Dining out can be expensive. I've had eight weddings this summer, so my extra cash has been more commonly finding its way to Crate and Barrel to buy cookware than to a restaurant to buy other people's cooking.
That said, it's not like I always want to cook for myself. Not when it's so easy and tasty to have someone else do it for me! Luckily for me, my neighborhood (and chances are, yours, too) is stocked with a number of delish BYOB restaurants. Because really, when you're looking to keep the cost down, cutting out the alcohol portion of the bill is a quick way to do it. I'm not saying don't drink. I'm saying hit the drugstore before you hit the dining room. Even at the places that charge a minimal uncorking fee, you'll still save tons.
As evidenced when, on a recent sluggish Saturday night, my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to dinner out at our local Italian eatery, Trattoria Caterina. Featuring excellent Italian fare that includes a surprising number of pasta and meat dishes (I highly recommend the garlic and artichoke-infused pasta), each of which comes with a salad, all we had to bring was a bottle of red wine and a great big smile, because the check for dinner for two was just over $20. And nothing makes me grin more than a bargain, especially one so very, very yummy.
Trattoria Caterina charges just $2 per bottle for the BYO crowd. But that's not the only BYOB place the city has to offer. Behold:
Matsu Yama Low-key and cheap, Matsu Yama is open until midnight on the weekends and is happy to uncork your bottle. Folks come for the inventive rolls, such as the $12 Godzilla roll, which features smoked salmon, eel, cucumber, shitake, cream cheese, wasabi mayo, eel sauce and tempura crunch, among other items, and stay for the service, which is friendly, attentive and never concerned with hurrying you up.
Sultan's Market A touch of the Middle East in Bucktown? It's true: Atmospherically, it's not much (you order at a counter, so it sort of feels like an Arabian lunch counter), but it is cheap, has lots of vegetarian selections and you'd be hard pressed to spend more than $10 on a meal at the Market.
Coast Sushi Bar This Bucktown sushi spot is as swank as it is liquor-free, which means more atmosphere for less cash for you. Dress up for a night on the town with the girls, and go mad over the maki without ending up with too extravagant a bill.
Tango Sur Like meat? Indulge at this Argentinean gem, where meat is always the perfect meal, accompanied by your drink of choice. Outside tables fill up in summer and guitarists sometimes accompany the neighborhood crowd, who bring everything from red wine to bottles of vodka.
Rick's Cafe My friends are addicted to this low-key, romantic North Side eatery at that offers tapas-sized portions of French, Spanish and other foods. But as for the liquor portions? That is totally up to you, once you fork over a $4 corkage fee.
Zig Zag Kitchen This small, clean and quiet DePaul-area eatery offers up surprisingly healthy fare that's heavy on the vegetables, light on the fat and super intensive on the taste. Menu items include sandwiches and salads.
Want to BYOR (reservation)? To reach the above locations: Matsu Yama, 1059 W. Belmont, (773) 327-8838; Sultan's Market, 2057 W. North Ave., (773) 235-3072; Coast, 2045 N. Damen, (773) 235-5775; Tango Sur, 3763 N. Southport, (773) 477-5466; Rick's Cafe, 3915 N. Sheridan, (773) 327-1972; Zig Zag Kitchen, 2436 N. Lincoln, (773) 472-2222.
Erin Brereton is our resident urban cowgirl on a bi-weekly search for life on the cheap.