Whoever coined the term “herding cats” to describe something as being difficult obviously never tried organizing a group dinner for humans. Unlike humans, cats eat pretty much everything, and it’s easy to call them out if they give you the vague, last-minute, “Oh, I’m actually busy that night.” (Try something like, “Snickers, you’ll have nine whole lives to drink toilet water alone – you can spare one night out with your friends.”). Actually, herding cats sounds kind of easy.
For those of you tasked with herding humans to a dinner, though, we feel for you. Between picky eaters, packed schedules, and the friend who “can’t go there because I ghosted on the bartender last week,” you’re working with some tight restrictions. To help, we bring you these spots all over town sure to make your planning at least a little bit easier.
This Laotian menu has lots of delicious options, ranging from fried rice and coconut curry to minced alligator and fermented snakehead. If the food won’t lure even your Eastern Market dwelling friends out to Columbia Heights, the bar will. Stocked with everything from cider to sake, Thip Khao will meet all your boozy needs, so all you have to worry about is how many orders of curry puffs you want when you arrive. If your crew is a little finicky, Thip Khao’s got you covered with a ton of gluten-free and vegetarian options, too.
The Pig lives up to its name, with an entire menu paying tribute to Babe’s biological family. Serving up things like brussel sprouts but with bacon and pecans, this restaurant works for just about anyone (except your rabbi). The vibes are casual, but nice enough to catch up with friends. We recommend starting with a few charcuterie boards, and then moving onto the pork ribs or confit shank.
Birch & Barley is popular for its $30 boozy brunch, but it works for group dinners too. The menu is full of crowd favorites like pastas, flatbreads, and burgers, and the conchiglie bolognese that’s worth the embarrassment of trying to pronounce it. And thanks to ChurchKey, its sister bar upstairs, Birch & Barley is stocked with all kinds of beer. The dim lighting and booth seating are relaxed, and the quiet atmosphere means you’ll actually be able to hear everyone at the table, even Taylor’s timid new boyfriend.
If you plug this address into your maps and find yourself standing in front of a deli, don’t panic – you’re in the right place. Past the meat display and shelves of Kinder chocolates is a German restaurant with all the makings for a memorable group dinner. There’s a spirited grandma playing traditional drinking songs on an accordion (7-9pm most nights) and beer served in little boots. Café Mozart compensates for its lack of windows with its menu, which includes three preparations of schnitzel, 11 types of sausage, and 14 different side dishes (we like the spaetzle and German potato salad). Just know that after a dinner here, all delis will probably pale in comparison.
Perfect for celebrating special occasions, catching up with buds, entertaining family, or staging an intervention for the friend who doesn’t stand to the side on Metro escalators, this upscale Mexican street food spot is good to have in your back pocket for all types of group dinners. The eclectic design sort of makes you feel like you’re eating in a shampoo commercial (hello, mural of lady with butterflies in her hair), but that’s the price you pay for handmade corn tortillas. The important thing is to remember that the more folks you invite, the more of the tapas you can try. Order up as many of the ceviches and tacos as will fit on the table, then clear and repeat. Take advantage of the breaks between rounds to chase down one of the signature foamy salt-air margaritas.
A bar downstairs and restaurant up top, this gastropub is perfect for just about any kind of dinner, but especially one that’s the beginning of a big night out. The menu changes weekly, but with meat, fish, and vegetable options, there will be something for everyone. The beer selection isn’t over-the-top, but the cocktails are boozy. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself on nearby U Street, separated from your friends and testing a DJ’s patience with your fourth Carly Rae Jepsen song request.
You always make plans to have an Ethiopian night, and then it comes around and pizza just seems like a more simple option. Ethiopic takes reservations, so you don’t have any excuses to back out. This spot is spacious and modern, but the dishes are traditional. There are also no utensils, so you’ll be testing your hand-eye-mouth coordination with injera, a spongy sourdough flatbread used to scoop every last bite. While that last part is sure to scare off some, that’s good news for those who stay – more butcha and lamb tibs for them.
This BBQ joint is like a lumbersexual embracing athleisure (no doubt you’ve already spotted him at your local CorePower Yoga). We were skeptical of its gussied up décor, but Texas Jack’s remains true to its roots and does a mean barbecue. Make sure not to eat at least five hours before, so you can fit as much brisket, short rib, and bourbon into your stomach as possible.
With outdoor seating and plenty of space inside, Agora is a popular consolation prize for groups who didn’t get it together early enough for a spot at one of the tinier places lining 17th Street. But don’t wallow in regret for too long – the Mediterranean small plates here are really good, and the full bar and gigantic wine list make everyone happy. If you leave without trying the lahmacun (minced lamb and beef) flat bread, though, forget what we just said about having no regrets.