Colorful, loud, and festive, this Nuevo Latino eatery serves up flavorful, spicy food with an extra emphasis on flair and presentation. Start with a tequila drink from their huge cocktail list, and one of their fresh ceviches. The menu is huge, with South American and Latin influences. A solid choice is the herb-crusted Bolivia Lamb Rack, or the Arrachera, a wood-grilled skirt steak, rice and beans, bacon sofrito, sweet red onion, and chimichurri sauce. For dessert, customers rave about the chocolate dome, made with white and dark chocolate mousse, topped with strawberry sorbet and fresh strawberries. The restaurant's open late, so it's fine for groups to linger after their meal.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: This large restaurant has a fun, festive vibe to it, and the food is top quality.
Jamie's expert tip: Have some cotton candy! A huge stick of cotton candy comes either as a dessert, or with a cocktail.
Going to see a play in Chicago? This Italian restaurant is a good pre-show pick for dinner. The best thing on the menu are their homemade pastas, but you'll also find a nice selection of salads and a few fish entrees. Customers rave about the Branzino, a Mediterranean skin-on sea bass with yellow pepper puree, crab meat, green onions, radishes, fresno peppers, lime juice, olive oil and micro cilantro. Since the food here is a bit pricey, the best value is to order their prix fixe menus for lunch or dinner, which include a nice choice of appetizers, entrees and desserts.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: It's a good place near the theater district to get pre-show dinners for a group.
Megy's expert tip: The best items on the menu are their homemade pastas.
The northwest may not be known as a trendy neighborhood according to some Chicagoan's standards but those who live in Norwood Park don't mind. They benefit from being able to get in some of the best places to dine and imbibe without the hassle of long wait times and parking woes. Iron Horse Ale House is the latest to open on the busy Northwest Highway strip in a two-story brick building what was once a post office. While it boasts an impressive drink menu and 20 craft beers on tap, it also offers a separate gluten-free menu with appetizers and entrees. Even more impressive is that all of its pizzas and pastas can be made using gluten-free ingredients and can be enjoyed with a gluten-free beer. Towards the back is the exposed brick pizza oven which entertains the kids sitting on bar stools watching their pizzas being made to order.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Iron Horse Ale House offers gluten-free pizza among other dishes at the family-friendly restaurant with an exposed brick pizza oven.
Megy's expert tip: Kids can sit in the back where they can watch pizzas being made and slid into the exposed brick pizza oven.
Like many city downtown areas, finding an indie restaurant that's good, relatively inexpensive and accessible isn't easy. Nestled on bustling Ohio Street, Emilio's (as everyone here calls it) has a colorful interior (murals line the walls) and plenty of tables large enough for families and groups or small enough for an intimate dinner date. An outdoor patio is especially attractive during warmer days and since the sidewalk is wide enough, you won't feel as if you might get run over by drivers. Enjoy traditional tapas including baked goat cheese served with crispy garlic bread, cannelloni stuffed with tuna, asparagus, and olives, and the tomato bread topped with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Enjoy an array of hot and cold tapas first, then take a stroll down the Chicago River which is just a block away.
Megy's expert tip: Order the bacon wrapped dates - the sauce is amazing.
When people move who have moved away from Chicago come home, a stop at Portillo's is one of the first thing they do. The hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches here are among Chicago's best, plus the service is fast and the prices are low. Order at the counter (or consider pre-ordering if you're with a large group), and then grab seats at the long tables in the dining room. This is one of Chicago's most popular chain restaurants, and they serve thousands of people a day, so they know how to get you your food fast. While it's not healthy food, it's delicious.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: With a group, it's a great place to get a fast, inexpensive and an iconic Chicago lunch.
Jamie's expert tip: Save room for chocolate cake! Their moist chocolate cake is sold by the slice, or mixed into a chocolate cake milkshake.
