10 Can't-Miss Chicago BYOB Restaurants

The benefits of a BYOB restaurant are exactly twofold: First, one may choose the wine, or wines, they'd like to accompany their meal. Secondly, and of far greater importance to most, is that nixing the alcohol tab can easily cut a bill in half.
While, in some circles, a BYO designation is still taken as a telltale sign of informality, these days nothing could be further from the truth. From some of the city's most treasured neighborhood comfort-food spots to wildly creative, forward-thinking cuisine that's wowing the national critics, it's safe to say that, in many cases, there is almost zero downside, for the customer anyway.
So, whether you're heading out in a group this weekend for the last-meal-worthy queso con chorizo at Nuevo León or splurging on a fine-dining experience at Goosefoot, you may want to start asking yourself, and your favorite corner wine store authority, one very important question: What pairs well with that?
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Photographed by Mika McClurkin.
Han 202
One reason BYOBs are so attractive, of course, is the bang for your buck factor — and for value-driven fine dining, Bridgeport standout Han 202 is almost too good to be true. One can easily celebrate an important anniversary or other life milestone with chef Guan Chen’s $35 four-course prix fixe menu — no, that's not a typo.

The pan Asian-American cuisine is both creative and elegant, and the dining room is simple but equally refined. If there’s another restaurant in the city where one can order a not-just-serviceable, but memorably delicious, meal such as miso soup, beef-and-green-apple salad, hamachi sashimi, rack of lamb entrée, and sorbet at this price…well, please share!

Han 202, 605 West 31st Street (at Wallace Street); 312-949-1314.
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Photographed by Mika McClurkin.
Chilam Balam
The only downside to Chilam Balam, the Lakeview collaboration between entrepreneur and Mexico City native Soraya Rendon and chef Natalie Oswald, are the occasional long waits to get inside. Tiny and charming, Chilam Balam's stock-in-trade is sustainably sourced Mexican small plates. Americanized-Mexican restaurant standards are nowhere to be found on this menu; instead, Oswald offers dishes ranging from shiitake mushroom empanadas with grilled veggies, Wisconsin jack cheese, and salsa verde to fried chicken liver tacos in adobo sauce, white beans, and pickled onions. Whatever one orders, it’s all for sharing — which comes effortlessly in this intimate, vivacious environment. Don’t forget to hit the ATM before arrival, as Chilam Balam is a cash-only establishment.

Chilam Balam, 3023 North Broadway Street (at Barry Avenue); 773-296-6901.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Yuzu Sushi & Robota Grill
West Town is ground zero for sushi start-ups in town, but there are few spots with as many things going for them as Yuzu. As a BYO it is, of course, more accessible than many other destinations, but that’s just the beginning. By any measure, it’s a cool spot: The chefs sport fedoras, the soundtrack is hip, and the walls are adorned in Manga. Chef-owner Yut Vong is a veteran of Sushi Wabi and serves a wide variety of creative custom rolls, as well as excellent nigiri and sashimi.

But, taking Yuzu over the finish line is its still relatively rare robota, which elevates its menu of grilled meats, fish, and veggies above the crowd. It also makes it an extremely attractive option for those who either don’t love sushi or are dining with someone who doesn’t love sushi. While the competition is tough down Chicago Avenue, with so many pluses on its checklist, the conversation for many on where to head to for fresh fish on a weekend night will start and end with Yuzu.

Yuzu, 1715 West Chicago Avenue (at Paulina Street); 312-666-4100.
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Photographed by Mika McClurkin.
Gio's Cafe and Deli
Chicago is the city of neighborhoods, and for authentic neighborhood comfort food, it doesn't get better than Gio's Cafe & Deli in Bridgeport. Founded in 2001 by Giovanni Liuzzo, Igancio Bautista, and Victor Quezada, the corner restaurant offers some of the best homecooked Sicilian food to be found in the city. A small, charming, red-and-white-checkered-tablecloth restaurant in an Italian deli, Gio's is often packed with locals and, on gamedays, fills up quickly with visitors on their way to U.S. Cellular.

But, for northsiders, Gio's is well worth a trip across the river strictly on its own merits. Bring a nice Chianti or Barolo and indulge in dishes like stuffed chicken over cavatelli, cappelini with mussels, shrimp in red or white sauce, and classics like chicken parm and sausage and peppers. After dinner — well, after tiramisu or a cannoli — do a little shopping for select olive oils, cheeses, sausages, and coffees. After that? It's time to smoke a cigar!

Gio’s Cafe and Deli, 2724 South Lowe Avenue (at 28th Street); 312-225-6368.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
A truly unique Chicago dining experience, Schwa is the creation of acclaimed chef Michael Carlson. Opting to spend only a semester in cooking school, Carlson instead honed his craft at restaurants throughout Italy, among other places. His intuition and unconventionality have paid off in spades, as he has been consistently ranked as one of the country’s most exciting young chefs. While it can be tough to get a reservation at 26-seat Schwa, the payoff is well worth the wait, with Carlson's hugely creative menu sending diners out as intellectually stimulated as they are pleased.

