Last year’s birthday probably involved the couch in your living room and/or a certain video conferencing service that rhymes with “boom,” which means 2021 is the year you make up for it. As the city reopens, there are now plenty of places to ring in your birthday with a meal that’s as special and extremely cool as you are. So here are 19 restaurants perfect for celebrating, now that you can actually leave the house. Oh, and happy birthday!
Farmhouse Thai is a celebration restaurant in every sense of the word. There are colorful streamers and floral motifs everywhere. Music videos play on TV screens, and servers are dressed in tropical-themed shirts. But none of that takes away from the food, which is something to raise a glass to in itself. The hat yai fried chicken with roti, yellow curry, and blue rice are a trio of perfection, the panang neua short ribs fall off the bone, and the papaya salad has a nice kick. Long story short, this Mission spot is fantastic - and coming here if you want to have a great time is always a good idea.
There are some restaurants that we like to keep in our back pocket because they’re perfect for literally any scenario, from a date to a big group dinner, or where we’d take a friend coming to town for the first time. Prubechu is one of them. The Guamanian spot in the Mission has transformed their parking lot into a seating area that’s nicely spaced out, heated, and feels more like a chill backyard with colorful, floral tablecloths and a great playlist. Come here and share the creamy tinaktak with handmade egg noodles and coconut beef, tender ko’ko’ wings and tangy lemon fina’denne sauce, Chamorro BBQ plates, and fluffy banana donuts for dessert.
Red Window is a new Spanish restaurant in North Beach that recently made it onto our Hit List thanks to fantastic tapas and low-proof cocktails like spritzes and sangrias. So, celebrate turning [REDACTED] by ordering as many golden-brown croquetas, mushroom skewers, jamón Ibérico, and crispy patatas bravas as will fit on your table. The two colorful parklets, energetic music playing in the background, and laid-back energy will also make you want to stay a while.
Since pizza parties are appropriate at any age, Flour + Water Pizzeria in the Mission is a fantastic candidate for your next birthday. We love the toppings here, which range from sausage or pepperoni to ham, pineapple, and jalapeño. And the crispy, chewy crust is fantastic, especially when dipped in their house-made ranch. Don’t leave without an order of their gooey, perfectly-fried mozzarella sticks and a cup of salted caramel and fior di latte soft serve.
The Chinese American restaurant in Chinatown has a gorgeous, airy dining room with golden chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling windows, and it’s exactly where you want to be when you’re celebrating another year around the sun with several of your closest friends. The menu has smaller dim sum-style dishes, as well as bigger entrées - and you should order a bit of everything and enjoy it all with their incredible cocktails. We like the sea urchin cheong fun, beet-chard-pork potstickers, and whole roasted duck with peanut butter hoisin.
This new upscale Vietnamese restaurant in the Richmond gives incredible attention to detail with every single dish on the menu. The shaking beef salad comes with edible flowers and a soft poached egg, and the whole fried red snapper arrives resting on a bed of pineapple and pea leaf chow fun and house-made kimchi. From the intricate presentation to the complex layers of sweet and savory flavors, every dish is as beautiful as it is delicious. You’ll want to order everything on the menu, so come here with a group so you can try as many things as possible. Also, get their excellent Vietnamese iced coffee with salted duck egg foam.
Pearl 6101 in the Richmond has the feel of a cozy neighborhood bar crossed with the light-filled apartment we wish we had, and it always makes us feel at home when we visit. You’ll want to get a bunch of the small plates for everyone to share - like the halibut crudo with strawberry and nuoc cham, or the roasted cauliflower with black tahini hummus, as well as the handkerchief pasta with white bolognese.
Whether you’re doing a birthday dinner with just a few people or gathering a big group from at least five miscellaneous friend groups, Foreign Cinema is always a great bet. To get there, you’ll walk down the red carpet and emerge into their beautiful courtyard with twinkling string lights and a movie playing on the projector. Then, kick back on their relaxed patio with wine and oysters, or one of the dishes from their changing menu of things like beef carpaccio, smoked salmon, or ceviche.
