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” and 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.
Your friends claim to love karaoke, but still give lame excuses like “being too sober” just about every time it comes up. It’ll be hard for them to do that after Korean BBQ at Insa in Gowanus - first of all, because there are private karaoke rooms conveniently located right in the back of the restaurant, and secondly, because it’s your birthday and they have to do what you say. This place gets booked up pretty fast, so you’ll need to plan in advance.
You fantasized about a birthday dinner at Carbone, and even hired a TaskRabbit to make the reservation, but he somehow got confused by your directions to “EMAIL PROMPTLY AT 10AM.” Plus, your friends probably want to have some rent money left over after this dinner. So go to Bamonte’s, an old-school Italian spot in Williamsburg with a dining room that hasn’t been updated since the ’50s. The food here might not be as life-altering, but it’s certainly less expensive, and without places like this, Carbone wouldn’t exist in the first place.
If Wayla were a person, she would wear bulky Fila sneakers and a fanny pack draped over her shoulder. But unlike other trendy spots on the Lower East Side, Wayla’s cool factor is the least exciting aspect of this restaurant. Come here for the incredibly picturesque backyard and memorable Thai dishes like handwoven noodle-wrapped meatballs or a whole lobster stuffed with noodles.
Llama Inn does its own take on Peruvian food, and the menu is excellent all around. If you feel like throwing down, by all means get the large-format beef tenderloin stir fry or whole branzino. Or just snack on some skewers, ceviche, and other small plates while drinking 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.
If you really want to do something unique for your birthday, try Brooklyn Cider House. This Bushwick spot serves a $45 three-course prix-fixe in a huge room that looks like the dining hall at Hogwarts, and in between courses, your whole group will walk to a barrel room and catch cider as it pours out of vats the size of minivans. Two cider catches are included in the prix-fixe, which your friends (who are graciously picking up the check) will probably appreciate.
Even on a Monday night at Sammy’s on the LES, you can always count on bottles of vodka on ice, conga lines, and several people screaming as if they just received a text from Serena Williams. When you’re here, it’s very important that you pour schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) on just about everything on your plate, including the chopped liver - which should be ordered “Sammy’s Style” - with fried onion and crispy chicken skin. If you’re interested in being lifted up on a chair like you’re at an adult bar mitzvah, stop reading this guide and make a reservation at Sammy’s.
At Wu’s, you’ll be greeted by tanks filled with giant crabs, and waiters carrying steaming bowls of wonton soup from the kitchen. The dining room is full of big, round tables topped with lazy Susans, which makes the really good Chinese food here easy to share - and this spot is BYOB, so feel free to wheel in a cooler of beers or a case of riesling. When you’re done, move on to 169 Bar a few doors down.
Having your birthday at HaSalon is one way to tell your friends that you are both classy and reckless. This expensive Isreali restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen has two seatings from Thursday to Saturday, but the party really doesn’t start until the second one, which starts at around 8pm. Because at 10pm, metal shades come down over the windows, everyone stands up on their tables and chairs above plates of uni pasta carbonara, and belts out songs like “Super Trouper” by ABBA.
If you’re less interested in watching your friends’ expressions change as they drink overly sugary cocktails, and more interested in what happens when they taste food that blows their minds, you should strongly consider a birthday dinner at Casa Enrique. This Mexican spot in LIC is one of our all-time favorite restaurants, and worth a trip from any neighborhood.
You’re with a big group, but this year everyone seems more interested in “really having a chance to catch up” than listening to Drake while double-fisting tequila sodas. Shuka, a big Mediterranean spot in Soho, has plenty of room, and also never gets too rowdy. Plus, the menu has (highly shareable) options for everyone. Get some dips and kebabs, and settle in for that catch-up.
Your friends love you, but they’d rather not spend $75 on your birthday dinner (on top of buying you a thoughtful, inside-joke related gift). Pig & Khao on the LES meets the criteria for a big-deal birthday party, but without the expensive prices. The music is loud, the most expensive dish on the menu costs $35, and you can share all of the excellent Thai and Filipino food, like papaya salad and a crispy whole fried fish in chuu chee curry. Plus, this restaurant is right near all the best bars in the area, so you can make an after-dinner plan.
Back in 2012, Gwyneth Paltrow hosted her 40th birthday dinner at Elio’s on the UES. That should tell you two things. 1) Gwyneth’s age, and 2) is sceney in a particularly uptown way. Elio’s is the best old-school Italian spot to have a birthday party uptown, no matter what age you’re turning. So you’ll probably see a few families celebrating someone’s mom or a circle of people with matching blue button-downs, martinis, and veal parms.
