The Best BYOB Restaurants to Quench Your Thirst in Philadelphia

While the idea of toting one’s own wine, beer or liquor to a restaurant might strike some as unusual, in Philadelphia it’s not just commonplace, it’s exciting. To get around prohibitively expensive liquor licenses, many restaurateurs choose to simply open as BYOB’s, and locals know those are often the spots to get the best food and most delicious ambiance. Many BYOB’s require reservations, cash, and in some cases, a vintage bottle whose price tag raises envious eyebrows at surrounding tables. Since this idea has proven quite popular among restaurant proprietors as well as patrons, there are no shortage of places. Select an establishment that is also into using the best local products and ingredients, herbs and meats to enhance your meal, such as Farm and Fisherman or Will BYOB. Or visit several hotspots just outside the city limits for something a little different and well worth the minimal travel time such as Blackfish or Chloe. All serve up delicious food offerings in a wide variety of cuisines and styles, which frees patrons to pick the one they're in the mood for at that time. Then the only thing left is to head to the store or the wine cellar to find the perfect accompaniment to the evening's possibilities. We make no promises that task will be easy, but we're sure it'll be enjoyable.

It's not that the folks who regularly patronize this snug Italian bistro didn't want you to discover it for yourself, but after taking one meal at Melograno you'll selfishly agree that this is one of those places you hope never loses it's "off-the-radar" quality. Subtly dressed with wooden tables, hardwood floors, fresh flowers, bare white walls and an open kitchen, Melograno has the look and feel of the little neighborhood eateries found in Europe. And the food, it's safe to say, could give any of those places a run for their money -- especially the mashed potato-stuffed ravioli and bistecca alla fiorentina. Pair your choice with the BYOB of your liking, and you've the recipe for a great night out. (215-875-8116)

Chef/owner Andrew Wood couldn't be more committed to his farm-to-table ethos, sourcing almost everything for his Rittenhouse rowhome restaurant from Lancaster County, including the whole pigs he butchers in his basement kitchen next to the meats he cures, the herbs he grows and the mushrooms he hires a professional urban forager to procure. He changes his menu every day, and wife, Kristin, incorporates craft beer into some of her silky desserts. Reservations accepted; for wine, Wood recommends "crisp, citrusy Gruner Veltliner from Austria, or light, delicate Pinot Noir from either Burgundy or Oregon." 1521 Spruce St., 215-546-1521, ((215) 546-1521)

The Greek and Middle Eastern breakfast items served at brunch tend to earn the Cypriot BYO the most accolades but dinner, with its extensive starter menu (house-smoked eel for adventurous diners, Greek salad platter for those who aren't) and a fanciful list of entrees that put organic pork cheeks and a goat chop front-and-center, shouldn't be overlooked. Exposed brick walls and charming Med-blue accents make for a lovely respite from the American city bustling outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. No matter when you come here, you won't be disappointed with the cuisine, and with the freedom to pair it with the beverage of your choice, its the perfect combination. (215-922-1773)

Before opening what may be the best BYO in South Jersey, chef/owner Joey Baldino held top positions with Marc Vetri and Jose Garces and studied in Sicily under the legendary Anna Tasca Lanza. Baldino's skill becomes more evident with every soulful dish at his 35-seat Italian (mostly Sicilian) storefront trattoria, adorned with framed B&W photos of the homeland. Reservations recommended, along with a rich Sicilian red. (856-854-2670)

The Farm and Fisherman
A pioneer of the locavore movement, chef/co-owner Josh Lawler changes his inventive, sustainably-sourced meat, poultry seafood dishes according to the season. Critics hail the 30-seat, white-linen Antique Row BYOB as among the most authentic and masterful examples of the farm-to-table experience and laud his ability to turn vegetables into purposeful entrees worthy of the most picky steak-eater. Reservations recommended, as is a white or red that's not too heavy and not too light. Pop in or call ahead for peace of mind, pack up your favorite bottle, and head here for a refreshing dining experience you'll want to repeat again soon. (2676871555)

