If you’ve been in a relationship for a while, we’re guessing you’ve already had a few try-hard anniversaries - possibly involving gushy cards, surprise jewelry, and gazing at sunsets. For whatever reason, those days of showmanship are over. Or maybe it hasn’t even been that long, but you’re just not anniversary people (if there was new legislation banning all PDA in New York City restaurants, you’d be fine with it).
Fortunately, you can still acknowledge your anniversary while keeping it low-key for your specific brand of relationship. So whether you want to celebrate with candlelit spaghetti vongole, an omakase experience that costs under $100, or by hand-picking your own seafood, try these 16 ideas.
Le French Diner is the opposite of a gaudy French brasserie. Instead, it’s more like what you’d find down a dark alley in Paris. So come here if you like the idea of steak frites, octopus, and French wine, but don’t want to sit in a booth so big you lose your keys in it. This LES spot has approximately 20 seats, and it gets pretty crowded on weekends. So either prepare for a wait on a Saturday night or make it a Wednesday affair. Anniversary or not, something about the close quarters and red meat will predetermine a very specific after-dinner agenda.
You’ll remember a date at Astoria Seafood forever, but it won’t be traditionally romantic. Unless, of course, you have a fishmonger fantasy and nothing gets you going quite like hand-picking fresh shrimp with a plastic bag. This is a fish market where you personally choose fish as if it's produce in a grocery store, and then tell the people behind the counter exactly how much olive oil and lemon you want it cooked with. Between the fried calamari and the BYOB policy, an experience here will be truly memorable - just know that it’s pretty much always packed.
The ultimate gesture of love would be to put your name down at Via Carota at 5pm and then go back to your apartment to tell your partner they won’t have to wait impatiently for several hours on the sidewalk to eat here. Once you eat Via Carota’s grilled artichokes, chopped steak, and legally-required cacio e pepe, you’ll have likely decided this is your new anniversary tradition. But you should alternate who has to go put a name down every year.
You can think of Sushi By M in the East Village as an omakase party with a $50 cover charge. While you’re here, it’s likely that the chefs will give out sake (and also have some themselves) as Top 40 plays in the background. If you want things to feel even more celebratory, add the $18 Big Mac piece at the end of the 10-piece sushi tasting. It involves chopped toro, seared toro, two kinds of uni, and wagyu all wrapped up together in a piece of seaweed.
Maybe you want to drink a bottle of wine that was gifted to you at your wedding 15 years ago. Or maybe you’ve been waiting to drink a bottle in your cellar until your estranged wife returns, and now she’s back (a la Dennis Quaid in Parent Trap). Either way, Tanoshi Sushi is a BYOB spot where you can have a special-but-not-over-the-top omakase experience above 59th Street. The omakase at this UES spot costs $99, and it comes with 10 pieces, a hand roll, miso soup, and a crispy fluke appetizer.
Achilles Heel is like a Frank Ocean Song. It’s sexy, but in a comfortable, journal-before-bed sort of way. This Greenpoint spot has a fireplace that they use to cook sweet potatoes, but also to keep the room offensively cozy. Technically, Achilles Heel is a bar - but you could have an incredible dinner from the short menu of (mostly vegetarian) snacks and American food - all of which is better than what you’ll find at 95% of bars. Just know that you’ll have to use your table candle to read the menu - it’s dark in here.
You two have been together since the Obama years. And while you spent the first few anniversaries making gestures grand enough to intimidate a party planner, you’re both in the mood for something a little more intimate this year. Al Di La is more relaxed and arguably more special than any of those fancy places where you spent the first few anniversaries. It’s a walk-in only Northern Italian restaurant in Park Slope that’s one of our all-time Greatest Hits in the city. Get whatever the seasonal risotto special is that night, and let the wine do the rest.
If your relationship is fundamentally built on sharing food in different settings around the city and world, celebrate an anniversary at Málà Project. This is a casual Sichuan restaurant in the East Village where you can customize a dry pot bowl with your choice of vegetables, meats, noodles, and spice level. We’d suggest starting with an order of the garlic eggplant, and picking eight to ten things for your shared bowl. By this point, there should be no garlic-mouth shaming in the relationship.
Ops is always full of cool Bushwick people, but it still somehow feels like it was designed especially for you and someone who you’ve been intimate with in a hotel room. This spot makes some of our absolute favorite pizza in the city, and they specialize in sourdough pies. The square grandma pie is the one to split with your betrothed - it has mozzarella, olives, basil, and tomatoes. Start with a salad, spend some time with the grandma pie, and let the servers help you pick out a bottle of wine.
Clay is one of our favorite restaurants in Harlem, but it’s a little too upscale for a casual date night. There’s no tasting-menu or grandiose shtick involving hard-to-find truffles, but you can expect a curated jazz playlist and beautiful ceramic bowls. The straightforward American and Italian food is delicious, like a garganelli with kale and housemade sausage or a confit duck leg that someone will steal a bite of while you’re in the bathroom. We prefer Clay’s slightly-cavernous downstairs dining area to the first floor, because it’s loungey and looks like Picasso’s mood board during his blue period.
Your only consistent anniversary tradition involves one of you turning to the other and saying “we should probably do something right?” This year, consider this answer, “Yes honey, let’s go eat some barbecued meat.” Sam Won Garden is good for a relaxed anniversary because it’s a little quieter than the other restaurants playing Gangam Style on the speakers in K-town. It’s also pretty do-able to come here with just two people (as opposed to a massive group).
If you grew up on the UES, it’s possible you came to Elio’s to celebrate your parents’ wedding anniversary when you were eight years old. Of the high-end, old-school Italian places in the neighborhood, this one is perhaps the most festive (it’s also where Gwenyth Paltrow hosted her 40th birthday). So you should expect loud parties crowded around circular tables, and plenty of martinis and plates of off-menu veal parm. Just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time - it gets packed in here (even on weeknights).
Between the dog you recently adopted together, rent, and the fact that one of you quit your job to pursue comedy, you two don’t have a lot of cash to spend now. If you’re interested in celebrating somewhere other than the makeshift kitchen island in your apartment, go to Sake Bar Decibel in the East Village for sake in one of the most unusual and coolest rooms in the city. To get here, follow a staircase below a sign that says “On Air.” And if you want some sushi beforehand, Kanoyama is nearby.
Miznon has locations in Paris and Tel Aviv, as well as a counter in Chelsea Market. At the one on the UWS, you’ll see people holding hands across their table and eating whole branzinos that are served on fire. Although it’s a bit formal, the UWS Middle Eastern restaurant still feels relaxed, and it’s easy to make a reservation here last minute. So whether you’ve had more anniversaries than years where you weren’t together, or you just live in the neighborhood and don’t want to travel, you can rely on Miznon North like you rely on Duane Reade.
Going to Manhatta’s bar is a very clever work-around for actually eating in the restaurant. Come to the bar for some drinks and oysters rockefeller, and you can avoid the prix fixe, semi-stuffy situation. All while still getting to enjoy the best aspect of the restaurant: the 60th-floor views of the city (and telling people that you went to Manhatta when they ask how you celebrated).