You need an outdoor space for 20 friends, but you don’t want a hotel rooftop where the doorman will keep half of them outside for an hour to make it look like there’s a line. City Vineyard is a restaurant and wine bar on the river in Tribeca, and the huge rooftop has enough seating and standing room for half your Instagram followers. Spend a few hours sharing bar food and house wine on tap while watching the sun set on the Hudson (and your youth).
Imagine throwing an illicit rager in your grandmother’s creaky old house. That’s what it’s like to eat dinner at Mari Vanna in Flatiron. This Russian party restaurant is fully armed with doilies, hundreds of framed photographs on the walls, and cushions on the seat of every chair. But even though your bill will come in a floral coin purse, the rest of the meal will feel like it could have happened in a Russian club. A swing hangs from the ceiling, trays of caviar and infused vodka shots flow steadily from the kitchen, and an accordionist is always present.
The Upper West Side has places to celebrate a 50th birthday with someone who has multiple mink coats, and places to chest bump after beating 21-year-olds in beer pong. But when you just want a place to drink margaritas, eat tacos, and talk at a normal volume, head to Playa Betty’s. Pack your table with snacks (like warm chips with queso and the tater tot nachos) to proactively balance out whatever’s happening after dinner.
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. This year, go to Emmy Squared, where you can get some truly exceptional Detroit-style pizzas and wash them down with 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: It’s on the Lower East Side, there are good tacos and strong margaritas, and there’s a downstairs bar that gets rowdy around 11pm. You’ll probably spend a lot on alcohol, but that’s what mid-20s birthdays are for.
Uncle Boons isn’t particularly spacious, but it’s worth keeping your invite list small if it means being able to eat here - this place serves some of the best Thai food in the city. Along with the thick, rich, and generally phenomenal khao soi, be sure to get a pitcher of house cocktails and the coconut sundae, which is in our NYC dessert hall of fame.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong does some excellent Korean BBQ. Waiters roam through the large space, cooking meat for groups on the grills in front of them, and energy levels at this K-Town spot are always high. Waits can be long, but if you’d rather not deal with that, try to book the private room upstairs.
Walk by Patrizia’s on a weekend evening, and you’ll see a large number of people waiting outside. Most of those people will be in big groups, and the majority of those groups will there to celebrate a birthday. Why did they choose Patrizia’s? Because of the $50 family-style prix fixe that includes unlimited wine or beer. The red-sauce Italian food is decent, and everyone gets to wave their napkin around whenever someone sings “Happy Birthday.” If you stop by without a reservation, there might be a wait - but the host will pour you some free wine, so it’s a win/win.
Quality Eats is where to go when you want to eat not-insanely-expensive steak and bacon and a patty melt with your friends, in a really fun environment. Finish your meal with a birthday cake sundae. That’s why it exists.
Here’s a great way to spend your birthday: eat the best BBQ in the city. If ridiculously good brisket and beef ribs aren’t enough, then head next door to Brooklyn Crab and play a few games of corn hole.
It’s possible the birthday dinner may involve at least one person with strong opinions about eating formerly-living creatures. Rather than making them feel bad or allowing them to pick a place that puts amaranth brittle on half the entrees, reserve a table at Modern Love. This Williamsburg spot is entirely vegan, but their versions of global comfort foods, like BBQ cauliflower wings and Caribbean jerk tofu, are as filling and delicious as traditional versions around the city.
You can think of Lil Frankies as the birthday capital of the East Village. It’s always full of groups drinking wine and passing plates of spaghetti limone, roasted eggplant, and margherita pizza. They’ll even let you book a table online for your group of 20. But just know that it’s cash-only.
Maybe you’re looking for less of a sit-down dinner, and more of an open house, come-and-go-as-you-please situation. Threes Brewing is perfect. This is a giant space on the Gowanus/Park Slope border with plenty of seating (plus a prime back patio for warmer months), tons of great housemade beers on tap (plus cocktails and wine), and food from The Meat Hook (including one of the best burgers around).
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 instead. It’s a party restaurant with a huge menu to suit pretty much anyone, but it’s on the Lower East Side, and it’s a bit more low-key than those spots in Meatpacking. There’s also a beer garden attached to it, and it has ping pong tables.
There are a lot of great reasons for Turntable Chicken Jazz to 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 K-Town location adjacent to all the karaoke you could ever want.
La Esquina opened in 2005, and even after all these years, it’s still a great place to celebrate something. It’s hidden behind a secret door in a Nolita taqueria, and it feels kind of like a nice dungeon full of happy people and tequila. The Mexican food is perfectly good (especially the barbacoa tacos), but you mainly come here to drink, people watch, and get a big sparkler in your dessert on your birthday.