The Reader's Choice: Mado
When I asked my hard-core wine-aficionado friends what their favorite places to BYO were, their responses tended toward white-tablecloth joints with wine programs, where they could bring their small-production boutique wines or off-list stunners and happily pay steep corkage fees for the privilege of schmoozing with the sommelier. But for those of us who appreciate the joys of wine and food without worshipping at the feet of Robert Parker, the primary draw of a BYO is the opportunity to enhance an experience with wine in a budget-friendly way. There are scads of excellent mom-and-pop ethnic restaurants in Chicago that fit the bill, but for me there's no more satisfying combination than wine paired with lovingly cured or beautifully braised and wood-roasted animal flesh, and Wicker Park's Mado is the perfect place for this.
Run by husband-and-wife team Rob and Allison Levitt, both trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Mado's focus is snout-to-tail charcuterie and seasonal, locally sourced food prepared simply yet skillfully. The menu is constantly changing, but might feature sunchokes with lemon and parsley; fried farm egg with baked ricotta, roasted shallots, and boar bacon; tagliatelle with braised lamb and ricotta salata; and meats, poultry, and seafood from the wood-fired oven, grill, and rotisserie.
With extensive fine-dining experience, the Levitts offer beyond-the-basic BYO supplies such as champagne flutes, perfect for Sunday brunch sparklers, or the rustic tumblers—such as you might find in a Tuscan trattoria—that once held my Sangiovese, its light acidity and minerality enhancing the richness of roasted meat. Best of all, there's no corkage fee. 1647 N. Milwaukee, 773-342-2340, madorestaurantchicago.com. —Gary Wiviott
&Our readers' choice: Tango Sur
3763 N. Southport, 773-477-5466.