Birthdays are different for everyone. Some people will micromanage every detail of an entire weekend, and others will request to crawl into a hole with the lights off and play Enya on loop until the day is over. No matter how you choose to celebrate another lap around the sun, you and your friends will have to eat at some point. Here’s where to go.
Walking into a dark room and having friends and family yell “Surprise!” can be pretty lame three consecutive years in a row. Convince them to take you to Waypoint in Harvard Square instead, where there are much better surprises. There’s a lot of seafood on the menu, but none of it is what you would expect. Order the tuna crudo, and it’ll come on an unleavened curry chickpea pancake. The salmon steak is served with what looks like a sauce but is actually creamed bitter greens. Each dish will keep everyone guessing, and that’s definitely safer when the lights are turned on.
Dressing up for your birthday can be fun, but velvet sport coats and vintage fuschia dresses can feel out of place at your neighborhood Legal Seafood. That’s why you should head to Ilona, a beautiful high-end Mediterranean spot in the South End. You’ll fit right in with the pink suede seats, and you and your well-dressed friends can also enjoy some great mezze plates, like tempura-style eggplant and fresh pasta stuffed with lamb.
You can only celebrate your birthday once a year (unless you’re the type that also celebrates half-birthdays), so you should make that day special. At Lolita Cocina in Back Bay, you can sip tequila and eat habanero chicken quesadillas with a side of flavored cotton candy in what is essentially a dungeon with metal bars and extravagant chandeliers. That should be drastically different to how you spend the other 364 days of the year, unless you live in a medieval castle or moonlight at Restoration Hardware.
For those Enya-types, Neptune Oyster may be the perfect reprieve on your birthday. It’s one of the best places to eat in the city, but more importantly, it’s so small that it significantly decreases the chance that you’ll run into someone you know. Sit at the bar, order a whole platter of raw seafood, and listen to the soaring violins until your birthday is over and all is right with the world again.
If you have nine non-imaginary friends that you wouldn’t mind spending two hours eating with on your birthday, count yourself luckier than Wall-E . You and those nine friends should also reserve the whole table at Tanám on kamayan night, where you can have a communal meal of pork belly, lobster, and fried chicken. Better yet, you can also order cocktails like the Pandan Punch with coconut-infused rum and coconut milk. There’s no better private dining experience in the city.
Sometimes you want a night at a fancy, dark steakhouse where you can pretend you’re very important. Boston Chops at Downtown Crossing provides exactly that, along with a lot of mirrors and other reflective surfaces for you to look upon all the plebeians who don’t have a birthday to celebrate. Obviously you need to eat steak here (the 18 oz. bone-in ribeye would be a good choice), but the fish and pasta dishes are well-executed too.
This Downtown Crossing restaurant is a throwback to a time when most people only went out to dinner for really special occasions and then spent all night describing the oysters as the bee’s knees. Whether you want to use 1920s slang when you’re in here is up to you, but regardless you should still get the oysters and duck liver ravioli. It’s particularly great to have your birthday here if you’re the type of person who’s celebrated turning 29 more than once, because you can take comfort in the fact that Marliave is way older than you.
Trillium in Forth Point easily could have kept their focus solely on the beer - some of the best in the world - and this would still be a worthwhile destination. But they actually put effort into the food too, making this one of the best all-around restaurants in the city (try the bone marrow if you don’t believe us). They’ve got plenty of room for all your friends, and a roof deck for when the weather’s nice. So come here and drink much better beer than whatever you had on your 21st birthday.
No one wants to feel lonely on their birthday. If you go to Sarma, a Mediterranean restaurant in Winter Hill that’s packed every night, loneliness is definitely not going to be a problem. There’s a big menu here, but even if you explore only a small part of it you’ll be fine - the flavors of each dish are so intense you’ll be satisfied after only a few plates. We recommend starting with the lamb sliders, and then keeping an eye out on the specials that are carried around the dining room on trays.
The good news about celebrating with a big group at a great small plates place is that you get to order everything on the menu. The bad news is that you might only get one bite of each thing. Luckily, this place in Harvard Square also has one of the best cocktail menus around, so you can handle your conflicted emotions with alcohol. Get the rabbit, tuna, and definitely enjoy a few of those drinks. This is a big, fun restaurant that’s almost always buzzing, so feel free to stand up at the table and sing Happy Birthday to yourself - it’ll just add to the atmosphere.
If it was our birthday, we’d wrangle 10 friends and reserve the suckling pig roast at this fun Central Square spot. But if the people in your group are picky, this place also serves Japanese food, Spanish food, and New England food all under one roof, so you won’t feel guilty forcing a whole pig onto anyone’s plate. There’s also a good cocktail list here featuring drinks made with Japanese ingredients like matcha and persimmon.
The dining room in this Downtown Crossing spot is big enough to host an entire steamship’s worth of robber barons - and it looks the part. You may not have as much money as Cornelius Vanderbilt, but you can pretend you do when you split a ribeye steak. It’s pricey, but that makes it an even better place to hit up on the one day of the year when you’re definitely not the one paying.
If you’re the type who might feel guilty about ordering a single spoonful of food that costs $16, then save Uni for your birthday when you can slurp down this mixture of quail egg, sea urchin, and caviar with zero shame. This Back Bay izakaya is a fun, sceney spot that works for either dinner or late-night ramen after you finish at the bars. Luckily, you can usually get a reservation the day before, so even if you’ve been pretending that your birthday isn’t actually coming, Uni’s an excellent option.