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Recommendations for a large group (14) , uniquely Chicago, inexpensive, Friday Night

Tall Order:
I can really use some help on this one. In a couple of weeks we (from all over the country) will be attending a meeting in downtown Chicago and 14 of us would like to go out for dinner on Friday night. At least half the group will be graduate students, so cost is an important factor. Of course, just as important is the idea of an interesting and unique eating experience. I'm kind of giving up on the idea of reservations although if you have any thoughts on this I'd appreciate hearing them. Although the meeting is downtown I think we can all pile into cabs to get to where we have to go. Ideas?

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  1. With a group of 14 on a Friday night you really need to make arrangements in advance, I'd say.

    Chinatown would be an obvious destination -- not too far from downtown if you are sharing cabs (and cab fare), and also easily accessible via the Red Line subway/el train. Lao Sze Chuan, in the Chinatown Square shopping center on Archer (at the southwest end) has excellent food and could probably accommodate your group in their upstairs room, with advance notice.

    http://www.laoszechuan.com/

    1. GREEK:
      Greek Islands at Adams and Halsted is amazing, inexpensive, and great fun. Great balance of high quality food, atmosphere and price here.

      SPANISH:
      Cafe Iberico would also fit the bill. Tasty authentic Spanish Tapas in a vibrant atmosphere...and dirt cheap.

      ITALIAN:
      Tufano's Vernon Park Tap at 1079 W. Vernon Park in the Little Italy neighborhood for Old School Italian. Great mom and pop atmosphere and food for ridiculously cheap prices. Cash only.

      MEXICAN:
      Pancho Pistolas at 700 W. 31st street in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago for the best Mexican Style skirt steak in town. Very reasonable prices and lot's of great authentic dishes here. Nice exposed brick storefront with additional space on 2nd floor. My only complaint would be that the margarita's are dissapointing.

      3 Replies
      1. re: amoncada

        I strongly disagree with the Greek Islands suggesion.

        The place is terrible. Completely mediocre food with poor service. There are far superior options in Greektown.

        Iberico is a good suggestion and they sometimes take reservation for groups that large, although I'm not sure tapas is "uniquely Chicago"

        1. re: Helper Monkey

          I agree I am shocked at how often Greek Islands is recommended on this site. I find their food way below average. My favorite in Greektown is Pegasus.

        2. re: amoncada

          I second Greek Islands or Pancho's.

          I've never had a food or service problem at Greek Islands. It certainly is big, but that's a good thing in this context. The OP needs to seat 14 people on a Friday night!

        3. Helper Monkey, Greek Islands in widely considered to be one of the very best Greek restaurants in Greektown. Are you referring to the Lombard location or the downtown one or do you dislike Greek food? Anyway, I too used to consider it to be mediocre and pretty much avoided it for 20 or so years. It wasn't until my Greek friend Peter insisted over and over and over that Greek Islands had turned over a new leaf and that the food was incredible. Man, he was right, Greek Islands is consitently fantastic. I'm hooked!
          Don't ge me wrong, I still frequent many other Greektown restaurants like Rodity's, Santorini, Nine Muses, and The Parthenon.

          3 Replies
          1. re: amoncada

            I'm reluctant to pile on, but I've found the food at Greek Islands to be inconsistent. For every really good meal I've had there have been a couple that were only fair.

            However, my bigger issue with Greek Islands is the sheer size and noise level. I personally prefer to go somewhere that is not quite as overwhelmingly huge.

            1. re: amoncada

              I'm referring to the downtown location and certainly enjoy Greek food. On my one trip there, every entree and appetizer served to the table was average at best and the service, although attentive, was terrible. It was as if the waiter was drunk or suffered from a head wound.

              Santorini and Costa's are much better choices.

              1. re: Helper Monkey

                My experience with Greek Islands on my last 4 recent visits have been great. I agree that it's huge and noisy though and that occasionally you will get a crabby waiter.

            2. I would second Cafe Iberico - great food and not expensive. They don't take reservations so just go there and be prepared to drink some sangria for a bit.

              1. Cafe Iberico has a private room. I don't know if 14 is too small to reserve it, but it is worth investigating. I agree that it is a fun place for a group.