Turning another year older is different for everyone. Some people will self-appoint themselves as Grand Chancellor of Birthdaytown and micromanage every detail of an entire weekend. Others will throw on sweatpants, crawl into a dark basement, and play Enya’s “Only Time” on loop from dawn to dusk. No matter how or with whom you choose to commemorate another lap around the sun, you have to eat at some point. Whether that’s a casual couple of pizzas with two friends or Korean BBQ with a giant group, here are some options you can rely on.
If you’re the type to stop at nothing to engineer the best meal possible, Musang is where you should celebrate. From peppery pork lumpia that possess the crunch of McNuggets dunked in a grassy chive vinegar, to the way their deeply rich vegan bagoong transforms a pile of haricot vert, you’re in for an excellent group meal in this fun retrofitted craftsman. Be sure to incorporate the short rib kare kare—a hunk of braised beef that’s tender and crimson in the middle with a charred sear on the outside, all sopped in a peanut butter sauce infused with shrimp paste.
If you despise birthday attention but were coerced into a celebration by someone who unconditionally loves you, it’s probably best not to fight it at this point. Rounding up a small handful of pals, a couple of pies, and a bottle of natural bubbles at Blotto is the perfect way to slap together a low-key evening that’s still more special than staying home with a sad candle-jabbed Safeway cupcake. Blotto’s expertly charred New York-style pizzas and little gem caesars are easily shareable, and the excellent polenta treat with seasonal fruit compote and sour whip is the greatest no-big-deal birthday dessert you could ever ask for.
Sawyer’s attractive dining room is a great place to hang out and eat dishes that sound like the result of rolling a bunch of dice with ingredients printed on them—like short rib pho with matzo balls, or potato piroshky pull-apart bread. While we may never forgive them for taking one of the best burgers in Seattle off the menu, it’s still an ideal spot for drinking some cocktails, trying out some interesting food combinations, and/or eating your weight in grilled artichokes swiped through hazelnut remoulade.
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Orchestrating a sushi dinner for your birthday can be tricky if you don’t know how much money everyone wants to spend—especially if your friends bring you gifts even when you say “no gifts,” because societal norms are confusing. Choose a middle-of-the-road spot with positive energy and good raw fish, like Umi Sake House in Belltown. The massive, tropical plant-decked dining room has plenty of space for groups to spread out, a semi-private tatami room that isn’t too difficult to book, and great sushi. Fill the table with everything from simply prepped nigiri to extravagant, sharable rolls involving things like pickled eggplant and torched spicy snow crab or shrimp tempura and ghost pepper aioli.
Does anyone else feel really awkward when someone asks you how it feels to be another year older? Instead of saying, “I feel closer to death, thank you,” drown out the interrogations with sizzle noises at Meet Korean BBQ. This Korean spot on East Pike is a fantastic place to get some folks together to grill your own gochujang-marinated kurobuta pork, kalbi short rib, or prime ribeye if you’re feeling particularly luxurious. It works well as a pregame destination if you’re planning to hop around to some Capitol Hill bars, but it’s also enough of a soju-and-meat-fueled party in here if the only place you hit up afterwards is your bed.
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If you’re with a group that enjoys things like spiked slushies, dumplings, and being in a good mood, keep New Luck Toy in mind. It’s a lively West Seattle bar that serves Chinese dishes like spare ribs dunked in sticky five-spice sauce and honey pecan prawns, frozen cocktails, and music played at the perfect volume for birthdays—loud enough for you to tune in and out of conversations based on how interesting they sound. But if you need an activity afterwards, there’s also skee-ball and a private karaoke room that looks like an enchanted forest.
Loading up a table with mezze and charcoal-cooked meats by the pound is always a good idea for acknowledging your birth, and one of the best places you can do that is Ciudad. For starters, the space is an icebreaker at the very least, complete with an industrial warehouse feel and a slightly unsettling mural depicting characters like a skull shaman taking a phone call and a jovial hippo sawed in half. There are a lot of options on the menu, from red wine-poached pork chorizo and tahini-marinated chicken to fava bean falafel and seared haloumi. Though, we’re fans in particular of the rubbed hanger steak. Round things out with plenty of flatbread, hummus, and spicy carrot margaritas for optimal results.
Shaker + Spear has possibly the kindest staff ever, and you can’t argue that it feels good when people are nice to you on your birthday. But luckily, they also happen to serve great seafood. Call ahead and reserve the large round table for eight, and order some snacks like parmesan truffle fries, octopus croquettes, and mac and cheese. And if you’d rather have a burger over a nice piece of fish, theirs comes topped with bacon jam and Beecher’s Flagship. When you’re done, keep the party going with cocktails at Pennyroyal next door, or at Some Random Bar two blocks down. Or both.
Bizzarro Italian Cafe is part circus horror movie set, part red checkerboard tablecloth Italian spot. You may be skeptical of the fact that there are more chandeliers in here than a Home Depot lighting showroom, and that the menu has an entree called, “choose your own chicken adventure.” But it all works, from the abundance of props hanging from the ceiling to the solid housemade pastas, like pappardelle with a creamy mushroom sauce, or lasagna that has the physical proportions of a brick. Bizzarro is perfect for a big group of friends who won’t mind the bicycle dangling above them or the creepy radio static that echoes in the restroom.
The only way to have a successful meal at Joule is to order a ton of dishes to split every which way—which makes it the perfect place to celebrate your birthday with your entire social circle. Reservations are pretty easy to secure, the Victorian wallpaper-covered space has that ideal amount of chatter from other groups to make your own seem more thrilling, and there’s a toasty firepit patio if it’s nice out. All of the Korean plates, from the spicy rice cakes to the smoked tofu with honshimeji confit, are excellent. Just make sure you also order the kalbi short rib steak all to yourself. Salty soy marinade + tender short rib = a happy birthday.
You could have a terrific dinner around a big table at Staple & Fancy if you order small plates, eat pasta, drink wine, and cap it there. Or, you could spend $65 a person to put your trust in the restaurant in exchange for a totally secret, multi-course tasting menu. It’s a great route to take if you want to do something celebratory without going totally overboard, and this way, everyone gets surprised—not just the birthday person. While we can’t really tell you exactly what you’ll get, you can expect things like crudo, little toasts, and the aforementioned pastas.
If you’re planning a birthday, and you have tacos and tequila on the brain, Barrio is the taqueria that just read your mind. Do they have the best Mexican food in town? No. But it is the most dependable Seattle birthday HQ—it’s easy to book a group reservation, they have a dark, swanky dining room, there are plenty of gluten-free and vegan options, the margaritas flow from a tap, and the menu does have some greats to make you glad for being born. We’re looking at you, braised pork taquitos, crunchy plant-based chorizo tacos, and phenomenal chopped salad.
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Pizza chased with ice cream has been a sacred birthday meal since the dawn of Chuck E. Cheese. At Lupo, you can experience this same joyful ritual, but with a dimly lit ambience and blustery pies fit for grown adults (without any ball pits). Start with delicious white bean toasts topped with crisped pancetta bits and olives, followed by garlicky cavatelli tossed in chili oil, wood-roasted vegetables, and tangy sourdough pizzas. If all you do is ensure that the cacio e pepe and burrata soppressata pies hit the table, you’ve done your job as the guest of honor. And for dessert, you can get scoops of housemade ice cream with flavors ranging from brown sugar pine to rum-spiked carrot cake.