Living in New York is expensive. Rent is obviously a killer; a sizable portion of your paycheck will get you little more than 250 square feet and a hot plate on a mini fridge. Then you’ve got to dress the part of a New Yorker; skinny jeans, made with half the material of their comfortable brethren, claim twice the price. And lest we forget the sweet siren song of New York’s all too abundant record shops: I can’t walk four blocks here without being tempted by Otis Redding on vinyl. Fortunately, this city compensates for the huge void in wallets by offering an abundance of one way to save money: delicious BYOB restaurants. Here are the gems I’ve found when faced with the choices of eating and not drinking (not actually an option), drinking with Top Ramen, or seeking out a new BYOB. Be sure to share your standouts as well!
Café Himalaya is one of my favorites in the East Village – where there seem to be a concentration of BYOs. It’s a Tibetan restaurant that seats about 20 and seems to have only two people on staff at any given time. There are a lot of similarities between this and the Indian and Americanized Chinese food you might be accustomed to. However, the spices are more thoughtfully and judiciously applied. It’s a cleaner, more precise style of food with a wider range of textures. Bring a ripe bottle of Grüner Veltliner to cut through the rich texture of the avocado salad and absorb the spice from the Shapta, a traditional spicy beef dish sautéed with ginger, bell peppers, garlic and onion.
Heading down towards the Lower East Side, passing restaurants such as Falai and WD-50, you wouldn’t expect to stumble on a cheap, awesome BYO. Just as you begin to think credit card debt is imminent, you see an open door to an apartment building on Ludlow. You enter in an attempt to find a place to squat – after a run in with Falai’s wine list you might be short on rent – and just then, you find the Kuma Inn, a Filipino/Thai fusion small plates restaurant tucked in a renovated, second-floor apartment. Chef King Phojanakong, who honed his craft under Daniel Boulud and David Bouley, has come up with an intricate and interesting menu that you will constantly want to show off to friends. Riesling is always a good choice here (especially with the Chinese sausage), but if you’re craving red, bring a New World Pinot. Its somewhat jammy fruit will absorb heat, but is still delicate enough to pair with seared Ahi Tuna with Thai chili and a miso vinaigrette.
By the time you leave Kuma, you might be a little sauced. Perhaps you turn right rather than left, and now, instead of going home, you’ve accidentally rolled into Chinatown. Not to worry, bring that extra bottle of wine into Fu Leen Seafood Restaurant. The entrance of this often-boisterous dinner spot is filled with tanks containing fresh future meals. Everything here is delicious, but keep this formula in mind: fried baitfish + Fino Sherry = mouthgasm.
If you were getting lost before, just wait until you’ve piled on a bottle of Sherry. Now you’re wandering across a bridge and the jeans have gotten even tighter: you’re in Brooklyn. This twist of fate has put you near Kaz An Nou, a French Caribbean BYO over on 6th Ave. French for damn, that’s tasty duck leg confit in a mango jerk sauce, Kaz An Nou is the perfect place to bring a six-pack of Red Stripe.
While you’re somewhat in the neighborhood, stop by Lucali, a restaurant with some of the most mind-blowing pizza in New York. There’s going to be a wait when you get there, but that’s fine; just put your name in and go for a drink at the Clover Club on Smith Street until there’s a table ready. When you’re finally seated, you’ll notice a chalkboard with a list of the fresh ingredients procured that day. Get whatever you please – as long as that includes roasted shallots – and enjoy it next to a bottle of Chianti Classico or Côtes du Rhône.
At this point you might as well end your BYO tour with one more borough: Queens. Take the G up to where it meets the 7 train and get out in Woodside. Here you’ll find Sripraphai, arguably the best Thai food in the city. When venturing to this spicy destination, take Riesling and nothing but Riesling. The food here is about clean, fresh flavors. Oh, and lots of HEAT. A riper Riesling like the Milz-Laurentiushof 180° has delicate flavors that add fruity and mineral layers to dishes like crispy ground catfish with a green mango and cashew salad, while simultaneously acting as a foil to the heat of fried soft shell crab with spicy chili sauce.
Got your own favorite BYO spots? Tweet @ChrisHallowell