Greek Islands separates itself from the pack with festive atmosphere and a professional waitstaff. Start with Avgolemono soup and saganaki, also known as cheese on fire, and then dig in to some traditional dishes like dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), moussaka (baked eggplant, ground meat and potato casserole topped with b�chamel sauce which can also be prepared vegetarian) and lamb kokkinisto (Lamb braised in their special tomato sauce), which are among local favorites. If seafood is more your style, fresh lavraki is flown in daily and broiled octopus is ideal for adventurous palates. The d�cor is cheery, in the traditional white and blue colors of many Greek restaurants. Greek Islands is conveniently located in Greektown and offers free valet parking.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Greek Islands offers many traditional Greek favorites like moussaka and lamb kokkinisto and has free valet parking.
Megy's expert tip: Order the saganaki.
Caf� Ba Ba Reeba! may be Chicago's first tapas bar but that alone isn't what keeps people coming back. It's one of the best places to find authentic tapas and sangria (it's a bit on the sweeter side). Patatas bravas come with generous sized potato chunks and the bacon-wrapped dates arrive with apple chunks and vinegar to cut the sweetness. The dates literally melt in your mouth. If you're game to learn how to make paella at home, the executive chef invites you to his Paella Cooking Demo class once a month where you'll not only perfect your paella but enjoy a tapas lunch complete with wine. Expect to wait for a table, reservations are encouraged although not accepted for outdoor patio seating. Gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly, too.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Authentic tapas served in a lively atmosphere perfect for dates, parents and kids alike.
Megy's expert tip: Great for large groups and definitely order the paella!
This restaurant only knows one size: large! Even the menu is large, with 15 pages of dishes that come heaped high and full of tasty, spicy Szechuan flavors. When it comes to Chinese food in Chicago, this place is known for being "the real deal." Try the "chef's special," a dry chili chicken, or the Chengdu dumplings, crispy Chinese eggplant with ground pork. Other popular dishes are the twice-cooked pork, mapo tofu, sesame chicken and Szechuan prawns. Lao Sze Chuan has two other locations, in suburban Downers Grove, and in Chicago's north side Uptown neighborhood, at 4832 N. Broadway Ave.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: It's one of Chinatown's most popular restaurants, and can accommodate large groups.
Megy's expert tip: Order one of their most raved-about dishes: the spicy three-chili chicken.
Don't come here for health food! Come for Southern-style soul food, full of flavor and served in a casual, relaxed environment. The quirky, funky warehouse-style space (abstract paintings of chickens and eggs adorn the walls) offers breakfast on weekdays and a popular weekend brunch. Try fluffy biscuits, French toast, salmon cakes with hollandaise, or a house specialty called Red Eggs, which consists of two eggs on corn tortillas with black beans, cheese, hot sauce, sour cream, and salsa. Something for everyone, including vegetarians. Buy a cool t-shirt on your way out. Don't be surprised if you happen to be dining next to former Chicago Bulls players like Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. Both have been spotted at this popular restaurant not far from the United Center.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Wishbone on Washington is popular among locals for its Southern-style soul food and the fact that it's loud makes it even better for kids.
Megy's expert tip: Come early as a big group to score a table.
Since the neighborhood around the United Center can be a little dicey, this sports bar and restaurant is a diamond in the rough. WestEnd Bar & Grille is the place for pre-game partying for United Center sporting events, particularly Chicago Blackhawks hockey games. Thirty-three plasma TVs broadcast the games throughout the cozy but large, two-level bar. The best seats are the leather, TV-equipped booths. It gets crowded quickly on game days, but that's because fans love the upscale bar food, including fish tacos and bison burgers. Wash it down with something from their expansive beer menu, filled with craft and locally brewed ales. If you have a few too many, you can take the bar's free and regularly-running shuttle back and forth to the United Center.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Close to the United Center, it's the best spot for pre- and post-game partying, particularly for Chicago Blackhawks games.
Jamie's expert tip: Try to get there early, to snag one of the TV-equipped leather booths. Take the bar's regularly-running free shuttle to and from the United Center.