The Best Restaurants For Special Occasions In NYC
From a Japanese spot that lets guests pick the soundtrack to a Middle Eastern restaurant that's ideal for big groups, here are the best places to celebrate something in NYC.
Any day could be a special occasion really. Just waking up successfully is kind of an accomplishment. However, some days are more significant than others. Maybe you got a promotion, or maybe you met the person you sleep next to every night on this very day some number of years ago. Whatever the reason, you want to celebrate. Whether you’re looking for a relatively casual place where you can eat with a group or a white-tablecloth spot where you’ll drink out of wine glasses that cost more than your entire dinner bill, you’ll find a great option in this guide.
This Midtown institution, which has been open for over 30 years now, is a well-oiled machine that’s been fine-tuned to perfection. The service here skews north of impeccable, but the actual glamour of Le Bernardin—and the main reason why it's still an amazing place to eat after all this time—comes via the seafood. Geoduck chawanmushi with uni and slightly smoked sea trout tartare—you book a reservation here primarily to get your hands on dishes like these.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Hwa Yuan, one of the best restaurants in the city, is a reboot of a popular Chinatown restaurant that opened in the 1960s and closed in the 1980s. There are multiple floors, so you can pretty much always get a table here, and it's an ideal choice when you want to celebrate something with almost everyone you know. Share a whole crispy Beijing duck at a big round table covered in a crisp white tablecloth, and don't forget to start with the cold sesame noodles.
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photo credit: Kate Previte
You better hope it’s not cloudy when you come to this Danny Meyer restaurant on the 60th floor of a FiDi skyscraper. The views are spectacular, so do your best to get a table by a window. (Mention that you're celebrating something. It can't hurt.) But this place isn’t just about the scenery. The food is New American, and the kitchen combines ingredients in unexpected ways. Chilled cherry tomatoes and whipped sesame tofu make complete sense together, and bone marrow provides a rich, slightly sweet contrast to barbecued freshwater eel.
photo credit: Alex Staniloff
Located right next to the MoMA, 53’s space is fittingly contemporary and objectively gorgeous. The main floor looks like a mini airport hanger designed by a Pritzker Prize-winning architect, and you’ll see sweeping curvy, rainbow-colored blades in the opulent downstairs room. This modern Asian restaurant from the Marea team serves flawless dishes like chicken and truffle soup dumplings and skate covered in sambal. If you've been searching for a restaurant worthy of your favorite fancy outfit, this is it.
photo credit: Teddy Wolff
Like Hwa Yuan, Ugly Baby in Carroll Gardens is geared towards group celebrations. This place has some of the best Thai food in NYC. Gather some fellow bird's eye chili enthusiasts, and enjoy a spread that might include a whole crispy sea bream topped with fried shallots and a salted mackerel dip that comes with what we can only describe as a cornucopia of fresh vegetables. A quarter of the tables are held for walk-ins, but don't risk it. This place is very popular, and you don't want to have to find a last-minute backup on your special day.
Is it a cliché to book a table at a restaurant with a postcard-worthy view of the Manhattan skyline for a special occasion? And speaking of booking tables, is it a pain in the ass to get a prime-time reservation at Laser Wolf? The answer is yes to both of those questions, but the grilled Israeli food at this spot at the top of the Hoxton Hotel in Williamsburg lives up to the hype. Get the whole trout or the lamb and beef koobideh, and be glad you can have dinner somewhere that doesn't just look out on a parking lot.
Most tasting-menu restaurants don’t easily accommodate vegan diners—and that’s partly what makes this vegetable-focused restaurant on the LES incredibly unique. Almost all of their dishes can be made vegan, and the seasonal menu might have zucchini soup dumplings with squash blossoms or eggplant with black sesame tahini. The $90 tasting menu comes with five courses, and the price includes gratuity.
Even when you live in the greatest city in the world, you might want to feel like you've been transported somewhere else for just one night. This is precisely the reason to go to La Mercerie, a French cafe in Soho where you can eat beef bourguignon and the city's best profiteroles in a space that makes you feel like a royal visiting their vacation home. You can purchase almost everything you see here, so if your special occasion involves a substantial raise, maybe buy the chair you're sitting on.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
Not every big occasion should involve formal and stiff service in a room where you're almost afraid to converse at a volume above a whisper. Eating at Wenwen is a straight-up good time. Nothing feels precious at this Greenpoint spot—instead, the Taiwanese dishes like the spicy beef noodles and the braised pork belly with big chunks of cuttlefish feel nostalgic and comforting. You'll realize you're in for a fun night when you see the bathrooms that could double as private karaoke rooms and the cartoonishly large Shyboy 4XL cocktails.
