CHIGuide

Where To Have A Graduation Dinner

Because finding a spot to celebrate shouldn’t be harder than your final exams.
A dimly lit dining room with white tablecloths and a view of the city in the background,

photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

It’s graduation season, and you need a suitably special place to celebrate a piece of paper you’ll promptly lose in the back of your closet. That’s where this guide comes in—it’s filled with special occasion spots for groups big and small, whether that’s friends you want to take shots with or contentious families that need food as a buffer.

And if you’d like to invite 50 of your nearest and dearest to mark the occasion, take a look at the best private dining options in Chicago.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Eric Wolfinger

Italian

Lakeshore East

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightSpecial OccasionsBirthdaysSee And Be SeenDrinking Good CocktailsDrinking Good Wine
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Tre Dita in the five-star St. Regis Hotel has art deco archways, immaculate river views, and top-notch service from staff in well-pressed suits. But the food is even better than the gorgeous space you now get to use as a backdrop for your grad pictures. Schiacciata drizzled with olive oil can make a die-hard focaccia fan long for this fluffier Tuscan cousin. Prawns in salsa verde and a charred rib eye cap are well-seasoned. And all of the pastas are perfectly tender, like the creamy pici caccio e pepe. Tre Dita is an ideal spot for a big celebratory dinner—especially if someone else is picking up the check.

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At some point during the $94 tasting menu at this Middle Eastern spot, everyone experiences what we call “The Galit Moment”—the inevitable realization that this place is so good, it stuns the table into silence. In other words, head to Lincoln Park for a graduation dinner that will keep the family fights at bay. The smoky cinnamon-braised brisket hummus could make it happen. Or it could be the falafel with mango and pickled turnips. Get both, in addition to the foie gras play on a PB&J, and people will be too distracted to engage in a little passive aggression.

Snagging a Rose Mary reservation can be daunting, especially for a group. But you’re the kind of person who sets calendar reminders to turn in your term papers a week before they’re due, so you will happily plan your graduation dinner two months in advance. And because this West Loop spot is very popular, your food influencer cousins will be so excited to hitch their wagons to your reservation-getting star, they (probably) won’t cancel last minute. Plus, the Croatian and Italian food is really good—with dishes like garlicky cevapi perfect for sharing, delicious crni rizot topped with grilled squid, and some incredible pastas.

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Maybe you’re celebrating with a group of people who only come to Chicago for the occasional wedding, graduation, or NASCAR street race. Before everyone heads back to their own zip codes, get dinner at RPM Steak—because nothing says “going out to dinner in Chicago” like a River North steakhouse with giant booths that’s owned by a former reality show star. RPM Steak also has excellent service, and from the sides to a burger with citrusy yuzu kosho aioli to their standard steak cuts, the menu is full of hits. And if you’re armed with your parents’ card and a desire for beef whose marbling looks like the flight patterns of every pigeon in Chicago, they also have sections dedicated to wagyu and kobe.

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Your dad’s switched rooms at the hotel three times for reasons he won’t reveal, and Aunt June won’t stop asking why the auditorium was so cold today. You need dinner at Provaré. This West Loop restaurant is busy but never chaotic, and the Creole-Italian dishes—cheesy chicken parm, crispy fried lobster tails with spicy aioli, and spinach artichoke dip—are rich and comforting. Their throwback R&B and hip-hop playlist guarantees a great time, even if your mom spends the whole dinner crying about how you'll always be her baby.

We get it; not every family gets along. But if any restaurant could bring people together, it’s Daisies in Logan Square. The key to finding common ground at one of 2023’s Best New Restaurants is their vegetable-focused dishes and housemade pastas. Once everyone has discovered a shared love of lemony cannelloni with mashed peas or frito misto with herby tarragon aioli, nobody will even remember (or care) that grandpa paid for your tuition and not your stepbrother’s. Plus, it’s so loud even if someone dares to bring it up, you won’t hear them anyway.

The convivial energy of this Ethiopian staple in Uptown will make you happy to hang out while your friends and family (lovingly) roast you on your special day. Tables easily fit large groups, and the food is meant to be eaten family-style. The long menu is full of delicious dishes like the shirro, the misserana bowmia with perfectly cooked lentils, and 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 on a spongy bed of injera, which is made fresh daily. And you’ll be wishing you could easily pick up their housemade tej on your next Binny’s run.