The seasonally updated $110 nine-course menu features cuisine that's as beautifully presented as it is delicious, including standouts such as tagliatelle with huckleberries, black truffle, and veal heart, and apple pie soup with cheddar and chestnut. From the unpredictable soundtrack, which can range from hard-core punk to all-rap on any given night, to chefs personally serving their creations, Schwa is all about creativity, unpredictability, and establishing a genuinely independent voice in Chicago's dining scene.

Schwa, 1446 North Ashland Avenue (at LeMonye Street); 773-252-1466.
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Photographed by Mika McClurkin.
Regularly hailed by authorities as being among the very best restaurants in Chicago, ultra-refined Goosefoot is the creation of long-celebrated Chef Chris Nugent. Prior to founding the 34-seat fine-dining destination, named after the chenopodium plant family so important to his cuisine, Nugent was the force behind renowned downtown destination Les Nomades. As at that establishment, diners at his Lincoln Square venture can expect sophistication and flawless execution on wheels.

The largely locally sourced, nine-course, $135 tasting menu changes seasonally, but visitors can look forward to stunningly gorgeous presentations of entrees such as duck breast with cardamom, hubbard squash, tapioca, and acorn. After making a reservation here, diners will definitely want to bring that really nice bottle they've been holding on to for a special occasion.

Goosefoot, 2656 West Lawrence Avenue (at Washtenaw Avenue); 773-942-7547.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
El Ideas
Tucked in an out-of-the-way spot on West 14th Street, El Ideas is, like several other restaurants on this list, an example of a prominent chef going smaller in order to create a more pure ideal of his creative vision. With seating for 24, El Ideas, which is short for “Elevated Ideas in Cuisine and Dining," offers a $145 prix fixe menu, with just one seating per night Tuesday through Friday and two seatings on Saturday. The dining room and kitchen are separated only by a knee-high wall, and the kitchen crew delivers dishes personally. Interaction between chefs and guests is not only encouraged but fostered, with patrons regularly heading into the kitchen to chat with the chefs about their work.

Of course, none of this would matter if the food wasn’t worth raving about — but it is. Chef-owner Philp Foss, who draws experience from kitchens such as Le Cirque and The Quilted Giraffe, relishes in hyper-creative, gorgeously presented dishes, and the restaurant has been named to a wide variety of “best of” lists. Flavor combinations like elk with blue oyster, potato, and mustard have to be experienced to be understood, and it’s well worth the trip to El Ideas to do so.

El Ideas, 2419 West 14th Street (at Western Avenue); 312-226-8144.
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Photographed by Grace Willis.
Lauded both locally and nationally, Ruxbin has been heating up Noble Square with its mouthwatering Asian- and French-influenced comfort food since it opened in 2012. Chicago native Chef Edward Kim attended New York University to study political science with an eye toward a career in law before finding his calling as a chef and, subsequently, honing his craft at Le Cordon Bleu and Thomas Keller's Per Se, as well as kitchens in Seoul, New York, and L.A.

The cuisine he dreams up as a result of such diverse experiences is as inventive as it is delicious. The lines can be long to enter this 32-seat spot, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon: Kim's singular takes on classics like dayboat scallops, and etouffee and grits, coupled with the cozy-yet-sophisticated Asian-influenced decor, is too winning a combination for anything else.

Ruxbin, 851 North Ashland Avenue (at Chestnut Street); 312.624.8509.
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Photo: Courtesy of Sticky Rice.
Sticky Rice
New "It" Thai restaurants pop up constantly in Chicago, and that's a great thing — many have a lot to offer. But, for authentic Thai cuisine that goes above and beyond, longtime North Center favorite Sticky Rice is hard to beat. The dining room is unpretentious, but the menu is startlingly diverse, ranging in scope from expertly executed American-Thai restaurant favorites to, what will be for many, far more adventurous choices, such as steamed stingray and broccoli in curry, or stir-fried black fungus and meat.

But, even ubiquitous dishes like chicken pad Thai are likely to leave visitors impressed. One thing is for certain: If Thai fanatics can't find what they're looking for on this expansive menu, it probably isn't to be found in Chicago. Factor in its BYO status and criminally low prices, and this city jewel is a top-tier cultural dining experience that’s as accessible as it is delicious.

Sticky Rice, 4018 North Western Avenue (at Irving Park Road); 773-588-0133.
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Photographed by Jason Scwartz.
Nuevo León
Smack in the heart of Pilsen’s main drag on 18th Street, Nuevo León is a favorite of near South Side natives and transplants alike — and pretty much everyone else, too. After all, what's not to love about delicious, authentic, supremely affordable Mexican food? On weekends visitors are likely to have to wait a bit for a table, but the mouthwatering smells of the sizzling carne asada and other dishes emanating from the kitchen make the experience even better — anticipation, after all, is half the fun.

Once seated, diners don't have to worry about their first course, as Nuevo León delivers a complimentary appetizer, such as a tostatda with a Mexican stew, to whet guests' appetites as they navigate the sprawling menu. Whether one opts for more standard Mexican-American restaurant fare, prepared here nonpareil, or gets a little more adventurous with dishes like fried beef tongue or tripe soup, they're likely to join the legions of loyalists who count Nuevo León among Chicago's top Mexican spots.

Nuevo León, 1515 West 18th Street (at Laflin Street); 312-421-1517.