By Heather Sperling
Updated March 13, 2014
The Radler
| Credit: © Baskin White Photography, Tara White

The mission: dinner in Chicago. The hitch: There are at least eight of you. No need to settle for something sprawling or subpar; some of the city’s finest can handle a group that size—even on short notice.


Where: Pilsen
When to book: A week in advance
What to eat: Chef Jared Wentworth, of Logan Square’s Longman & Eagle, designed the hearty, globe-trotting menu at this Pilsen newcomer (which accepts reservations only for large parties). The dining room’s communal table seats 12; load it with General Tso’s sweetbreads and wood oven–roasted mussels with harissa butter. After dinner, head downstairs to Punch House for a drinkable dessert: nutmeg-scented brandy milk punch.

The Radler

Where: Logan Square
When to book: A week in advance
What to eat: Logan Square’s new–school beer hall mines Chicago’s German heritage for inspiration and dresses it in sophistication. To wit: pretzels with barley malt butter and blackberry jam, and an array of house-made wurst with accompaniments like curry-roasted apples and pickled celery root vinaigrette.

Mott St.

Photo © Monica Wang Photography

Where: Wicker Park
When to book: A month in advance
What to eat: Snagging this small, stylish Wicker Park restaurant’s communal table takes planning, and is worth the effort. You’ll be rewarded with whole silk snapper fried in coconut oil and served with dirty rice, tamarind broth and house-made sambal, and grilled leeks with sweet-hot ssamjang (Korean chile paste) butter. Fish head roasted with black bean sauce is the restaurant’s large-format, reserve-in-advance offering for groups of six or more.

Urban Belly

Photo © Tyllie Barbosa

Where: West Loop
When to book: Day-of (or just show up)
What to eat: The communal tables at chef Bill Kim’s counter-service West Loop restaurant are prime spots for groups looking to share plates of pork-cilantro dumplings and deep bowls of noodle soups, like mushroom pho and kimchi stew packed with pork belly and hominy. Don’t miss the dishes from the wok, like fried rice with chicken, fried shallots and kaffir lime.

The Publican

Photo © Grant Kessler

Where: West Loop
When to book: A month in advance
What to eat: Paul Kahan’s perpetually bustling Fulton Market restaurant is known for its meat—ham chops roasted with hay, whole chickens with thick-cut frites, a slew of house-made sausages and the like. But it’s also a destination for creative seafood and vegetable dishes, and home to one of the best oyster lists in town. The lengthy communal table is ideal for a group.


Photo © Eric Kleinberg

Where: Lincoln Park
When to book: A month in advance
What to eat: This is the place for a lusty, wine–soaked Italian feast. Begin with a flurry of blistered Neapolitan-style pizzas and bowls of fresh pappardelle and tajarin. Follow with a hulking 42-ounce costata (rib steak) or a 36-ounce bistecca, flanked by sides like charred radicchio and a Tuscan kale Caesar, and finish with a round of gelato sundaes, or affogato with cinnamon-sugar doughnuts.

Lula Café

Photo © Anthony Tahlier

Where: Logan Square
When to book: Two weeks in advance
What to eat: This effortlessly cool, 15-year-old Logan Square spot is a perennial crowd-pleaser. Its café menu (offered all day) is loaded with thoughtfully prepared comfort food; its dinner menu is ambitious, featuring some of the city’s most creative seasonal dishes—like maitake mushrooms and celery root roasted with cultured butter and pine, or black vinegar–glazed Cornish game hen. Vegetarians take note: Lula’s six-course vegetarian tasting menu is the city’s best-kept veg secret.


Where: River North
When to book: Weeks in advance
What to eat: River North’s newest restaurant is a paean to seafood. Begin with wild Gulf shrimp cocktail, smoked fish dip, and cobia, salmon or bay scallop crudo, then share a New England–style feast of steamed lobster, clams and potatoes with drawn butter for dunking.

Lao Hunan

Where: Chinatown
When to book: Day-of (or just show up)
What to eat: This brightly lighted Chinatown spot is part of Tony Hu’s Lao restaurant empire, and home to some of his most interesting (and addiction-inspiring) dishes. The cinnamon- and star anise–scented Chairman Mao’s favorite pork belly is a must, as is jade tofu, served chilled and slicked with chile oil, and twice-cooked duck, battered and wok-fried with fresh and dried chiles.


Where: Hyde Park
When to book: Three weeks in advance
What to eat: Italy and France are the primary sources of inspiration for this new Hyde Park restaurant from chef/restaurateur Matthias Merges, the longtime chef at Charlie Trotter’s. Its fresh pasta dishes—like fettuccini with bottarga and preserved lemon, and osso buco lasagna—as well as its excellent vegetable side dishes merit a trip from anywhere in town (as do the nearby Court Theater and Smart Museum of Art).