Saturday night, casual, inexpensive, but nicer than a pub
I'd like to go out with a group of 5-6 friends (all women, early 30s) for a fun, casual-but-not-pub dinner on a Saturday night. Booze is required (wine/beer is fine). Not dirt cheap, not expensive. Somewhat lively would be nice, but we'd like to be able to chat. It would be nice to make a reservation, but that's not required.
Here are places I've considered but don't want to go (mostly because I've been there too recently, and a few that others don't like): Audubon, Khao Sarn, Eastern Standard, Tapeo, Laurel, Antico Forno, The Ivy.
T accessible would be good. Not sushi, Indian, or seafood-intensive.
Any suggestions? I feel like I'm missing some really obvious ideas, but I can't think what they might be.
re: Sgt Snackers
it's casual and can be inexpensive, especially if you don't get tons of of tapas and split some of the big plates like the paella. Plus, the comparisons the OP gave made me think that inexpensive, fun and casual would include a place like Toro; I've spent more at Ivy and ES than some nights at Toro.
Thank you both for the suggestions--all three look like places I'd like to try. I agree that a lot of places can be inexpensive, depending on what you order.
My concern with this particular occasion is that I'm afraid my friends might insist on treating, which makes me really reluctant to choose a place that hints of "expensive, but order inexpensively." I looked at the Avila menu, and thought it looked great for drinks and snacks (which would end up being dinner), but I am just not comfortable suggesting a place with $30-45 entrees :). (Edited to add: for this occasion! I will look forward to suggesting it for drinks, sometime when it's a clear "meet at the bar" situation.)
Central Kitchen in Central Square? Food is good, prices are reasonable, great wine, and a bit of a scene. Even more scene upstairs at the Enormous Room if you and the girls decide to stay out later.
Petit Robert might work. I've only been on non weekend nights so I've always had great service there.
Also, the bar at Gargoyles has great drinks and food. The dining room looks stuffy to me.
A couple of South End places are always fun - Union and Caffe Umbra
Lastly, maybe EVOO on the Cambridge/Somerville line might fit the bill.
I wanted to follow up on this. We took a recommendation from this list and made a reservation at Cuchi-Cuchi. They wouldn't hold a reservation past 6:30, so we planned to go early. Then they called and said that was a little late for them and could we come earlier. So we made it there by about 6:15, and they were CLOSED. The power was out. Not their fault, but annoying.
They tried to send us to Dali, but having ruled out Tapeo that seemed like a not-great solution. So we wandered back up the street, I saw Rendezvous, and asked if there was any chance they could take 4 of us without a reservation. The dining room was booked, but we had 4 seats together at the low bar, and were able to move chairs around so we could chat. Everyone was very nice.
Wine pours were generous, service was very relaxed, and wow that bread is fantastic. We shared a cheese plate (a goat, a sheep, and a cow; the goat was the only standout) and a vegetable antipasto (eggplant puree was great, some other things were a little odd. I confirmed that I still don't like beets). My roast chicken was very nice, with potato wedges and green beans. Half of it is in the fridge. Dessert was a dense warm chocolate cake with cinnamon creme. Really rich, really good. They are running a prix-fixe special--$36 for 3 courses, ordered from the regular menu.
We were very happy with the mix up in plans.
Thank you all for the suggestions; I will save the list for next time (and hope that the power is on!).