CHIGuide

Where To Have An Affordable Group Dinner

Check out these spots when you want to go out with your friends, but don’t want to spend a lot of money.

We’ve all been there. You’re enjoying a meal with your friends - until the bill arrives. It rolls across the table like a medieval scroll, and just keeps going. You didn’t even get a bite of that risotto, and come to think of it, you barely drank any wine. When did Robin find time to order three martinis? The sweat starts, and you try to remember how much money is left in your bank account as you kick yourself for agreeing to this dinner in the first place.

This situation is avoidable. Not every group dinner needs to be an all-out event. Here’s our guide to 31 spots where you can hang out, eat some high-quality food, and not feel like you need to hire an accountant to manage the bill.

The Spots

Angry Crab imageoverride image
8.1

Angry Crab

$$$$(773) 784-6848
Hours:TUESDAY3:00PM to 10:00PM
Perfect For:Big GroupsBYOB

One of the hardest parts about making a group dinner plan is finding something mutually convenient - no matter how hard you try, it seems like someone always gets stuck with a $45 Uber ride. Angry Crab is a great equalizer, because everyone gets screwed. It’s located on the far west side, far from any public transportation. But it’s worth the trip. Come here, order boiled shellfish (shrimp, crab, and lobster) by the pound, and then dig into seafood so good it has no business being in the Midwest.


The last time your friend group all saw each other was at a wedding where you bonded over how much you had to spend on “1920s glamour” outfits that fit the theme. Make up for that money pit of a weekend at Middle Brow Bungalow. It’s a pizza-focused brewpub that looks like a DIY wedding, decorated with tea lights and full of picnic tables that are perfect for groups. Split the sausage, mushroom, or margherita pizza - consider adding pepperoni to that last one, but don’t make Chris pay for it since he’s a vegetarian. And Karla shouldn’t pay for it either, since she arrived late and never signed off on the pepperoni order. Actually, on second thought, skip the pepperoni. It’s too complicated.


Canton Regio in Pilsen is one of our favorite spots for a fun group dinner, affordable or otherwise. This Mexican restaurant looks like a cross between a barn and an old church, with vaulted ceilings and wagon wheels on the wall. The menu focuses on grilled meat, which means you can easily share things like steaks, fajitas, and brochetas of chicken or shrimp. And because this place is BYOB, you won’t feel obligated to do a cost-benefit analysis of everyone’s margarita consumption like a deranged accountant.


We’d never tell you Parlor had the best pizza in Chicago. But you’re not at Parlor to be wowed by the food - you’re here to recapture the spirit of your carefree college days. (Or at least, what you always thought college would be like, thanks to the movies). The pizza here is perfectly tasty, and the large menu of satisfying bar food will please any non-pizza-eaters in your group. Plus, there are not one but two patios, so in good weather there’s plenty of space for everyone to sit outside.


This is another pizza place that’s less about the food and more about having a good time with your friends. If Parlor is Animal House, Homeslice is more Saved By The Bell: The College Years. Come here for for a photogenic group hang, complete with big couches, swing sets, and neon pink signs. Oh, and the pizza is actually pretty good, too.


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Athenian Room is not BYOB. Repeat, NOT BYOB. But you can bring alcohol over from the bar next door. Do that, then get ready for some delicious, incredibly cheap Greek food, including the kalamata chicken - one of the best roast chicken dishes in Chicago. Service is brusque, and the space is ultra-casual, but you’ll feel like you’re pretty much stealing the food.


This is a casual restaurant in Uptown serving fantastic Thai street food - you’ll find a long menu of curries, noodle dishes, grilled meats, and six different papaya salads. There’s a section called “Thai Dinner Table” where you can order tasting portions of different dishes along with rice (or noodles for curries). It’s easy to keep adding on to the order, which is definitely what you’ll end up doing.


Gorée Cuisine

$$$$

Goree is a spacious Senegalese restaurant on the border of Kenwood and Hyde Park where almost everything on the menu is between $10-18. Order one of their fantastic stews (our favorite is the vegetarian maffe made with tomatoes, peanut butter, and yams over rice) or an entree like the grilled red snapper or dibi chicken. The portions are so large that even if you split an entree with the group, you can plan on having leftovers. Just be prepared to argue over who gets to take them home.


