One of the questions we get asked most is, “Where should I have my birthday dinner?” Let us guess, you’re looking for something “fun,” not wildly expensive, where you can get a table for 12. Believe it or not, such restaurants do exist in New York City.
So whether your idea of fun involves tacos and dancing on tables (OK - we actually can’t help with the table-dancing), or a relaxed, come-and-go-whenever type of gathering, or something in between, we have some ideas. You only celebrate getting older once a year - better make it good.
El Almacén is a safe choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. Sure, other restaurants have rainbow-colored unicorn cake and champagne bottles with giant sparklers attached, but leave that to everyone else. You just want some steak that isn’t crazy-expensive along with some tacos and avocado fries - and you can get all of that at El Almacén. There’s also a nice back patio, and this place is in Williamsburg, which means you’ll have plenty of after-dinner bar options.
You want to have dinner at Carbone, but the reservations are tough and not every one of your friends wants to spend $100+ on dinner. Just go to Bamonte’s. The food might not be as life-altering, but it’s less expensive, and without places like this Carbone wouldn’t exist. So come eat some ravioli in a retro dining room where the waiters are in tuxes. It’s fun and old-school, and at least a few of your friends have probably always wanted to come here.
Llama Inn does its own take on Peruvian food, and that involves ceviche, pork belly, and strips of steak covered in French fries. All around, the food is excellent, and if you feel like throwing down, by all means do it. Or just snack on some skewers and other small plates and have some great cocktails. Maybe get a pitcher. This place has a good energy, and you’ll want to keep up. If you have a summer birthday, take advantage of the roof.
Quality Eats might be the most-fun steakhouse in NYC. Unless Sammy’s Roumanian counts. Yeah, that place probably counts. Still, it’s easier to get people over to Quality Eats. Who doesn’t like a lively restaurant it the West Village with action at the bar? Come here if you want to eat not-insanely-expensive steak and bacon and a patty melt with your friends, in a really fun environment, and you don’t want anyone to be able to say it’s inconvenient. (There are subways and a Path train nearby.) Finish your meal with a birthday cake sundae. That’s why it exists.
Supper feels sort of like if someone turned your Italian grandmother’s townhouse into a restaurant. There are brick walls, chandeliers, and a bunch of framed black-and-white photos on the wall. Also, the food tastes homemade (in a good way). Get some pasta and veal scallopine. This place isn’t the biggest, but there are a few big tables in back, and there are two private spaces you can book. Do so if you want to eat good, unfussy, affordable Italian with your friends.
King’s County isn’t huge, but there are a few big booths,and if you grab one of those, you can share a bunch plates with the use of lazy Susan (and then immediately wonder why more restaurants don’t use lazy Susans). This is a spot in Williamsburg where you can eat some excellent Chinese food and hang outside on their back patio if the weather’s good. There’s pretty much always a crowd here, the vibes are fun, and it’s within walking-distance of a lot of good bars. They only take reservations for up to six people, but if you can always stop by with larger group and put your name in. There’ll probably be a wait, but, like we said, there are a lot of good bars in the area.
Miss Favela is just below the Williamsburg Bridge, but it feels like a beach party in Rio. It’s painted in bright colors, it isn’t the least bit fancy, and sometimes there’s live music. When there is, feel free to get up and dance. That’s what happens here. The food itself is simple Brazilian stuff like chicken croquettes, steak with french fries, and giant platters of grilled meat. It probably won’t blow your mind, but it’ll get the job done. And the real reason you come here is to drink a few pitchers of caipirinhas and dance on your chair anyways.
Last year you picked a place where the food kind of sucked, and if you do it again, your friends are going to delete your number. Or at least make up some excuses about why they can’t come to your birthday dinner. That’s when you choose Emmy Squared. It’s nice enough for your friends who never come to Brooklyn, but it’s casual enough for your friends who don’t usually do the dinner-party thing. They also make some truly exceptional Detroit-style (thick and chewy) pizzas and fried chicken sandwiches. Just be sure to make a reservation, and, if you’re a big party, try to snag the communal table.
Tijuana Picnic checks all the boxes off the mid-20s birthday list: 1) It’s new-ish. 2) It’s on the Lower East Side. 3) There are good tacos and good margaritas. And... 4) There’s a downstairs bar that turns into a rager around 11pm.
