The Infatuation is built on the idea of “Perfect For” categories, catering to assorted restaurant needs. Dinner With The Parents? Date Night? Impressing Out Of Towners? We got it.
But occasionally, we field requests that don’t quite fit into any of The Infatuation’s predetermined categories. And there is one such genre of restaurant that comes up over and over again – at parties, on Instagram, in the yoga classes we don’t actually attend. It’s what we have come to call the “Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends.”
After considerable research (i.e. hearing this request repeatedly), we’ve broken down the core attributes of the Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends (SCRPRTCUWFF). In general, SCRPRTCUWFFs are:
- Kind of quiet.
- But not super boring.
- Relatively small in size, or at least not huge.
- With entrées mostly under $20 (or equivalent).
- Generally not located in neighborhoods with party trolleys rolling by.
You have our list - now go ahead and plan that Tuesday night dinner.
This casual cafe in Humboldt Park is open all day, and its French diner food (like omelettes, sandwiches, and duck frites) is fantastic. Just know that the strong menu and cool feel might turn “catching up” into planning a trip to France. Your dinner will be reasonably priced, but that plane ticket might not be.
Blue Door in Lincoln Park used to be a small grab-and-go restaurant, but these days it’s a larger, cuter, sit-down space in the same neighborhood. Lots of plants and little watering cans make the interior feel like a farmhouse, and the comfort food on the menu fits right in. Expect fried chicken sliders, cheese curds, and a lot of giant salads. It’s the perfect way to really remind everyone that they live in the Midwest.
Head to Bar Roma for rustic Italian food, and/or to pretend you’re on the set of a cooking show. The space has a lot of wood and distressed furniture, plus bags of flour lying around - all of which makes for a charming environment. And the food is good, with a variety of meatballs (there’s a whole section of the menu devoted to them), in addition to great pasta. Definitely get the cacio e pepe, and probably a few more to share.
If you’re like us and want to spend all of your time hanging out in quaint French bistros, then Le Bouchon is your friend. We’ve considered moving in here, but ultimately it seemed awkward. This place is classically decorated, small, and perfect for catching up with a few friends over cassoulet or bouillabaisse. In other words, it completely fits the definition of SCRPRTCUWFF.
This place calls itself a diner, but it’s much more than that. The focus is on freshly prepared seafood, with a blackboard menu that changes daily based on what’s been flown in. Glenn’s also has 25 different cereals available, all of which come with cold milk and fresh fruit. So if you want to eat Fruit Loops while your friend talks about work over her crab cakes, go for it.
Everyone should have a neighborhood restaurant as friendly and delicious as this place. It’s one of the very best spots in Chicago to hang out with friends and eat good food, and if it were downtown, it would be impossible to get into. Make sure to order one of the mussel dishes (there are several options) - and the veteran move is to bring your own nice bottle of wine and plan on staying for a while. You will all eventually have to face reality and go back to your own neighborhoods, but enjoy yourself for as long as you can before then.
White Oak Tavern is basically the living room of a Lincoln Park brownstone. The place looks like it could be a book club gathering spot, but it serves tasty American food instead of opinions on A Prayer For Owen Meany. It’s cute, it’s quiet, and you can order pasta, a burger, or some braised chicken. Everyone will be happy.
“What’s that cute little garden-level restaurant on Diversey near the park?” Oh, that would be MFK. The bright colors in this small, seaside-inspired space make MFK the perfect spot to catch up with your friends while eating a bunch of seafoody small plates, like grilled octopus or brandade. Make sure someone orders dessert, and make sure it’s the basque cake.
Beatrix is on the larger side, but it checks off all the other SCRPRTCUWFF boxes. Plus, it’s kind of healthy, and close to Soulcycle/Flywheel/Pure Barre, not to mention Whole Foods if you need to grab a few groceries on the way home. It’s the kind of place where you can meet a few friends after work (or a workout), then get on with your errands. Which is what life is all about.
Lula is a neighborhood spot in Logan Square that’s been around since 1999 - it’s been doing the farm-to-table thing since before it was a thing. The small space is split into two separate rooms with a tiny connecting corridor in the middle, and the people and artwork inside will remind you of your favorite coffee shop in college. But unlike that place, Lula is a full-on restaurant serving seasonal dishes like grilled kohlrabi, roasted squash, and duck breast. The menu changes, but it’s always excellent.
Good sushi can get pretty expensive. But Raisu, a small, low-key restaurant in Albany Park, has high-quality fish that’s still affordable - as long as you stay away from the omakase. Focus on the nigiri and sashimi, and get a roll or two to share. There are non-sushi entrees available as well, in case someone in your group wants to go that route.
When you want Italian food specifically, consider Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy. It’s a small spot with a large and very reliable menu. Get a few pastas and “vasis” (a.k.a. things that come in jars and go on toast) to share, plus a bottle of wine. Wine - the official sponsor of SCRPRTCUWFFs everywhere.
This restaurant in Andersonville is from the same people who own Pastoral (the cheese shop), which means there’s an good selection of cheese, meat, and accoutrements. They have a full menu, but the best way to eat here is to come for an indoor picnic with cheese and charcuterie. There’s a bistro feel, plus an extensive wine menu that a server can help you navigate. You can all pretend that you’re watching a concert at Ravinia, just without the Indigo Girls.
Looking to meet up in Lincoln Park? You won’t need to look very hard, because Pasta Palazzo has everything you need. The pasta menu is affordable and has something for everyone, including a “healthy” pasta section (with no butter or cheese), creative options like jalapeno gnocchi, and salads if butter-free pasta isn’t good enough for you.