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.
All Together Now is a useful all-day spot that’s right on the border of West Town and Ukrainian Village. It’s both a restaurant and a market, with a few tables set up for small groups. The food is very good - we like the well-seasoned lamb meatballs and juicy roasted chicken with black garlic bread pudding - and this place is great for a casual weeknight dinner. If you don’t get enough time to fully catch up, you can always grab a few bottles of wine on the way out and go hang at whoever has the nicest apartment.
This small Latin American restaurant in Wicker Park has a fun atmosphere and great food with complex flavors. For example, you’ll find chicken skewers served in a spicy huancaina and a yuca gnocchi with a fantastic rabbit bolognese. Almost everything on the menu is between $8-$20, and perfect for sharing. Come here to catch up with your friends about their recent vacations - which might have something to do with the fact that they’re choosing to split a $6 order of fried plantains for dinner.
Cebu is a slightly upscale Filipino restaurant in Wicker Park that’s great for getting together with one or two friends over drinks. The short menu has dishes like kinilaw, sisig, and chicken adobo, along with some fantastic homemade pandesal bread served with honey butter. And while the food is good, the small space means you will frequently hear the staff bickering with each other. But, let’s face it, you and your friends love other people’s drama. And even if you don’t, you can always choose to sit on the secluded back patio.
When this place first opened in Andersonville, it was just a daytime spot focused on pastries, coffee, and bread, which they bake from grains they mill themselves. But now, the small counter-service space transforms into a full-blown restaurant at night, with a short dinner menu of interesting options like a mushroom custard with crab, housemade agnolotti, and some excellent Swedish meatballs in a cauliflower-based gravy that sounds terrible but is actually delicious. Come here to catch up over breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and get a seat on their fenced-in patio, which feels like someone’s backyard.
Middle Brow in Logan Square is a brewpub that’s decorated like a DIY wedding (with tea lights, reclaimed wooden picnic tables, and decorative plants in birdcages), and basically feels like a Pinterest board that came to life. It also happens to be perfect for small groups of friends. Get anything that involves the housemade bread (like the toasts and spreads), plus the pepperoni pizza, and order plenty of their light and hoppy beers.
Daisies is a fantastic vegetable-focused and also “Midwestern pasta-focused” restaurant. This basically means that every dish uses fresh, seasonal ingredients, and what that means is that you can eat a big bowl of pasta here and still feel pretty healthy. There are always two non-pasta mains like chicken, beef, or fish, and while those are good, you should mainly be coming here for the pasta. While you’re at it, try to sit on the quiet back patio.
The food at this BYOB Logan Square spot is consistently excellent, and you never need to worry about them getting rid of your favorite dishes, since the menu doesn’t change. You can’t go wrong with sharing the pav bhaji, chicken tikka masala, and malai kofta - all good comfort food options for consoling your friend who just found out her favorite shampoo has been discontinued.
There’s a place that’s not Water Tower Place or The Cheesecake Factory to meet up near Michigan Avenue, and that place is Marisol. It’s inside the MCA, but the food is so good that you’ll want to come here no matter how often you’re in Streeterville (or how much you care about modern art). The nicely composed dishes - like the sunflower hummus and fried quail - are delicious, and the perfect thing to eat while you politely listen to your friends plan a trip to Art Basel.
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. 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.
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 continue with the errands that seem to take up most of your waking hours.
Lula is a neighborhood spot that’s been serving farm-to-table food in Logan Square since 1999. 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. Unlike that place, Lula is a full-on restaurant serving seasonal dishes like cauliflower risotto, 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. 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.
Looking to meet up in Lincoln Park? You won’t need to look very hard, because Pasta Palazzo has everything you need. The pasta-filled 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.