One of the questions we get asked most is, “Where should I have my birthday dinner?” Let us guess, you’re looking for something “fun” and not formal, where you can get a table for six-to-ten people. Believe it or not, such restaurants do exist in New York City.
So whether your idea of fun involves the potential for dancing on tables (OK - we actually can’t help with the table-dancing at present), or a relaxed, come-and-go-whenever type of gathering, or something in between, we have ideas. You only celebrate getting older once a year - better make it good.
We can’t explain the metaphysics, but there is real birthday magic that takes place when you sit in Claro’s Gowanus backyard. Maybe it’s the twinkle lights, the fresh and warm tortillas, or possibly the Oaxacan memela with pork rib. In any case, don’t think too hard - order a couple mezcal cocktails, sit back, and enjoy the natural process of human aging.
There are five TGI Fridays locations in Midtown alone. And you may have already ruled them out for your birthday celebration. For a far-superior version of that kind of campy restaurant experience (complete with martinis, mozzarella sticks, big booths, and crayons on the tables), try Bernie’s in Greenpoint. It’s a fun spot for a group, and no one has to take your birthday dinner too seriously - since at least one person’s meal will probably involve a cheeseburger deluxe and a brownie sundae.
Looking for something rowdy uptown? Corner Social in Harlem is offering outdoor dining on their sidewalk space every day, and it’s pretty much always a party - especially on Saturday and Sunday when they have DJs. The menu here consists of dishes like crab cakes, hot chicken, and a green chile cheeseburger you may or may not get on your white shirt.
Outdoor hot pot on a roof sounds like a dream we once had when we fell asleep on the C train. But it’s real, at least when you go to Xiang Hot Pot. This Flushing spot’s patio is located on top of the New World Mall, and their all-you-can-eat hot pot costs around $50 per person. Sodas and juices are included in the price and there’s a bar inside with unlimited starters like noodle dishes and dim sum. Try the option called “spicy bear” - the Sichuan-pepper-filled broth comes with an edible bear sculpture made out of butter.
Al Di La in Park Slope is where you go for a birthday dinner with six-ish people who will, at some point during the meal, take turns saying their favorite things about you (this practice is called a Fluff Circle, by the way). The comfortable dining room is candlelit, and full of seemingly ancient wooden tables. You should fill said table with regional specialties from the northern part of Italy. We’ve never been disappointed with any of the pasta, whether that’s the tortelli filled with ricotta or the homemade black ink spaghetti with spicy octopus confit.
If we could move into Thai Diner and spend the foreseeable future consuming their creamy khao soi, phat see ew, and fried chicken laab, we would. Unfortunately, that’s not an option at this time. But you should try it for a night, especially when it’s your birthday and your friends are paying for all of your spicy tamarind margaritas.
Rum and backyards make for a good birthday combination. That’s partly why the back patio at Sally Roots is one of our favorite places in Bushwick. It’s loud and always full of people holding colorful rum drinks and eating shareable Caribbean dishes. We especially love the braised oxtails, and the intense garlic sauce that comes with the tostones. You’ll need to order seconds of that garlic sauce, mostly so you can pour it on every other dish on the table.
Some people choose birthday spots solely based on atmosphere. But come to this Mexican restaurnat in Long Island City for your birthday and you’ll get all the charming atmosphere, plus mezcal and dishes that will make everyone wonder why they didn’t come here for their own birthday dinner. We suggest building your order around perfectly balanced chicken enchiladas in mole sauce, ceviche bathed in lime juice and serrano peppers, and crab tostadas. Casa Enrique is one of our all-time favorite restaurants, and worth a trip from any neighborhood for a birthday dinner.
At Wu’s, you’ll be greeted by tanks filled with giant crabs, and waiters carrying steaming bowls of wonton soup from the kitchen. The dining room is full of big, round tables topped with lazy Susans, which makes the really good Cantonese food here easy to share. And this spot is BYOB, so feel free to wheel in a cooler of beers or a case of riesling. When you’re done, move on to 169 Bar a few doors down.
The dining room at this Italian-American restaurant in Williamsburg appears not have been updated since the ’50s (about fifty years after it opened, FYI). Meaning your birthday dinner underneath Bamonte’s big chandeliers may feel kitschy and old school in all the right ways. Think tuxedo-wearing servers, big plates of ziti, and clams casino. Get a pork chop parmesan, a bunch of family-style pastas, and enough wine bottles to fill everyone’s tiny glasses multiple times.
Between the metal walls, barrel tables, and decorative luggage hanging by the bathrooms, Puerto Viejo looks like a shipping container that crashed on land and started serving really good Dominican food. This spot works especially well for when you and six friends want to get together and drink a little too much at dinner in Prospect Heights. Just make sure that the garlicky mofongo is on your table.
The Tyger is from the people behind Chinese Tuxedo, and like that Chinatown party restaurant, this Asian spot in Soho has big booths filled with groups drinking colorful cocktails in a more colorful dining room. But unlike its sibling spot, the food at The Tyger will blow you away. Some standouts include Phnom Penh fried chicken with lime and white pepper dipping sauce, spicy curry loaded with crispy confit duck, and a not-quite-liquid, not-quite-solid coffee egg tart. Bring a group, sit at a table near the retractable floor-to-ceiling windows that open up to Centre Street, and order as much of the menu as you can.
