Where To Have An Affordable Group Dinner In Chicago guide image

CHIGuide

Where To Have An Affordable Group Dinner In Chicago

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 someone 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

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

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8.9

Alegrias Seafood Chicago

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1024 N. Ashland Ave, Chicago
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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 (octopus, scallops, shrimp, and imitation crab), and the prawns come in a delicious, spicy tomato broth, with fries on the side to soak it up.

Not only does this New Orleans-inspired Hyde Park spot have the best po’boys we’ve encountered in Chicago, but it’s not too expensive and also a blast. The spacious counter-service restaurant has a full bar, live music, and makes boozy hurricanes that aren’t overly sweet. Along with the aforementioned po’boys (like fried shrimp, fried green tomato, and a peacemaker–fried oyster and roast beef) the menu has other reasonably priced dishes that are great to share—like a giant muffaletta on housemade bread.


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5 Rabanitos in Pilsen is one of the best Mexican restaurants in Chicago, and one of our favorite places to go with a bunch of people. It’s colorful and crowded, busy with large groups sharing platters of crispy carnitas, couples splitting enchiladas, and hungover souls fighting for their lives over steaming bowls of pozole. There’s no wrong way to order here—get the tacos, anything from the huge vegetarian menu, the carne asada, or the very spicy ahogada torta. The menu is long, and the service is so friendly you won’t want to leave. Even when they (very politely) ask you to because they’re closing for the night.


Angry Crab is a fantastic BYOB Cajun-style crab boil on Lincoln Ave. near Bryn Mawr. Don’t Prepare to get messy while you dive into giant plastic bags filled with crab, shrimp, lobster, chorizo, and more. Come here with a group, 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 They're 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.


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.

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.


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 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.


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8.3

Demera

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We’re huge fans of Demera, an Ethiopian spot in Uptown. The long menu is full of delicious dishes, like the shirro (a wonderful chickpea stew) and the misserana bowmia with perfectly cooked lentils and okra in a spicy berbere sauce. The way to do it is to go with a few other people and order one of their Messob options, which is a communal dining situation that lets you try a bunch of different dishes. It's all served on a big round of fantastic injera, which is made fresh daily. Also, be sure to order the sampler. That way you get to choose five vegetarian side dishes for $15, which are so good even the non-vegetarians won't complain.


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.


If you’re looking for a quality steak place without expensive steakhouse prices, Tango Sur is the spot. It’s an Argentinian restaurant in Lakeview, and all the meat here is great—including their morcilla and chorizo. And the fact that they're BYOB and only take reservations for parties of six or more makes Tango Sur an excellent choice for big group dinners. Come with your friends, load up on red wine beforehand, and prepare for some meat sweats.


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.

We’re big fans of this hot pot spot on the border of Chinatown and Pilsen. For one thing, this restaurant in the 88 Marketplace building has lots of tables, which is nice. And the menu has suggested cooking times, which is not only helpful, but can help avoid potential arguments about how long you should leave the fish balls in the spicy broth (five minutes, by the way). They have a robust condiment station, where you can mix your own hot pot sauce with ingredients like chili oil, garlic, vinegar, sesame paste, and more. Plus, you can order pots with either one, two, or three-way broth dividers, and they’re all delicious. Come here on a date or with a small group, and plan to try everything.


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.


KBBQ is always great for groups, but is often expensive. But Gogi in West Ridge is actually pretty affordable, and has both gas burners and stone pits full of hot coals, and makes for a fantastic group grilling experience. The different cooking methods add levels of nuance to the dishes’ flavor. Plus this place is fun. It's full of small groups looking for a late-night meal, and birthday parties having dinner before going to U-Star Karaoke next door.


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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