sandals make up the majority of the footwear - but it’s not pretentious, has some very large tables, and serves some great seafood and a coconut cake worthy of a 35th birthday.
If your birthday dinner is going to be on the smaller side - anywhere from three to six people - Jaguar Sun can work. The Downtown spot is part cocktail bar, part restaurant, and they do both really well. The best dishes here are the pastas, like the agnolotti with blue crab and corn, which you will think about until your next birthday. They also have rotating large-format drinks for groups of four to six, like punch bowls or a martini service that will have you over your fear of public singing in six sips.
27 is the reserve parachute of Miami dining. If you’ve got an occasion where you need to impress people with a restaurant - whether it be family, dates, or friends who all got dressed up and left the house on a Thursday to celebrate your birth - this place can always swoop in to save the day. The dining room looks like a house and will have you desperately trying to replicate it in your own apartment for the next six months. The food is a mix of Mediteranean, Latin, and local seafood - and it’s all good. The same is true with the drinks, which you can enjoy after dinner over at 27’s sister bar Broken Shaker, just in case you’re having more fun than you thought.