Crowd control

Work buddies, your cousin's roommate, your brother's girlfriend -- you're always inviting the whole gang. But when they all show up for dinner? Uh-oh. Next time, try one of these spots -- they'll be ready for you.

Who should go: ceviche-lovin' scenesters
What to expect: trendy tapas in a subterranean setting
If you're looking for a dash of class with a coastal twist, head to DeLaCosta, where the light fixtures suggest sea creatures and the curtains send out wavy vibes. The dining room works well for late-night walk-in crowds, but bigger parties can call ahead to reserve the private cabanas of the Solarium, a sleek loungy space overlooking the Chicago River. The silky booths with private bars hold up to 15 people and are perfect for drinks and a table full of shared ceviches and tapas. Cabana reservations start at 10 p.m.

Hamburger Mary's
Who should go: drama queens and fans
What to expect: Mary Poppins meets your grandmother's attic, plus a
For those with a flair for the dramatic, Hamburger Mary's new upstairs bar is where it's at. The whole place looks like a movie set. Vintage living room setups fill every corner, and there's even a four-poster bed for the occasional melodramatic flop. Bring the Broadway wannabes to karaoke night on Wednesdays, and watch for word of upcoming drag revues and cabaret shows. E-mail in advance to reserve Mary's Attic for groups of 25 or more:

Tokyo 21
Who should go: friends in need of pre-club drinks or post-club chilling
What to expect: sushi in funky surrounds
If you're looking to loosen up before a night of clubbing or to cool down after last call, steer your clan to Tokyo 21, Weed Street's new sushi option. Blue velvety booths hold about six, and tables come together for crowds. If you're planning a party, ask about the Tatami room, a private space enclosed by Japanese screens and decorated with sake bottles. For $1500, 20 of your nearest and dearest can enjoy a three-hour open bar with assorted sushi and appetizers.

Who should go: big, happy families
What to expect: Don Vito Corleone meets tasting plates to share
Large families have a tough time agreeing on anything, let alone food. If half of your clan wants tapas but the others love risotto, Quartino is the perfect middle-ground. From quartinos (quarter-liter carafes) of vino to antipasti to hearty veal meatballs, there's something for everyone at this River North spot. The dining room accommodates groups of about 20; for something more private, you can reserve the wine room. An upstairs space, where long tables and leather couches sit among framed Italian soccer jerseys, can handle crowds of up to 120.

Who should go: lovers of Mexican with a taste for tequila
What to expect: a fiesta on tasting plates--meaning forget the ginormous
Got a crowd that loves Mexican? Save your local taqueria for late-night, post-bar eats and head to Zocalo for small plates and sharing-size cazuelas (Mexican casseroles) made with everything from shiitake mushrooms to Negra Modelo beer. If folks need a little help getting acquainted, rev 'em up with a round of tequila--Zocalo has more than 110 varieties. Booths hold 6 to 8, tables come together to accommodate about 20, and a semi-private area is available for groups of 30 to 40.

Leah Fabel is a metromix special contributor.

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