Where To Have A Fun Birthday Dinner Without Asking Your Friends To Spend Hundreds Of Dollars

Because your friends love you—but maybe not that much.

Birthdays are a special occasion—at least for the person celebrating one. For everyone else, a birthday can mean hiring an accountant to split the bill and spending way more money than planned because your roommate decided to hydrate with piña coladas. But there is a way to avoid forcing your friends into financial despair (other than telling your roommate to stay home): Go to one of the places on this guide. They’re all fun spots with great food and drinks, and are affordable enough that your friends won’t have to worry about midnight wake up calls from their banks’ fraud departments.


photo credit: Kim Kovacik


Wicker Park

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsBYOBKidsStrollersWalk-Ins
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Seeing the letters "MP” on a menu usually might as well just say “this sh*t’s expensive.” But when you see those letters next to the family-style platters at Alegrias in Wicker Park, don’t be afraid. Not only does this casual spot have some of the best seafood in the city, but with a group of four or more (which is necessary because the servings are massive), the bill will come out to around $20-40 a person. Each plate comes with an Everest-esque pile of food like stuffed lobster, prawns, and crab legs—and that’s not including the bread, rice, and fries. They’re also BYOB.

This New Orleans-inspired spot in Hyde Park is relatively inexpensive, and ticks every box on the fun-party checklist: plenty of room for groups, a lively space, boozy cocktails, and great food. Their specialty is po-boys and all eight are made with crackly bread imported from Louisiana. The sandwiches come in all sorts of delicious varieties like fried shrimp, roast beef, and fried green tomato, but go ahead and order their whole fried chicken for the table—it’s your birthday after all.

Since the dawn of time, pizza parties have been one of the most cost-efficient ways to celebrate turning another year older. But at a certain point, you outgrow the deluxe Little Caesars bundle and want something more sophisticated. Enter Spacca Napoli. Not only is this bright, welcoming Ravenswood Italian restaurant one of the best pizza spots in the city, but it’s one of the best restaurants in Chicago thanks to their Neapolitan pies. The crust is always perfectly charred, pleasantly thin with a pillowy chew, and topped with ingredients like soppressata, fior di latte, and anchovies. And since pizzas range from $16-$20, you can share a few different pies and some wine without worrying about your friends ghosting you after they see the bill.

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

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Khmai is one of only two Cambodian restaurants in Chicago, and their great food, inviting space, and friendly staff make this Rogers Park spot one of our favorite places for a lowkey birthday. But not only is every dish we’ve had here delicious, everything from the appetizers to the entrees are priced under $20. And though another year older may mean asking for a back roller for your birthday, Khmai’s umami-packed salads, fragrant stews, and what might be the best beef skewers in the city will help you temporarily forget about that chiropractor appointment you need to book. 

This Ethiopian staple in Uptown is the perfect spot for a birthday—tables easily fit large groups, and the food is meant to be eaten family-style. And the best (and most cost-efficient) thing to order is the chef’s messob, which is only available for groups of three or more. It comes with a delicious spread of stewed meats, seafood, and vegetables all on a spongy bed of injera. This feast starts at $23 a person for groups of three to seven, and actually drops to $22 per head if you show up with at least eight. 

Amaru is a great Latin American restaurant in Wicker Park that promises a fun night without being so fun that you end up being immortalized online. Hip-hop music plays loud enough to give the place an upbeat atmosphere without interrupting conversations, and their flaming cocktails are an upgrade from the twist-off bottle of Barefoot lingering in your fridge. The dishes on their short menu are all reasonably priced and shareable, with things like smoky jerk chicken in huacaina sauce or goat cheese ravioli with oxtail.

photo credit: Sun Wah

$$$$Perfect For:Big Groups

Like a secret password, saying “duck dinner” to your server at this Chinese restaurant in Uptown unlocks one of the best group meals in Chicago. And though this off-the-menu item is perfect for a birthday, any opportunity to wrangle some friends to take on the spread of juicy Peking duck baos, noodles (fried rice is also available), and soup is a good one. Ordering additional baos are always necessary, but since the entire feast only costs $60, paying a little extra for more buns shouldn’t trigger any mid-dinner bank account checks. This large two-story restaurant is always busy, but it’s usually easy to make a reservation, or just walk in with a group.

La Luna is a vibrantly decorated Mexican restaurant in Pilsen with delicious food and some of our favorite margaritas. Their energetic Latin soundtrack and busy atmosphere makes eating here a blast. Dishes like queso fundido and mussels with salsa nayarit are easy to share and make sure to order a bunch of tacos, too. Prices are already affordable, but it’s especially a good deal if your birthday happens to fall between Tuesday and Friday when they have rotating Happy Hour deals like $3 tacos and 25% off shot flights.

You’ll be welcomed by K-pop music videos blasting from the TV screens the moment you step into Yeowoosai in West Ridge. And while the party atmosphere of this always-busy Korean restaurant is ideal for a birthday, its massive servings and pitchers of soju cocktails are what makes Yeowoosai a great place to celebrate turning 27 for the fifth year in a row. Their crispy popcorn chicken or seafood pajeon are perfect drinking snacks, but we also like splitting a huge plate of Hawaiian-style kimchi bokkeumbap with spam, bacon, pineapple, mozzarella cheese, and eggs. After dinner, head next door to U-Star Karaoke.

Ok, we know that Planta Queen is a chain, but this popular vegan restaurant strikes the rare balance of serving great Asian-inspired, plant-based food, affordability, and being enough of a scene that it feels deserving of its River North address. The sleek interior is the perfect echo chamber for their clubby playlist and has plenty of room for large groups. And vegan or not, the food here is objectively good. The ahi watermelon nigiri is a fantastic tuna alternative and the chewy udon noodles floating in a rich truffle cream sauce will shut up any of your guests who might be skeptical that you chose a plant-based spot.

Dim sum always makes for a fun group dinner—but it’s even more enjoyable when birthday privileges mean not having to fight for the last BBQ pork bun. The massive dining space has big round tables with Lazy Susans, and they can seat 12 people. There’s something for everyone on their large dim sum menu, from classics like juicy siu mai and chewy rice crepes to less common dishes like ​​chicken and dried scallop buns.

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Suggested Reading

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The best restaurants in Chicago to host your birthday get-together.

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