Editor's note: We're pleased to introduce a new voice here to the Serious Eats community. Joy Manning is the restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine and will be checking in on occasion to bring us all up to speed on Philly eats. Welcome, Joy! Adam
Philadelphia’s BYOB scene has been well-documented in the past. They have good food and offer the opportunity to enjoy a meal out without a steep markup on wine, but not all BYOs are created equal. Many have mediocre menus and some cost even more than their cocktail-slinging counterparts. Here is my selective list of bargain BYOBs that offer unfussy but fantastic food, unbeatable prices and personality, even if that also means lacking a website.
Address: 603 S. Fourth Street
Phone: 215-922-3553 Just off of South Street, Alyan’s scores a zero on the ambiance scale, but generous portions of this zesty Middle Eastern fare always satisfies. Order: the falafel and hummus platter and fries, which include strips of onion and pepper in addition to the usual spuds. Prepare to shell out: $12
Address: 253 S. 16th Street
Phone: 215-735-8630 Some people complain about the tight quarters, but this dining feels cozy to me. Waiters here coo the specials in their Italian accents and you can believe them when they wax poetic about the dishes. Order: La Viola’s feathery-light gnocchi. Prepare to spend: $25 for a feast—less if you mind the prices when ordering.
Café de Laos
Address: 1117 S 11th Street
Phone: 215-467-1546 One of this city’s prettiest BYOBs sits on one of the ugliest corners. Just a few blocks from the Italian Market, Café de Laos sees nary a tourist but many Asian residents. The menu features authentic dishes from both Thailand and Laos. Order: Green curry with tofu—request it extra spicy. Prepare to shell out: $20
Mr. Martino’s Trattoria
Address: 1646 E Passyunk Avenue
Phone: 215-755-0663 Not everyone agrees about Mr. Martino’s. And the truth is, not all menu items deliver big flavor. But the pleasingly retro and dimly lit dining room is the closest thing we have to a time machine. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a bygone era. I promise the following menu staples are gems. Order: White bean soup, spinach lasagna, lemon tart. Expect to shell out: $25
Address: 908 Washington Avenue
Phone: 215-465-1440 This brightly lit, brightly colored taqueria provides everything I want from a Mexican restaurant except margaritas. Freshly fried chips appear with two kinds of flavorful salsa as soon as you sit down. Order: pork tacos. They’re slow-roasted, shredded, savory and tender. It’s heaven on a homemade tortilla. Expect to shell out: $10
Address: 138 Chestnut Street
Website: zentocontemporary.com With Morimoto mired in legal woes, it’s good to know his culinary progeny are thriving. At Zento, chef Gunawan Wibisono is making his mentor proud with sushi skills he sharpened behind the Morimoto Sushi bar. The room is beyond minimalist, except for the weirdly out of place flatscreen that hangs above diner’s heads. Order: The square roll. Expect to shell out: $35
Joy Manning is the restaurant critic for Philadelphia magazine.