If you or someone you know just put in a few years at The University of Chicago, try Virtue. This elegant Southern spot is our favorite restaurant in Hyde Park. Not only is the food great, but we like sitting in the airy dining room that’s always packed, but never feels claustrophobic. Come here to share things like biscuits and pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, buttery shrimp and grits, and baked mac and cheese we’d run through a wall for. Then head to the large, separate bar area for after-dinner drinks and toast to the start of your loan repayments.

Even though it’s originally from Miami, Joe’s in River North has become a Chicago classic. This means it’s always busy—whether with locals having special occasion meals, or tourists who’ve finally figured out that they shouldn’t eat at Navy Pier. It’s a very old-school seafood and steak place, and you’ll find all the steakhouse sides you’d expect, along with seasonal fish and shellfish. Your server will have a jacket, your table will have a tablecloth, and you’ll get a basket of bread at the beginning of your meal. Joe’s proves there’s no better way to do celebratory surf and turf than stone crabs and steak.

Alla Vita is one of the city's best Italian spots. It’s also pretty, decorated with hanging plants and an intriguing overhead installation that looks a little like fish gills. And while the menu isn’t going to blow your mind with creativity (it’s mainly pizza, pasta, and a handful of entrees) what’s on it is good. The pizza has a chewy wood-fired crust, the chicken parmesan stays crispy even while sitting in a rich tomato sauce, and the silky cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings will have you waving a spoon in the air like your graduation cap from a few hours earlier.

This Latin American spot in West Town is from the chef behind El Che (one of our favorite steakhouses) and seems to specialize in throwing a party every night. With tasty shareable dishes like fried quail and catchy Bossa nova music, Brasero's good-vibes space practically asks you to show up with a group and gossip about your estranged roommate. The food is equally fun, with pork ribs covered in guava and hot sauce or the moqueca nailing a balance between sweet and spicy. Whatever you order, you’ll leave with a light cologne of smoke, thanks to the wood-fire grill in the back and dessert sparklers that constantly float around.

This sit-down Chinese restaurant in Chinatown is made for affordable group dining. Each table has enough room for at least six people (most of them seat 10) and lazy susans help streamline sharing the large servings—because even a “small” $45 crawfish order is actually a massive pile of tasty crustaceans that feeds at least three. Spicy whole fish or crab are also fantastic (verifying that Hunan Bistro does have “good fish” as the sign in front suggests), but don’t miss out on buttery braised pork belly or garlicky Hunan-style eggplant, too. Plus, they’re open seven days a week—which comes in handy if you need a place to host a Monday graduation dinner.

Like everything in the goat empire (for example, Girl & The Goat and Cabra), Duck Duck Goat is a fun spot with solid food. You’ll find Chinese dishes with twists—like moo shu with shrimp and bacon—plus options incorporating goat, like the Xi'an goat slap noodles. The lively environment will set the celebratory tone, but there are also two rooms available for private dinners of up to 35 people. Although you’ll probably want to invite fewer people because that means more soup dumplings left for you.

14 Parish is an upscale Caribbean restaurant in Hyde Park, and it’s worth seeking out if you’re in the mood to mark the end of your thesis with spicy jerk and some rum cocktails. You’ll find dishes like jerk chicken and catfish, oxtails, and vegetarian curry. The food is really good, and the service is friendly. Just be aware that they host a lot of celebrations here, so you’ll probably be competing with a birthday party, your academic nemesis’ graduation dinner, or the University of Chicago faculty casino night.

Let’s say someone in your party might have a little too much wine, then shout something rude about your future in an ivory tower. Head to Avec in River North. Unlike narrow, shoebox-sized Avec in the West Loop, no one can overhear your conversation at this much larger location. Plus, the combination of wood and tile floors, tall windows, and high ceilings make the whole space sound like a mall food court in December. The menu is full of delicious Avec classics (like the chorizo-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates and taleggio flatbread), along with a lot more small and large plates, pastas, and pizza.

For a place that’s popular and busy but not full of chaotic energy, check out Andros Taverna. This Greek restaurant in Logan Square is spacious, has great food, and you can usually get same-week reservations, in case all your planning brainpower was channeled into making sure you showed up on time for your last final. They have appetizers like the must-order kataifi cheese pie (shredded filo layered with cheese, baked, then topped with honey and pistachios), mezze spreads, entrees like prawn saganaki in a rich tomato sauce, and the best spanakopita we’ve ever had. They also have a big patio, weather permitting.

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A neutral-toned dining room full of light-colored wooden tables and chairs, with modern light fixtures hanging from the ceiling.

Whether you're looking for a terrace that fits 30 or an indoor room for a group of 10, here are your best options for private dining.

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