CHIGuide

Where To Eat With A Third-Tier Friend

When you somehow rope yourself into dinner with a friend you don’t see too often, use this list.

You’ve been pushing this dinner off for a while. And after several text exchanges involving increasingly fake-sounding excuses, it’s finally happening—you’re meeting up with a third-tier friend. Legally, you don’t have to hang out with this person. But socially, you’re obligated. So whether you accidentally talked your way into meeting up with a college acquaintance when you ran into each other on the street, or someone you had jury duty with seemed really nice at the time and now is maybe weirder in hindsight, use this list of places for a dinner that won’t cost too much or take too long.

THE SPOTS

Eventually, you run out of excuses and have to schedule a meal with someone who needs to “pick your brain” or an old roommate who wants to rope you into their protein powder MLM. You need someplace relatively fast (but not insultingly so) that has good food and an enjoyable atmosphere. Enter Middle Brow Bungalow, a cute brewpub in Logan Square with a short menu of pizza and toasts. You won’t need much time deciding what to order (pizza...or toast) and it’s open during the day, so you don’t have to give up one of your precious free evenings being polite.


There’s a reason your third-tier friend isn’t a second-tier friend, and that reason might be because they like to talk about downer things like the Blackhawks or the polar bear population. If that’s the case, go to Dr Bird’s. Between great food and contagiously friendly service, this Jamaican counter-service spot always makes us happy. And we’ve never had to wait for a table, either. The specialty here is Jamaican patties, but the menu also has juicy jerk chicken and outstanding sides—including must-order coco rice that’s sweet and savory, fluffy coco bread that’s perfect for enfolding your patty, and festivals that complement the smoky jerk seasoning. Dr. Bird’s also has a long list of fresh juices and rum cocktails, and both are valid antidotes to finding out that polar bears will be extinct by the time you get home.


Not only is the Mexican food here delicious, but the Dave’s in Humboldt Park is also a low-key bar where you can easily avoid eye contact and watch a game while murmuring noncommittal responses like “totally” and “one hundred percent”. The menu is mainly tacos, burritos, and tortas, with a variety of filling options. Our favorite dishes are the spicy guajillo shrimp taco, carne asada burrito (perfectly constructed with an ideal ratio of meat to beans to cheese) and the mole de pollo dinner—which is rich, sweet, and comes with creamy refried black beans, rice, and tortillas so you can make your own tacos.


Nothing says “quick get together” like agreeing to meet at a cafe. And one of our favorite cafes to do that is Good Ambler in the West Loop. This place has outstanding sweet and savory pastries, and lunch food like BLTs and salads. It’s also open seven days a week, but closes at 4pm, so you can agree to meet someone for an hour on a Monday and hang out with a first-tier friend later that night.


It’s not often we can enthusiastically recommend a restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But Roux, a counter-service New Orleans-inspired spot in Hyde Park, is a great choice for all three meals. The restaurant is large, bright, and ideal for politely listening to that person you recently ran into from your undergrad study abroad program explain their UIC research over beignets, fluffy biscuits and gravy, or shrimp and creamy grits. The entire menu is available all day, and there’s a pastry case up front full of incredible baked goods, like a gigantic cinnamon roll where each bite somehow tastes like the gooey center—which everyone knows is the best part.


We were at this South Asian spot in Wicker Park for about 20 minutes before we realized it’s not a bar. In fact, Wazwan doesn’t even have a liquor license—it’s BYOB. But the small, narrow space has a bar you can sit at, along with high top tables that are comfortable enough to grab a bite, but not so comfortable you’ll want to linger. And the food here is incredible. The nihari momos are delicately wrapped packages of beef, the mushroom korma is rich and savory, and the chettinad masala has the perfect amount of heat and unbelievably tender pieces of chicken. Wazwan is very casual, but they also have a weekend tasting menu concept in the back called The Coach House. But try not to bring that up unless you want to risk getting roped into a two-hour-long meal.


Mini Mott is a counter-service operation in Logan Square, and it’s from the team behind Mott St. in Wicker Park. The specialty here is a very good burger topped with American cheese, frizzled sweet potato, and hoisin mayo. But they have other great stuff like chicken wings, soft serve, and vegetarian jackfruit carnitas. After eating all that, pretend to head straight home, but go across the street to relax in the park and recover from small talk fatigue.


