photo: courtesy of Bridget Cicenia
There's no denying that Chicago's BYOB heavy hitters are worth their weight in Grenache. The ability to brown bag your booze, eat better-than-average food and relax without fretting over the bill is almost enough to make the 30-minute wait worthwhile. Almost. Here are some less-lauded alternatives that are a heck of a lot like the real thing—or even better.
Trade sushi at Coast Sushi Bar for Izumi Sushi
When it comes to a sushi BYOB, Coast takes the drippingly hip cake, but you can trade the buzzing Bucktown address for an arguably trendier one: Randolph Street. While Izumi's patrons aren't as manicured as those at neighboring Blackbird, the shotgun-style space has all the hip hallmarks; groups should request seating under the chandelier of paper lanterns in back. Like Coast, the sushi comes fresh and clever. Try the Hawaiian roll, with unagi, avocado and macadamia nuts covered with sliced mango, off Izumi's lengthier signature maki menu.
Trade barbecue at Smoque BBQ for Calvin's BBQ
Smoque's applewood-smoked baby back ribs have a loyal following, which puts seating in short supply come dinner time. A funny shack-of-a-shop located on a booming section of West Armitage, Calvin's less-packed seating options include the most proper place to eat BBQ: in an enclosed patio. The owner of Smokin' Woody's 'cues up tender options like wood roasted center-cut pork and hickory-smoked beef brisket, along with really great sides; standouts include the sweet potato fries and barbecue spaghetti (pretty much what it sounds like).
Trade vegetarian at Bite Cafe for Amitabul
If you're off the meat but on the sauce, Bite's location—next to the Empty Bottle—and menu of panang tofu curry and seitan pastrami makes it a regular stop for meat-free diners. But lug your veggie-loving bum to the Northwest Side and find a BYOB vegetarian mecca: Amitabul's vegan dishes pack plenty of flavor and absolutely no guilt, making that bottle of wine you brought your only vice of the evening. The Green and Greener Nirvana packs a super-healthy punch, with tofu, seaweed, broccoli and brown rice.
Trade Caribbean eats at Habana Libre for Punta Cana
When your love for plantains is only outshined by your affection for BYOB living, swap Habana Libre's boisterous atmosphere, heavy Cuban platters and line-out-the-door popularity for Dominican eats at Punta Cana. The restaurant may have a little less booming warmth, but the food is a lesson in hearty Caribbean cuisine. You'll get sautéed sweet plantains with your entree, but go ahead and overload with an order of tostones, pounded crisp plantain patties topped with a drizzle of garlic sauce.
Trade brunch at M. Henry for Icosium Kafe
The hopping brunch spot has a very shortlist of negatives—namely the good long wait for an order of mango blisscakes (pancakes layered with mascarpone and mango slices). But drag your mimosa fixings a few blocks south; one bite of Icosium's apricot and brie crepe, and you'll have a new favorite place for a morning meal. For seating perfection, slide into one of the bold orange-red booths. Savory breakfast-goers should try the goat cheese and salmon crepe. If those blisscakes still haunt your memory, go for the equally sweet Crepe Buena, with mango, ginger chutney, sunflower seeds and raisins.
More BYOB swaps:
Trade South American meat at Tango Sur for Brasa Roja
Trade Chinese at Joy Yee's Noodles for Friendship Chinese Restaurant
Trade Indian at Hema's Kitchen for Bhabi's Kitchen
Trade pizza at Sapore di Napoli for Pizza Rustica