It’s happened to all of us. You’ve had a great group dinner - and then the bill comes. And it’s horrifying. You don’t understand how your meal (which, now seeing it with new eyes, wasn’t even that good) and drinks (OK...so there were four of them) could have cost you $107. The walls are closing in on you, you no longer like your friends, and you certainly can’t afford more drinks afterwards, let alone brunch tomorrow.
We’re here to make sure this scenario never happens to you again. There are certain times for balling out with your friends. For all the other times - when you just want to get dinner with some people you like - consult this list.
Restaurants in the Meatpacking District tend to feel like clubs that just happen to serve overpriced food. But Old Rose is different. It’s in a great-looking space, with high ceiling and big windows, in the bottom of the Jane Hotel, and it’s about as casual as a place like The Smile, probably because it’s from the same owners. Here, they make things like pizza, pasta, and salad - and it’s surprisingly good for how affordable it is. They also have a few big tables for groups, but you should make a reservation if you’re eating on the weekend.
Vic is big, it’s centrally-located (in Noho), and they serve some solid Italian food. And while we wouldn’t say it’s the cheapest place, pretty much all the pastas and pizzas cost less than $20. So if you need a casual, good-looking spot downtown for dinner with some people you went to summer camp with twenty years ago, this is a good choice.
Shuka is from the same people behind Vics, and, like that restaurant, it’s one of those places where you go when you haven’t made a reservation, you dinner is three days out, and you need a place that’s both nice and affordable. The food here is Mediterranean - stuff like hummus and chicken schnitzel. It’s also in a surprisingly large space on a quiet block in Soho that’s close to plenty of trains. That, plus the fact that everyone will be able to find something to eat here, should make it easy to get a group together.
If you’re planning a dinner for your group of friends, and you’ve had either tacos or Italian the last five times you’ve gone out, try Win Son. It’s a Taiwanese restaurant in East Williamsburg where you can get some minced pork over rice, some fried pork buns, or a chicken sandwich that tastes like the best version of fast food. Plus, the space is casual, the service is friendly, and they typically have a good soundtrack going.
If you’re uptown and you need a place for a fun, affordable dinner with a few friends, try Oso. Maybe even come here on your birthday. They make some great cocktails and tacos, as well as some bigger things like steak and enchiladas. Plus, it’s a cool space with concrete walls and a big colorful mural. It feels like a spot you’d find in the East Village.
You might consider getting a little tattoo on your arm with the address and phone number of Speedy Romeo. It works for a lot of things, so it’s a good place to be aware of at all times.The pizzas are good, and the steak and burger are even better. The space is also about as casual as you want a neighborhood pizzeria to be, and it’s a fun place to start your weekend.
Birds of a Feather is one of those places that’s actually better with a group. Get some wontons in chili oil, Chungking chicken, and whatever else sounds good, because the menu is solid across board, and it’s all pretty inexpensive. There’s also a big communal table in the middle of the space, as well as a few booths off the side that are good for smaller groups. Just be sure to make a reservation if you’re coming with a bunch of people. It gets pretty busy.
Maybe you’re heading out with a few friends on Thursday night, or maybe you’re watching your sister’s kids, and the only food you’ve ever seen them eat is noodles. Go to Celeste. It’s a neighborhood Italian spot on the Upper West Side where you can grab some very affordable pizza and pasta. Just know that this place is cash only and that you should bring enough for wine. Especially if you’re babysitting your sister’s kids.
If Sally Roots were in Nolita, there would be a Jack’s-Wife-Freda sized line outside the front door every weekend. The Caribbean food isn’t necessarily mind-blowing - but you’ll be happy with some of their pork and tostones in front of you. Also, the tropical-themed space gets loud and dark like a bar at night, so it’s a good spot for a fun night out with a group. And if it’s warm outside, be sure to sit in the big backyard.
Unlike a lot of places on the Upper East Side, Up Thai is a place you can confidently roll into with a group of people. Even more unusual: you can confidently roll in here, eat a lot, and not spend a ton of money. Beyond the reliably good food, the space is nice - there are a bunch of lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and it feels like a furniture store (in a good way).
If you’re looking for the kind of dinner where you can order too much food and drink too much wine, without spending too much money, consider Taverna Kyclades. This classic Astoria spot makes you feel like you’re being cooked for by the Greek aunt you never had, and everything is served family-style. You and your friends will share giant plates of lamb and octopus and potatoes, split affordable bottles of wine, and walk out stuffed and happy. If you don’t want to wait for a table, definitely get there early - the crowds know about this place.
