And just like that, your birthday is a month away. But after schlepping 28 of your friends in a bus to Medieval Times a few years ago and sending one friend to the ER because of a previously unknown horse allergy, you’ve already decided to keep it low-key this year. Maybe you’ll have a few IPAs with your favorite coworker, or just put a roast in the oven and call your cousin the day of to come over and eat it with you. That sounds fun.
But does it really? As your special day gets closer, the feeling of missing out on a celebration starts to creep back in. Plus, you haven’t seen some of your friends in months, and you know this is your only shot of getting some of them to pay for a dog sitter. OK, you know what? You’re going to do a birthday dinner. But it’s not going to be a big deal. Definitely not. Something low-key and easy, but still sort of special, so you can wear those shoes you just bought. Such in-between-type situations do exist - here’s where to find them.
If we know one thing about our friends, it’s that they have the attention span of gerbils at a wheel convention. And that’s why we like dinner at Tokyo Hamburg. Sizzling stone grills, Kpop music videos blaring from the speakers, and pitchers of beer on every table – this Japanese restaurant in Ktown is an ideal birthday spot because it’ll keep everybody at the table entertained from start to finish. The name of the game here is DIY smash burgers - softball-sized patties that arrive at the table covered in grilled onions, then are promptly cooked on a hot stone grill. That said, make sure the curry udon and okonomiyaki make it in front of you as well.
You just want some drinks with your friends this year. And some good food if they have it. And a fun atmosphere. But nothing crazy, you know? Stop torturing yourself, and just reserve a table at ERB. The Arts District bar/restaurant has one of the best patios in the city, with a relaxed party atmosphere that always manages to match your mood. Which, we all know, will be slightly needy on your birthday. They also have incredible cocktails, one of the largest wine lists in the city, and bar food that’s actually worth going to the Arts District to experience.
Mazal is a restaurant that proves big group dining doesn’t have to be some monstrous chore. The casual Israeli spot in Lincoln Heights has a homey, string-lit back patio, a biodynamic wine program with most bottles falling in the $30 range, and an all-vegetarian menu full of very shareable dishes. We recommend going all-in on the spreads (hummus, madbuka, babaganoush) and rounding out your meal with a fresh Israeli salad, a big plate of couscous, and the Jerusalem bagel toast, which comes with melted provolone, spicy schug, kale, and pesto.
The trick to making a big group work at Jones is skipping the main dining room area and taking over the back cafe space that’s far more casual and feels more like you’re in a highway diner in Jersey than an Italian restaurant in West Hollywood. Because the room is slightly removed from the rest of the restaurant, it serves almost as semi-private dining if your group is big enough. Which is handy, because you accidentally/not accidentally invited your entire yoga class today. Then go to town on all the martinis, chopped salads, and skillet spaghettis you and your friends can handle. Don’t forget the apple pie at the end.
Korean BBQ is always a great option for a birthday dinner, and Magal continues to be one of our favorites in Koreatown. This industrial spot on 8th Street strikes a great balance between the rowdiness of nearby Ahgassi and the high-quality meat you find at Parks. While you’ll certainly leave happy if you go all-in on combination platters, we actually recommend ordering mostly a la carte here - you get better cuts of meat for the same amount of money. Focus on the marinated beef options and then add in any pork dish that catches your eye. And do your best to not fill up on the banchan - it’s some of the best in the neighborhood.
We’ve been fans of this Filipino spot since its very first iteration as Lasa - a BYOB pop-up in 2017. While the interior, management, and menu have all changed a little over the years, many of the same bright and spicy flavors (the electric orange salsita is a non-negotiable) and friendly faces are still there in its current iteration to welcome you for a fun, family-style meal. For birthday dinners, our move is to put as many rotisserie chickens on the table that’ll fit, load up on every sauce and side, and make our way through their excellent and affordable (most bottles fall under $40) biodynamic wine list.
For reasons we don’t understand, people tend to think of this Weho seafood restaurant as being past its prime. Sure, the crowds aren’t what they were when they opened a few years ago, but unless you prefer waiting a month for a table next to drunk reality stars, that’s not a bad thing. Connie and Ted’s is still operating at a very high level, with tremendous seafood and a massive dining room/front patio that can fit as many people as you want for your dinner. And now that the manic crowds have left, you can actually enjoy it all.
Open since 1981, this Westwood landmark is one of the oldest restaurants in Persian Square with a sprawling, lively dining room that can accommodate any size birthday dinner imaginable. We consider their tahchin - a baked basmati rice cake layered with yogurt, saffron, and barberries - to be an essential dish of the neighborhood, and their curry stew isn’t far behind. It’s earthy, spicy, and perfect for passing around the table. From there, load up with tahdig appetizers, kabob platters, and steaming plates of sabzi polo. At Shamshiri, the party doesn’t stop until you do.
Playa Provisions is best known for being that beachside cafe you stumble into during an afternoon on the sand in hopes of finding a quick jolt of caffeine and a sandwich. However, it also has a full restaurant component at night called Dockside, and it’s even better than the day cafe. The menu leans toward seafood, but there’s a patty melt you’re definitely ordering, as well as a fantastic open-area patio with big wooden tables and fire pits to circle around when your friend with poor blood circulation inevitably gets cold.
From the second you round the corner and spot Anajak’s alleyway patio, you’re hit with sensory overload. There’s a row of white-clothed tables reflecting dramatic shadows on the massive brick wall. You’ll hear R&B blasting over the loudspeaker, and spot chef Justin Pichetrungsi at the far end preparing his 14-course Thai omakase experience. It’s one of the most objectively cool dining setups in town right now, and that’s the kind of superlative you want on your special day. Whether you snagged the coveted omakase reservation (they only do three seatings a week) or you simply rolled up with some friends to drink natural wine and eat curry, Anajak’s assorted menus are all filled with standout dishes. Yes, there are multiple ways a birthday dinner can go at this Sherman Oaks staple, but don’t stress, because they’re all the correct one.
Your birthday dinner last year ended up being 17 people deep, and Alex still claims that Casey never Venmo’d them the right amount of money. Don’t mess with that again. Keep it inner circle this year and go to Kismet. The Mediterranean restaurant in Los Feliz is ideal for groups of four to six people, with food that’s both easily shareable and fantastic. Focus on the rabbit for two and anything that comes with bread.
Located in that section of town West of the 405 that we always forget is still Culver City, Hatchet Hall is a fantastic Southern restaurant and an ideal spot for when you want your birthday dinner to be just a little bit fancier this year. The space itself is big, with an outdoor patio, a private dining room, and the overall feeling that you’re in a governor’s lake house in Georgia. Despite its mostly Southern menu, the food isn’t so heavy that you won’t be able to grab a drink after - which is good news, because there’s a hidden speakeasy in the back.