Ultimate BYOB Guide

Jamaican Jerk Hut

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only, outside seating available.

Buy a Bottle At: 1330 Lombard St., Philadelphia.

By now, everyone has seen In Her Shoes, the Cameron Diaz movie that was shot in Philly a few years ago. And we all remember how good the food looked in those scenes (and there were many) that were shot at Jamaican Jerk Hut. The thing about most movies is that they lie: Everything always looks better on the big screen than it does in real life. Except the food at the Hut. Somehow, miraculously, the dishes they serve here taste every bit as great as they looked on film. The chicken jerk platter is fantastic: The meat is so light and moist that it makes ordinary barbecue seem somehow inelegant by comparison. It’s served alongside Jamaican cabbage, a buttery tangle of greens that even the staunchest veggie-phobe could love, a pile of rice and peas, and a fried plantain. It’s all tied together with a smoky, spicy Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce that’s so good I wouldn’t mind doing shots of it. Finish the meal with an oversized slice of Jamaican bread pudding to cool off your tongue. This is what happiness tastes like.

1436 South St., Philadelphia, 215.545.8644.

La Boheme

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only, reservations recommended, outside seating available.

Buy a Bottle At: 1330 Lombard St., Philadelphia.

La Boheme is the kind of restaurant that you can fall in love with even before you taste the food. It’s a classic Philly BYOB in its rustic yet urbane charm, and the space is small enough that it feels intimate even when every table is full. But it’s with the food that La Boheme stands out from the crowd. Nothing here is merely what the menu says it is. Standard fare like escargot with pistachio is actually an appetizer of snails prepared two ways: tempura-style and in a thin slice of terrine. Both of these preparations are ingenious in very different ways, and both of them made me wonder why so many restaurants refuse to move away from the classic butter-and-garlic bath. Entrees follow suit: The Lamb-Licorice-Lemon features no fewer than three preparations of lamb on the plate, each one delicious. It’s one of the most interesting dishes being served in the city right now. And desserts don’t disappoint, even after the fireworks that precede them. The apricot tart with jasmine bavarois should not be missed. For me, La Boheme was love at first sight.

246 S. 11th St., Philadelphia, 215.351.9901.

Salt & Pepper

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 720 – 730 South St., Philadelphia.

There’s something comforting about Salt & Pepper. Maybe it’s the size of the place, barely bigger than a Center City studio apartment. It could be the fact that chef John DeSantis prepares the food in plain view, sending out the kinds of aromas that make us all feel like we’re at a family dinner. Whatever it is, a meal at Salt & Pepper is a decidedly pleasant experience. The red leaf salad with shaved onion, oranges, and sherry vinaigrette is just tangy enough, and starts the meal off on just the right note. The entrées, though, are where the restaurant really finds its stride. Try the perfectly seared filet mignon with broccoli, a tomato beef reduction and gnocchi. The meat is deliciously tender, and the accompanying gnocchi is an ingenious variation on the mashed potatoes that usually come with steak. The menu here is just creative enough to excite the city’s foodies, but still grounded in the kind of well-prepared basics that everyone loves.

6th and Fitzwater streets, Philadelphia, 215.238.1920.

Bellini Grill

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 1318 Walnut St., Philadelphia.

With so many Italian restaurants near Rittenhouse Square, it has become even more difficult for one to distinguish itself from all the others. Bellini Grill, however, has defied the odds and managed to set itself apart in two ways. First, the service is extraordinarily professional and friendly, and Jimmy Daku, the owner, may be one of the most genuinely enthusiastic restaurant proprietors in the city. Second is an attention to the little details that raise a dining experience from very good to excellent. The Caesar salad, for example, comes with beautiful, tender white anchovies, as opposed to those depressing, slightly scary canned ones most restaurants serve. Their meaty richness plays off the homemade dressing to gorgeous effect. Pastas and meats are equally-and consistently-well-prepared, though the gnocchi gorgonzola is a standout. You should, however, be warned: They’re so good that you may be tempted to continue eating even after you’re full. And then you’d miss the tiramisu.

220 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, 215.545.1191;

Marigold Kitchen

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 4049 Market St., Philadelphia.

You can’t help but feel as if you’re in a friend’s home for a dinner party in this intimate University City townhouse. If, that is, your host was a seriously good chef. The ambience is both elegant and relaxed, but the food is all playfully haute-cuisine flourishes that succeed brilliantly. Foie gras, for example, is seared to unctuous perfection and set atop a round of honey cake and poached Granny Smith apple. A dessert of double cream semifreddo with red wine sorbet is wonderfully reminiscent of the marshmallow-and-jelly sandwiches most of us were treated to as kids. And the menu is so wide-ranging that you don’t have to worry about what kind of wine to bring: With food this tasty, served in an atmosphere this pleasant, whatever is in that bottle will pair beautifully.

501 S. 45th St., Philadelphia, 215.222.3699;

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AroundPhilly Staff

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