You’ll wonder where this place has been all your life. And that isn’t because they have things you’ve never seen, but because it’s extremely cheap, the service is friendly, there are margarita pitchers, and the food is surprisingly decent. The restaurant itself is borderline divey, but there’s plenty of room for groups (with additional seating downstairs). It’s also worth noting that they have televisions and drop-down projectors for anyone who needs to watch sports while they eat. Come here with some friends, and eat some tacos and quesadillas. That way, you save money for drinking afterwards.
If you want to play it safe, make a reservation. This place gets busy on weekends, and that’s because it happens to be what everyone’s craving at the moment: good, healthy-ish food that’s fresh, flavorful, and not too expensive. Go with a group and sit at one of their picnic tables. If you want, you can spend a lot of money here, but you could also have a four-dollar beer and an excellent burger. The service is laid-back, and there are many nearby places to drink after dinner.
When you hear “lava lamp beer pitcher,” what do you think? If you think it’s something you could get down with, and you’re a fan of Korean fried chicken, Turntable Chicken Jazz is the place for you. It’s semi-hidden on the second floor of a building in K-Town, and there’s plenty of room for big groups. Their fried chicken wings are a must, and you should order their skewers of fried potato coins just to get a visual. (They also do a good bulgogi burger.) This isn’t the classiest place in the world, but it’s nicer than a lot of the spots in the area, and they’ll put a light-up beer dispenser on your table.
Thursday Kitchen might not be a huge place, but it’s larger than it looks from the outside, and you can get an alcoholic drink in a Capri Sun-type pouch here. Unless your group is massive, you’ll be able to find a place to sit (although there might be a wait). This place is popular, and maybe that’s because the pouch drinks glow in the dark. It also might be because the food is fun, interesting, and inexpensive. This is a Korean restaurant, but the influences are all over the place. Yes, you can get a crispy seafood pancake or a steak with feta grits. Stop by this basement space in the East Village the next time you and your friends want something more exciting than tacos or pizza.
Hot pot works like this: you choose a broth, pick some veggies and some meat, then cook everything in a pot at your table. It’s sort of like Korean barbecue, and, actually, Hometown Hot Pot does that too. You come here for the hot pot, however, and it’s about $24 per person. That gets you unlimited meat, veggies, noodles, and broth. And if that sounds like a good deal, that’s because it is, and you aren’t the only one who knows it. This place is actually massive (with two floors), but it still gets busy. If you’re with a group of 6 or more, call ahead for a reservation. Smaller parties have to take their chances, and, regardless of party size, everyone should prepare to drink cheap beer and leave smelling like meat.
We doubt these guys have any voicemails from the James Beard Foundation waiting in their inbox, but they do make some very decent food on the cheap. Of the four locations now open, the one on Hudson Street is the largest and easiest to get a table at. Stop by with your friends when you don’t need something fancy and the majority of you are craving fries. There are a lot of veggie options (as well as a pretty good veggie burger), so this is also a good place to take someone who doesn’t eat meat.
Tortaria gets crowded, and it’s first-come-first-served. Place an order at the counter, then have the most intimidating person in your group acquire a bank of tables. This isn’t especially high-end or authentic Mexican, but it’s better than you expect, and it’s a good place for a very casual hang with a few pitchers of margaritas. If you’re with a group, the taquito platters are a decent option. For around $30, you get eight taquitos, chips and guac, and spicy fries. Get a few for the table - and don’t forget to try a torta.
The next-best thing to a group dinner in a Mexican courtyard is the Manhattan version of a group dinner in a Mexican courtyard: Tacombi Fonda Nolita. The menu is simple - mostly tacos and a few apps - which makes it perfect for a big group situation (because no one is actually excited about dealing with sharing). A $30 sangria pitcher or three won’t hurt, either.
Malatesta is the kind of place that makes you wonder why all restaurants can’t be exactly like it. The atmosphere is charming and warm, the staff makes you feel like you’re a regular even if it’s your first time, they take reservations, and everything (including the wine) is at the kind of price you actually feel good about paying. As for the food? This is simple, rustic Italian at its best - Malatesta delivers on everything from tomato sauce spaghetti to steak tagliata to tiramisu.