You might think that an old-timey steakhouse smack in the middle of Times Square couldn’t possibly be fun or charming, but Gallaghers is both. We recommend ordering steakhouse classics: Start with a round of Hemingway daiquiris with clams casino and a wedge salad, then move on to a porterhouse with your favorite sides. (We love the creamed spinach.) The servers are like affable grandparents, cracking jokes as they make the sensible recommendation that you enjoy yourself as much as possible.
photo credit: Hannah Albertine
Sushi On Me
We can't think of any other restaurant experience that combines sparklers in eel-toro handrolls, torched white tuna topped with chili garlic crisp, and the level of drunken fun at Sushi On Me. There’s room for up to eight around the omakase counter with four nightly seatings, each of which last around an hour starting at 5pm. For $89 cash per person you’ll get 15 pieces of nigiri, a couple of appetizers, and unlimited sake. They make it their job to get you tipsy here, which might be just what you're looking for if you're already in a celebratory mood.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
The Grill in Midtown is the type of place that routinely draws finance types, high-powered lawyers, and people who choose restaurants based on where they can see themselves closing some sort of deal. But this spot is genuinely a worthwhile experience even if you don’t fall into any of those categories. The massive dining room (previously home to the Four Seasons) 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.
At Tanoreen, you can eat some of the best Middle Eastern food in NYC in a relaxed space that feels like a family-run restaurant in a small town. Bring a big group to this Bay Ridge spot and share some ground lamb kafta, fetti with sumac-spiced chicken, and very creamy hummus. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself lying in bed later in the night wishing you were still here.
Cosme is a sleek, dark Mexican restaurant in Flatiron with spotlights above every table to showcase dishes like their tlayuda covered in mushrooms, octopus tostada, and plate of fish prepared al-pastor style. But those are things more suited for regular old dinners. For a special outing, opt for the fantastic plate of duck carnitas. The massive dish involves half of a juicy roasted duck served in a cast-iron pan and paired with warm tortillas so you can make your own taco feast.
Tokyo Record Bar
When you want something memorable but not ultra-fancy—and you wouldn’t mind singing along to some music while you eat—go to Tokyo Record Bar. The seven-course izakaya-style tasting menu is $65 per person, and while the food is enjoyable, what makes this place really special is the fact that the soundtrack is chosen by you and everyone else in the tiny dining room. If you can't think of a song, just choose something by Beyoncé.
photo credit: Aya Kishimoto
Maybe you're acknowledging the day you spent a ton of money so a bunch of guests could witness you say “I do.” Celebrate at L'Abeille by getting their seasonal tasting menu (and spending a ton of money again). This Tribeca restaurant serves a six-course, $195 meal that involves dishes like foie gras crème brûlée and miso-glazed roasted squab. The well-spaced dining room with green velvet banquettes feels intimate, and the service is never stuffy. If you’ve been down on tasting menus recently, this place will restore your faith in them.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
Nothing says “This is an important day” like an endless parade of tiny pieces of high-quality meat, and that’s exactly what you’ll get at Cote. This fancy take on Korean barbecue is one of our go-to spots for anniversaries, birthdays, promotions—we’ll take any excuse, really. Order the Butcher’s Feast and a bottle of wine, then sit back and enjoy bite after bite of perfectly-cooked steak.
Oxalis claims to be a neighborhood bistro in Crown Heights, but it’s actually a fantastic New American spot that’s ideal for a big night out when you don’t want to go somewhere predictable. You can order à la carte, but since this is a special occasion, you should spring for the $120, nine-course tasting menu. It changes constantly, and it’s one of the most exciting meals in Brooklyn.
Sure, gifts are nice, but have you ever thought about marking your special day with really, really fancy fish? You'll have to spend quite a bit of money at Sushi Noz, but dinner here is worth the cost if you’re interested in trying one of the city’s best sushi omakase meals. We probably don’t have to tell you that fish flown in from Japan is going to taste like a million bucks. But Noz’s sushi sticks out because of how they obsess over each lump of kombu-flavored rice.