12 special-occasion worthy restaurants in New York City

Show-stopping dishes like this crispy celeriac creation at Gotham—a vegetarian take on steak—amp up celebrations at Gotham. | Photo credit: Gotham
A crispy celery dish drizzled with a brown sauce and shaved Brussels sprouts at the base at NYC restaurant Gotham.

Celebratory meals in the culinary capital of the world are as varied as they come, naturally. There are riverside stunners, rooftop beauties, and everything in between in this nonstop party town.

That’s what makes a celebration meal in New York so special. Sure, there are places fit for birthdays, graduations, promotions, and more. But these 12 special occasion restaurants show you that the meal and the experience is the occasion itself—you don’t really need a reason to go out for one of these phenomenal meals.

Sushi on Me (Jackson Heights and Williamsburg)

Two chefs prepare sushi from plates of sliced salmon and tuna at Sushi on Me in New York City.
Both sushi and party vibes flow at Sushi on Me. | Photo credit: Emily Schindler/OpenTable

For when only the rowdiest of dinners will do, Sushi on Me, in both Queens and Brooklyn, is the spot. This high-energy sushi bar is the opposite of a traditional omakase in all ways—except, happily, the top-notch fish—featuring bottomless sake, lots of cursing, and occasional live jazz. Everyone here is ready to party, and the 18-course omakase led by entertaining chefs who will do shots with you is a beautiful excuse to do so.

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Gotham (Union Square)

A bowl of pasta with thinly sliced truffles on top.
Legendary restaurant Gotham still carries the torch for New American food in the city. | Photo credit: Gotham.

Few restaurants have captured New York’s imagination (and as many star-studded New York Times reviews) the way Gotham has since it opened in 1984. The kitchen is now led by chef Ron Paprocki, who puts out special-occasion feasts that are a mix of menu icons (yellowfin tuna tartar for the win) but also include new kids on the block like a crispy celery root dish with portobello mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Level up your old-new celebration with cocktails like the deep amber Black Forest manhattan and toast to this updated NYC legend.

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Indian Accent (Midtown West)

Indian Accent is where you go for a choose-your-own adventure Indian meal. The creative spot is an ideal place to toast over a festive spread that feels more playful than its other fine-dining friends in Midtown. It’s all thanks to one of New Delhi’s most acclaimed chefs, Manish Mehrotra, who brings remixed takes on South Asian staples like sweet pickle ribs with sun-dried mango and kulchas stuffed with butter chicken or hoisin duck. Don’t skip the ghee roast lamb—there’s a reason it’s been on the menu since the restaurant’s 2016 opening.

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Le Bernardin (Theater District)

The interior of NYC fine-dining restaurant Le Bernardin is decked with black leather chairs, circular tables covered in white tablecloths, and glass vases in the center of the restaurant with white flowers.
Le Bernardin is that rare gem—one of the few three MICHELIN Star institutions in the country. | Photo credit: Daniel Krieger

There’s no better way to mark a milestone than dinner at a three-MICHELIN-starred restaurant—one of only 13 in the entire country. Maguy Le Coze and Eric Ripert’s seafood institution is still pulling in crowds and all sorts of cred—New York Times critic Pete Wells handed it yet another four-star review in February. That’s because no one does fresh French seafood quite like Le Bernardin. The Chef’s Tasting Menu is the way to go here, and a vegetarian version also makes this icon stand out in the city’s fine-dining world. Soaring wooden ceilings and enormous flower bouquets match the elegance on the plate and show why Le Bernardin is the gold standard for special occasions. 

The River Café (DUMBO)

Before DUMBO’s trendy boutiques, scenic parks, and rooftop bars, there was The River Café. It’s been around since 1977, but the MICHELIN-starred restaurant is anything but out of place, even as its surroundings have evolved. The River Café has always been ahead of its time, sourcing farm-to-table ingredients long before that was the norm, launching the careers of celeb chefs such as David Burke and Charlie Palmer along the way. With its unmatched Manhattan skyline, it’s also hosted more engagements, weddings, and business dinners than anyone could count. Book a table in the elegant waterside dining room up to 30 days in advance. The time-tested prix-fixe menu includes seasonal hits like duck breast with a spiced lavender honey crust and cherry sauce.

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Gage & Tollner (Downtown Brooklyn)

The interior of Brooklyn restaurant Gage & Tollner with a gold-clad bar and a marble countertop.
The new Gage & Tollner is all about a Gilded Age-style celebration. | Photo credit: Gage & Tollner

For a Gilded Age-style celebration, look no further than Downtown Brooklyn’s historic Gage & Tollner. Sohui Kim, Ben Schneider, and St. John Frizell (of Brooklyn favorites (Insa and Fort Defiance) restored the 1879 landmarked steakhouse to all its glory in 2021. Brass chandeliers, large mirrors, and a marble bar set the mood for a classic meal. The she-crab soup, fried chicken, and coconut layer cake are all shoutouts to famed chef Edna Lewis—who was the chef here between 1988 to 1992—and the steaks are some of NYC’s best. Old-school cocktails (seven kinds of martinis, for example) add to the restaurant’s vintage charms. Consider heading upstairs for pre- or post-dinner drinks at the nautically themed Sunken Harbor Club.

