Chicago is a city of contradictions. We love giving away Senate seats and red light tickets, but hate giving out liquor licenses. Thankfully the latter situation means there are more BYOB options than intersections with video cameras. Of course, you only want to go to the best ones, which is why we’ve made this guide.
Whether you’re looking for a group dinner, a tasting menu experience, or a breakfast place where you can say f*ck it at 8am on a Wednesday, you’ll find it here.
One of Chicago’s very best SCRPRTCUWFFs, Bayan Ko in Ravenswood is an ideal place to bring a bottle of wine or two to split with your friends. The food here is delicious and easily shared - you’re going to want to order multiple servings of the croqueta tots. The space is cozy (read: a little tight), so if you make friends with your neighbor they might let you taste the petite sirah they brought to pair with the excellent ropa vieja.
Spinning J in Humboldt Park is a great place to go to pretend you’re a kid again - you can order grilled cheese, chicken pot pie, and chocolate malts served with whipped cream on top and a stainless steel cup filled with the leftovers. But when you’d rather act your age, they have helpful tips on how to pair the liquor you brought from home with their housemade mixers. Try their sparkling lemon drop soda with gin or the ginger milkshake with bourbon, then do something else you couldn’t do when you were a kid: pull out your credit card and order a third slice of pie.
There are a few BYOB places on this stretch of Argyle in Uptown, but we’re giving the nod to Miss Saigon for two reasons. First, it’s less likely to have a wait than the also excellent Tank Noodle, which means less time spent carrying a six-pack around and more time spent drinking it. Second, the mi kho (brothless pho) is delicious here, with crispy bone-in chicken that pairs excellently with a cold beer.
With an all-day breakfast, a BYOB policy, and a salad that they named after your hangover, Bite Cafe seems to have an idea of what you’re doing there. The menu’s a little all over the place - kind of like how you feel after a late night at the Empty Bottle next door - with poutine, mussels, and a skirt steak all living on the same page. But it has meatless substitutions for nearly everything on the menu, which makes it a handy place to come with your vegetarian and vegan friends for boozy brunch or a pre-concert meal.
Not only are the dumplings handmade at Qing Xiang Yuan in Chinatown, you can watch them being shaped through a window looking into the kitchen. The menu offers pan-fried, steamed, and boiled dumplings with vegetarian, seafood, and meat fillings. And if you’re not feeling the extensive tea menu here, feel free to bring in a tallboy.
Semiramis is a casual Lebanese restaurant just off of the Kedzie Brown Line stop in Albany Park. Order the vegetarian plate to share - it comes with warm pita, hummus, baba ghannouj, tabbouleh, falafel, and dolmas. The lamb kabob here is not only a fantastic entree but also a great thing to chew on and smile politely when your friend tells you she’s getting engaged to the guy whose car is always filled with old fast food bags.
This small Latin American restaurant in Logan Square has friendly service and excellent entrees, many of which can be made vegan or vegetarian. Get the pork mofongo - it’s like your own personal garlicky plantain mountain and tastes best when you’ve brought your favorite wheat beer to wash it down.
Dinner at Soule is a lot like a low-key get together at your friend’s house, assuming your friend is really chill, makes delicious soul food, and plays great R&B. In either situation, you’d better show up with some wine. At Soule, whatever you order to go with it will be delicious (you especially want the garlicky shrimp and grits, perfectly fried catfish, and excellent mac and cheese). So you should also bring some stretchy pants, because if you do this place right, you’re going to need them.
It’s convenient if a BYOB restaurant has a place to buy booze right next door, but it also means you need to settle for whatever they have available. This isn’t a problem at The Spice Room, a fantastic Indian restaurant in Logan Square, because it’s across the street from a neighborhood grocery store that happens to have a great selection of beer and wine. So you won’t have to figure out which flavor of MD 20/20 goes best with curry, unless you really want to.
