Where To Go When You Don’t Want To Make A Big Deal About Your Birthday, But You Actually Kinda Do
11 places for when you tell everyone that you don’t want to make your birthday "a whole thing,” but you’re lying.
It happened—you blinked and now your birthday is a month away. But you don’t want to make a big deal out of it. You’re at the point in your life where you’ve stopped expecting your friends to make elaborate weekend trips to Lake Chelan, the San Juan Islands, or Vancouver (no, not the one in Washington). So, you’re going to watch a movie at your place with one or two others, including your pet. Maybe you’ll drink some beer—the nice kind that only comes in a four-pack. Sounds cool.
Until you come to your senses and realize that you actually really do want to do something for your birthday. You'll need something generally low-key, but still exciting enough that you can go shopping for a new outfit the week before. This happy medium exists, and here’s where to find it.
This Ballard pizza staple is pretty freaking impossible to get into on any given night—unless you show up circling the block like a vulture 10 minutes before they open, or you happen to be Beyoncé. But it's our gift to you to announce that they do take online reservations for parties of 6-11 people, and not many take advantage of it. So the trick here is to do exactly that. Collect five buddies and fill your table with natural wine, blistery pepperoni pies, and a crunchy romaine salad as tall and majestic as a birthday cake.
photo credit: Nate Watters
When you think about what made birthday parties fun as a child, sure, maybe it had something to do with the hokey pokey, or not knowing what taxes are yet. More likely, it was finger foods and ice cream. To manifest a similar mood but for tax-paying adults, head to Kamp. This Caribbean-inspired spot serves some of the best appetizers in town, from cheeseburger sliders topped with sticky onion jam and pickles to boudin sausage-stuffed egg rolls dunked in mango chutney. With plenty of tables scattered around, wacky wall art, and a huge cocktail list featuring varying ABVs, this Madison Valley place is a win. End things with a massive mug of swirled soft serve that comes in flavors like ras el hanout and white chocolate.
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If you're feeling bummed about aging, at least Maneki is older than you. (Unless you are pushing 120, in which case, kudos.) By texting this Japanese institution in the ID, you can reserve one of their private tatami rooms—and nothing screams "it's my birthday and it's not a big deal!" by absolutely not screaming at all, sitting in socks with some pals, while clinking bottles of Sapporo and snacking on takoyaki, gyoza, and spicy tuna rolls.
Maybe your idea of living on the edge is ripping three bananas from a bunch of five at the supermarket because you knew the other two would grow brown on your counter, and if that sounds accurate, you might not be into the idea of going out to a rowdy dive. But a calm cocktail bar with great food is the ticket. Enter Rupee Bar, an Indian and Sri Lankan spot that serves tasty small plates like spicy prawns with crackly shrimp shells, yogurt-marinated fried chicken, crispy lamb curry rolls, and tandoor coppa—all served alongside refreshing drinks and ghee-glistening naan.
photo credit: Nate Watters
At Wero, there's no time to panic about your future when ssam platters are constantly being passed in your general direction. Who needs existential dread when you have melty fried pork belly doused in ssamjang? The atmosphere at this Ballard Korean bar is subdued enough for a no-big-deal moment, but impressively complicated cocktails, phenomenal butter-roasted potatoes, and some of the best crispy tofu in Seattle makes Wero highly worthy of a birthday dinner.
This French wine bar in Denny Triangle is the restaurant equivalent of that friend you have who always looks fancy even when checking the mail. It's not too challenging to get in with a small group, the servers guide you toward choosing the perfect bottle of beaujolais or bubbles so that you don't even have to read the chalkboard menu, and in lieu of dinner, there's an abundance of cured meats, cheeses, and crusty bread. Get real—that's what you wanted for your birthday dinner, anyway.
Sometimes, birthdays are about reflecting on your milestones of years past. And sometimes it's about the thrill of making heads turn when a sizzling fajita skillet is placed in front of you. If you too want to make other people jealous of seared peppers and onions, pull Jackalope out of your back pocket. This Tex-Mex restaurant in Columbia City takes reservations over the phone for six or more, the baja rockfish tacos are excellent, and there's plenty of brisket picadillo-topped queso to go around.
This pasta palace in West Seattle is a perfectly nice place to wear those expensive shoes you just bought and eat a hot bowl of carbs with your circle. Raccolto works for all seasons, whether the floor-to-ceiling windows are popped open for the summer or it’s raining and you’re all huddled at a table underneath the glow of a hanging lamp. Start with any small plate that involves crostini and/or a burrata ball, and move onto things like cacio e pepe or rigatoni with braised pork.
Stateside accepts reservations for up to six people, so it works perfectly if you’re looking to keep the celebration relatively small or you simply have fewer than five friends who matter. The Vietnamese food here is incredibly good, and the hanging lights and printed palm wallpaper make it feel a little like the tropical vacation you won’t take this year. Pass around appetizers like crispy duck rolls and crudo, make sure the crispy master stock chicken gets ordered, and cap things off with a thai iced tea creamsicle for everyone because cake is overrated.
Dreamland Bar & Diner
Suppose you’d like your friends to acknowledge your birth by way of hollowed-out disco balls filled with pink margaritas, vegan chicken tenders with ranch, and a fountain in the shape of a lion’s head billowing with fog, Dreamland should be your place. While it sounds like a bit much, it still feels effortlessly casual here, and it’s easy to make a reservation online for a bunch of folks. All that’s left to do is enjoy the feel-good playlists, replica jungle cats, boozy slushies, and steamburgers while toasting to your fleeting youth.