Tatiana (Lincoln Center)

Yes, it’s near impossible to score a reservation at Tatiana, but Kwame Onwuachi’s Lincoln Center legend is worth the hype—especially for a special night out. Dishes that honor the James Beard Award winner’s Afro-Caribbean heritage, like the short rib pastrami suya, egusi dumplings with crab, and curried goat patties, have meant months-long waits to eat here. But it’s incredibly rare to see Black food on these kinds of fine-dining stages—and that’s worth celebrating. Large floor-to-ceiling windows covered in gold chain links and marble tables all confirm this hotspot doesn’t take itself too seriously. Consider walking in early for a seat at the bar—the meal will still be just as epic. 

Ai Fiori (Midtown East)

The interiors of NYC restaurant Ai Fiori featuring white banquettes, black chairs, and a pink image of flowers in the center of the room on the wall.
Ai Fiori’s gorgeous floral interiors set the mood for a celebratory meal. | Photo credit: Liz Clayman and Kayla Bolyai

If you can’t imagine a special night out without show-stopping pasta, Ai Fiori in the Langham hotel is your spot. Artistic plates like the squid ink pasta with crustacean ragu and spaghetti with blue crab are reason enough to celebrate (and can be ordered as part of a four-course prix-fixe or a chef’s tasting menu). Take the festivities further with a bottle of wine from a 1,000-plus list that reps Italy’s lesser-known regions and grapes. Then soak it all in via white tablecloths and brown leather chairs in a space filled with flowers—Ai Fiori is peak elegant dining.

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Tempura Matsui (Midtown East)

As the name suggests, it’s all about battered and fried delicacies at Tempura Matsui. The restaurant’s late chef Masao Matsui introduced tempura tasting menus to the city, and his namesake spot celebrates him with a multi-course extravaganza that earned it a seventh consecutive MICHELIN star in 2022. Matsui’s wooden chef’s counter is the place to watch all the deep-fried action unfold. Rounds of sashimi and chawanmushi are the ultimate palate cleansers, as is a strong sake menu. The tranquil Japanese-style interiors make it a go-to for more low-key celebrations.

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Aquavit (Midtown East)

Wooden Scandinavian-themed interiors at Aquavit in New York City
Scandinavian-inspired Aquavit is one of New York City’s most prized dining rooms. | Photo credit: Signe Birck

With three stars from The New York Times, two MICHELIN stars, and a history that stretches back to 1987, Aquavit is one of NYC’s most prized dining rooms—and an ideal place to mark anything exceptional. In recent years, the Scandinavian restaurant has expanded to include lunch, plus à la carte and tasting menu options for dinner. Across all its menus, you’ll find fine-dining twists on classic Nordic ingredients like three types of herring with cheese and potato and Norwegian king crab with corn. Reservations open on the first of the month and tend to fill up quickly, but bar tables for two are easier to score.

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Zona de Cuba (South Bronx)

Rooftop views, plant-filled interiors, and live music are a winning combo for a celebration, and this South Bronx spot has lots of it all. Restaurateur Fernando Mateo converted the neighborhood post office’s rooftop into celebration central in 2019—and the mojito-fueled party hasn’t stopped since. Load up on Cuban food (whole snapper filled with coconut rice and shrimp, housemade beef empanadas) before hitting the dance floor with your crew—this is definitely the kind of spot you want to bring a big group to celebrate with.

Zou Zou’s (Hudson Yards)

Crispy noodles and piped cream are part of a reimagined cheesecake at NYC Middle Eastern restaurant Zou Zou’s.
Larger-than-life desserts like this cheesecake keep the celebration vibes strong at Zou Zou’s. | Photo credit: Noah Fecks

Zou Zou’s stands out for its theatrical and super-modern Middle Eastern food. It’s a massive, vibrant restaurant, ideal for large celebrations. Bring a group to share the housemade dips and breads, then dig into fire-roasted lamb leg shaved tableside. There’s also fresh fish, huge salads, and spectacular desserts—the OTT kataifi cheesecake is five inches wide. Chez Zou, the restaurant’s second-story cocktail bar, is a great place for a toast before or after your reservation.

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Tried them all? Check out other options here.

Tanay Warerkar is OpenTable’s New York writer and a content marketing manager at OpenTable

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk

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