No one eats more pizza than a NYC mom or dad. A mom we know even admitted to a childless friend that she eats pizza at least three times per week. The childless friend gaped. How? Why? Birthday parties of course. The primary parenting social event. Sure it’s easy. Sure it’s a crowd pleaser. But wouldn’t it be nice to eat something different? In an effort to vary your birthday party diet, here’s our favorite birthday party eats that thankfully are not pizza.

empanada mama

Alternative #1: Empanadas
Talk about big flavor for small fries. In wheat or corn based empanada shells, Empanada Mama stuffs all manner of no-brainer kid favorites like cheese, chicken, and ham. For adults, try Caribbean roast pork, sweet Italian sausage, or spicy chicken. Empanadas are not easy to slice, so call ahead to order mini versions of your favorite combinations.

Empanada Mama
189 E. Houston St.
Lower East Side

Ciao For Now

Photo Credit: Jordin Ruderman

Alternative #2: Sustainable Eats
For 10 years, Ciao For Now has catered events and photo shoots, but they’re perhaps most appreciated at kids birthday parties, where their healthy and delicious food is most unexpected. Local ingredients and sustainability differentiate this food from the rest, and options include chickpea fritters, tea sandwiches, mini quiches, curried samosas, and spanakopita. Kids will eat what they like and your adult guests will love the rest.

Ciao For Now
107 W 10th St.
West Village

kimbap from food 32

Alternative #3: Kimbap
Ever heard of kimbap? These sushi lookalikes are a hugely popular fast food in Korea, and more like a salad than a fish. Filled with cucumbers, spinach, carrots, radish, and proteins like beef and spicy tuna, kimbap is an instant hit among kids who love to pick apart (and eat) the colorful insides. Gochujang in K-Town’s Food 32 Gallery has some of the best, and when you call the manager to order, you can also order from any of the other stalls in the place.

Food 32 Gallery
11 W 32nd St.

Gila's Nosh

Photo Credit: Kevin Shand

Alternative #4: Passes as Home-Cooking
If you’re wishing your mom would morph into Grandma Reed and prepare the birthday feast for you, order from Gila’s Nosh. It’s a family-run Mediterranean restaurant in Kips Bay, and when you call, it’ll probably be Gila who answers. Tell her who’s coming and she’ll tell you what you need. From bourekas, to the baked-that-morning challa, and homemade hummus and pita, the woman doesn’t miss a note. Try the Kube Nabousia (bulgar dough stuffed with shredded beef and pine nuts), which is quite possibly the Gila’s own invention.

Gila’s Nosh
221 E 23rd St.
Kips Bay


vanessas dumplings

Alternative #5: Dumplings
We’ve seen kids polish off 6-8 of these little guys in one sitting, and if they’re filled with high quality veggies and protein, it’s like a full course meal hidden in a noodle. For a time-tested NYC favorite, we recommend Vanessa’s Dumpling House. 50 chive and pork dumplings cost less than one large pizza, and Vanessa’s even serves seasonal options like pumpkin and zucchini and spicy beef and banana.

Vanessa’s Dumpling House
220 E 14th St.
East Village


paradis to go

Alternative #6: Breakfast
Most of these kids parties start early, so why not make it a brunch feast? You can never go wrong with smoked salmon and bagels, and the same holds true for biscuits and eggs. Paradis To-Go, the Franco-American cafe near Union Square caters all such options, and more, offering made-to-order pastries, frittatas, breakfast sandwiches and even homemade granola.

Paradis To-Go
114 4th Ave.
Union Square

Little Poland Pierogis

Alternative #7: Pierogis
In some parts of the country, pierogis count as a food group, and we know why. These semi-circles of dough come stuffed with pleasing fillings like sweet potato, meat, spinach, and cheese. They’re small enough to require eating a variety, at which point your guests will be stuffed with all manner of vitamins and minerals. Little Poland, the East Village stalwart, serves top notch versions of its national dish. You can even order them in bulk to fry at home.

Little Poland
200 2nd Ave.
East Village

What other food would you add to our list? Tell us in the Comments!

— Anna Knoebel