We live in a world with people who say things like “I’m hungry, but I’m not sure what for” and who love starting a “Where do you guys want to go?” group text with 25 friends. In these situations, eventually someone, anyone, just needs to make the f*cking decision. And that person can be you. Here are 12 places in the West Loop you can get into on short notice, with fine enough food and drinks, and a great atmosphere - which is probably why you all wanted to go out in the first place.
Print this list out, and the next time you find yourself on Randolph Street with a group of commitment-phobes, just throw a dart at it.
It’s 5pm and you just need a glass of wine, some food, and time to complain with your colleagues. But you’re competing with all the other overworked people in the neighborhood who want to vent about their day, too. Head to Joe’s, an easy-to-get-into wine bar with tasty small plates, and order dishes like ricotta with honey, meatballs, or the pasta of the day. As a bonus, after being trapped inside a too-cold cubicle all day, this place has a nice patio where you can enjoy some fresh air while discussing the source of that weird smell in the office stairwell.
The Publican has been in the West Loop for ten years, and since keeping up with all the new restaurants in the neighborhood is like a game of whack-a-mole, people tend to forget this great place exists. While everyone else is down the street trying to get into Duck Duck Goat or Au Cheval, it’s likely you can just walk in and get a seat at The Publican. Sure, it might be at the giant communal table at the center of the restaurant, but if anyone in your group has an issue with this, they should have had an opinion earlier.
After a long internal debate about which neighborhood to head to for dinner and whether or not to wear that fedora you bought three years ago, so much time has passed that most decent spots are closed for the night. Head to Green Street. This barbecue spot doesn’t accept reservations, which creates an even playing field, and is open pretty late - midnight during the week and 1am on the weekend. There’s a huge bar in the center of the restaurant to keep you occupied if it’s busy, and once you secure a picnic table, the cafeteria-style line moves quickly. You’ll have already filled up on pulled pork and elotes while someone who chose Girl & The Goat is just being seated and told how many small plates they should order. (It’s two to three per person.)
You know your friend who’s very nice and never has anything bad to say about anyone? Whose aggressive cheerfulness is kind of annoying, but you’re still glad they’re in your life? Beatrix is that friend. The wide-ranging menu is perfect when you need something reliable, kind of healthy, and perfectly fine to settle on when none of your first five ideas panned out. Sit outside and entertain yourself by watching all the Uber XLs drop off West Loop’s finest at Aba next door. See if that finally makes your nice friend roll their eyes.
Your friends from Lake Zurich are in the city for the weekend and they plan to meet up with you for brunch. Right around noon the texts start rolling in: half of them want to go somewhere vaguely “fun” and the other half are still passed out in the hotel. By the time everyone finally gets it together, your best here-to-party options are already too packed. That’s OK - the group should still be able to get a table at Bar Siena. This bar and restaurant has a fun, loud atmosphere and surprisingly good Italian food. Order one of the pizzas and a housemade pasta to share, then instead of using valuable time debating what to order, you can use it to reminisce about the time in high school Meghan almost fell into the bonfire.
You know that really cute French spot on Randolph that you keep meaning to check out? Maude’s Liquor Bar? The place that, after two hours of reading the menu online, you finally decided is perfect for date night? It’s booked, and you’ve spent all your decision-making energy. Luckily The Front Room is right next door, which practically makes the decision for you. They have tasty New Orleans-inspired food, including things like a cheese plate, lobster campanelle, and grilled salmon. Also valid is just coming here for cocktails and a seat on their patio. Wave to the people at Maude’s.
Swift & Sons is a good special occasion option when no one can agree on the best place to have Janice’s farewell meal before she goes on her 28-day “yoga retreat.” It’s a great steakhouse, and there’s plenty of seafood and vegetable options on the menu, too. If you want to hang out somewhere a bit more casual, just eat in the large bar area. Whatever you do, just make sure to order something sweet off the chocolate trolley before you leave, and once you do leave, it’s probably best to call Janice a Lyft.
Kind of like Inception, Cold Storage is the restaurant inside the restaurant at Swift & Sons. This spot is seafood focused, and since it’s basically a classy oyster bar, it’s perfect if you can’t decide whether to go out for snacks, entrees, drinks, or everything. And while the raw stuff is great, all of the cooked items are good, too, like clams with chorizo, an affordable shrimp banh mi, and a fantastic cheeseburger. Order the narwhal, a giant sundae with eight scoops of housemade ice cream and sorbet, hot fudge, salted caramel sauce, brownie bits, Buncha Crunch, whipped cream, cherries, and a waffle cone topper. It qualifies as a snack, an entree, and, once it melts, a drink.
Everyone knows about Monteverde - it’s one of Chicago’s best Italian restaurants. That means everyone’s too distracted by it to think about heading to Formento’s, another great neighborhood Italian spot that can stop the two-hour-long “I don’t care, just pick something” conversation before it starts. This place has very good housemade pasta, a nice piece of fish, and a truly excellent chocolate cake. Think of settling on this place as agreeing to go on a date set up by your aunt.
St. Lou’s Assembly is cafeteria-themed, which doesn’t make it the sexiest candidate for this list. But while it has classics on the menu like patty melts and a “meat and three,” unlike most cafeterias, it also has dishes like biscuits with foie gras ganache. Plus, heading to St. Lou’s prevents a second round of back-and-forth about where to go for drinks afterward - there’s an entrance to a bar, Moneygun, right inside it. There you’ll find old-school drinks like White Russians, negronis, and daiquiris, and you can also play arcade games like Pac-Man and Tetris. So basically, you and your friends can just plan on staying here all night.
Despite your best efforts, you might find that deciding on a restaurant for you and your friends has become more like chaperoning a rowdy class trip where everyone’s getting hangrier by the minute. Instead of threatening to turn this car around, just give up and take everyone to Politan Row, the upscale food hall in the same building as the McDonald’s headquarters. There they can all scatter, order whatever they want, then reconvene on the patio. Assuming they can decide which of the nine stalls to go to.