Crowd Pleasers: Great Group Dining in Chicago

You’re heading home to your beloved Windy City for the holidays. The flights and lodging are booked, the family gatherings all organized, but then someone throws a wrench in the plan: “Let’s go out to eat the last night we’re all in town.” Don’t panic. Plenty of Chicago restaurants can accommodate groups, whether you’re hosting (more extended than expected) extended family or getting your hometown squad together to catch up over delicious food and drink. To help narrow the field, we’ve rounded up nine spots that offer great group dining in Chicago.

For a wilder take on the holiday family dinner, feast on whole beast at this rustic West Town gastropub, which will delight and entertain far better than over-served relatives. Frontier’s whole-animal service feeds 12 to 15 with nose-to-tail (or fin) preparations of 10 proteins that range from smoked free-range pig to roasted goat or lamb, shrimp boil, salt-crusted whole salmon or even alligator stuffed with whole chickens. Beyond the game-focused menu, soulful sides like sweet cornbread, mac and cheese, and Caesar salad with polenta croutons hint at Executive Chef Brian Jupiter’s New Orleans roots. Pro tip: Book at least five days in advance. Reserve a table.

Group dining in Chicago

The most recent opening from acclaimed chef Bill Kim, this upscale take on Asian barbecue in an industrial-chic (mostly communal) interior is great for a crowd. You can book a grill table (for up to four) or the chef’s table (for up to eight), and grill your own marinated proteins, sides, and desserts – Korean BBQ-style. Otherwise, a la carte large and small dishes are equally inventive and shareable. Start with a shochu cocktail and a few passed plates of Thai fried chicken and yuzu-doused edamame, followed by tea-smoked duck breast and pork ribs slicked with housemade hoisin and topped with crumbled bacon with sweet coconut grits and zingy nuoc cham slaw. Save room for dangerously pop-able Vietnamese cinnamon donuts. Pro tip: Book three weeks in advance. Reserve a table.

Group dining in Chicago

Demera Ethiopian
Families who eat with their hands together stay together. Bond over communal Ethiopian fare at this cozy Edgewater restaurant. Dishes come family style, and, in place of utensils, you’ll find injera, the tangy, crepe-like flatbread used to scoop up the beef, chicken, lamb, seafood, and veggies piled on top. Can’t-miss options include tender chicken stewed in berbere sauce (doro wat), lamb cubes cooked in a spicy house sauce, spicy stewed red lentils, (ye-misir wot) and ginger- and jalapeno-laced collards (gomen). Wash it all down with a few jugs of traditional honey wine or carafes of house-roasted coffee. If you leave with saucy, stained fingers all around, you’ve succeeded. Pro tip: Book a few days in advance. Reserve a table.

Group Dining in Chicago

This inviting, dimly lit Spanish wine bar a few blocks west of the West Loop’s Restaurant Row will feel like home away from home for the holidays — if that home belonged to a husband-and-wife, chef/sommelier duo with a knack for real Spanish cooking and food-friendly wines and sherries. Executive chef Mark Mendez’s oft-changing menu is ideal for sharing, starting with sherry-friendly nibbles like rosy, funky Jamon Iberico, tomato-smeared bread, and vinegared boquerones (anchovies), as well as large plates including chewy, charred octopus tinged with pimenton; harissa-bathed lamb meatballs, and seasonal paella studded with chewy chorizo and shellfish. Easygoing servers will guide you through co-owner Liz Mendez’s unique global wine list. Pro tip: Book two weeks in advance. Reserve a table.

Group dining in Chicago

Maple & Ash
No Chicago visit is complete without steak and potatoes, and this posh Gold Coast newcomer stands out for its house-butchered cuts cooked on an open hearth (not to mention the unbeatable people watching overlooking State and Rush). Chef Danny Grant’s menu highlights include a fire-roasted take on the seafood tower loaded with crab, oysters, scallops, shrimp, clams, and Maine lobster, a hulking 40-ounce porterhouse fit for two (“The Eisenhower”), and a 28-day-aged bone-in rib eye. Steak sauces from classic béarnaise to decadent foie gras-truffle butter are playfully listed as “Arm Candy.” With a rotating list of boozy cocktails and thoughtful, surprising wines from James Beard award-winning sommelier Belinda Chang, drinking here is just as fun as eating. Pro tip: Book three weeks in advance. Reserve a table.

Group dining in Chicago
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Chef Watch: José Andrés Gets a Prize; The Obamas’ Favorite Chef; Michael Mina’s New Venture, and More

* José Andrés (The Bazaar by José Andrés) will receive the 2010 grand prize from the Vilcek Foundation, “which annually honors the contributions of foreign-born Americans in the areas of art, culture and science” on April 7th at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. [Washington Post]

* Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia (Mia Donna) can cook. No, really. She’s got a book coming out and everything. [The New York Times]

* Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) discusses sustainable fish at TED. [Daily Blender]

* Mario Batali (Lupa) and Emeril Lagasse (Emeril’s Restaurant) dined at The Publican. [Grub Street Chicago]

* The POTUS is a foodie, and Chicago chef Rick Bayless (Topolobampo) is one of his faves. [The Guardian]

* “No Reservations” Anthony Bourdain (Les Halles) dishes on his latest pursuits to Jennifer Heigl. [Daily Blender]

* Washington, D.C. chefs Mike Isabella (Zaytinya), Art Smith (Art and Soul) , and Bryan Voltaggio (VOLT) work hard to extend their “Top Chef” fame. [Washington Business Journal]

* Chef Michael Mina is set to take over Aqua, where he first made a splash years ago. [San Francisco Chronicle]

* Chef Michael Psilakis (Kefi) has ended his association with Anthos in Manhattan and is rumored to be looking to open another restaurant in Brooklyn. [The New York Times]

* Reality-TV star/chef Gordon Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay) at Boka in Chicago [Grub Street Chicago]

* “Top Chef” season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio, chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham, talks about his future and what he plans to do with his prize money. [Food & Wine]

* Hoss Zaré (Zare at Fly Trap) is preparing a feast for the Persian New Year, which begins on March 20. [San Francisco Chronicle]