You probably have a list, whether written down or just stored in the back of your brain, of restaurants that you tell any out-of-towner they must go first when they’re in Philly. Ours is called the Greatest Hits List - and it’s a guide to all of the quintessential Philadelphia restaurants. This one is similar, but every place on it lets you bring in a bottle, can, or Big Gulp full of alcoholic liquid. Considering how many BYOBs we have in Philly, it can be hard to figure out which ones to prioritize first - so we did it for you.
There are a lot of really good dim sum spots in Chinatown, but Dim Sum Garden is the one you should go to first. It’s inexpensive, the food is great (we especially love the spicy pork soup dumplings and scallion pancakes), and it’s a BYOB that also offers some beer and wine - just in case you don’t feel like stopping at the wine store beforehand. They have a $15-per-table corkage fee, which is more than other places nearby, but has the benefit of discouraging big groups of people who are only there to pregame for a big night out.
The food at Jaxon is so good that realtors in Northern Liberties should use living near it as a selling point for all their properties - right after things like “large skylights” and “original hardwood floors.” But even if you don’t live within a few blocks of this place, it’s worth jumping in your nearest taxi or SEPTA bus just to have dinner here. The menu is always excellent no matter the season, with heavier dishes like lamb tikka masala in the winter and watermelon salad in the summer. Plus, you’ll want to sit at one of the many outdoor tables under the string lights when it’s nice out - it’s the perfect setting to enjoy multiple bottles of wine with your friends.
A lot of omakase-only spots have long lists of expensive bottles of sake that just end up adding ridiculous amounts of money to your already high check. Sakana’s BYOB policy, though, lets you bring your own bottle to pair with their super affordable $59, 10-course omakase. That means that, instead of saving that special sake for an anniversary or your dog’s golden birthday, you can bring it to a weeknight dinner and drink it alongside some very good raw fish.
This cash-only, Mediterranean BYOB in Rittenhouse was one of the first spots in the city to do the whole farm-to-table thing. Even though they’ve been around for more than 20 years, the restaurant is still just as good today as it was when it opened. Their dinner menu is made up of seasonal dishes - like grilled baby artichokes and swordfish kabobs, and they also do a weekend brunch with some of our favorite shakshuka in the city. During the summer, there’s a good amount of outdoor seating, which is ideal for bringing a date, a bottle of wine, and maybe your dog just to make things interesting.
Cadence isn’t the kind of BYOB you show up to last minute for a quick weeknight dinner unless you’re the heir to the Slinky fortune or the 13th man on the 76ers. It’s more of a special occasion spot, with a $65 tasting menu and a bottle shop down the street that sells a collection of wine that’s specifically curated for Cadence. You can go a la carte here if you want, but your goal should be to try as many things as possible. Just make sure to get the Alina duck, which is one of the best things we’ve eaten in recent memory, and will easily feed two or three people.
Zeppoli technically isn’t in Philadelphia - it’s over the bridge in Collingswood - but considering it’s one of the best Italian restaurants and BYOBs in the tri-state area, we had to include it. This Sicilian spot is tiny, with only 35 seats, but you need to go if you can get a reservation. In the summer, they also open their backyard for some Sicilian barbecues, which are feasts that include everything from homemade pasta to whole-roasted lamb. Those are even more difficult to get a seat at than the normal tables, but if you can swing it, you should go and bring some great bottles of wine with you.
Sate Kampar looks like your average coffee shop - it’s got a bunch of small tables, dispensers filled with ground coffee beans, and chalkboards hung up on the wall with the day’s specials written in a rainbow of colors. Even though you can order coffee, you should be coming for the great Malaysian food - especially the sate skewers. You can pick and choose different meats and sauces (the pineapple peanut sauce is worth putting on just about everything), and even if you buy a bottle of wine before dinner, you’ll still spend less than $30 per person.
If you’re in the mood for seafood, Little Fish in Queen Village is the BYOB for you. It’s a small corner shop with a menu that’s exclusively made up of sea creatures, and their offerings change daily. They also do a $48 tasting menu every Sunday, and although the dishes can be kind of hit or miss, it’s almost like you’re a part of a test kitchen - where everything you’re eating is going straight from the chef’s mind onto your plate.
Kanella Grill is a staple in Philly, and even though it’s changed locations a few times, their excellent and affordable Greek food keeps them busy no matter what. For around $30 a person, you can get a family-style Greek feast, with things like kebabs, hummus, and dolmades spread out in baskets across your table. During the summer, they also have a bunch of outdoor seating on the sidewalk. Roll in on a Thursday night with a date and a bottle of pinot grigio and pretend you don’t have to wake up the next morning for work.
You know when you train for a race for months and then your brother decides to run at the last minute and somehow beats you? This scenario reminds us of how effortless having dinner at A Mano feels compared to every other Italian BYOB in Philly. The dining room is upscale but still feels casual and the plates of pasta look just as good as they taste. You would expect a place like this to have a long expensive wine list, but they don’t have a wine list at all. Instead, bring your own $15 bottle to pair with a plate of gnocchi that costs about the same.
Res Ipsa is a tiny all-day cafe in Rittenhouse from the people behind Stock. During the day, it’s a popular takeout place, but at night it undergoes a Cinderella-style transformation into a full-service Italian BYOB. They have a pretty small menu that’s heavy on pasta (our favorite is the spaghetti alle vongole), and everything is surprisingly good for somewhere you would normally just visit for a quick lunch. Because of how small and quiet this place gets, it’s the perfect spot to bring a date and the bottle of white that you found while cleaning out your fridge.
There are two locations of Helm - the one in Rittenhouse is newer and has a full bar, but the one in Kensington is BYOB. Whenever you’re looking for somewhere that feels expensive but isn’t, Helm is one of your best bets. They change up the menu a lot, but there are always a lot of smaller plates that are easy to share - think rhubarb and soppressata wontons to chicken with a sunchoke confit.
On most days of the week, Perla is a solid Filipino spot on East Passyunk. But on Wednesdays and Sundays, this place puts on one of the most memorable meals in Philly: the kamayan feast. They replace the tablecloths with huge banana leaves and rather than using utensils, you eat with your hands. A layer of garlic jasmine rice is spread out on the table, topped with a few different proteins, pork belly, fried whole fish, and bok choy. Try all the homemade sauces on the table to customize each bite, and don’t be surprised if you need a to-go bag for your leftovers.
It’s easy for Pumpkin to get lost underneath all of the new, flashier restaurants in Philly. But this small South Street BYOB has been around for ages, and while the menu changes often, the food is still consistently great. If there’s a crudo on the menu, make sure it ends up in front of you - but otherwise, you could pretty much close your eyes and point to anything and it will be delicious. The other thing you should know is that it’s cash-only, so you’ll want to hit both the bottle shop and the ATM on your way over.