Most of Fish Cheeks’ Thai dishes are served family-style, and the room always has a good energy (bamboo fish traps repurposed as light fixtures, furniture painted in bright primary colors, and a busy bar during Happy Hour). All of this makes Fish Cheeks in Noho the perfect place to eat with a small group on a Friday night, especially when you’re looking for a spot with a few set menus (for around $50 per person) and one of the best coconut crab curries we’ve encountered. It’s the color of a traffic cone or a forest near Woodstock in late October, with a touch of sweetness and a significant amount of spice to balance things out. Make a reservation ahead of time or be prepared to wait for a couple hours for a table.
When you want to throw a birthday party outside by the water without eating an entire meal’s worth of $3.50 oysters, head to Anable Basin. The all-outdoor spot in Long Island City serves some good $12 cheeseburgers and $4 hot dogs, as well as Eastern European dishes like rich, charred sausages served with pita and a pepper-based sauce. It’s usually pretty easy to find an open picnic table, all of which overlook the river and Manhattan.
You’re with a big group, but this year everyone seems more interested in “really having a chance to catch up” than listening to music typically played in Ubers while double-fisting tequila sodas. Shuka, a big Israeli spot in Soho, has plenty of room, and also never gets too rowdy. Plus, the menu has (highly shareable) options for everyone. Get some dips and kebabs, and settle in for a group heart-to-heart.
Back in 2012, Gwyneth Paltrow hosted her 40th birthday dinner at Elio’s on the UES. This to say that this old-school Italian restuarant encapsulates NYC’s uptown sceniness in a way few other restaurants do. It’s the best old-school Italian spot to have a birthday party uptown, no matter what age you’re turning. So you’ll probably see a few families celebrating someone’s mom or a circle of people with matching blue button-downs, martinis, and veal parms.
As soon as you walk into Telly’s, you’ll see a bunch of different kinds of fish on ice (like flounder, porgy, and red snapper), and it’s important that one of these fish winds up on your table in its entirety. The very skippable-sounding “mixed vegetables” is lemony and perfectly seasoned. Order that and some lamb chops and saganaki, and the people at your birthday dinner will congratulate you on your restaurant-choosing skills.
You need an outdoor space for 20 friends, but you don’t want a hotel rooftop where the doorman will keep half of them outside for an hour to make it look like there’s a line. City Vineyard is a restaurant and wine bar on the river in Tribeca, and the huge rooftop has enough seating and standing room for half your Instagram followers. Spend a few hours sharing bar food and house wine on tap while watching the sun set on the Hudson (and your youth).
Imagine throwing an illicit rager in your grandmother’s creaky old house. That’s what it’s like to eat dinner at Mari Vanna in Flatiron. This Russian party restaurant is fully armed with doilies, hundreds of framed photographs on the walls, and cushions on the seat of every chair. But even though your bill will come in a floral coin purse, the rest of the meal will feel like it could have happened in a Russian club. A swing hangs from the ceiling, trays of caviar and infused vodka shots flow steadily from the kitchen, and an accordionist is always present.
Picking one or two dishes to order at Ayada is nearly impossible. The menu at this Elmhurst Thai spot is massive - there are eight whole fried red snapper options - and the portions can all be shared by multiple people. In other words, the bigger the birthday group, the better. No matter what you order, like raw shrimp salad or phenomenal drunken noodles, you’re going to get some of the best Thai food in NYC.
The Upper West Side has places to celebrate a birthday with someone who has multiple mink coats, and places to chest bump after beating 21-year-olds in beer pong. But when you’d rather drink margaritas, eat California-style tacos, and talk at a comfortable volume, head to Playa Betty’s. Pack your table with snacks (like warm chips with queso and the tater tot nachos) to proactively balance out whatever’s happening after dinner.
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong serves excellent Korean BBQ. If you haven’t been, expect waiters roaming through the large space, cooking meat for groups on the grills in front of them, and energy levels that match that of an exceptional half-time show (except its the whole show). Waits can be long, but if you’d rather not deal with that, book a private room upstairs.
Here’s a great way to spend your birthday: eat the best BBQ in the city. If ridiculously good brisket and beef ribs aren’t enough, then head next door to Brooklyn Crab and play a few games of corn hole.
This Spanish restaurant in Inwood serves tapas in a room covered in floral decorations. It essentially looks like someone conceived a dining room inside of a bouquet. After you admire the room, start with the almond and cheese bites and then move to the crunchy on the outside, buttery on the inside crab cake sliders. A note: we usually find that tapas works better for smaller groups, so that everyone can have more than a single bite.
You can think of Lil Frankies as the birthday capital of the East Village. It’s always full of groups drinking wine and passing plates of spaghetti limone, roasted eggplant, and margherita pizza. They’ll even let you book a table online for your group of 20. But just know that it’s cash-only.
Maybe you’re looking for less of a sit-down dinner, and more of an open house, come-and-go-as-you-please situation. In that case, Threes Brewing is perfect. This is a giant space on the Gowanus/Park Slope border with plenty of seating (plus a prime back patio for warmer months), has tons of great housemade beers on tap (plus cocktails and wine), and food from The Meat Hook (including one of the best burgers around).
If the temptation to have a birthday party at Catch or Tao is pulling at you, consider turning your attention eastward to Blue Ribbon Sushi Izakaya instead. It’s a party restaurant with a huge menu to suit pretty much anyone, but it’s on the Lower East Side, and it’s a bit more low-key than those spots in Meatpacking. There’s also a beer garden attached to it, and it has ping pong tables.