It happened - you blinked and now your birthday is a month away. But you don’t want to make a big deal out of it. You’re at the point in your life where you’ve stopped expecting celebratory social media photo collages of yourself from 23 acquaintances before noon. (Anytime before the end of the day is fine.) Not only that, but you’re still recovering from the glares your group got during last year’s lively Woodinville wine tour that happened to also be on Mother’s Day. So, you’re going to watch a movie in your apartment with one or two other people. Maybe you’ll drink some beers - the nice kind that only come in a four-pack. Sounds cool.
Until you come to your senses and realize that you actually really do want to do something for your birthday. Something generally low-key and easy to get on the books, but still exciting enough that you need to go shopping for a new outfit the week before. This happy medium exists - here’s where to find it.
Casco Antiguo is the number one choice in this category. It’s easy to get a reservation at this Mexican spot, and there’s always a great crowd inside drinking on-tap margaritas and generally making the place feel birthday-appropriate. Plus, the food is seriously delicious - starters like guacamole and homemade fire-roasted salsa are great, but the perfect beer-battered halibut tacos and red enchiladas made with braised pork are good-time guarantees. Unless you’re vegetarian. In which case, get the plantain/black bean empanada.
With a quick phone call or email, you can reserve a table at The Independent Pizzeria. All you have to do is make sure you have at least three friends, since you can only book in advance for four or more. Once that’s taken care of, you can focus on enjoying some of the best Neapolitan pizza in the city. Start with an antipasti platter or a caesar, and then share some pies, like a margherita or The Farmer (with speck and a cracked egg on top).
It’s easy to score a table for a group at Soi, even on the weekends, so this is a perfect Capitol Hill option if you’ve left planning to the last minute. And, well, you did, so here we are. The Isan Thai menu is pretty massive, so everyone should be able to find something they’re excited about (the chicken panang curry stuffed with ground chicken and lemongrass is the best thing in the house, but we’re also big fans of the pork belly stir fry). Add some beer slushies or the mango almond cocktail and you’re set.
Nirmal’s is our favorite spot for upscale Indian food in Seattle. It has a brick-lined dining room, a pretty tiled bar, and some great things to eat and drink. We love the beef curry, the tandoori spice-rubbed grilled paneer, the pakoras, and the samosas with mint chutney. Plus, getting a reservation is a breeze. Head to Altstadt afterwards for a beer.
Quinn’s is an ideal choice for several reasons. First, the cocktails are always excellent. Second, they take online reservations for up to six (if you have a bigger party, just call them and you should be fine). Third, we’d build a birthday meal out of six of their homemade pretzels if we could. And to be honest, no one is stopping us. But there’s more sophisticated pub food to be had - like the wild boar sloppy joe, fries topped with foie gras, salt cod fritters with a lemony aioli, and delicious fish and chips. We’ll meet you there.
This is an adult pizza party situation you can throw together pretty easily. The long communal tables make it easy to fit everyone in here without the awkward dance of shoving two-tops together - plus, they have a ton of beer taps, and there’s a back arcade area where you can banish Sam and Hannah to go figure out their deal over a round of skee-ball. Food-wise, order the meatballs and split a bunch of wood-fired pizzas with your friends.
Maybe this birthday marks the start of a newer, more exciting you. And that means you need a reason to not go to the same restaurant for the sixth year in a row. Cook Weaver is your secret weapon. It’s in a quiet part of Capitol Hill, and the 1930s-era murals and stained glass windows make it feel a little bit like something from a fairy tale. The food is “inauthentic Eurasian” - so expect things like brisket bibimbap with hominy, beer-battered nori dumplings with tahini, and oyster mushrooms with green pea spaetzle, beurre blanc, fermented black beans, and parmesan. Also expect your friends to be impressed.
Trove is a Korean BBQ spot where, for some reason, you can typically book a table for 12 people the day before. We’re not ones to look gift horses, or really any horses, in the mouth - it just seems rude - so we won’t question it. The good news is that the grillable meats here, like kalbi-marinated wagyu and garlic-cured pork belly, deliver. The non-BBQ items, like crispy cauliflower with lemon/bagna cauda and bibimbap-style rice bowls, are excellent, too.
There’s a big communal table in the middle of this nautical-themed spot that’s perfect for groups, and the hard-to-find beers and upscale snacks make this place feel fancier than your average bar. Do the Dungeness crab or shrimp sandwiches on homemade pretzel buns, and pass around starters like the smoked trout toast, crispy Old Bay chickpeas, and radishes with parmesan custard dip.
If you’re lucky enough to have a spring or summer birthday (or bold enough to pretend you do), The 100 Pound Clam is a necessary spot for warm weather celebrating. Grab a big picnic table and have a late lunch/day drinking session here (they’re only open until 5pm). It’s counter service, so everyone can get whatever they want - from the cornmeal-crusted fish and chips with pickle mayo to some fresh oysters to the sesame beef banh mi. If you want a more upscale setting with similar food (or if it’s raining), head inside to their sister restaurant, The White Swan Public House.
A nice place to wear those expensive shoes you just bought and eat a hot bowl of fresh pasta with your friends. Raccolto works for all seasons, whether the floor-to-ceiling windows are open for the summer or it’s rainy and you’re all huddled at a table underneath a hanging lamp. We like the small plates (like smoked fish crostini and charcuterie), and if you haven’t decided what your birthday meal is going to be, we’ve decided for you: the cacio e pepe cavatelli.
You could all meet up and do burgers at Sam’s Tavern or Li’l Woody’s, but it’s your birthday, for crying out loud. The burger you should be eating comes with dill-seasoned fries and pickle aioli at Bramling Cross. This spot feels a little like a cool library, serves excellent cocktails, and has a good mix of small plates plus larger entrees like a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, a Nice Piece of Fish, and even some gnocchi. Also, though it’s a main course, the Mad Hatcher fried chicken with honey-butter biscuits is acceptable to order as a starter for the table.
Stateside accepts reservations for up to six people, so it works perfectly if you’re looking to keep the celebration relatively small. The Vietnamese fusion food is incredibly good, we would drink from an endless waterfall of the sparkling bourbon passionfruit sours, and the hanging lights and printed palm wallpaper make it feel a little like the tropical vacation you won’t take this year. Pass around appetizers like crispy duck rolls and crudo, make sure either the bun cha with homemade sausage or the crispy master stock chicken gets ordered, and end with a Vietnamese iced coffee creamsicle for everyone instead of cake.