Blackfish - Conshohocken
With his refined preparations of seafood dishes, Chef Chip Roman continues to almost single-handedly make Conshohocken a dining destination for city dwellers and suburbanites. Located just outside the city limits, the spare storefront décor at this superior Coshy eatery serves to make dishes -- like oysters with carbonated lemon, bronze fennel, and pink peppercorn -- pop. The menus change daily, and five-to-seven course tasting menus invite diners to sample whatever's on Roman's mind at the time, at at various times of the year. Reservations recommended; as is the best bottle of white from the cellar. 119 Fayette St., 610-397-0888, (6103970888)

Marigold Kitchen
Recently re-invented as a prix-fixe only restaurant, this sunny and homey former boardinghouse in West Philly is re-capturing the spotlight. It did away with its a la carte menu in favor of an $85, 15-course tasting dinner, with the chef choosing all but the entrée. Still on the menu: modernist preparations (beet-salad-flavored dipping dots, anyone?) and molecular gastronomy techniques that employ "ingredients" like liquid nitrogen. Reservations are required; and for a pairing recommendation, it is recommended to consider sparkling wines to start and a red or white Bordeaux for the actual meal. Take a trip here for a little something different, and certainly a little something special. 501 S. 45th St., 215-222-3699, (2152223699)

Ingredients foraged from nearby farmers markets dictate the ever-changing menu at this crowded 30-seat East Passyunk BYOB. Here, chef/owner Chris Kearse uses modern gadgets and techniques to prepare new takes on sumptuously-plated French-inspired dishes. This cozy cafe features an earthy feel and a menu to go along with it. He works with the season, the local ingredients he has, and the things he's good at to come up with fare that is inspiring and tasty, creative and delicious. Reservations are recommended here, and white or red wines will work, though a light Viognier, Riesling, or Pinot Noir may work best. ((215) 271-7683)

Noord Eetcafe
The buzz built for months before this teensy Northern European BYOB opened on East Passyunk, and Chicago chef/owner Joncarl Lachman's house-smoked fish and anise-based sauces certainly don't disappoint now that it's operating and working to please patrons night after night. Lachman adds warmth to his rustic cold-weather seaside dishes by personally greeting guests. Come in and sample this Dutch cuisine and enjoy the white-tableclothed experience, and frequently house-made selections along with your favorite bottle. Reservations are recommended, along with a rich Alsatian or Burgundian white wine to bring out the flavors of your entree best. 1046 Tasker St., 267-909-9704, ((267) 909-9704)

Philadelphia's top dining critic bestows rare top honors on the 30-seat BYOB "bistro" that elevates French peasant food into fine-dining art. Chef/owner Pierre Calmels boasts an impeccable French culinary pedigree, and his wife, Charlotte, is revered for her graciousness at the front-of-the-house of this East Passyunk staple. This family-run small establishment is great when you want to feel cozy and well-taken-care-of in a setting that's akin to a friend's kitchen. Remember to hit up the ATM before arriving, however, as this spot is cash-only. Reservations recommended, as is a cult bottle of French red worth showing off. 1009 S. 8th St., 215-965-8290, biboubyobcom (215-965-8290)

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Maps and Directions

Melograno 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: European, Italian
Neighborhood: Center City
Cost: $$
Russet 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American
Neighborhood: Rittenhouse Square
Cost: $$
Kanella 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, European, Greek, Middle Eastern
Zeppoli 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American
Cost: $$
The Farm and Fisherman 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Vegetarian
Cost: $$$
Blackfish - Conshohocken 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Seafood
Neighborhood: King Of Prussia
Cost: $$$
Marigold Kitchen 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: American, Fusion
Neighborhood: West Philly
Cost: $$$
Bibou 10Best List Arrow
Cuisine: European, French
Neighborhood: South Philly
Cost: $$
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