You’re reading this (we assume) because you or someone you know is turning 50, and you need the perfect place to celebrate. You want an impressive, fun atmosphere, but also excellent food - because you aren’t necessarily going to head to a bar after dinner and drink tequila until you forget what you ate. Here are 17 places that check the above boxes. Pick one, then go eat pasta, fancy tacos, or a tasting menu with a bunch of people you still enjoy talking to.
Il Buco has been open for several decades, so there’s a good chance you’ve heard people say things like, “You should really go to Il Buco.” Those people were right. It’s still in the same former-antique-store space on Bond Street, and it might even remind you of the days when this neighborhood wasn’t full of tourists trying to figure out how to use Portrait Mode. Bring a small group and eat excellent Italian food in the dimly-lit dining room, or plan something bigger and rent out the wine cellar where Edgar Allen Poe used to hang out. Either way, eat some risotto.
You’re turning 50, and you’d like to sit in a dark room and share a plate of duck carnitas with some people you like. Go to Cosme. It’s one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in the city, and it’s perfect for a special-occasion dinner in Flatiron. They serve things like a tlayuda covered in mushrooms, an abalone tostada, and a plate of fish prepared al-pastor style (with a side of tortillas). There’s also a private room that can fit up to 14 people, if you’d prefer to pretend other people don’t exist for an hour or two.
If you want to get into Lilia, you need to book about a month in advance. But fortunately, you’ve known for roughly 50 years when your 50th birthday would be. This is, hands down, the best Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, and you’re here to eat some exceptional agnolotti with a side of baked clams and some cacio e pepe fritters. Don’t ignore the other small plates on the menu, and be sure to get some olive oil cake for dessert. Your friends are very nice people and they care about you, but they probably won’t bake a better cake.
If what you want more than anything is to sit in a big space near Central Park and eat something you couldn’t afford when you were 25, Marea is a very good choice. You can do a four-course prix fixe here for $117, or you can just order a la carte. Either way, you will most likely wind up eating some very good pasta and a variety of things that used to live in the ocean (there’s lots of seafood on the menu).
Cote is an upscale Korean barbecue place in Flatiron, and it’s perfect when you want to have a unique experience without spending an insane amount of money. The space is dark and sleek, with high ceilings and neon signs, and it looks kind of like an upscale lounge that happens to have a grill on every table. For $52 per person you can do the Butcher’s Feast, which involves several steakhouse-quality cuts of meat and lots of little sides. Your server will cook everything in the middle of your table while your dining partners take turns talking about how much they appreciate you, and you enjoy several excellent cocktails.
Fancy Midtown restaurants tend to feel like they were created exclusively for finance types and attorneys who have achieved the title of “partner,” but The Grill is a genuinely worthwhile experience even if you don’t fall into either of those categories. With its white tablecloths and massive dining room, it’s definitely on the fancier side - but it also feels a little like dinner theater, without being at all corny. The space is designed to look like a restaurant where a 1960s ad exec would have an anniversary dinner, and there’s both a prime rib cart and a duck press that servers operate tableside.
Frenchette essentially feels like Balthazar’s younger sibling, and while it is a trendy downtown restaurant, you aren’t going to find a bunch of 23-year-olds drinking their body weight in vodka here. What you will find is a dining room with big red booths, a not-quite-traditional French menu, and a natural-wine-focused wine list. The duck frites is a signature dish, but the lobster is what we personally want to be eating on our birthdays. Reservations can be tough, so set a reminder for yourself 30 days in advance.
I Sodi is a great option for a quieter birthday dinner, and if you haven’t been here yet, it’s also a good spot to check off your list before leaving the city to fulfill your lifelong dream of raising alpacas. The cacio e pepe here is one of the best in the city, and the specials are reliably excellent, too. That being said, even though the tables are covered in white tablecloths that you’ll probably stain, you should still get the many-layered lasagna with meat sauce. It’s the best thing here.
The Loyal is a great special occasion restaurant. It’s festive-feeling, the dining room is dark and kind of Art Deco-themed, and you can eat a big DIY ice cream sundae at the end of your meal. Ice cream aside, the rest of the food is very good, and the long menu has options that should appeal to everyone, from pastas to duck, roast chicken, and an excellent burger. There are also very good cocktails, including a house martini that comes with what’s essentially a salad of garnishes on the side.
If you want something a little like L’Artusi, but you’d rather eat in Brooklyn because it’s been your favorite borough for a couple of decades now, go to Fausto. This is an Italian restaurant in Park Slope that could plausibly exist in the West Village, and they serve some very good pasta, like fusilli with a tomato ragu and oversized orecchiette with chunks of braised pork. The space is attractive, the service is friendly, and there are plenty of bottles on the wine list for under $100.
Union Square Cafe opened in 1985. Since then, it’s moved to a bigger space a little farther north and east, but it’s still an institution - and it’s still a perfect place to celebrate something when you don’t want to feel like you’re eating in a museum. The food is crowd-pleasing, with options ranging from a burger to pasta, steak, and some great grilled chicken (you can also do a three-course tasting menu for $68, service included).
Tokyo Record Bar is only a good choice if you’re planning something small (you can reserve online for a maximum of four people). But a meal here isn’t like anything else in the city, and if you like music, sake, and Japanese food, it’s guaranteed to impress both you and the rest of your party. For a set price of $50 per person, you get a series of small courses (including a slice of cheese pizza at the end), and everyone in the tiny dining room gets to choose a song for the DJ to play on the house record player. So coming here is essentially like having your 50th birthday dinner inside a jukebox that serves snacks and cocktails.
When someone mentions Tribeca, we think about the film festival, fancy loft apartments that used to be soap factories, and that one time we saw Jon Stewart on the street. And we also think about Locanda Verde. This is one of our favorite Italian spots in the city, and it’s both very impressive and a little bit pricey - just like the neighborhood in general. As a bonus, it’s not impossible to get into, and it’s an excellent choice if one of the best birthday gifts you can think of is a big plate of sheep’s milk ricotta.
A decade or so ago, The Beatrice Inn was a bar where you’d go to party with the sort of people who sat in the front row at Fashion Week. Now it’s a restaurant, and it’s essentially a shrine to various forms of meat. You can get duck, boar, lobster, and a bunch of different cuts of steak here - and, sure, none of them will be cheap. But you’re here for a birthday party, not for a deal. So get a big shellfish platter and some creme brulee in a hollowed-out beef bone, and eat them beneath a portrait of a zebra in this West Village townhouse.
The Mediterranean food at Celestine is pretty good, but that isn’t why you come here. You come to Celestine because you want to look out some floor-to-ceiling windows and see the East River, the Manhattan Bridge, and all those tall buildings in FiDi where people stare at stock prices on computer screens. This place is located just off the Dumbo waterfront, and the view from the dining room will make you want to write picture book called Goodnight Handsome City That’s Secretly Filled With Rats. Plus, it’s not too hard to reserve, and the outdoor patio is perfect for summer celebrations.
Maybe you don’t want to make a huge deal about your birthday (you’ve matured in the past year, and are above such things), but you still want to have a special night out. Keep Hearth in mind. It’s in a nice, relaxed space in the East Village, and the menu reads like a list of things someone who cares about both your health and your happiness is offering to cook for you. There are plenty of vegetables, a few pastas, and large-format options including a whole fish and a whole roast chicken. If at the last minute you decide your birthday is kind of a big deal after all, you can always go for the $78-per-person tasting menu.