You’re getting older. If you haven’t thrown whatever you’re reading this on across the room out of fear-induced anger, that’s not a bad thing. Birthdays are the best excuse we have to celebrate during an otherwise uneventful week - unless a truck full of ice cream turns over outside your house (and the driver is OK). Eat, drink, and forget for a few hours that your sink is leaking and your banking app asks you if you want the good news first when you open it.
If you’re planning a birthday for yourself or a friend, these are the best places in SF to celebrate.
Farmhouse Kitchen always feels like a party. In addition to great Thai food like giant beef short ribs in curry, ginger sausage, and incredible fried chicken, there are bright lights, outrageous homemade music videos playing while you eat, and staff who randomly break into song - hopefully to wish you a happy birthday.
If you have a group of six or more, make a reservation at San Tung in the Sunset. This place serves Chinese classics like fried rice and potstickers in portions large enough to feed a school bus of people, but we mostly come here for the dry-fried wings. They’re covered in a sweet, sticky sauce as thick as caramel, but are still so crunchy you’ll hear your friends across the table eating them.
House of Prime Rib is a temple to old-school excess with its gigantic portions of prime rib, baked potatoes larger than Shaq’s shoes, and classic cocktails that all come with sidecars. Celebrating here is like being inside that black-and-white photo at the Overlook Hotel, only in highly saturated color and with way fewer ghosts. But if you want a real photograph to commemorate dinner, they actually do have a photographer who walks around the restaurant. It’ll help make up for the presents your friends didn’t get you.
Radhaus is either a good stop after getting sunburnt on the Fort Mason lawn or before going out with every first- and second-tier friend you wrangled into singing the birthday song for you tonight. This place is so big that if you look out their giant window overlooking the bridge, you might forget for a moment that you’re actually inside. Their beers are just as giant too. Get a bunch of things like schnitzel and charcuterie boards to split - just don’t put a candle in either of those.
Pizza parties never go out of style - you just need to make sure you’re upping the quality of pizza you get when you become older than an NBA draft pick. What makes the pizza here great are the details, like the toppings that range from good quality sausage to pickled cabbage to lemon, or the homemade ranch and handmade mozzarella sticks that don’t come out of a microwave. They don’t take reservations, but if there’s a wait outside you can do what you normally do at group dinners and pay more attention to your phone than your friends.
We love Mister Jiu’s for pretty much any occasion. Their Chinese-American food is fantastic, the cocktails are incredible, and the dining room is what our living room would look like if we were movie set designers. Coming here in a group is the best way to do it because it makes all the shared plates relatively cheaper - order everything that interests you from dutch crunch pork buns to cheong fun to Peking duck without everyone at the table needing to take out a loan to cover it.
If you’re excited about your birthday and remember to make plans a month in advance, you could get the big table at Liholiho Yacht Club. It’s in the middle of the restaurant, so you won’t miss out on feeling like you’re at a secret club for all the cool people in the city. Sitting here also gets you out of having to make any choices for the night. Instead, you get a set menu of family-style dishes encompassing pretty much every hit they make from beef tongue buns to the baked Hawaii.
The music at this Cow Hollow spot is always at house-party levels, and the patio and bar are also consistently packed with first dates and dog chaperone meetups. But for your birthday, you want to be in the backroom, which has tables big enough for your whole gang. Order crab tostadas and tacos for the entire group while you plan what bar to hit after for more birthday drinks. This might take a while, though, as their margaritas are excellent.
It’s best to order at Dumpling Time while imagining you have two fewer people in your group than you actually do. It’s the only way to keep from wildly pointing at everything you see on the menu - from the char siu buns to the xiao long bao and noodle dishes that are all excellent. With K-Pop videos projected on the back wall and music blasting, this Design District restaurant feels more like a nightclub that’s taking every night off to be a restaurant. They don’t take reservations, so send a scout early to put your name down.
Mua feels like it’s made for a party - it’s in an industrial warehouse in Oakland with abstract chalk drawings, huge wooden tables, and a DJ booth on the top floor. The very long and broad menu, with things like roast duck and burgers, might need an arbitration session to navigate, but that’s because everything looks great and everyone at the table will have competing interests. Luckily, it’s all solid and the food is easy to share over some really good cocktails.
Every neighborhood has one or two tapas places, but Bellota is the best in the city. It’s in Airbnb’s building in SoMa, and has great classics like gambas, pan con tomate, and jamon. This place also has huge paellas to split with everyone looking to celebrate you today. If everyone can’t decide which one to get, they have half-and-half pans, too.
There are always so many birthdays going on at Southern Pacific Brewing, you’d think they had some buy-beer-in-bulk deal like Costco. They don’t have that, but this place is big enough to be the inside of Mary Poppins’ magic bag. The tables are large and the beer they brew is good and cheap. And while you’re coming to drink and hang like this place was Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups, the food here - from burgers to brussels sprouts - is actually good.
The bright walls and flashy decor in Lolo already look like a sea of presents and wrapping paper, so it’s a good place to remind your friends they should gift you something. This place has great spicy margaritas and solid Mexican food from carnitas to grilled octopus to giant molcajetes of guacamole. And while most nights we’ll just drop in, you can make reservations if you want to eat on some sort of schedule.
It’s tough enough to convince your entire friend group to make a vacation in your honor, but you should at least be able to convince them to chill in the sun in Sausalito. Show up early in the afternoon to Bar Bocce, lay claim to the seats around the fire pits, then order a bunch of pizzas and pitchers of beer when you realize that compliments from your friends can only go so far.
Burma Love is the little sibling of Burma Superstar, but this place in the Mission is way bigger than the original. During the day it feels like a spot to bring clients for a corporate lunch. At night, it’s a great place to come with a lot of friends and family to split their famous tea leaf salad before hitting up Valencia.
Drinking from a boot could mean one of two things - you’re celebrating something or your dishwasher is broken and you’re desperate. Fortunately, at this German restaurant in Russian Hill, it’s the glass kind of boot, and you’ll have a blast - and not just because of the beers. Whenever you’re here, it always feels like everyone is about to stand on a table to chant and shout, but without actually doing it. And while we wish they would, you’ll still be perfectly happy drinking and eating large portions of jaeger schnitzel and spaetzle.
Foreign Cinema has become one of the old standards in SF for any special occasion. The food is still great, whether you come here for brunch with Persian omelets or dinner for oysters and seared scallops. The back patio is an open courtyard with string lights and a big wall they project old movies onto. But no one at your table is going to watch those movies because it’s your birthday, and they’re supposed to be talking to you instead.