I love restaurants — and I also love wine shops, so it makes sense that BYO restaurants are my best friend! Not only can you plot your own awesome food and wine pairings, but you also can save a buck or two by bringing your own wine. I keep a list of my fave Chicago BYOs on my phone for easy planning. The list here starts with my top 10 favorites: ones I’ve been to (and love)! But I’m also including a few I have not been to (yet!) Here’s hoping it inspires you. But before you BYO, allow me to share two tips:
- Courtesy Counts! Tip well at BYO restaurants. The restaurant staff aren’t making the big fat tips that come from big fat bills stuffed with alcohol charges, and they’re also running around bringing you glasses, chill buckets and opening your wine for you, so be a good BYO’er and show your appreciation to a hard-working server.
- Align Your Wines! Consider the food before you choose your bottles. This sounds so simple, but it requires a bit of planning. For instance, you’re at work and you decide to meet up at a BYO restaurant that night. Unless your friend has already said, “I’ve got this; I’ll bring the wines” and you trust her, check the menu online and consider what you want to drink. And if you need to stop to pick up a bottle or two (or three!), make sure you find a decent wine shop on your way.
If you get excited about raiding your own rack or favorite retailer for awesome wines to bring to dinner, here are my top 10 wine-friendly BYOs, with a few suggestions to help you pick a perfect wine for your next BYO adventure.
Tango Sur – Awesome Argentine steakhouse (on Southport near Grace). The wine possibilities are endless! Of course, big reds work extremely well. You can go with the theme and pick Argentine’s signature grape, Malbec, or go Cabernet, Merlot, Carmenère, even a Sangiovese. Last time I was there, two of us brought Chimney Rock Cabernet and another friend brought Lapostolle’s beautiful Clos Apalta (their high-end Carmenère-based red blend) – gorgeous. Suffice it to say, we were the envy of many around us.
ATK – Andy’s Thai Kitchen (on Wellington near Sheffield) has fantastic Thai dishes, from Pad Thai to Crispy Pork Belly, so you can go from sparkling to rosé to white to red here. I love a sparkling to go with dumpling, gyoza or satays, then a Muscadelle, dry or off-dry (just a tiny bit sweet) Riesling, Muscat or other acidic white. As for the “sweet” part – think about it: salty, savory Thai food often uses fish sauce or other salty ingredients and an off-dry wine makes them sing! Sweet and salty love each other! But for the crispy pork belly (which I love), I want a red — a Pinot Noir or Merlot.
HB – Home Bistro on Halsted near Roscoe is a cozy, intimate store-front restaurant on a busy street that makes great bistro fare. The menu is broad, so an online menu check is a good idea, because you could go sparkling, white, rosé or red here.
I Monelli Trattoria – This corner restaurant (on Western, in Lincoln Square) has fantastic pizza and pizza screams for Sangiovese! As in: Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or Brunello if you’re feeling like a king or queen.
Coast Sushi – This Bucktown spot on Damen Ave. has first-rate sushi and sashimi. Great pairings include Muscadelle, Muscat, Riesling or sparkling. You know what else works with sushi? New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – it’s got acid, and a bit of fresh n’ fruity rooty tooty freshness too.
Shokran – The Arabic word, Shokran means “thank you” in English and you can thank me later for this reco. The food is beautiful and the interior takes you straight to Marrakech. All your favorite Moroccan dishes are here, from chicken and lamb tagines to kofta (minced lamb “meatballs”) to plenty of vegetarian options. I love unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or any number of reds to go with lamb dishes — Zinfandel, a Rhône red (Syrah, or a blend) or even Merlot here. (I have a soft spot for Merlot!)
Butcher & The Burger — Burgers were meant to go with wine! Juicy beef with salty, tangy cheese, maybe some grilled onions – and a glass of red! This Lincoln Park spot on Armitage near Seminary has fantastic burgers. All the meat is butchered in-house, so bring your fave red or even rosé and enjoy.
Cai – Craving crispy-skinned Peking duck and Pinot Noir? Head to Cai, in China Town. It’s an old-school Chinese fine-dining restaurant with bright lights, big tables with white table cloths with lazy susan trays in the center and fantastic food. In addition to the Peking duck, get the Salt & Pepper Fish and bring a Riesling or Gewurtztraminer to cut through all the salty, peppery spices goodness.
Goosefoot — Since opening in 2011, Goosefoot has wowed me consistently with creative, beautiful, intricate, delicious food. They’ve retained their Michelin star for good reason! If you have “good bottles,” this is the place for them. I recommend a versatile white like a Marsanne, a Savennieres or Burgundy Chardonnay and a red like a Rhône blend or a Chinon (Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley), to complement the food.
90 Miles Cuban Café — It’s fun, casual and always feels like a party at this place, especially in summer. I like Picodillo, the minced-beef dish and a Zinfandel, for its richness to handle the spices and fat. Zin goes well with empanadas, too, so Zin for the win with Cuban fare! Habana Libre is another great Cuban BYO, BTW.
The “Gotta Get To” List:
El Ideas – upscale, beautiful food from Chef Phillip Foss. A bit of a splurge, like Goosefoot, but the BYO policy definitely eases the weight of the check.
Schwa – I can’t believe I haven’t been, but it can be tough to get someone on the phone to make a reso. For wine, I recommend looking at the menu online and choose a white and a red that you love. And do not forget to bring a six-pack or a bottle of good whisky for the people who are making and serving your food!
Pizza Art — Go with pizza wines, as suggested above.
Smoque BBQ — BBQ and Pinot Noir should just be married to each other, except Zinfandel is always horning in, so let’s just call it a threesome and eat up!