By Karrie Gavin
The Best BYOBs in Philadelphia a happen to also be some of the best restaurants in Philly overall. And while it’s easy to spend a few hundred bucks on dinner for two at some of Philadelphia’s finest restaurants, it’s far easier on your wallet to eat at one of the city’s many BYOBs. Marked-up prices on alcohol in restaurants can as much as double your tab, but when you Bring Your Own Bottle, you'll save money. Philadelphia has one of the best BYOB scenes in the entire country. From casual to upscale, BYOBs offer something for every taste and budget. These are some of the best.
Audrey Claire opened in 1996 and has withstood the test of time. Guests continue to pack into the small but airy corner near Rittenhouse Square, vying for outside tables when the weather is nice. The modern American menu offers small and large plates that change often and have a Mediterranean flair. From Brussels sprouts unlike anything your mother served, pear-and-gorgonzola flatbread, roast rack of lamb or broiled whole fish, the daily specials utilize only the freshest ingredients available. Cash only.
276 S. 20th St., 215-731-1222
There is usually a wait at this tiny Queen Village favorite, especially on weekends, but it is well worth it. The reasonably priced menu of fresh seafood includes shrimp, scallops, bluefish, and octopus. Simple and healthy preparations include broiling or sautéing with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and red-wine vinegar. Hummus and baba ghanoush served with grilled pita wedges are popular starters and the citrus-avocado salad is a favorite. Cash only. No reservations.
795 S. 3rd St., 215-625-0556
Farmicia has a full bar but also offers the option to BYOB at no additional charge. The friendly, casual atmosphere is a refreshing change from the trendier atmosphere at many other Old City establishments. The modern American menu is large and varied, but everything on it is organic and mostly local, with preparations that are unique but not fussy. The menu is varied Metropolitan Bakery bakes all the bread served in the restaurant on-site. Stop in for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner.
15 S. 3rd St., 215-627-6274
The only restaurant of its kind in Philadelphia, Garces Trading Company has a retail wine store on the premises. An excellent selection of wine and small but good selection of beer means guests don’t have to plan in advance. They choose their drinks, pay retail price, and take it the table to enjoy with a meal. The European-style bistro is one of Jose Garces’ (of Iron Chef fame) 8 local restaurants. Artisanal cheese and charcuterie, antipasti, deep-dish pizza, pastas, and grilled entrées are popular.
1111 Locust St., 215-574-1088
Exposed brick walls, an open kitchen, and just-right lighting set the mood in this popular BYOB on the busy Midtown Village strip of 13th Street. High-quality ingredients and savory flavors make up contemporary Mexican dishes, like grilled spice-rubbed pork chop and shitake and Lancaster jack cheese enchiladas. Guest can bring their own wine, beer, or best of all, tequila to mix with Lolita’s homemade margarita mixers in flavor combinations including watermelon, basil and mint.
106 S. 13th St., 215-546-7100
Mercato is often noisy and crowded, due to its modest size, open kitchen, and immense popularity. You will wait for a table, but that’s because it is arguably the city’s best BYOB. The menu combines Old World Italian slow-cooking with unique, updated flavors. Favorites include the cheese plate, olive oil tasting, grilled artichoke appetizer, and diver scallops over wild mushroom and pea risotto. Save room for the bittersweet molten chocolate lava cake or the mascarpone cheesecake; you won’t regret it. No reservations. Cash only.
1216 Spruce St., 215-985-2962
For authentic Mexican cuisine in a causal environment, South Philadelphia’s Plaza Garibaldi is hard to beat. Colorful, cozy, and laid-back, with burritos around $7 and entrées $10-$15, it is a great spot for a cheap date. Try the chicken mole or pork-and-pineapple burrito, enchiladas suizas in a tart, creamy green sauce. The loaded nachos can be a meal for one or an appetizer for many.
935 Washington Ave., 215-922-2370
Pumpkin’s modest orange exterior belies the impressive work of its kitchen. The husband-and-wife owners (he is chef) offer a relatively small menu of about five appetizers, five entrees, and several sides, that change daily. The creative modern American dishes feature seasonal, mostly local ingredients, with a balance of meat and seafood dishes. By the same owners, nearby Pumpkin Market (1610 South St.) sells produce, baked goods, dairy, meat and prepared foods, and Pumpkin Café (1609 South St.), serves breakfast, lunch or a casual dinner, at prices far below that of the restaurant.
1713 South St., 215-545-4448
Best known for its popular brunch menu, Sabrina’s also serves an excellent lunch and dinner menu—without such a long wait. The cozy eatery stretches across several row homes, with outdoor seating on nice days. A variety of soups, sandwiches, wraps, and entrées are served for lunch, and dinner offers comfort food with a twist, like meatloaf served with sweet mashed potatoes, mussels in red sauce, fish tacos, and elaborate salads. Portions are generous and prices are reasonable in this causal South Philly spot next to the Italian Market.
910 Christian St., 215-574-1599
Giovanni Tacconelli came to Philadelphia in 1918 and built a handcrafted oven for baking bread. Five generations later, Tacconelli’s thin-crust pies are baked in that same oven. Many people never make it out to this somewhat remote Port Richmond neighborhood, which is certainly not a typical stop on the tourist circuit. But those who do will be treated to some of the city's best pizza in a one of-a-kind setting and at a great price. Call a day ahead to reserve your dough. Once there, grab a seat near the oven to watch the expert pizza-makers whip out pizzas almost as quickly as you can eat them. Cash only. Reservations recommended.
2604 E. Somerset St., 215-425-4983