A lot of factors come into play when you’re planning a birthday dinner. You need a place that fits your entire group, isn’t too expensive for your friend in grad school, and has at least a dozen sparklers to decorate the cake you had custom-made in the shape of your face. We can’t help you out with all those, but we have put together a list of all the best places that fit the first two categories.
Throw on your birthday sash (just kidding - please don’t do that), and put the “BDAY PLANS!!” email thread at ease. Pick any spot on this guide and then move onto the important things, like how to spend that $20 Radio Shack gift card your aunt got you.
Tapas are a good idea for a large group, and few places in the city do them better than Jaleo. Check it out for excellent Spanish food and drinks in a funky space - the walls look like a bag of Skittles exploded onto them, and you may end up eating on top of a refurbished foosball table. Consider choosing one of the three tasting options, which all get you a table full of tapas.
If you want to go out around 14th Street after dinner, start your night at Lupo Verde, on the corner of 14th and T Streets. The brick-walled, two-story space has a fun atmosphere for groups and solid Italian food. Get a few pastas, pizzas, and charcuterie boards for the table.
For a more casual birthday dinner (but one you can still reserve a table for), try Black Jack. It’s a classic DC spot above Pearl Dive on 14th Street with red velvet walls and booths and prices reasonable enough that none of your guests will need to double check their bank account balance before ordering another round of drinks. As for food, we recommend the bucket of fried chicken, the BLT sandwich, and any of the pizzas.
You can’t go wrong with The Red Hen for a birthday, as long as your group is small (there won’t be room for Diane to bring the guy she’s been seeing for three weeks). This Bloomingdale Italian restaurant serves excellent food at not-outrageous prices. All the pastas are good, and the stacks of firewood above the open kitchen will make you feel like you’re hanging out at a cabin in the woods. Except with many more bars close by.
We could eat the noodles, steamed buns, and Korean fried chicken at Momofuku CCDC most nights, but the drinks are what push this place into birthday-dinner territory. In particular, the watermelon punch, which comes in a frozen, hollowed-out piece of fruit. Drinking it will absolutely result in a hangover, but it will be worth it. Desserts here are from Milk Bar, so don’t leave without getting some cereal milk soft serve.
The Partisan is connected to a butcher shop (Red Apron), which is a solid clue that this isn’t the place for your vegetarian friends. But for people excited about meat, there are beef fat fries and a massive burger, but also smoked lamb shoulder and crispy pork pata. Most of the food here is good for sharing, so order a lot and pass it all around the table.
Bar PX728 King Street
If you’re looking for a birthday celebration that’s heavy on the cocktails and light on the food, check out PX in Old Town. A mysterious blue street light on the brick-house exterior is the only evidence it exists, but once you get inside, you’ll find an unpretentious bar with a 1920s feel, great music, and interesting cocktails. Reserve their private back room (which fits around 10 people) for a classy night with drinks made of things like tobacco tea and pickled jalapeños. When you get hungry, order some pub food from Eamonn’s, an Irish restaurant/bar on the ground floor that serves fried candy bars for dessert.
An affordable tasting menu is actually a pretty ideal birthday dinner setupe. All the details are taken care of, and the group gets to try a bit of everything. Penn Quarter’s China Chilcano has one for $55 that comes with a variety of traditional Peruvian dishes, like ceviche, lamb, and seafood. The space is loud, bright, and will probably be full of a few other birthday dinners.
The food at El Centro won’t blow your mind - it’s simple Mexican food, and that’s fine. This spot is more about having a good time than eating food you’ll tell your grandkids about. There are two locations (Georgetown and 14th Street), and both have big rooftops that you and your crew can easily stumble up to after having some guacamole, enchiladas, and margaritas.
If you forgot to plan more than a week in advance, but you’ve wrangled a big group of friends, Graffiato could be a your solution. Even though it always seems crowded, you can book something here fairly last-minute. And the solid Italian pizza, pasta, and meatballs, and convenient Penn Quarter location won’t make it feel like a subpar Plan B. The not-crazy-expensive menu will please that friend of yours who sends Venmo requests for $2.34.
If celebrating at an underground Korean bar/restaurant in Adams Morgan with private karaoke rooms sounds like a good way to distract you from the fact that you’ve aged another year, you’re in luck. We’re pretty sure this is the reason Muzette exists. The Korean food isn’t the best in DC, but it’s not why you’re here. You came to sing “Walking on Broken Glass” with your friends at an ungodly volume in the privacy of your own lounge.
Your dinner started as an intimate gathering, but somehow your coworkers, coworkers’ significant others, and dog walker got involved. Go to Green Pig Bistro, one of our favorite spots in Arlington. There are tables big enough to accommodate your new group, and it’s in a prime location for going out after. The Southern menu is meat-heavy, but it’s the fried pimento cheese you’ll want to make a new birthday tradition out of.