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Oct 6, 2010 01:07 PM

BYOB Ranting

[Full disclosure: I am going to Matyson tonight, so this will be extremely heavy with double standards.]

I love that we live in probably the best BYOB city in the country, but I have noticed a distressing trend. I can't think of a single decent BYOB that is reasonably priced. Are there any decent places that offer $12-15 pastas and $15-20 entrees?

I recognize that since they aren't making any money on the booze, they have to bump their yields on food, and that the better spots are offering some of the best food in the city and not making you pay a 2x markup on drinks. But I am dreaming of a place that offers simple, well-prepared food at a reasonable price. Does anyone know of such a magical place, or am I being naive to think that it would be sustainable? It's to the point that I have even started going to non-BYOB's (a formerly absurd thought) because I just don't feel the value is there anymore.

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  1. >Are there any decent places that offer $12-15 pastas and $15-20 entrees?

    Roberto Cafe? La Baia? Novita?

    And do let me know what very good (not talking South Philly Red Gravy) non-BYOBs you know of that offer $12-15 pastas and $15-20 entrees, because I'm drawing a blank on that. I haven't noticed BYOBs marking up the food any higher than places with liquor licenses. Indeed, I find I tend to have to spend much more at a lot of Philly's non-BYOBs, not even counting alcohol, with the "small plates" trend being so much the fad right now (small plates = having to order more dishes for a full meal = much higher tab at the end of the night.)

    The only issue I find with a lot of the BYOBs is that they're not good places to linger, because the restaurants obviously want/need to turn over tables to make a profit.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sockii

      Bistro La Baia is a great one. I always forget about it, but it's great: you're never disappointed and it's very reasonable cost.

      I haven't tried the others and will give them a whirl. It's nice to try something new, and any friend of Baia is a friend of mine.

      Not to play right into your least favorite part of the city, but I'm actually trying to come up with a good recommendation for a place for tapas/small plates for a bachelorette party of 15 or so. This is probably a suicide mission, but I am trying to help come up with something that will not be priced out the door (i.e. prefer to skip Amada if possible) but still have a bit of a "scene".

      1. re: tfalbo

        Bar Ferdinand has a $40 Prix Fixe that is good for groups. There's definitely a fun scene there and the whole neighborhood. I did the $40 option with a group there recently; it was very well executed and a great time, but the food quality was a clear step down (or more) from the Amada $45 tasting menu. They may give a bit more food. I'm not sure how wine/drink prices compare, maybe that could save a good bit a money.

    2. I haven't been there in a year or so, but I've enjoyed La Viola (or La Viola Oest) several times in the past, and I don't recall anything on the menu being over $15. It's not the most relaxing space (although I think the Oest version is better for that), nor is it revolutionary, but I've had some really good meals there and I'm always surprised by just how affordable it is.

      6 Replies
      1. re: PhillyA

        I second the La Viola/ La Viola Oest suggestion. And they take reservations.

        1. re: mmgth

          I had just been to la viola oest last night for dinner after reading about it on here, and I was pleasantly suprised with my meal. We ordered the calamari/shrimp appetizer which was excellent, and I had the seafood pasta (linguini w/shrimp, calamari, clams, salmon, and mussels) while my wife had the shrimp and mushroom risotto. She wasn't too thrilled with her meal, stating her shrimp was too salty, but I thought it was seasoned nicely. Mine was cooked perfectly.

          My only gripe with them was pretty petty, in that I couldn't understand any of the servers there, especially with all the noise that was in the room (you guys never lied). We both were thinking they were all Russians with their thick accents, but not too sure. Can any chowhounds verify??

          Overall, not a bad dinner. The place was packed, and there were 2 tables of 6-8 UPenn kids behind us getting sloshed off of White Zin, but they came towards the end of the night. I would definitely suggest this place again.

          Are there any other places like this in the city (modest priced BYOB)? Just trying to find a place for our monthly date nights where we can take a lesurely stroll after our meal.

          1. re: paychecktoday

            Mr. Martino's Trattoria is a good, inexpensive BYOB that I haven't seen mentioned yet, and the atmosphere is perfect for a date.

            1. re: Buckethead

              I like their menu, how is the neighborhood down there, and is it suitable to stroll down there?

              1. re: paychecktoday

                The neighborhood is great, Passyunk east of Broad is fine pretty much all the way up and down, and the blocks around Mr. Martino's are the nicest ones. There's a Capogiro on the same block if you want dessert (though I do like Mr. Martino's lemon tart), and quite a few other great restaurants (Le Virtu and Fond are my favorites on the avenue, Izumi is very good too, and the latter two are BYO) if you want to browse some menus for your next visit down that way.

            2. re: paychecktoday

              The owners of la Viola are from Albania. I would imagine that most of their staff is Albanian as well. I work with an Albanian who has eaten there which is how I know this. The accent can be a little challenging, but it's quite different from a Russian accent.

        2. I hear you but....
          Matyson, Kanella, Bibou - these places are spectacular and to get out of them for a little more than $100 with tax and tip for two people is awesome.
          As a former New Yorker subject to ridiculously expensive overhyped restaurants, it is hard to argue with that type of quality (and service) for the price

          2 Replies
          1. re: FattyFatMan

            Just had a fantastic meal at Solento at 22nd & Walnut. All entrees I think were under $20 and perfectly portioned. We did use a groupon, but before the coupon, a dinner for 2 (2 apps, 1 pasta, 1 entree, 2 cappucinos) was under $60 pre tax & tip. I'm also looking forward to Salt & Pepper opening on Passyunk Ave (my hood) - or at least that's the rumor. If memory serves, they are quite reasonable as well. Whenever I read about people's tabs, I figure they must order a lot more food than I do because my tab is always less. I can't eat 3 courses by myself without walking out of there with a stomach ache. And the days of having more than 2 drinks at a sitting are over too. So maybe the way to keep the bill down is to just get older!

            PS, you can do better money wise if you leave center city and hit the fringe neighborhoods. They have fantastic value and great food.

            1. re: BelgianBeerMistress

              Salento is awesome, I can't wait to have a chance to go back. The amount and quality of food I enjoyed there for the price was ridiculous.

          2. Lots. Consider that non byo places like Fish charge as much as Matyson and Bibou. The issue is that these are top rated places.

            Try -
            La Locanda del ....
            Modo mio

            1. We got out of Lolita pretty inexpensively.

              The markup on booze is muuuuch more than X2. Hard alcohol is usually marked up 20X, wine btg 4X and wine by the bottle 3X. Alcohol really is a huge profit-maker for restaurants. Huge.