If you’ve gone to a new restaurant within the past four years, you’ve probably had someone explain “how the menu works” (generally you read it, then order food), followed by careful instructions to order two to three small plates each. And while sometimes it’s great to try a bunch of different things, you don’t always want to play Dr. Frankenstein while assembling a meal, or launch the dinner equivalent of a military campaign to make sure you’ll get enough to eat.
When everyone at the table just wants their own damn plate of food, go to one of these 15 spots.
The menu at Gibsons hearkens back to a time when “small plates” were just called appetizers, and you chose one (just for yourself) before ordering an entree. This classic Chicago steakhouse laughs at the concept of portion control - ordering two to three main dishes per person would probably require signing a release form. Turns out it’s a straightforward and enjoyable way to eat: not spending 25 minutes of your dinner figuring out how much food to order, and then the rest of the time making sure you get enough.
Club Lucky in Bucktown is meant to feel like an old 1940s Italian supper club (even though it opened in 1990). And their dedication to historical accuracy means you won’t hear any lectures about how many plates are necessary to actually get a full meal. Order the fantastic handmade cavatelli in vodka sauce. As for appetizers, you can’t go wrong with the lightly fried calamari.
When the meal begins with the server asking “Can I start you out with an appetizer?” instead of suggesting that you download the “How Our Menu Works” app, you probably won’t have the small plates conversation. This is the case at Canton Regio. Get some queso fundido or guacamole for the table, followed by something just for you, like perfectly cooked carne asada, chicken fajitas, or shrimp brochetas served dangling from medieval-looking hooks. Just make sure their fantastic housemade flour tortillas are on the table, and if someone tries to hog those, it’s reasonable/understandable/acceptable to threaten them with a brocheta skewer.
Bavette’s is technically a steakhouse, and the steaks at this restaurant are indeed delicious. But our favorite things to order here are fantastic non-steak entrees like the roasted chicken or the short rib and mushroom stroganoff. And the menu items designed to share (like bone marrow or tenderloin tartare) come in portions designed for grown-ups.
Gilt Bar is right next to Bavette’s, owned by the same people, and has the same dimly lit atmosphere. The main difference between the two is that at Gilt there are more entrees on the menu, and you can get a table without planning three months in advance. You can order pork belly with polenta, fried chicken that comes with mashed potatoes, or even a cheeseburger with fries. It’s like everyone at the table gets their very own adult Happy Meal, but with fewer Frozen toys, and more butter.
One of the best things about old school Italian restaurants is that they seem to be immune to the citywide small plates takeover. La Scarola, which fits into this category, has almost cartoonishly large portions. That means you can order veal scallopini that will cover the entire surface of the table, rather than being forced to divide three ravioli between a group of seven people like a bunch of Tiny Tims at Christmas dinner.
No one told Frank Sinatra how the ordering process works, and no one told the Rat Pack they really ought to put their entire order in at once for the kitchen. If you long to return to this era, go to Booth One in the Ambassador Hotel in the Gold Coast. There are plenty of normal-sized dishes like beef Wellington, roast chicken with fries, and sea bass with farro. And it succeeds in creating an old-school atmosphere: servers wear tuxedo jackets and there are giant booths - including “booth one” where Frank Sinatra used to sit (yes, really). It even has a rotary phone that you can presumably use to call his ghost.
Remember when you’d sit down at a restaurant and free bread would appear? That still happens at Enoteca Roma, an Italian restaurant in Wicker Park. Start out with one of the definitely-not-small polenta boards for the table (our favorite is topped with venison bolognese), then round things out with your very own pasta (which is reasonably sized for one person) or an entree, like the roast chicken that comes with roasted potatoes and sautéed broccolini you won’t have to order separately.
The menu at this small Filipino restaurant is short, with only a handful of appetizers and entrees. You’ll find starters like the bright and refreshing kinilaw, and mains like a delicious chicken adobo, sisig, and lechon. The dining room is good for a quiet date night or for grabbing cocktails and a bite by yourself at the bar. And even though the cozy space has little tables, you won’t need to worry about playing table-Tetris with multiple small plates.
A business dinner has enough pressure without including extra negotiation at the table. And that’s precisely the kind of dinner that’s happening at Chicago Cut, which is probably the most corporate of Chicago’s 45,937 steakhouses. Mainly because it’s at the bottom of an office building in River North, and is always full of people in power suits who may or may not be discussing hostile takeovers over prime rib. But the food is excellent, the space has an impressive view of the Chicago River, and no one will need to worry how it looks if they don’t get their fair share of lobstercargot.
This Italian restaurant in the Heart of Italy (a pocket neighborhood in Pilsen) also begins the meal with bread, and it’s one of our favorite setups. It comes with a roasted bulb of garlic for spreading, plus breadsticks that will remind you why, deep down, you still love Olive Garden. The portions here are huge, and the food is great. The chicken parmigiana is worth traveling for, and the lasagna is really good, too. The whole restaurant is in a refurbished house, and you’ll be eating in a living room complete with a fireplace and family photos on the mantel.
Soule in West Town has the Feel Good Factor™, and part of that means eating what you want in whatever portion you want. The upbeat atmosphere and delicious soul food (like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, and peach cobbler) will comfort you even if you didn’t get hugged enough as a kid or sat in a wet spot on the train this morning. Be warned that this place is small and gets really busy, so you might need to wait for a table. But just use that time to pick up some wine and beer nearby, since Soule is BYOB.
If you’re going out to dinner with wealthy Greatest Generation grandparents who are completely baffled by the concept and/or appeal of small plates, head to Brindille. It’s a fancy and expensive French restaurant in River North with a traditional entree/appetizer/dessert menu. The food is excellent, and this is an especially good choice if someone at the table appreciates details like nice artwork, and that the knife you’ve been casually using is, in fact, 100 years old. Who knows, maybe they’ll recognize it.
By now you’ve noticed that classic steakhouses and old-school Italian spots are antidotes to the small plates epidemic. And Gene and Georgetti in River North happens to be both. It’s a steakhouse opened by two Italian guys (it’s been around since 1944) and it’s a great spot to get a good steak and Italian food, too. Come here when you want nothing more than a big steak and an even bigger bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. In fact, if you even say “small plates” while you’re here, they’ll probably ask you to leave.
Mart Anthony’s is an out-of-the-way Italian restaurant on the border of West Town and the West Loop. It looks like a typical neighborhood corner bar because that’s what it is. But it also happens to be a pretty great Italian spot with large portions that will make sure you’re all set in the leftover department for at least three days. Get the braciole, lasagna, or anything with their housemade sausage. The entree is all yours, so come here to eat and drink with coworkers when the only thing you want to split with those people is the cost of a birthday card for your boss.