Where To Have A Last-Minute Group Dinner

When you’re heading out with a group and no one made plans, try any of these spots.
Where To Have A Last-Minute Group Dinner image

photo credit: Jack Li

People want to hang out with you. Maybe it’s your great personality. Or maybe it’s your OK personality combined with the fact that you always know where to get good food. Either way, here’s where to go the next time you have to plan a group dinner last-minute. These restaurants have plenty of room, they’re relatively easy to get into, and the food is impressive enough that you can keep having an all-right personality and still have friends.

The Spots


North Center

$$$$Perfect For:Big GroupsCasual Weeknight DinnerDate Night


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This North Center Indian restaurant has a menu full of hits, from starters like mushroom kulcha and tamarind-glazed sweet potato chaat, to creamy lamb gustaba and smoky eggplant bharta. Not only is the food really good, but this place works well for a bunch of situations. They make great cocktails (with Happy Hour from 4pm-?pm Tuesday through Friday) and the bright, spacious dining room is great for group dinners. Oh, and there’s a covered sidewalk patio. So unless you just don’t like eating delicious things, there are very few scenarios where Basant isn’t a good option.

photo credit: Kim Kovacik

Dr. Bird’s in Wicker Park isn’t impossible to get into or prohibitively expensive - a meal at this counter-service Jamaican spot is a lot like riding in a comfy, air-conditioned car after a hot day waiting in line at Six Flags. Come here with a group and grab a table (we’ve never had to wait for one), order a cocktail (they also have large format options), and catch up over some delicious food. It’s full of fantastic jerk options, like tender chicken wings, shrimp, and jackfruit. The sides are outstanding too - including must-order coco rice that’s sweet and savory, and festivals that are a perfect complement to the smoky jerk seasoning. A table full of all of the above will guarantee that everyone leaves in a better mood than when they walked in.

Suggesting a food hall to your friends might feel a little lame. But Time Out Market in Fulton Market always has plenty of tables. The huge industrial space has two levels, three separate bars, a rooftop, and a sidewalk patio. Plus, there’s a bunch of fantastic vendors - like Soul & Smoke, an incredible barbecue spot. Or Shawn Michelle’s, one of the best ice cream shops in the city. There’s also Cleo’s Southern Cuisine, which has incredible chicken wings and corn muffins that will make your friends grateful you suggested an upscale Hulk-like food court for dinner.

If there’s one thing that big groups can (probably) agree on, it’s getting pizza and beer. Middle Brow is a cute brew pub in Logan Square that does both of these things very well. The large reclaimed wooden picnic tables in the center of the space are great for fitting a bunch of different-sized groups, and all the decorative plants in birdcages are great for your friends who are looking for new ideas on ways to hold their succulents captive.

You’ll find this upscale steakhouse at 88 Marketplace, a very large shopping complex just west of Chinatown. Inspired by Korean BBQ, each table at Holu has a grill where the server (or you, if you like throwing caution to the wind and/or are a control freak) cooks your steak. Most of it is aged in-house (you can say hi to the impressive selection displayed in the window while you have a drink at the bar), with everything from ribeye and zabuton, to wagyu tongue and A5 Japanese Kobe. It’s ordered by the ounce, and everything comes with some banchan-style sides and dessert. It’s a fun group dinner if everyone at the table digs the idea of having a personal chef for the night.

This casual Mexican spot in Humboldt Park has a number of things that make it ideal for a last-minute group dinner. Obviously, its appearance on this guide means it’s easy to get a table. Plus, this place has a large parking lot, so no one will have to decipher the tax code-level complicated that are Chicago’s street signs. Most importantly, La Birrieria has incredible birria. Order a couple “plato grandes” for the table to share - it’s served with incredibly pliable handmade tortillas that stand up to the juicy meat without disintegrating. The menu also includes things like fajitas, chilaquiles, and a short beer list.

This is a vegan, gluten-free restaurant - but hear us out. Not only are you desperate to find someplace (anyplace) that can seat you and five other people, but the food at Bloom is objectively wonderful - whether you’re living a plant-based lifestyle or not. You’ll find tasty things like spicy asada tacos made with sauteed forest mushrooms wrapped in fresh corn tortillas. Or a tamal that’s filled with ancho banana blossom and topped with a sweet coloradito mole. The large space is cute, filled with plants, and is bright enough that you won’t worry if said plants are getting enough light. And the gin-heavy drink menu has a long list of fun cocktails, and you’ll see plenty of groups laughing and having a great time. Don’t you want to be like them?

For groups that include vegans and/or vegetarians, head to this Ethiopian restaurant in Edgewater. Ras Dashen has a long menu of vegetarian options, like the misser salata (a tangy lentil salad) and one of our favorite vegan dishes in Chicago, the shimbera asa wat (fried chickpea balls in a spicy berbere sauce). Everything is served and eaten communally on a big round of fantastic spongey injera (made fresh daily), with plenty of extra on the side to use as your utensils. And even though it’s a popular place, tables are usually available all the time.

Yes, Happy Lamb in Chinatown can get busy, and they don’t take reservations. But the moment everyone from yoga decides they want to go out to eat, put your name on their virtual waitlist. By the time people finally get their sh*t together (which always takes forever), you can just saunter in and get seated. This spot has fantastic hot pot with flavorful broths (get the combo of original and spicy Szechuan) and tasty meat, seafood, and vegetables. Don’t forget to get some free self-serve ice cream from the machine before you leave.