Going to dinner before a night out? Esperanto is proof that when you combine good, cheap food and drinks, great vibes, occasional flamenco dancing, and Avenue C, awesome things can happen. Esperanto continues to have that special something that keeps it at the top of our list for a night you probably won’t remember.
The Upper West Side isn’t the worst place to eat in NYC, but it is one of the worst places to try to eat affordably. In groups. Han Dynasty, however, is a spicy glimmer of hope: this is some of the best Chinese food in the city, and the key to success here is a giant order of many things. The Dan Dan noodles need to be on your table in multiples, but otherwise feel free to choose your own adventure - it’ll be great no matter what.
We know you’re on the edge of your seats, so we’ll just tell you now: 12 Chairs does, in fact, have more than twelve chairs. In fact, it’s a good-sized space that’s never too cramped or busy. And between its breakfast all day, traditional Middle Eastern dishes, sandwiches, salads, and some pierorgies and schnitzels for good measure, 12 Chairs’ menu has something for everyone. Even your complain-iest friends will have a hard time complaining about the fact that there isn’t a single item over $20.
Ivan Ramen is the rare exception to the rule of top-quality ramen spots being generally tiny, uncomfortable, and impossible for a group of adults larger than two. If you’re looking for noodles with a crew, you can’t do much better.
Homestyle Korean food that’s both interesting and approachable, a trendy environment, super-reasonable prices, amazing Soju cocktails, and it’s called “Her Name Is Han”? Yeah, that place isn’t real. Only it is. And it’s one of the best new spots for a group. Instead of telling all your friends about this possibly made-up restaurant, bring them here and see it for yourselves.
Sorry everyone else, Lil’ Frankie’s is truly the ultimate affordable group dining destination. In fact, it pretty much invented the category. The formula to Lil’ Frankies success? Consistently tasty, straightforward Italian food, plus a lively, casual environment, plus great prices equals a restaurant that literally no one can argue with. If your group comes to Lil’ Frankies and doesn’t have a good time, you may need to re-evaluate your friendships.
There’s no better way to unite people than over a heaping pile of meat. Except if those people are vegetarians. But we can ignore them for the purposes of this caption. Morgan’s has a laid-back, Texan vibe (and yes, I am allowed to say that because I am one) that works really well for casual group hangs.
Yet another crowd-pleasing Italian entry on this list, Galli is our standby in Soho for group gatherings. In an area littered with overpriced establishments, Galli is truly the only laid-back yet still lively spot for solid cocktails and Italian food (the pesto pasta and parms are highlights). As an added plus, we can pretty much guarantee you’ll successfully avoid the selfie-stick-armed tourist scene.
If you didn’t know about it, you would easily pass by Shanghai 456 without another thought - just another brightly lit, neon-signed, lo mein spot. Well, now you know: Shanghai 456 is home to some of the best Shanghai-style Chinese food in the city. Wrangling a group to go sit at a giant round table and over-order dumplings, scallion pancakes, and noodles is never a bad idea. You’ll walk out stuffed and happy and not much poorer for it.
Do not - we repeat - do not come to Paulie Gee’s with a crew not expecting a wait. But it won’t be hard to convince your friends that it’s worth it - just assure them that there are plenty of bars nearby (like Ramona’s for fancy cocktails or Brouwerij Lane for craft beer). Once your name is up, the picnic tables inside will be yours and you’ll have the chance to to eat your weight in some of the best pizza in the city. There needs to be more than one Hellboy present.
If you live in Gramercy, there’s a chance you’ve walked by Mexico Lindo a hundred times and always written it off as a straight shot to indigestion. But you would be wrong. This is the perfect place to kick back with some friends over some beers while going hard on some fajitas. If your group is made up of people that would have no problem requesting skinny pomegranate margaritas, set your sights elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a casual hang with satisfying food, this is your spot.
Margaritas and tacos and guacamole. Tacos and guacamole and margaritas. Repeat as necessary for a highly successful - and cheap - group dinner at La Superior. You’ll leave ready to conquer the world. Or at least a few bars.
Do you need to trek from Manhattan to Crown Heights for Glady’s? No. But if your crew is in the area, Glady’s is an excellent place for an inexpensive Carribbean feast complete with island vibes aplenty and tasty dark & stormy slushies. Note to all restaurant owners: if you don’t have a slushy on your menu, you’re doing it wrong.