What are the best Italian BYOB restaurants in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? This question is one I see asked regularly on “foodie” and travel forums such as ChowHound and eGullet. There are so many excellent Italian BYOBs throughout the city that it is best to examine just one neighborhood at a time. Rittenhouse Square is a popular Center City neighborhood in Philadelphia, filled with fancy shopping boutiques, luxury condominiums, deluxe hotels and of course excellent dining destinations. For visitors and city residents alike, it is a great neighborhood for planning an evening out, and many Italian BYOB restaurants are in the immediate area. Below are five of my favorites. Whether you are looking for a romantic hideaway, a modern atmosphere and menu, or traditional Italian favorites, these restaurants have something to satisfy everyone. As you can bring your own wine, cost is also kept more reasonable; it is very possible to have a very large, multi-course meal at any of these establishments for $60-100 for two.
261 South 17th Street, Philadelphia PA 19103.
(215) 790-0103 / www.branzinophilly.com
Branzino, located just south of Rittenhouse Square on 17th Street, is easily one of the best Italian BYOBs not just in the area but in all of Center City, Philadelphia. The atmosphere is cozy and romantic and the menu represents a diverse and large selection of Italian favorites. Start with one of their wonderful antipasti, which go beyond the standard offerings to include lentil and fennel salads, and Roman-style marinated artichoke hearts. Fresh pastas are made daily and include Venetian-style squid ink tagliatelle and papardelle with rabbit meat ragu. Of course the restaurant’s namesake, the whole grilled branzino fish, is outstanding, as our many of their hearty meat entrees such as the seared lamb shank braised with vegetables and Merlot wine. Most antipasti are under $10, pastas under $20, and secondi in the $18-30 range. Branzino is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner nightly, and has outdoor seating both on their attractive stretch of sidewalk and in their outdoor garden.
2012 Sansom Street, Philadelphia PA 19103.
(215) 875-8116 / www.melogranorestaurant.com
For an exceptional modern approach to Italian cuisine, few restaurants can beat the wonderful Melograno on Sansom Street in Philadelphia. Roman-born Chef Gianluca Demontis presents unique and delicious dishes that you won’t find on the menu at any other Italian restaurant in the city, authentic in origin yet surprising to many American palettes. The menu changes seasonally and can feature such delicious starters as crispy smelt fries with lemon mayonnaise and pan-fried breaded chicken liver with savory red onion and tomato. Pasta dishes include classic Roman “Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe” (egg pasta with black pepper and pecorino cheese) and a hearty braised wild boar bolognese sauce over pappardelle. The roasted stuff quail in a pomegranate reduction is not to be missed, even for one who is not normally a fan of game birds. Don’t forget to save room for dessert. Melograno can be a little more expensive than other Italian BYOBs in the city and portion sizes more modest, but the extra expense is well worth it given the quality of the food. Melograno is open for dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday, and does not take reservations for busy Friday and Saturday evenings – so go early to get a table without a long wait!
2048 Sansom Street, Philadelphia PA 19103.
(215) 751-1175 / www.porcinirestaurant.com
Porcini has been a neighborhood favorite since 1996, offering extremely authentic, classical-style Italian food in its tiny dining room on Sansom Street. The menu is quite short and limited, but what they make, they make extremely well. The “Tre Brushetta” appetizer is a tempting sampling of three styles of Tuscan-style grilled breads, and the oven-baked fresh mozzarella with anchovy caper sauce is delicious. Try one of their fresh-made pasta dishes such as the gnocchi in pecorino cream sauce and peas, or a Black Angus beef tenderloin in Madeira wine sauce. Porcini has a separate room for special events, such as a chef-designed wine tasting dinner or private parties. Antipasti typically are in the $8-11 range, with pastas and entrees running $18-28. Porcini is open Monday through Saturday for dinner only.
4. Bistro La Baia
1700 Lombard Street, Philadelphia PA 19146.
(215) 546-0496 / www.bistrolabaia.com
Bistro La Baia has been pleasing neighborhood residents for years at their charming, corner space at 17th and Lombard Streets. The small dining room makes a lovely location for a casual date, with attractive outdoor dining offered during warm weather. Traditional antipasti such as grilled calamari and Ceasar salad are complemented by more unique choices like salmon carpaccio. Highly recommended entrees include the Salmone Nocello (walnut-encrusted filet of salmon in a light cream sauce with orange zest) and the Vitello Cleopatra (veal scallopine with apples and arugula in brandy sauce). Desserts are delicious, too. Portions are sizable and the prices incredibly reasonable; starters are $6-8 and pasta/entrees $12-16, making it highly popular with young couples and students on a budget. Just be wary of pricing on nightly specials as they can be significantly higher, and remember Bistro La Baia is cash only. Bistro La Baia is open Monday through Friday for lunch, and nightly for dinner.
5. La Fontana Della Citta
1701 Spruce Street, Philadelphia PA 19103.
(215) 875-9990 / www.lafontanadellacitta.com
For a taste of South Philly in Center City, try La Fontana Della Citta. This Italian BYOB offers a traditionally-themed Italian menu with such classic dishes as Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti Bolognese, Pollo Alla Cacciatora and Eggplant Parmigiana. For a treat, try their wonderful Risotto Alla Pescatore featuring shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari in a white wine garlic or tomato sauce. The atmosphere is very classic Italian and reservations are recommended, especially for the busy Friday and Saturday evenings. Most entrees are under $20 and antipasti under $10. La Fontana Della Citta serves lunch weekdays and dinner nightly.
* Branzino Italian Ristorante – Official website.
* Melograno – Official website.
* Porcini Restaurant Philadelphia – Official website.
* Bistro La Baia – Official website.
* La Fontana Della Citta – Official website
* Personal experience