Gospel Bird is a small Southern restaurant in Wicker Park from the owners of Luella’s Southern Kitchen, and it has the same casual atmosphere and BYOB policy as its sister spot. The menu is short (just a few versions of buttermilk fried chicken and some sides), and ideal for carry-out. But the friendly service and upbeat energy also make dining in really enjoyable, and the large wooden table in the middle of the restaurant is great for small groups. So a good strategy is for everyone to bring their own booze, get their own order of fried chicken, and then share all the sides.
Irazu offers both delicious Costa Rican food and a solution to our unreliable weather situation, thanks to its big covered patio. The menu is long, with lots of sandwiches, empanadas, and entrees like casado, a Costa Rican specialty with skirt steak, an over-easy egg, plantains, and cabbage salad. It’s cash only, so plan accordingly.
You go to Big & Little’s to eat fancy fast food. They have giant soft shell crab po’ boys, sushi grade ahi tuna tacos, and foie gras topped fries. All of which are fantastic - the kitchen handles these dishes as well as an upscale restaurant would. Add in the fact that you can BYOB, and we’ll come here any day of the week that we don’t want to eat a salad.
This casual spot serves fantastic Southern food. It’s a counter-service operation, and the welcoming staff will make you feel like a part of the family the moment you walk in. The menu includes Southern staples like fried chicken and shrimp and grits, all of which are done extremely well. So come with a friend or two and hang out for a while.
Lincoln Park is full of casual spots that are affordable enough for college students, and Toro falls into this category - helped along by the fact that it’s BYOB. Because of its high-quality sushi, small space, and no-reservations policy, this place is always crowded. Increase your chances of getting a table by coming with just one other person, not a group. But you should still expect a wait (and to be surrounded by college students).
Rickshaw Republic is a casual restaurant in Lincoln Park serving Indonesian street food. Bring a group and get the rijsttafel, or “rice table experience,” where you can choose between a “standard,” “plus,” or “premium” tasting menu for the table. Depending on what you choose, you’ll get 10-17 different types of street food for either $25, $35, or $44. It’s a great way to try a bit of everything.
Schwa is known for its excellent food and unconventional atmosphere. This place is one of the best tasting menu spots in the city, but to call it casual is an understatement - the chefs serve you, you’re probably going to hear at least one f-bomb, and the bathroom is located in the tiny kitchen. Plus, it’s BYOB. So plan on bringing enough drinks to go with a roughly three-hour-long meal. If you want to look like a regular, go ahead and bring extra for the staff.
If you’re looking for a quality steak place without expensive steakhouse prices, Tango Sur is the spot. It’s an Argentinian restaurant in Lakeview, and all the meat here is great - including their morcilla and chorizo. And the fact that they only take reservations for parties of six or more makes Tango Sur an excellent choice for big group dinners. Come with your friends, load up on red wine beforehand, and prepare for some meat sweats.
Nookies is a Chicago diner staple (the Old Town location as been around since 1973) for a casual breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This place has a lengthy menu that rivals the Cheesecake Factory’s, so you can eat everything from eggs and potatoes to meatloaf, and every location except the one in Edgewater is BYOB. That said, we prefer Nookies for brunch - and we particularly like the crunchy French toast, battered and fried in corn flakes.
Make sure you come to this Cajun-style crab boil spot prepared. It’s on an otherwise barren strip of Lincoln Ave. near Bryn Mawr, and there’s nothing close by - so remember to pick up some beer on the way. But the outstanding seafood here is worth the trip. Bring a group and order boiled shellfish (shrimp, crab, and lobster) by the pound, and dig into seafood so good it has no business being in the Midwest.
Chilam Balam is a small, casual Mexican restaurant in Lakeview. The menu changes regularly, and includes dishes like ceviches, empanadas, and pork ribs. Even though it’s BYOB, there are some restrictions: you can bring one bottle of wine or six-pack per couple, or one 750ml bottle of tequila. We don’t make the rules, we just pass them on.
