Birthdays are different for everyone. Some people will micromanage every detail of an entire weekend, and others will request to crawl in a hole with the lights off and Enya playing on loop until the day is over. No matter how you choose to celebrate another lap around the sun, you and your crew have to eat at some point. Here’s where.
Mamnoon has really good Middle Eastern food, and we know you forget about it sometimes. Then you catch yourself thinking about it and nostalgia kicks in and for a second you’re sad. But unlike those acid-wash skinny jeans you loved in college, Mamnoon isn’t going anywhere, and making reservations is easy - so cling to it all you want, especially for your birthday. It’s modern and sleek and upscale, and the mezze plates like lemony hummus and baba ghanoush and fresh-baked pita are perfect for sharing with a large group of people who will never let you forget you wore acid-wash skinny jeans in college.
Going to Shaker + Spear is like eating inside a Crate & Barrel, they have great seafood, and they also may have the nicest staff ever. And they’re all very well-dressed. Call ahead and reserve the large round table for eight, order some parmesan truffle fries, charred brussels sprouts, prawns with old bay butter, and bruleed mac and cheese. When you’re done, keep the party going with cocktails at Pennyroyal next door, or at Some Random Bar two blocks down. Or both. Because it’s your birthday.
Bizzarro Italian Cafe is part circus horror movie set, part awesome checkerboard-tablecloth Italian joint. We were skeptical of the fact that there are more chandeliers than a Home Depot showroom, and that the menu has an entree called, “choose your own chicken adventure.” But the weird carnival props hanging from the ceiling paired with Bizzarro’s really solid handmade pastas just work. This spot is perfect for weeknight birthday dinners with a big group of friends who won’t mind the bicycle dangling above them or the creepy radio static that plays in the bathroom. A couple bottles of red + pappardelle with mushrooms and cream = a very happy birthday.
Hotel Albatross is a good birthday move if your friends are generally fun people. And because we have faith in you and your friends, that means it’s a good birthday move for pretty much anyone. It’s the kind of bar you’d expect a ska band to either perform at or sing about, and they serve a tiki cocktail in a volcano bowl lit on fire. Everyone will be able to find something from the Mexican-Korean-Vietnamese-fusion menu, but consider the “Totcho Eruption,” which is six pounds of loaded tater tots and no regrets.
Chuck’s Hop Shop is the ultimate come-and-go birthday HQ disguised as a cross between a 7-11 and your friend’s makeshift garage lounge. Hit up the daily-rotating food truck outside, or grab a sack of kettle chips, some gummy worms, and a pint of Full Tilt ice cream. Check out the taps of great beers, local and otherwise, or choose a six-pack (or three) from the Mount Vesuvius of refrigerator cases on the back wall. The staff will pop the bottlecaps for you to drink in-house - so all you have to worry about on your birthday is the slipping sands of time.
Brave Horse Tavern is admittedly kind of a bougie pub, but we love that it checks all of the birthday dinner boxes (reservations accepted, great food and drinks, and an activity included), and even has a private dining room and bar in the back that you can reserve for free. If you can’t decide between getting friendly with some brick oven pretzels and smoked peanut butter-bacon dip, playing hand shuffleboard, eating spicy tater tots until you need to unbutton your jeans, and sucking down enough fancy boozy jello shots to be conned by the red quinoa veggie burger (yep, it’s actually that good), then our job here is done.
If you have a summer birthday, you probably have rooftop tostadas and margaritas on the brain. Mezcaleria Oaxaca is the cool taqueria that just read your mind. With handmade tortillas, a menu that will please just about anyone, an encyclopedic selection of mezcal, and a great view of the Cap Hill sunset, we could weep. But we won’t, because nothing ruins a birthday like the guy who’s crying into the guacamole.
Pizza has been a sacred birthday meal since the dawn of Chuck E. Cheese. Serious Pie is where to go to experience the same joy, but with ambience and food fit for grown-ass people. You can reserve the semi-private “kitchen table” for up to 22 people - and when it comes time to order, skip the starters, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Split one of each pizza on the menu, but you might want to keep the fennel sausage/bell pepper/provolone pie to yourself.
When you don’t want to spend your birthday at this month’s hottest hotspot, Tamarind Tree is where you go. This ID spot is perfect for a low-key group dinner, and the Vietnamese menu goes way beyond pho and vermicelli bowls (get the grilled pork fried rice). During the gray months that make you sad for no reason, grab a table next to the indoor fire pit, and the moment the sun comes out, eat on the patio next to the waterfall. Oh, and the seven courses of beef for two? There’s your birthday order.
Entering Brouwer’s is like stepping into Medieval Times, but the bar is way better and you don’t have to eat a half-chicken with your hands, watch a jousting tournament, or spend even one minute in New Jersey. It feels like a tavern, with stone walls and hanging lamps, and there’s never a wait, nobody cares how loud you’re shouting across the table, the scotch selection is great, and mostly every menu item involves their excellent pomme frites in some shape or form (even the meat and cheese board). Stay until last call, or pay the check early and keep on drinking at The Barrel Thief down the block.
As questionable as Japanese-Mexican fusion might sound, Japonessa is kind of nailing it. Make a reservation, order some Bad Boy rolls (like spicy tuna rolls, but battered and fried) and tempura brie for the table, and get a few rounds of mango sangria going. It’s a little touristy and nine out of ten times our sushi rolls completely fall apart and little grains of sticky rice and cucumber sticks end up all over the table, but it tastes great, there are lively vibes aplenty, and it’s the perfect light-bite pregame. We do kind of wish that Japanese-Mexican fusion meant sushi tacos, but not every birthday wish can come true.
On your birthday you’re allowed to eat anything you want, and you want pasta. Contadino is home to stupid good Italian food, and has the makings of an excellent birthday venue for five reasons: 1) the servers are like grape gurus, guiding you to your perfect wine, 2) it’s somewhat new and you’ll impress your friends, 3) the pastas taste like what your imaginary Italian mother would whip up (no nagging included), 4) you can book a private room in the back with one big table perfect for your people, and 5) wine.