Big Star imageoverride image
7.0

Big Star

$$$$(773) 235-4039
Hours:TUESDAY11:30AM to 2:00AM

Big Star is a polarizing restaurant here at The Infatuation. But whether or not you’re a fan of the tacos, you have to agree that this space is great for groups. There’s a huge patio with a laid-back feel, plus mezcal cocktails and queso fundido that will help you to forgive any inconsistencies, like too-fishy fish tacos.


Not all who participate in a Friendsgiving will do so equally - some people make casseroles with organic ingredients while others swing by Walgreens for chips and jarred salsa. The $19.99 dinner buffet at Pearl’s Place in Bronzeville creates this holiday meal feeling and will put everyone on equal footing. This spot focuses on Southern food and has a lot of large tables that work for groups of all different sizes. You’ll find a rotating series of staples like smothered short ribs, potatoes, greens, shrimp and grits, and smoked turkey. The buffet doesn’t include dessert, but you can pay extra for it. And everyone should probably order their own because half a dozen people throwing elbows for the last bite of pie isn’t what Friendsgiving is all about.


Pequod’s has some of the best pizza in Chicago, and the Lincoln Park location is basically a sports bar, so it’s ideal for getting together over pitchers of beer and watching whatever Chicago team is breaking your heart this year. A large pan-style deep dish pie is big enough to share with a group of five (including your friend who never chips in, but always has a piece).


Qing Xian Yuan is a casual restaurant in Chinatown that specializes in handmade broth-filled dumplings that you can get in orders of 12 or 18. The group will need to make some tough decisions here: you can choose to get the dumplings steamed, boiled, or fried, with fillings like pork and pickled cabbage, shrimp and leak, or egg and pepper. Heated disagreements might occur while finalizing your order, but at least it’s a valuable lesson about compromise. And since all the dumplings start around $10 and this place is BYOB, you definitely won’t be arguing over the check.


You need a solid strategy to come here - or at least some patience. In fact, patience is actually the best strategy. This West Loop barbecue spot doesn’t accept reservations, and gets really crowded during peak hours, so expect a wait. Luckily, there’s a huge bar in the center of the restaurant to keep your group occupied, and once you secure a picnic table, the cafeteria-style line moves quickly. Then you have all the time in the world to get the meat sweats while watching the other groups wait for you to finally leave.


This casual Mexican spot in Wicker Park serves some incredible seafood. The best strategy here is for your group to order the Family Platter, which comes with crab, legs prawns, and stuffed lobster. Then just get to work and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. The baked lobster is stuffed with more seafood (mainly octopus), and the prawns come in a delicious, spicy tomato broth, with fries on the side to soak it up.


The patio at Parson’s Chicken and Fish is one of the best in the city. It’s spacious, with plenty of room between the picnic tables, and also protected from the street - so you won’t have to breathe in any exhaust. As you might expect from the name, you’re here for fried chicken and fish, and they’re both excellent. Plus, the outdoor bar has negroni slushies. So all in all, this is one of our go-to spots for a group hang, especially when it’s nice out.


If you have anyone in your group who’s visiting from out of town, the River North Lou Malnati’s is a solid choice. It’s close to a lot of the spots out-of-towners like to visit (like the Magnificent Mile), and even more importantly, it serves classic Chicago deep dish.


5 Rabanitos is a casual spot in Pilsen putting out fantastic Mexican dishes. There’s a great selection of tacos as well as a huge vegetarian menu, and their ahogada torta with carnitas (served in a chile broth) is so spicy it might send your group on a vision quest.


Don’t be discouraged if you walk by The Delta in Wicker Park and think it looks like a hallway. Yes, it’s narrow, but it actually has way more seating along the wall than you’d expect - plus, there’s a great back patio. And the Southern menu here is ideal for casual drinking and snacking. Get some cocktails and try their specialty: tamales that are simmered in a chile broth instead of steamed.


Kaiser Tiger has a couple things going for it. First, it has a giant patio with tables large enough to seat groups of about 15. And second, it has something on its menu called “The Bomb” - five pounds of beef and pork sausage stuffed with bacon and wrapped in a brown sugar bacon weave. It’s served with buns and fries, and for $80 you and your group can share this delicious monstrosity. If that doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of regular-sized sausages, sandwiches, and even some salads on the menu, too.


