It's like a personal challenge: Pick the best wine or beer to go with the food at a local restaurant. Rely only on my own limited pairing know-how. Pay as little as possible for said booze. Enjoy meal immensely knowing you've saved money and made a match.
As much as I appreciate a great wine list or beer selection at a restaurant, there are times when I love a BYOB spot even more. It's exciting to me to peruse the menu then pick out a bottle of wine or a six pack that I think would best complement the style of food or a particular dish. I'm also guaranteed to have something I enjoy when I bring my own booze.
Lately, I find myself drawn more and more to BYOB restaurants in town, partially because I generally save money when I buy a bottle that isn't marked up to restaurant prices, and partially because the excitement of choosing a drink is surpassed only by the sense of accomplishment and discovery when I've made a good match.
This weekend, do some research and pick up a bottle to bring to one of these great BYOB restaurants. Then let us know what fine food and alcohol pairings we've been missing out on!
Aladdin There's no cork fee at Aladdin, so all you pay to drink is the money you spent on the bottle. Aladdin is a great place for families to go out for a large dinner of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean classics, and it was recently voted the most underrated restaurant in Houston by our readers. If you're wondering what type of wine goes with hummus and kabobs, a good rule of thumb is to drink wine from the same region as the cuisine. Check out Spec's for some Lebanese or Turkish wine, or stick to a crisp, dry white Burgundy, which should pair nicely with spicy, garlicky food. Beer-wise, try a citrusy, spicy Belgian witbier.
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Cafe TH Though it's open for dinner only two nights a week (Thursday and Friday), Cafe TH is a great spot to bring your own alcohol to drink with chef/owner Minh Nguyen's great Vietnamese food. In the evening, the place is lit by candlelight, and Nguyen is the perfect host for a romantic evening. If you want to drink wine with your pho (an unlikely combination, but we don't judge), go for something with herbal notes like an Austrian Grüner Veltliner. Our sister paper, The Dallas Observer, wrote about pairing beer and Vietnamese food a while back. Check out those suggestions online.
Doshi House Doshi House isn't exactly the type of place where you show up with a bottle of wine and drink until morning. The small cafe/coffee shop closes at 8 p.m. most days, but the atmosphere is such that you want to sip on something deep and moody while you munch on a vegetarian special like garlic and mushroom soup or a panini with turmeric curried potatoes and peas. I think a medium-bodied dry red wine would hold up nicely against the strong flavors of garlic and curry, as would a light, hoppy brew.
Hai Cang Harbor Seafood I admit to paying the $8 cork fee and drinking Malbecs or Tempranillos nearly every time I come to Hai Cang, but I don't recommend pairing the often spicy and always fresh seafood with something so heavy. When I have the presence of mind to stop at a liquor store on the way there instead of grabbing something off my shelf, a tend to choose a dry sparkling wine like Prosecco. Try it with the Hunan-style crispy fish or the lobster with beer and black pepper, and you'll never go back to red wine with Chinese food again. Because I tend to stick to the spicy stuff, I also like a good, malty Lagunitas Pils with my meal.
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Happy Fatz The breakfast/pastry/hot dog restaurant has a lot going on. There are over-the-top hot dogs, interesting salads, sweet cheesecakes, savory cheesecakes and plenty of breakfast goodies. What you want to bring for an alcohol option sort of depends on which direction you're going with the menu. For a salad and a savory cheesecake, I'll generally go with a bold, dry rosé or medium-bodied red wine (wine and cheese, hello!). For hot dogs, it's always beer, baby, and at the risk of offending beer aficionados, my hot dog/beer rule is the cheaper, the better. Give me a gourmet dog and a Lone Star any day.
Himalaya Perhaps my favorite place to bring a bottle is Himalaya, because I know the food is always going to be wonderful and nothing can tame the wild Indian spices like a good glass of bubbly. Yep, at uber-casual Himalaya--the restaurant that up until recently had a desk in the middle of it amongst the dining tables--I go for champagne. The dry effervescence is ideal with spicy curries and garlicky naan, and it even lends itself well to the gamey meat dishes. Chef and owner Kaiser Lashkari might even sneak a glass from you if you offer it to him, though he'll never admit to drinking during work.
Jonathan's the Rub It may be pricey, but what you save up wine that's been marked up like mad, you're able to spend on massive steaks or lobster dishes. Of course, Jonathan's does have its own wine and beer list, but for a $12 cork fee ($8 Mondays through Thursdays this summer), why not play sommelier and bring your own? The wide variety of steak and seafood options lends itself well to wine pairings, but what you should drink depends on what you plan to order. Oh heck, bring several bottles and decide once you get there. The patio is a great place to wind down with a drink or five after a long week.
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Just Dinner Like Jonathan's, Just Dinner on Dunlavy offers an upscale menu with a wide variety of options. I tend to stick with wine here, too, particularly bold reds to match the quaint, romantic atmosphere of the place and the emphasis on Italian food on the frequently changing menu. The cork fee is a modest $8, and the servers are more than happy to provide elegant stemware and chill any bottles that need to be chilled.
Lucio's BYOB Lucio's has a short but well-curated wine list, but with BYOB in the name, it's no surprise that this charming and casual American restaurant treats its guests' booze right. The cork fee is $8, and all of the staff knows how to pour and chill the wine and when to bring it out at just the right time so you never have an empty glass. It's not common that a restaurant with such an intriguing menu allows guests the option to bring their own beverages, so take advantage, and skip the wine list.
Mamak Malaysian I always forget to pick up wine for Mamak until I'm already in Chinatown, a wasteland when it comes to liquor stores. As a result, I've downed many a bottle of gas station dry white wine with my lobster and curry, but I recommend planning ahead better than I do. Like Himalaya, Mamak is a great spot to bust out the Champagne or a Sauvignon Blanc to pair with the spicy (in terms of both heat and amount of spices used) food. I also appreciate a good, hoppy IPA with my lobster from time to time. The refreshing, hoppy bubbles are the ideal foil to the rich, buttery seafood.
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