Do you hear that? It’s the winds of time, and you’re now a year older. But don’t mourn - celebrate. Birthdays are the best reason to get your crew together to eat, drink, and carry on like you’re on senior spring break and your most pressing concern is your SAT II Writing score.
If you’re planning a birthday for yourself or a friend, any one of these spots is a great choice. Drink all the drinks and forget your age. It’s only a number.
You don’t have to worry about anyone having a bad time at Monsieur Benjamin. It’s cool enough to satisfy friends who are mostly concerned with ambiance (and actually use the the word ambiance), but isn’t trying too hard, and the food is amazing. As far as French bistros go, this is definitely one of the best in the city - everything from the short rib to the char is excellent. Vegans might want to sit this one out though.
This new-ish Cow Hollow Mexican spot has awesome cocktails and high-energy celebration vibes pretty much every day of the week. Big groups can make reservations in advance, but no matter how many people are in your crew, you’re going to need to order the carnitas and the crab tostadas. And many, many margaritas.
Babu Ji is our favorite Indian spot in the city. For a big group, make a reservation and go to town on the tasting menu ($65 per person for a LOT of food). If you’ve got a small gang, walking in isn’t much of a problem. Either way, save room for the desserts - they are incredible. And if you’re in the market for apartment decor, it’s a great place to get inspiration for a house covered with wall art of mustachioed men.
Mr. Pollo’s modern take on Latin American food is very affordable and very good, so it’s great if you’re the type of person who gets Catholic guilt about forcing your friends to pay for exorbitant group meals. They serve a $35 four-course menu that changes every night, but always includes some excellent arepas. This Mission spot is on the extreme end of casual, and tiny - the whole space only fits 14, so you should probably just go big and rent the whole place out. Take advantage of the entirely flexible BYOB policy (seriously, you can bring pretty much anything) or delve into the not-at-all average wine list (choices include a Muscadet sold in 40s).
Nothing says birthdays like eating a chicken carved tableside after it has been extracted from a loaf of bread. This is the ancient tradition of kings (that’s what we’ve decided anyway), and you should continue it as a way to mark your age. Even if pretending you’re a king isn’t your thing, Nomica’s Japanese fusion food is fantastic, the sake list is inappropriately long, and said chicken cooked inside a loaf of bread is unreal. Party on.
Mua feels like it’s made for a party - it’s in an industrial warehouse in Oakland with abstract chalk drawings, huge wooden tables, and a DJ booth on the top floor. Navigating the very long, slightly all over the place but broadly ‘American’ menu might need a spreadsheet and an arbitration session, but that’s only because everything looks great and everyone at the table will have competing interests. Luckily the menu delivers (just get the duck confit and the burger if the group can’t get it together), and the food is easy to share over some really good cocktails.
Bellota is our favorite place for tapas in the city. They will bring you a cart of olives and almonds and other snacks while you wait for the food you actually ordered to arrive (even if it isn’t your birthday) and there are enormous ham hocks hanging in the kitchen. The food is all ideal for sharing and the vibe is just fancy enough to feel like a special occasion without white tablecloths or formality. The paella is superb.
Sometimes you want to celebrate your birthday with just one other person. Whether it’s your boyfriend, your wife, or your emotional support dog, Ju-Ni is the place to do it. (Maybe don’t try to bring your dog though.) This tiny spot in Nopa has the best sushi in the city, which may have something to do with the fish being flown in from Tokyo daily. Reservations book up quickly, so set an alarm reminder and make it happen. This won’t be a cheap dinner, but you only get to celebrate another ring on your tree trunk once a year.
Probably the best option for a big gathering that’s (relatively) low-key and doesn’t need assigned seats. The menu involves standard bar food for sharing, with the exception of the cinnamon churros with bacon. Seven orders for the birthday boy/girl.
Want to feel like an important person on your birthday? Want it to feel like a real occasion that you can only share with your closest friends? We recommend Californios, the coolest/most delicious tasting menu in town. If your companions know what’s what, they’ll cover your meal.
The bright walls and flashy decor in Lolo already look like a sea of presents and wrapping paper, so you’ll know from the second you walk in, that it’s going to be worthy of celebrating your birth. They take reservations for up to five people via OpenTable, but if you call you can usually work out a bigger group. Olé.
Ambitious? Maybe. But getting your crew out of the city for an afternoon of bocce and beers and towers of surprisingly awesome pizza in Sausalito is a strong move. Sit by the “seawall,” amass enough people for a hostile takeover of the fire pits, or rent out the whole place – the choice is yours. Either way, you will have a very, very good time.
Burma Love has a cool bar, a great location in the Mission, and a much nicer space than it’s older brother Burma Superstar. Plates are all made to share, which is ideal for celebrating your birth with your friends. Tea Leaf salad, chicken with mint, and skillet shrimp for all.
Nice, authentic, non-stuffy French food on the far end of Union Street, Gamine is something of a secret spot since it doesn’t serve avocado toast and is a bit off the beaten path. The wine flows like water and the petit filet is everything you need. You can book the private upstairs room for up to ten people, and we would highly recommend you do so.
There are few things as joyful as a table full of humans drinking beer from a glass boot and eating pretzels and sausage. Leopold’s doesn’t take reservations, but for a group bigger than 10 they’ll help you figure out the best way to get a big table. You probably won’t remember dinner (maybe because the food isn’t totally mindblowing), but you will have had a wonderful time. Everything can be shared and there are few places in the city that take themselves less seriously and have more of a party-time vibe than this spot.
Foreign Cinema is still one of the cooler restaurants in San Francisco. The patio, the giant foreign film screen, the night air, the fried chicken - it’s very hard to have a bad time here. And they can often accommodate a large group, because they actually have space (a novel concept in SF). A great choice for most types of birthday action.