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.
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.
Birthdays are for eating whatever the f*ck you want, and for the majority of us, that means eating all of the pasta we can physically handle. And Bar Primi is here to serve it to you. The menu is broad (with options for carb-haters, too), and the portions are excellent for sharing. Or you know, not. Another reason it’s a great birthday play? It’s usually pretty easy to get a reservation, even if you’ve put off planning your party until the last minute.
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.
People forget about Yerba Buena. We’re here to make sure you don’t. Yerba Buena isn’t just a feel-good restaurant - this is a restaurant whose staff has a serious commitment to making sure you’re living your best life. Order everything that involves short ribs (though you can’t really go wrong with anything off the South American menu), and prepare to have a great time.
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.
Loosie Rouge is the unofficial queen of South Williamsburg, and your birthday is the perfect time to bask in her royalty. The indoor/outdoor space makes you feel like you’ve escaped to a very fashionable island, the cocktails and fried chicken are fantastic, and when you’re done with dinner you can (and should) keep drinking at Loosie’s bar two doors down.
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.
This temple of Southern food does its origins right with a warm and welcoming space and very good, bad-for-you food. Concerned that excessive amounts of fried chicken will keep you from continuing the party afterwards? You should know that a) there’s a kale salad on the menu and b) everything is shareable, so you and a friend can split that bucket of fried chicken to avoid the the nap urges.
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.
Hudson Clearwater is the perfect middle-ground birthday restaurant: not too pricey, not too fancy, with food that’s elevated but not advanced. If you’re planning your birthday dinner with a few friends, and are looking for something celebratory but not over-the-top, Hudson Clearwater is a strong move.
Cassette’s space is so big that every time we go we feel a strange urge to run laps around it. And it’s so beautiful that we would be completely happy to get married in it. This is a fantastic choice for a grown-up, big group birthday dinner where you will do things like eat roast chicken and drink French wine. Which isn’t to say that Cassette is stuffy - it’s just a low-key, slightly sophisticated spot that you need to be more than a few months out of college to appreciate.
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.