If you want to have a big night out, you could go somewhere for dinner, and spend half the time suggesting where to go out afterwards, only to listen to your friends say that you would’ve had to get there hours ago in order to avoid a line. If that’s an all-too-familiar situation, then consider going to a restaurant that feels like the night out itself. That way, you can eat dinner, and then transition into asking strangers to take Fireball shots with you, all without standing up from your table. Unless, as is common at a few spots on this guide, you want to dance on top of it. So the next time you want to stay out past your usual bedtime, but you don’t want dinner to just feel like an inconvenient prelude to going out after, check out one of these 12 spots.
Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse
When you walk into Sammy’s, a classic Jewish/Eastern European spot on the Lower East Side, you’re likely to see two things on every table. One is a pitcher of schmaltz (rendered chicken fat), and the other is a bottle of vodka sitting in a frozen block of ice. These two items should give you a pretty good sense for your night ahead. You should pour schmaltz on just about everything, especially the chopped liver - get it with fried onion and crispy chicken skin (“Sammy’s Style”) - it’s the best thing here. As all of the groups celebrating birthdays and breakups make their way through their bottles of vodka, the space transforms into what seems like an adult bar mitzvah, with conga lines, people being lifted up on chairs, and everyone dancing.
At around 10pm at HaSalon, the servers pull metal shades down over the windows, the lights dim, and a DJ changes the music from background classical to loud Top 40. This is everyone’s cue, and within seconds, people will be dancing on tables. This Israeli spot in Hell’s Kitchen is a good option when you want to have dinner and then party past midnight without getting up from your table. Before that, you can eat food (from the chef behind Miznon) that’s high in production value, like a single pici noodle that’s 12-feet long, and while everything is enjoyable, it’s also very expensive. But you don’t come just to eat $57 hummus with lamb or $59 grilled squid - you’re here for what happens after the metal shades come down over the windows.
We could complain about Tao or even make fun of it - but at the end of the day, Tao is exactly what it sets out to be: an oversized party restaurant where you go to feel like you’re at an amusement park intended for fully grown people. The cavernous space under the Dream Hotel is absolutely massive with multiple levels and lots of faux-antique decor, and it very much feels like something a billionaire would construct to weather nuclear winter in style. Is the food overpriced? Of course. (And so are the drinks.) But the coconut shrimp, beef skewers, and pork buns are actually pretty decent, and if your priorities aren’t more geared toward partying and drinking sake bombs, then you probably shouldn’t be at Tao in the first place.
Just a block away from Tao, Buddakan is extremely similar in concept. The food here is also sort of broadly Asian in a mall-restaurant kind of way, and the space is also huge with a big subterranean dining room. It’s full of chandeliers, and it looks very much like the Meatpacking version of the cafeteria at Hogwarts. While the food isn’t bad, it absolutely isn’t the reason why you come here. You come here with out-of-towners who want to have a “wild night out” but don’t want to stay out past midnight, or with some older friends who want to go to a place that feels like a nightclub but isn’t actually a nightclub (and don’t mind spending $17 on a few perfectly fine dumplings). We like Tao a little more than this place - and that’s the first time we’ve ever written those words in that order - but if you aren’t paying, you’ll probably have a good time here.
Miss Lily’s 7A looks like the set for the “Rude Boy” music video, and there’s a very good chance that Rihanna will blast from the speakers at some point during the night at this East Village Caribbean spot. Depending on when that happens, you might be sitting at a booth in the colorful space eating jerk chicken and crispy fish tacos, or you might be standing next to your table drinking pina coladas and frozen margaritas, or you could already be on the dark dancefloor spilling Red Stripe on your shoes. Even if it’s not Ri-Ri, the upbeat reggae and electronic music here has a tendency to eventually bring everyone to the dancefloor, but before fully committing, we recommend getting one more order of fried fish balls. Not only are they our favorite appetizer here, but they’ll also help soak up the sneaky amount of rum in the delicious cocktails.
Piccola Cucina Estiatorio
Piccola Cucina Estiatorio is a good place to have some excellent Sicilian food whenever you catch yourself taking things too seriously, or if you want to embarrass someone on their birthday. The staff at this cramped little Italian restaurant in Soho flicker the lights, bang pots and pans, and sing for about three consecutive minutes whenever they feel like it (and especially if it’s someone’s birthday). Mostly everyone in the dark room shares big plates of fried or grilled seafood before moving onto personal pans of pasta. And at only $26, the lobster pasta is something to celebrate. It comes with spicy red sauce, huge chunks of meat, and it never seems to end.
La Esquina Brasserie
La Esquina Brasserie is hidden behind an unmarked door in the back of a taqueria at Kenmare and Lafayette. In order to get inside, you have to check in with a host, make your way down a narrow set of stairs, then walk through a kitchen. After all this, you’ll wind up in an underground room that looks like a medieval dungeon repurposed as a nightclub. There’s a bar up front with a little lounge area, and there’s a dimly lit dining room in the back where you’ll typically find a bunch of people celebrating birthdays with hazardous-looking sparklers stuck into their desserts. It’s a fun spot that doesn’t get too out-of-control, and the food here is actually very good. Start with some queso fundido, and follow that up with some barbacoa tacos and multiple rounds of cocktails.
Tijuana Picnic is permanently closed
Sit down for dinner at Tijuana Picnic, and you’ll probably count about five or six tables that appear to be celebrating the anniversary of someone’s birth. Just think of this as the default birthday restaurant on the Lower East Side, and use it whenever you need a reliably fun spot with big booths, dim lighting, mirrored walls, and carafes of cocktails. Make a reservation about a week advance if you’re coming with a big group, and plan on spending at least around $50 per person depending on how much you drink. And once you finish dinner, check out the bar in the basement.
You’ll notice Patrizia’s is a party restaurant the moment you get close enough to see the place. On weekends, you’ll see a big crowd of people out front waiting for tables, and many of them will be drinking wine out of little plastic cups, which the host hands out for free. Free wine aside, the main reason why this place gets busy is for their big family-style prix-fixe meals that include things like pizza, burrata, baked clams, and unlimited beer and wine. There are $50 and $60 options (priced per person), and the food is just good enough to keep everyone happy while they wave their napkins around and drink bottomless alcohol. Call in advance to make a reservation for your group, and expect a short wait regardless.
Puglia has a pretty long menu, and you can read through it if you like, but there’s really only one way you should do dinner at this 100-year-old spot in Little Italy, and it’s the prix-fixe. The whole table has to participate, but for $49.95, you get massive portions of baked clams, rigatoni alla vodka, and chicken parm. It’s all served family-style and while you wouldn’t go out of your way to eat any of it again, the red sauce and cheese-heavy dishes do help balance out the other aspect of the prix-fixe - bottomless beer and wine for three hours. As you may have guessed, the majority of the restaurant is standing on chairs and waving napkins in the air before the entrees even arrive.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Taqueria St. Marks
Taqueria St. Marks isn’t as loud or festive as some of the other party restaurants on this list - but the two-story space is consistently packed with people eating tacos and drinking tequila in some form. That’s because the food is solid and relatively affordable (you can have a good meal for around $10), there’s plenty of space inside, and the East Village location is pretty central. Bring a group for an extremely casual party, and plan on spending most of your money on margaritas.