All the tourists and office workers in River North make the neighborhood full of plan-less groups of people who need a place to grab dinner. That’s when a restaurant like The Smith comes in handy. This place has tons of space, and a ridiculously long menu full of options like burgers, salads, pizza, pastas, fried chicken, bibimbap, and steak. While the food isn’t going to change your life, it’s fine, and everyone will be able to find something they want. So, the next time you’re near the Grand Red Line stop looking for a place to eat with colleagues and/or people holding bags from the American Girl Doll store, come here.

River North is crowded. It’s full of people who work in the neighborhood, tourists staying in hotels, and Chicagoans who just decided to get off at Grand and walk around. Unfortunately, this popularity makes impromptu pre-going-out dinners difficult. But not if you know about Quartino. Yes, it will be busy and crowded, but you won’t have to wait long (or at all) thanks to the large number of dining rooms and tables. Plus, the small-plates-style Italian menu is full of reliably good food that’s very easy to share.

Going out for dim sum with a large group is ideal - after all, it’s almost impossible to eat everything you want to otherwise. And Minghin in Chinatown has you covered for all your large group dim sum needs. It’s huge, with tons of tables, and it’s open 365 days a year. Which is helpful to know about in case all your friends from high school are in town, and you need a place to eat on Christmas.

photo credit: Sun Wah

$$$$Perfect For:Big Groups

Sun Wah in Uptown is always crowded, but you shouldn’t be deterred from just walking in and trying for a table - you can usually get seated pretty quickly. Similarly, don’t let the fact that the Peking duck isn’t technically on the menu stop you from ordering it. It’s the best thing here, and it’s always available, even if you didn’t order it ahead of time. It’s carved tableside and served with bao, then as a rice or noodle dish, and finally as a soup. While the rest of the food here is hit or miss, it’s worth coming with a group just for the duck.

The West Loop is a lot like River North, in that it’s crowded and the best restaurants have long wait times. And while we’d never tell you Parlor had the best pizza in Chicago, it is perfectly tasty, and there’s also a long menu of satisfying bar food and salads that will please anyone who doesn’t (for some odd reason) want pizza. Plus, there are not one but two patios, so there’s always plenty of space for everyone to sit outside.

You were strolling along the 606 and began attracting followers like the Pied Piper, or the star of a musical’s slow-developing group number. So now you and all your new friends need a place to grab a casual dinner in Wicker Park. Head to Irazu. The large covered patio, BYOB policy, and awesome Costa Rican food make it perfect for a casual drop-in dinner. Just be sure someone stops by a liquor store before you get there.

We like to imagine that back in the covered-wagon days, settlers would stop the wagon train and eat together as a group. Maybe that was the inspiration for Frontier, which, as the name suggests, has a pioneer theme. Meaning there’s a lot of game on the menu, and pretty much everything is designed for groups to share. The all-season patio always seems to have seats available, and it’s way more hospitable than a poison ivy-filled meadow along the Oregon Trail.

Big picnic tables seem to be the universal smoke signal for a last-minute group dinner. And there are plenty of them on the patio at The Moonlighter. This place has an extensive menu of bar food like waffle fries, nachos, and burgers - and if it’s too cold to sit outside (even near one of their multiple outdoor fireplaces), just bring your group indoors. There’s plenty of space there, too, along with a lot of TVs. So this is an especially good choice if you or your friends like watching sports.

We have a lot of sushi restaurants in Chicago, but the really good ones aren’t always ideal for groups. They’re often too crowded (like Sunda), expensive (like Momotaro), or small (like Raisu). Not Sushi-san in River North. It has plenty of space, reasonable prices, and an upbeat atmosphere. We recommend focusing on the nigiri and sashimi (their “San-sets” come with an assortment of pieces meant for sharing) - and if not everyone is a big fan of sushi, they have lots of Japanese small plates that are great, too.

This casual Tex-Mex spot has lots of roomy benches and large tables. In fact, there’s a good chance you can come here with 10+ people and be seated right away, even for dinner. Get an order of the chili con queso (order extra tortilla chips - they’re excellent), along with fish tacos and any of their cocktails. After you’re done, feel free to walk around the block to see if you can lose some of your friends - nine other people is way too many to keep track of. Then circle back and and go downstairs to Lonesome Rose’s small basement bar, Golden Teardrops, for a quiet change of scenery.

Big wooden picnic tables are smoke-signaling again, this time at a West Loop barbecue spot. And since Green Street is popular and doesn’t accept reservations, you’ll need a solid strategy to eat here. Put someone in charge of scoping out the communal tables, and make sure they snag one as soon as it becomes available. Meanwhile, everyone else can get drinks at the huge bar in the center of the restaurant. If you’re feeling particularly efficient, a few of you can even get in line for food, since it’s served cafeteria-style. Basically, there’s nothing you can’t do when working as a team for the common goal of getting the meat sweats.

This is another pizza place that’s less about the food and more about having a good time with your friends. And like that friend from college who had the apartment everyone would crash at, Homeslice is here for you. The space is complete with big couches, swing sets that can fit more adults than seems possible, and another patio that has about a million tables. The pizza is actually pretty good, too.

Happy Camper in Old Town has the same kind of Peter Pan thing happening as Homeslice, which makes sense because they’re owned by the same people. But Happy Camper has more of a summer camp atmosphere, even though there’s no outdoor space (there are tire swings and an airstream trailer inside the restaurant). You shouldn’t have any trouble finding space, except in the airstream, which we guarantee will be constantly filled with people taking selfies.

The Loop is a minefield of bad (eating) decisions, so if you and your friends made plans to go ice skating and/or see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra together, but neglected to plan ahead for dinner, you made a big mistake. That’s how everyone ends up having dinner at The Corner Bakery out of desperation and hunger. Head to The Dearborn instead - it’s a fun, upbeat-but-not-too-casual spot with a well-rounded American menu. And make sure someone gets the cheeseburger - it’s really good.

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