How to Celebrate a Birthday in New York City

A version of this post originally appeared on July 30, 2022, in Stephanie Wu’s newsletter, “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world. Read the archives and subscribe now.

Growing up, I bemoaned my summer birthday and the fact that I couldn’t celebrate with my friends and classmates during the school year. But as soon as my life wasn’t dictated by the September-to-May academic calendar, I realized there is actually nothing better than celebrating your birthday in the season everyone associates with warm weather, vacations, and ice cream. Here’s what I did this year, in case you’re looking for (admittedly low-key) ways to celebrate right now.

A waitlist-worthy sushi meal: I kicked off my week of great eating with sushi from Nicholas Tran, a former Gramercy Tavern chef who has struck out on his own with a $50 sushi box you order via Instagram DM. I love the idea of supporting chefs running their own businesses, and the sushi and hamachi rolls were fantastic — not to mention a great deal. He has a months-long waitlist, and snagging a coveted spot during my birthday week felt as great as getting a very exclusive reservation.

Restaurant-quality delivery: I opted for a quieter family dinner on my birthday with delivery from Hanoi House. After so many months of ordering takeout, we are religious about choosing places that have nailed the packaging so that the food tastes as close to what you’d get from the restaurant as possible. Hanoi House’s incredible pig ear papaya salad comes with the fried pig ears in their own paper pouch, so they don’t get soggy in transit; the pho is delivered with the noodles and broth separated. These little touches make all the difference.

A budget-friendly party: I used to plan my birthday parties around drinks, pre-mixing cocktails and making sure I had a wide range of beverages available. The food was an afterthought, usually pizza or Popeyes that we ordered once we realized we needed something to soak it all up. I’m (slightly) more grown-up now, so this year we opted for a taco party, with catering from Taqueria Diana. We got stacks of tortillas, taco meat in large metal trays, and quart containers of salsa and toppings so everyone could build their own tacos. It was a hit, cost less than $20 per person, and we had plenty of leftovers. For dessert, I put out a spread of Salt & Straw, one of my favorite ice creams that delivers nationwide — don’t skip the olive oil.

If you’re looking to do something bigger and splashier, Eater NY has plenty of suggestions for a restaurant-based birthday meal. You could do it up at one of our favorite splurge-worthy restaurants — I love the idea of a riotous birthday meal at Sushi on Me, where the omakase comes with all-you-can-drink sake. If you want to bring together a big group, these crowd-pleasing spots, with a variety of price points, will fit your entire crew. Or if you want your own space, there’s always the option of a private dining room — and no, they’re not all stuffy or overly precious. I hope this provides plenty of inspiration for your own celebrations, whether you’re keeping gatherings small or plan to go all out.