Going to the club, ordering citywides at the bar, and staying out until the sun comes up are all perfectly acceptable ways to spend a weekend evening. But maybe that’s not what you’re looking for after a long week of work. One of the best ways to do Friday night in Philly is to grab a few bottles of wine and take over a table at a BYOB with friends. Here are our favorite places to do just that - 11 BYOBs with very few rules, plenty of space, and tons of energy.
These are the steps to follow in order to have a great night at Casta Diva. Step one: walk in with a big group and a bunch of wine you just bought from the shop next door. Step two: take over half of the restaurant and make it your personal dining room for the night. Step three: order a pasta that ends in “i.” Step four: run out of wine midway through dinner and make another trip to the wine store. Step five: repeat once a month, forever.
For a long time, the best dim sum to drink at was Dim Sum Garden. But as soon as they started charging a corkage fee, everybody figured out that instead of paying an extra $15, they could just take their backpacks full of beer down the street to Tom’s. This place is practically a carbon copy of Dim Sum Garden, with a long menu of things like dumplings, rice plates, and pan-fried vegetables. They don’t generally take reservations, but if you have a big enough group you can reserve their back room.
On any given night at La Viola in Rittenhouse, you’ll see at least one table full of people partying that stretches the length of the restaurant. No matter who it is, they always come with approximately one bottle of wine per person to pair with some ricotta gnocchi, veal marsala, or salmon in a white wine sauce. That’s exactly how you want to do La Viola - show up hungry with lots of cheap wine, a big group of people you like, and a wad of cash (they don’t take cards).
This Center City sushi shop has a lot of neon lights, and there are pretty much zero rules about what you can bring in, how much noise you can make, or how many times you request that they change the playlist. There’s better sushi in the city, but their spicy tuna and crunchy scallop rolls are solid, and they have lots of easily shareable appetizers like gyoza and vegetable tempura.
The staff at L’Angolo are so accommodating that nothing rattles them. They’ll throw together a long table together at the last minute, even if that means moving the furniture around like a jigsaw puzzle. They serve Italian food, like spaghetti bolognese and chicken parm, but it’s all much better than you’d expect from a place where eating is your second priority.
Cafe Ynez looks like the love child of a New Jersey diner and a Mexican beach house. It has wood-paneled walls, turquoise booths, and strings of colorful lights hanging from the ceiling. In addition to the food, which ranges from things like $9 carnitas tacos to a $20 roasted chicken, they also make all their own mixers in house. You can order carafes of mango-mint margarita mix to pair with your handle of tequila, and there’s also a blueberry-thyme lemonade that you should mix with vodka to make a delicious cocktail.
Hikari has something that most of the other places on this list don’t have: a huge patio with tons of outdoor seating in the summer. That means that instead of forcing all of your friends to celebrate your birthday dinner inside on an 80-degree night in June, you can enjoy your plates of teriyaki and spicy tuna rolls under some string lights, and then head to one of the many bars nearby afterward.
Going out to dinner with a big group of people always means dealing with lots of preferences and dietary restrictions. But Giorgio on Pine, a small Italian BYOB in Rittenhouse, has something for everyone - even gluten-free people who desperately want pasta. They’ll make any of their pastas gluten-free, and they have a ton of vegan and vegetarian options as well. Since that’s taken care of, you can spend less time quizzing your server and more time drinking wine.
At most BYOBs, the restaurant just opens your bottle and throws it in an ice bucket. At Las Cazuelas, though, they’ll make any drink you want out of the alcohol you bring in. They’re known for their margaritas, but they have all the fixings of a basic bar, so you can get a vodka soda with a splash of cranberry if you want. Tacos and enchiladas are the best things on the menu here, but after a couple of margaritas, everything here tastes good. It’s also one of the best places to celebrate a birthday in Northern Liberties because there’s a private back room that you can rent without a special menu or minimum spend.
Having dinner at La Fontana Della Citta on a Saturday feels like being on Spring Break - there are loud groups of friends in their mid-twenties sitting right next to families with young children, and everybody’s having a good time. That’s because every person is eating the same big plates of red-sauce pasta that cost less than $20. It might not be an ideal situation for the parents of the two-year-old, but neither is bringing your kids to the Princess Grande Playa resort during March.
Chinatown is a gold mine of party BYOBs. They’re everywhere in the neighborhood, almost none of them charge a corkage fee, and the food is both really good and inexpensive. Banana Leaf is one of these restaurants. It’s a small Malaysian spot, with bamboo wallpaper and rows of tables that you can shove together if you have a big group. You can order a la carte, but their preset menus are the best bet for groups of ten or more. They come with around eight dishes of things like pad thai and beef rendang for less than $25 per person.