It’s hard to replicate an experience that brings as much thrill and wonder as a surprise birthday party (if you’re into that), but dinner at Rich Table might come pretty damn close. The Hayes Valley spot is a rare place that manages to surprise us every time we visit thanks to creative dishes that change depending on what’s in season - like sardine potato chips with a whole sardine slotted through the middle, porcini doughnuts, bread infused with actual Douglas fir, aged duck confit with fattoush and sumac, and a creamsicle and mandarin granita.
We love heading to this contemporary Korean restaurant in the Inner Sunset and chilling in their light-filled dining room, or enjoying barbecue and carafes of soju on their heated backyard patio. Standout dishes at Um.ma include the juiciest, most tender gochujang-glazed pork belly barbecue, crispy seafood pancakes, and chicken wings well-coated in sticky sauces and spices.
The Anchovy Bar is a new spot from the people behind State Bird Provisions that’s somehow much easier to get a reservation at. And you should, especially if your primary love language is tinned fish, seafood, and cheese. A meal here always feels like a special occasion, and every dish that hits the table is exquisite and delicious, from the spicy whipped cloud of Wagon Wheel cheese to the slick, salty anchovies bathed in olive oil.
The “Arab comfort food” spot has two locations in the city - the original in the Castro, and one in Cole Valley. And coming here for your birthday will probably be the best present you could ever give to yourself. Digging into the whole-fried branzino topped with a refreshing mint and onion salad will release an incalculable amount of serotonin to your brain, and you’ll leave wanting to eat their excellent mezze platter with hummus, lebna, muhammara, and baba ghanouj every day for the rest of your life. Go all in on a big table spread, and don’t forget the puffy, za’atar and sumac-covered bread, and garlicky chicken shish tawook.
Besharam in Dogpatch has a menu packed with incredible, mostly-vegetarian dishes that are meant to be shared, from the blue cheese-stuffed paratha and fiery charred eggplant stew to the drunken pani puri (semolina puffs filled with crushed peas and doused in an herby lemon-tamarind-mint-and gin water). The subtle combinations of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors in each dish are cause for even more celebration. Make sure your meal is accompanied by one of their house-made chutneys and pickles.
The Chinese restaurant in Ghirardelli Square has a massive indoor dining room and shaded patio, and is great for an easily shareable group meal. You can order a la carte from their extensive menu of dim sum and mains, or opt for one of their family meals, which serves two ($58) or four ($158), and comes with an assortment of dishes like hot and sour soup, xiao long bao, crispy har gow, wagyu beef fried rice, and more.
If pounds of brisket, pork spareribs, and pulled pork sound like your ideal way to ring in another year of life, plan a casual birthday lunch or dinner at 4505 Burgers in NoPa. They also make an excellent cheeseburger, and have plenty of beer, cider, and sodas to wash it all down.
There aren’t that many rooftop bars and restaurants in San Francisco, but what the city lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Case in point: El Techo in the Mission. You’ll usually find us here enjoying excellent margaritas and palomas along unbeatable views. Order some chicharrones (which come by the half pound), elotes, or chips and salsa, and take obligatory birthday photos with the city as your backdrop.
Last September, Southern Pacific Brewing announced they were closing permanently - but miraculously reopened earlier this year. The plant-filled, two-story warehouse in the Mission is one of the most beautiful spaces in the city, with excellent natural light that comes in from the floor-to-ceiling windows, and big tables that are great for groups. Grab a seat and chill with a pint of beer, crispy brussels sprouts, sage-dusted fries, and sweet and spicy coconut fried chicken wings.
During the pandemic, Hina Yakitori served takeout bento boxes with chicken skewers and fantastic fried chicken sandwiches. But they’re once again open for indoor dining and are serving their $139, 13-course menu of charcoal-grilled yakitori, sashimi, and other seasonal dishes and desserts. If you want to go all out here for your special day, be sure to make a reservation ahead of time.
If you’re looking for more of a bar-type situation for your birthday festivities, you can never go wrong with El Rio. The decades-old LGBTQ+ space in Bernal Heights recently reopened their patio for outdoor drinking, comedy and drag shows, dance parties, and more. They’re open Thursday to Sunday for you to enjoy cocktails and draft beer on their plant-filled backyard.