This is an upscale Thai restaurant in Edgewater with a prix fixe menu (you can choose three courses for $38 or five courses for $52). The spicy fish soup is fantastic, with a light coconut broth that has a lot of heat, and even the boring-sounding grilled tofu is delicious, with roasted ground chili, shallots, and mint giving it lots of flavor. Herb is nice enough for date night, but relaxed enough for dinner with a few friends and a bottle of wine.
JJ’s is a very small, casual, slightly pricey restaurant in West Town. Their specialty is Thai street food, so you can expect dishes like khao mun gai (chicken with rice) and gai satay (chicken on skewers), all of which are very good. And very spicy - so bring enough of your chosen drink to keep your tongue from burning up.
The Korean BBQ here is delicious, but Cho Sun OK is also an excellent neighborhood restaurant to hang out in. It’s a fun and lively spot that works best for group dinners. Just make sure that besides the BBQ, you also get a seafood pancake and some pan-fried dumplings. All are good for soaking up the booze.
Sticky Rice is a Thai restaurant in North Center. The food here - like tom kha soup, pad see ewe, and mango chicken - is reliably good, and overall it’s an ideal casual option for catching up with friends during the week. Also valid for when you just want to eat noodles by yourself.
Vegans like to bring their own booze, too. Luckily, there’s Alice & Friends’, a casual BYOB vegan restaurant in Edgewater. The Asian-inspired food here is great - for example, the seitan skewers, marinated in turmeric and other spices. And the good news is that non-vegans will probably enjoy the light and fresh dishes as well. Just don’t let them bring their own meat - that would be rude.
This is one of the best places in the city for a large group dinner, or to just hang out with a friend or two. 90 Miles serves authentic Cuban food in a fun but relaxed setting, and you can bring your own wine or rum to add to the sangria and mojito mixes they offer. The back patio is enclosed and heated in the winter, and the friendly waitstaff won’t make you feel weird if you spend all day here pretending you’re on vacation.
This Filipino restaurant is located in a small strip mall in Logan Square, which makes it easy to miss - but very convenient to liquor stores. Come here with a group and order the excellent house specials, like the longanisa sausage or the mixed adobo with chicken and pork (marinated in a tasty garlic, vinegar, and black peppercorn sauce).
This is the original Tanoshii Sushi Mike’s, not the one in the West Loop. And while both have quality sushi, the original is our favorite location when we want a quiet place that lets us bring our own liquor (the one on Randolph has a full bar). Try one of the chef’s choice rolls, which often come with a light truffle sauce that’s good without being overbearing.
There’s something rebellious about a BYOB breakfast - maybe it’s the way the cashier at the grocery store looks at you when you’re buying champagne at 9am. Thankfully there’s a Jewel near M. Henry in Andersonville. This neighborhood breakfast spot has everything from bacon-wrapped baked eggs to fluffy pancakes covered in blueberries and granola. It’s usually crowded on the weekends, so expect a wait.
Smoque keeps it simple with straightforward BBQ and sides. It’s a counter-service spot in Irving Park, and your meal will be served on butcher paper and a metal tray. Everything here, from the brisket to the pulled pork to the ribs, is delicious - and we have it on good authority that meat and beer go very well together.
This casual Mexican seafood spot in Wicker Park is ideal for groups. Not only because it’s BYOB, but also because the portions are huge and everything will come to the table at once. Definitely order the prawns and lobster - the prawns come in a delicious spicy broth, and the lobster has a tasty seafood stuffing.
If you normally prefer drinking at home, consider Hash in Wicker Park for a laidback BYOB breakfast. This comfortable spot feels a lot like a living room (right down to the paintings that look like they could have been picked up at a garage sale). It’s an order-at-the-counter situation, and of course you can’t go wrong with any of the namesake hashes.
Sultan’s Market serves affordable, tasty Middle Eastern food in Wicker Park. We like the falafel and shawarma sandwiches, but the platters are a solid order as well. If you really want to take advantage of Sultan’s, pick up some beer and grab dinner on the small patio in the summer.