Everyone loves the non-committal concept of tapas restaurants - and they make a lot of sense for birthday gatherings where people don’t want to order a whole roast chicken. But so many tapas places are, like their food, very small, and many don’t serve liquor. Cata is large, takes reservations, and has a whole menu of gin and tonics for your Spanish drinking pleasure.
Looking for Authentic Ethnic Eats, without being in a Chinatown basement? Within one block of a Steven Alan store? Uncle Boons is one of the best Thai restaurants in town. The seating isn’t exactly plush or spacious, but it’s a fun spot.
Did you have an awesome 14th birthday at Benihana? Here’s the adult version. There’s no better Korean BBQ in NYC right now than Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, where servers cook the meat in front of you and the energy levels are constantly high. Waits are long, but you can book the private room upstairs for groups, and if it’s your birthday, a Gangnam Style serenade awaits.
Bring a crew and coat your stomach with very good pizza and spaghetti, without spending too much money. They’ll even let you book a table online for your group of 20. Lil’ Frankies never fails.
If the temptation to have a birthday party at Catch or Tao is pulling at you, consider turning your attention eastward to Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya. It’s a party-time restaurant with a huge menu to suit pretty much anyone, but it’s on the Lower East Side, with a more chilled out atmosphere. There’s also a beer garden attached to it, and it has ping pong tables.
There are a lot of great reasons that Turntable Chicken Jazz should host your next birthday party. The most compelling? Lava Lamp Beer Pitchers. Beyond those, there is also extremely crowd-pleasing food (Korean fried chicken wings, bulgogi burgers, potatoes on a stick), a DJ playing Top 40, and a central KTown location adjacent to all the karaoke you could ever want.
Here’s a great way to spend your birthday: with a trip to Red Hook for NYC’s best BBQ. Drink some beers and enjoy a Saturday afternoon. It’s as simple as that.
Birthdays are hard. You want a place that’s laid-back enough that you and your crew can get comfortable, but festive enough that it will actually feel like a birthday party. Enter Malaparte, a very solid, very charming rustic Italian spot in the West Village that takes reservations (by phone) for groups of four or more. It’s carbonara time.
The essential qualities of a perfect birthday restaurant are as follows: legitimately fun, good for groups, scene-y but not annoying, great food, and reasonable prices. Miss Lily’s gets an easy A on all of them.
Thanks to the never-ending stream of new, “hip” takes on Chinese food, Peking Duck House falls into the category of classic NYC establishments that don’t get the love they deserve. In addition to serving an appropriately excellent peking duck-filled feast, Peking Duck happens to be BYOB. And also not a den of sadness. What this all means for your birthday is lots and lots of happiness. Tell your friends there’s a two-bottle minimum.
If ever there was a time for fancy tacos and fancy queso, it’s your birthday. Empellon Taqueria gets our approval for its somewhat upscale yet relaxed feel and great Mexican eats. Added plus: the super central West Village location puts you in prime position for countless drinking possibilities afterwards.
Galli is our go-to spot in Soho for wrangling a big group. It’s a lively space, the tables are big, the food is surprisingly good, and the check always ends up being way more reasonable than anywhere else in the area. Once the red-sauce pastas, chicken parm, wine bottles, and a salad or two hit the table, everyone will be happy.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys introducing your friends to new spots they never would have found on Yelp, you should strongly consider a birthday dinner at Casa Enrique. The best Mexican food in NYC can be found in this laid-back, comfortable space in LIC. If your friends so much as make a peep of a complaint about the location, remind them it’s your day of birth and they can deal. And if the LIC bar scene doesn’t appeal for afterwards, the cab to Greenpoint won’t cost you more than five bucks.
Maybe you’re looking for less of a sit-down dinner, more of an open house, come-and-go-as-you-please situation? Threes is your move. This is a giant space with plenty of seating (plus a prime back patio for warmer months), tons of great beers on tap (plus cocktails and wine), and rotating food from restaurants you’d go out of your way for anyway, like Roberta’s, Franny’s, and Pies N Thighs.
Even after all these years, La Esquina continues to be one of the coolest restaurants in town. Once you’re past the scary guy with his velvet rope and clipboard, you’ll find yourself in a glorious den of Mexican food and alcohol. Lots of alcohol. Trust us: it’ll be delicious, even if you can’t remember it the next day.