Irazu imageoverride image

Irazu

$$$$(773) 252-5687
Hours:TUESDAY11:30AM to 9:30PM
Perfect For:Big GroupsBYOB

You were too broke to go to your friend’s destination wedding. Make up for it by getting together at Irazu. The large covered patio, BYOB policy, and awesome Costa Rican food make this feel like a mini-tropical vacation right in the middle of Wicker Park. And since it’s inexpensive, you can use the extra cash to finally buy that gift.


Your restaurant choices in River North usually boil down to expensive and good, affordable but terrible, or the worst - expensive and terrible. Quartino breaks this mold. It’s not only reliably good, but its tapas-style Italian menu makes it very easy for you to have a reasonably priced meal here. Plus, the large space has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of dining rooms, so you probably won’t have to wait for a table.


OK, this spot is on the smaller side and only has one table that works for a large group, but we’re including it anyway. The more opportunities to tell everyone about the food at this Nepali restaurant in University Village, the better. Their momos (Nepalese dumplings) come in a lot of varieties and are great for sharing, but the other stuff here - the sekuwa, the pork chili, the biryani - deserves to be on the table, too. You’ll pass a few chains on the walk over here (like Bar Louie and Shake Shack), so maybe you can shake off some of your group on the way over here.


If you want to eat with your friends, but don’t want to undo all the hard work you just did at that spin class together, Beatrix has you covered. Their menu of kind-of-healthy options will appeal to everyone in the group, and there are three locations in the city (West Loop, River North, and Streeterville), all of which are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


Tank Noodle in Little Vietnam has friendly service and very tasty Vietnamese food. There’s an extensive menu, but the pho is the best thing here. And it’s BYOB, so you can skip that 20-minute ritual of triangulating the alcohol-consumed-to-tip ratio at the end of your meal.


For those of you tracking all the pizza styles in Chicago with an FBI-style push pin map, Roots serves Quad Cities-style pies. Which means the pizzas here are round, cut into rectangles, and have toppings under the cheese. The menu is huge, with a decent selection of salads and rotating pizzas designed by local chefs. A huge bar area, large patio outside, and interesting specialty pies make it a great local spot for hanging out with pizza and beer.


Arranging an entire pig roast might be cost-effective and fun, but it’s not always practical to play Lord of the Flies with all your friends. So we suggest going to Carnitas Uruapan in Gage Park instead. Here you can get belly, shoulder, or rib meat, and it’s all priced by weight. Whichever one(s) you choose will be juicy and delicious, and your order will come with some fantastic handmade tortillas. Unlike the small location in Pilsen, the colorful space here is perfect for large groups and parties.


If you’re not careful, a meal at La Scarola can get expensive. But this old-school Italian restaurant in West Town has huge portions, so you don’t need to get appetizers, and most of the entrees are large enough to share among several people. You can expect white tablecloths, pictures of celebrities, and red sauce classics like veal parmigiana and pasta. It might not serve the most innovative Italian food in town, but everything on the menu is tasty and satisfying. It’s always crowded, so be sure to make a reservation.


MingHin is large, has several locations, and is open 365 days a year. Don’t come here with your friend who’s an irresponsible online shopper - you use iPads at the table to place your order, and it’s easy to lose track of all the food you’ve put in your cart. You can get tasty entrees like lo mein and rice dishes, but we recommend focusing on the dim sum - especially the pork buns and dumplings.


The Asian fusion dishes at Mott Street are designed for sharing, and the communal seating and large outdoor patio make this an ideal group dinner spot. Make sure you order the kimchi-stuffed empanada - one of the best fusion dishes they have - and if you come for brunch, someone needs to order the amazing burger. Actually, everyone needs to order the burger, because you definitely won’t want to share.


Communal seating with strangers can be a nightmare, but when the weirdos picking off your plate are your friends, it’s not that big of a deal. And the Publican’s giant U-shaped table is large enough for you to come here with really big groups. It’s not an inexpensive restaurant by any means, but it is reasonably priced for what it is, so come here when you want an affordable but upscale meal. The $60 chef’s choice option is a great way to try a bunch of the food.


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