This is the second week in a row that I've [inadvertently] reviewed a terrific restaurant that also happens to encourage BYOB. Banana Leaf -- the subject of last week's cafe review -- offers Malaysian and Singaporean food with a fantastic $0 corkage fee. And Lucio's BYOB -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- is so encouraging of your party bringing their own bottles of wine that "BYOB" is in the very name of the restaurant.
Spoiler alert time: After I visited Lucio's three times, it's rocketed to the top of my personal list of favorite BYOB establishments in town, for reasons which are expounded upon below. But there are also plenty of other great spots around town for you to post up with a few bottles of wine or a six-pack of beer -- especially great for those nights when you want to enjoy something special from your own private collection with friends or for when you just want to split a cheap bottle of wine over dinner.
It's not about the food at Collina's; it's about sharing bottles of inexpensive wine among friends over checkered tablecloth Italian in a laid-back environment where your kids won't be shunned by other diners for being a bit too loud or rowdy. Collina's isn't for everyone, but those who like it love it.
9. Cafe Pita +
Cafe Pita's new space -- greatly expanded from its old location a few doors down -- offers even more of an incentive to stay and relax over a bottle of interesting Old World wine to pair with its Bosnian cuisine. Meats like lamb, cevapcici and pljeskavice beg for fun pairing options, so go nuts and break out the big wines.
On the other hand, the super-spicy Indian and Pakistani food at Himalaya wants to be partnered with some big, bold beers like hoppy IPAs or even some sours -- yes, sours. Of course, you can always keep it simple with a six-pack of pilsner to pair with your chicken chargha or gola kabab.
The only reason Pizaro's isn't higher on the list is its bare-bones dining room, which can be sort of uncomfortable and uninviting for those who like to linger. But I have faith that -- in time -- the dining room could eventually match the breathtakingly perfect pizzas that are coming out of the oven here.
6. Just Dinner
Break out the Barbaresco -- this "teeny tiny" BYOB in Montrose offers a small but smart menu of Italian classics like lasagna all'amatriciana and spaghetti with Sunday gravy in a charming, romantic setting. It's perfect for surprising a first date (only if you really, really like them) or celebrating special occasions with big, beautiful bottles of wine.
Seafood and steaks are the name of Jonathan Levine's game, which makes it fun to bring out the big guns to pair with his New England scallops over grits, spice-rubbed steaks or incredible Black Angus ground beef burgers. Plus, with an expanded patio, there's more room to spread out and relax than ever.
4. Banana Leaf
What do you pair with Malaysian food? Whatever you'd pair with Indian, Chinese, Thai or Singaporean food. In short, Banana Leaf offers a fun challenge to those who like making odd pairings and -- like most places on this list -- its $0 corkage fee encourages you to go crazy.
3. Vieng Thai
Houston's best Thai restaurant, hands down, is also Houston's most informal. You already feel like you're eating in someone's living room here, so it's only natural to crack open some cans of beers while you bury your face in Massamun curry or pad see ew. Like Himalaya, much of Vieng Thai's food is ultra-hot and begs for an IPA to match the heat or a lager to cool it off.
2. Pampa Grill
Dining without a bottle of wine on your table here frankly isn't an option. Everywhere you look during a crowded dinner service at this family-run Argentinean restaurant in far west Houston, the South American expats at the surrounding tables are enjoying bottles of Chilean and Argentinean wines like Malbecs or Tempranillos with their enormous parrilladas of meat. You should, too.
1. Lucio's BYOB
Unlike most BYOBs, Lucio's actually has a wine list. It's short and well-edited, but the real allure here is bringing in your own to pair with chef Brett Maesch's clean menu of New American dishes such as a chili-and-hibiscus-glazed whole branzino or a smoked duck breast with roasted baby beets and Napa cabbage in an apple-hickory consommé. The waiters know exactly how to care for and pour your wine (well worth the $5 corkage fee) and it gives the impression that you're dining in a much fancier establishment than the relaxed dining room and Los Angeles-style patio would imply.
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