For our October rendition of Where to Eat, we're getting all inclusive. We're feeling extra social. We're thinking about where we want to go with friends.
We're looking for places we can hit before a show or after a game. Places where the setting and convenience often come before the food.
Group dining has distinctive logistical challenges. You need space. The restaurant must be big enough and not so crowded that it can't push together tables on a moment's notice. And there must be ample parking.
It also requires amiable service, be it a willingness to write up 10 separate checks without batting an eye or the good-natured understanding that the tip will not come close to proper compensation. Big parties so often shortchange on the tip.
As for the food, the menu shouldn't be too fancy. It has to be expansive and sufficiently generic that everyone can find something to eat. Here's our list of 10 places where you can dine with a group:
The Deep Ellum mainstay is a popular, low-pressure hang-out that sees all walks of life, from office workers to bikers. Its huge space includes TVs, lots of beers on tap, and tables topped with vinyl tablecloths that beg to be rearranged to your specifications. A big menu of well-done bar food includes burgers, hot dogs, and shareable appetizers like fried pickles and beer-battered onion rings.
There isn't a pizzeria in town that isn't good for a group. Regardless of where you stand on the pizza front — thick crust or thin, Neapolitan or New York — pizza by its very nature is a dish to be shared. Campisi's wears the crown as Dallas' original pizzeria. The fact that its old-school thin-crust pizzas are currently eclipsed by newcomers means there's less competition to get a big table, and they don't mind if you BYOB.
Pretty much any restaurant at Trinity Groves is going to fill the bill as a good destination for a group. This outdoor food court has many features you'd find in the suburbs including a massive patio and plenty of parking. It's easy to get to, and it's near downtown without being in downtown. And Chino has an unusual menu fusing two cuisines — Asian and Mexican — that please nearly everyone, with egg rolls and guacamole side by side.
Cedar Springs restaurant on the ground floor of the Ilume building has become known for its drag brunch (it even has its own Facebook page), when it draws a bawdy crowd. But if you go any other time, they can usually handle a last-minute group without a fuss. With a chef-devised menu and reasonable prices ($12 for a prosciutto-and-fig flatbread), this is one of the more foodie-ish places on this list, but the parking is a minus, as some of the surrounding street areas result in tickets.
Arizona-based chain Kona Grill opened in NorthPark in 2006 with an emphasis on sushi and Asian food. But its menu encompasses mainstream dishes like flatbreads and spinach-artichoke dip. The restaurant is big enough that it's almost never packed, with circular booths where a group can fit. NorthPark's central location is a plus, and its entrance is accessible to the street. And there's the mall parking lot. Sometimes group dining is about something as dumb as a parking lot.
La Calle Doce
The original La Calle Doce has been in Oak Cliff since 1981, plying coastal Mexican seafood, plus combo plates for those who don't like fish, and frequently replenished chips and salsa. There's drive-up parking, with a wrap-around porch patio that's easy for a group to conquer, or else share a table inside. La Calle Doce has a kind of Volkswagen quality to it: From the outside, it looks like the modest residence it once was, but the space seems to expand to fit the need.
Ozona has a number of trademarks including its renowned Bloody Mary bar, massive patio, and a chicken-fried steak that has earned many best-of nods. Its vaguely Tex-Mex menu is a crowd-pleaser, but what seals the deal for its group friendliness is its relaxed, forgiving atmosphere, one that verges on "dive." Easy come, easy go, no one judges here, and the margaritas aren't too bad, either.
Stephan Pyles' Texana joint feels comfortable yet new, with a convivial, even boisterous atmosphere that lets everyone blend in. Roomy booths accommodate groups of up to 8 officially, 10 if you're busting a move. It's in an deal location if you want to be downtown without having to actually, ugh, drive through downtown. The menu extends from $4 tacos and snacks to a $56 rib eye, if you're so inclined. A bottle of Prosecco to share is $40.
Truck Yard is almost too obvious a place to even mention, but how could we not? If you want no-pressure atmosphere, this is the place. With a ring of food-truck purveyors where you go and get (and pay for) your own, there'll be no awkward exchange over splitting the bill, and no need to leave a tip at all. It's the quintessential place for a group, and unfortunately, the packed parking lot with a valet proves that point. What you get in the vibe, you lose in the parking.
Collin County is full of chain restaurants, and chains generally offer safe harbor for group dining. So we flip the coin with this Plano old-timer with reliable Greek food, suitable for carnivores and vegetarians alike, where the staff is ever-happy to make room for your birthday celebration or promotion at work. With its festive atmosphere and cozy size, they hardly even need to push together the tables. There's an added fringe benefit for the tight-fisted group: Zorba's is BYOB.