We live in a world with people who say things like “I’m hungry, but I’m not sure what for” and who love starting a “Where do you guys want to go?” group text with 25 friends. In these situations, eventually someone, anyone, just needs to make the f*cking decision. And that person can be you. Here are 12 places in the River North you can get into on short notice, with fine enough food and drinks, and a great atmosphere - which is probably why you all wanted to go out in the first place.
Print this list out, and the next time you find yourself on Clark with a group of commitment-phobes, just throw a dart at it.
The Smith’s whole reason for existing is seemingly to cater to groups who can’t make a decision. It’s a mini-chain based out of New York with a menu apparently designed to appeal to the largest amount of people possible. You’ll find a range of options like burgers, salads, pizza, pastas, fried chicken, bibimbap, steak, and mac and cheese. The food isn’t going to blow you away, but it’s just fine. So the next time you’re outside Nordstrom Rack debating restaurant choices with your mom, sister, sister’s best friend, and your mom’s Zumba instructor/maybe girlfriend, go here.
Portsmith is in the Dana, a hotel you tend to forget about until it pops up as a booking option on Expedia. And the hotel’s low profile is most likely the reason this restaurant isn’t busier, because the food is great. This place has a lot of seafood-focused dishes - you’ll find everything from oysters to cacio e pepe with uni butter - but also things like fried chicken and a fantastic mushroom pot pie. The space is a bit awkward, with tiny two-tops that barely fit more than one dish, but that’s perfect for when you’re deciding where to eat with your friend who’s in town for a Tetris tournament. And don’t worry about debating where to go for fun drinks afterwards - just head upstairs to rooftop bar Apogee for fancy cocktails.
You and your partner have been going back and forth for 45 minutes about your date night destination, starting a countdown to an argument as the discussion drags on. But Gilt Bar can halt the timer on this fight-bomb. It’s been in the neighborhood since 2010 (basically a century in restaurant years), so it’s not as busy as the newer spots. Fantastic food and a dimly lit speakeasy feel make this place low-hanging fruit for romance. Order the tenderloin tartare or split the perfectly cooked ribeye and raise your glasses to another argument avoided. For now.
A coworker suggested grabbing dinner, and now leaving the office is developing into a musical group number as you collect people who want to tag along. Trying to find a place that everyone can agree on feels impossible, not to mention finding one that can even seat all of you on such short notice. Thankfully, the food at Quartino is reliably good, and the large space has an endless amount of dining rooms. Plus, the Italian small plates menu makes it easy to keep adding to your order, in case Mayor Lightfoot, the Department of Sanitation, and the Chicago Bulls decide to join you, too.
The group chat started at 2pm, and now reads more like a food blog of everyone’s dietary restrictions instead of a productive discussion about where to eat. Stop the madness by heading to Beatrix. The atmosphere feels both casual and trendy, making it an enjoyable spot to hang out over some drinks, and the menu includes health-conscious ingredients like quinoa and kale, with a lot of gluten- and dairy- free dishes. Perhaps most importantly, they have a great bakery counter with enough variety to satisfy all of you - including people who can eat all the gluten and dairy they want.
The thing about River North is that it’s full of loud and crowded spots that are only getting louder and more crowded the longer it takes you and your friends to decide where to go. That’s why Bernie’s Lunch & Supper is always a good choice. It feels more relaxed than other options in the neighborhood, with tables far enough apart to give you space and privacy. Plus it’s easy to get seats at the large outdoor bar. As easy as the decision to order their excellent burger.
When was the last time you thought about Shaw’s? Probably not for a while, but it’s time to throw out this curveball the next time everyone’s waffling on where to meet for drinks. The main dining room is stuffy, but the casual oyster bar off to the side isn’t. And this place has Happy Hour seven days a week with half-off appetizers like calamari, hush puppies, and oysters, plus some drinks on special.
Like any restaurant that’s roughly the size of a football field, Pacific Standard Time has a space that can be hard to fill. And while it was really busy when it first opened, it’s now possible to walk in on a weeknight and get a table. If you’re with a small, indecisive group or an even more indecisive date, it’s a good neighborhood option. The menu has a broad range of dishes, from seasonal vegetable plates and wood-fired pizzas to entrees like skirt steak and polenta.
It’s 5pm and the only thing you, your significant other, and the couple you’re supposed to hang out with can agree on is watching the game, preferably aboard a pizza raft, floating on a sea of alcohol. Before you spend two hours on a dead-end discussion that results in all four of you sitting alone in your apartments with CPK, remember there’s a River North location of Parlor Pizza. Like the one in the West Loop, it’s huge, casual, and fun, with a nearly identical menu of wood-fired pizzas, salads, and bar snacks. The pizzas are solid (try the “bee sting” with hot honey and ’nduja), and there’s a big bar in the center of the restaurant that’s perfect for watching sports.
Suggesting a steakhouse as a debate-ending solution isn’t very practical. They’re expensive, full of tourists, and unless everyone wants a steak, not really much of a decisive problem solver. But GT Prime is a dark horse when it comes to versatility. While it’s definitely a steakhouse, you’ll also find lots of delicious non-steak entrees like pastas, vegetable dishes, and seafood. The bar area is casual and great for groups, especially if those groups are super into fuzzy bar stools and mounted animal heads. And if the indecision continues once you’ve all looked over the menu, you can always order the $235 “carnivore” to share, which includes 8-oz. servings of filet, bison, wagyu, and venison.
One possible reason you might struggle to choose a spot in River North is because it sometimes feels like you have only two choices in this neighborhood: an expensive Big Night Out at a place like RPM, or a sceney sh*tshow with complicated cocktails that take an hour to make. Centennial, though, is a low-key place where you’ll feel like you’re eating in the hull of an old ship, if old ship hulls had great craft beer selections and tasty bar food like a pulled chicken sandwich with curry and yogurt. This place doesn’t get too busy, so you can all hear each other complain about your day.
There are times when you and every single person in your friend group feels like their workday is an American Ninja Warrior obstacle course. Choosing a dinner spot is hard enough on those days, and you might all be one “I don’t care” text away from canceling plans and going home to hang out with Red Dead Redemption. Don’t do it - you need each other now more than ever. Go to Jake Melnick’s, where you can all stare blankly at TV screens while eating chicken wings and beer. Together.