Bernie’s imageoverride image
7.3

Bernie's

$$$$(312) 624-9892
Hours:TUESDAY11:00AM to 10:00PM
Perfect For:BrunchDate Night

We really appreciate catching up with people on the relaxed rooftop at Bernie’s Lunch & Supper. Even though it’s in River North it’s not a total sh*tshow, and they expanded their awning so it’s nice and shaded. You can still eat here even when it rains, and more importantly, they have Happy Hour from 4:30-6:30pm with drink specials and snacks like wings and sliders. Also important: You have been saving episodes of Baking Impossible and will get home with enough time to watch them all.


The Lardon is a salumeria, so the menu is full of lots of salumi, cheese, and various meats they cure in-house. Come here with someone you really don’t know and order a meat and cheese spread. Their elaborate boards come with housemade accoutrements like onion jam, crackers, and smoked almonds, and playing with these like some version of an adult Lego set is a perfect way to entertain yourself while you figure out how the person across from you got your contact info.


Whether it’s a coworker or a particularly self-involved friend, some people will just talk at you the whole time you’re together. It’s kind of like being with a TV, so you might as well go somewhere casual with actual TVs to entertain you while your dinner companion goes on about their last performance review or new workout routine. Maillard Tavern has excellent burgers and fries and a large bar area with strategically placed screens for your eyes to wander to.


L’Patron is a BYOB Mexican spot in Logan Square that has great tacos. There’s a long menu of options including carne asada, lengua, shrimp, and crispy fish. But for something more substantial, order the Gringa taco. It’s al pastor with a lot of melted chihuahua cheese served on thick handmade tortillas, and it will give you all the sustenance necessary to explain to your former acupuncturist that you need to get home to your dog. You know, because it’s the “dog” who has separation anxiety.


This bar in River North has the atmosphere of a funky dive, plus a menu of great food ranging from Nashville hot fried duck livers to corn agnolotti to a very good burger. Everything at Good Measure is thoughtfully plated, and not at all what you might expect to be eating in a bar where the main design elements are rockabilly skeletons and neon red lights. The cocktail list is well-rounded and also affordable, with drinks priced around $12. Also, the punk music is loud enough it will probably drown out the details about your dining companion’s sister’s wedding photographer’s roommate who almost dated someone from Love is Blind.


Joe’s is a good choice when you’re interested in potentially moving this person into first or second-tier territory. It’s a nice wine bar in the West Loop, and the Italian small plates are really good—plus, you’re probably going to be sharing things. If you need to wait for seats, do a little team-building activity and strategize about what to order. We like the fried artichoke, parmesan puffs, and ricotta gnudi with confit pork cheek.


The Delta is a casual Southern bar and restaurant in Wicker Park that’s great for drinks and light bites. There’s a long cocktail menu, and you can also get snacks like hoecakes, tamales, fried shrimp, and smoked catfish dip. They have a secluded back patio, so you can grab a seat back there, then head to the bathroom and just dip out. You shouldn’t, but you could.


This Logan Square spot has both a sidewalk and rooftop patio, and great Tex-Mex dishes that are easy to share. Get an order of the chili con queso (order extra tortilla chips—they’re excellent), the fish tacos, and any of their cocktails. And then, after you’ve had enough vitamin D and queso, utilize the excuse to leave that you've been formulating for the last 72 hours.


Momo World is a casual counter-service spot in University Village, and they have fantastic dumplings. There are a lot of different preparations, including the classic steamed jhol (served in a spicy soup), and options like the momo chaat or tandoori, which are steamed, fried, and then grilled. They’re all delicious, each order is under $10, and you’ll be in and out in less than an hour.


Little Goat review image
7.5

Little Goat

$$$$(312) 888-3455
Hours:TUESDAY7:00AM to 10:00PM

This is a diner (complete with laminated menus and spinny stools) from the Girl & the Goat team. And while this place can be busy on weekends, it’s great for a relaxed meetup in the West Loop during the week. You can order things like nachos, patty melts, pancakes (they serve breakfast all day), along with cocktails. And a lot of the dishes are interesting enough (like bullseye french toast covered in syrup, chicken tenders, and strawberries) to entertain you through any personal anecdote about home renovation.

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