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BYOB: 22 places for good food, booze sans the big check

The Drinks Are On You! We love going out to eat but then we get the check and — yikes — half of it is for the liquor. That’s why we like places that are BYOB. We can satisfy our craving for good food without going broke.

Photographed by Angel Tucker

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Cafe Andiamo

235 Greenville Ave.,
Johnston, 349-4333

The Menu: The greatest hits of Italian dining have unionized, and everyone’s a winner. Browse the antipasto, parmigiana, gnocchi, saltimbocca and fresh seafood entrees and you’ll forget about that cheese-drenched-whatever you’ve been craving all day.
Vibe: Located in a nondescript strip plaza, this eatery could be a convenience store or a martial arts studio. But — grazie a dio! — it’s a sweet little nook of a restaurant that’s unpretentious yet upscale. The warm candlelight and residual hum of chatter give Cafe Andiamo a romantic, cozy feel.
Get: To start, we wouldn’t miss the calamari, fried to perfection and topped with spicy cherry peppers, or the pasticcio di melanzane, in which moist eggplant is layered with salty prosciutto and smothered in mozzarella cheese. But choosing an entree is like naming a favorite child, so we’ll narrow it down for you: chicken piccata for the land lubbers and pescatore — in the spicy fra diavla, please — for the seafood fans.
Sommelier Says: Isn’t it illegal to pair Italian food with anything but Italian wine? If you’re digging into saucy red entrees, choose an earthy bottle of barbera or a rich Chianti. For seafood or creamy piccata, grab some pinot grigio or a citrusy pecorino.
Corkage Fee: None
Closest Liquor Store: Knights Liquors Fine Wine and Spirits, 1380 Hartford Ave., Johnston, 751-4222, knightsliquors.com
Dinner for Two: $50 to $60
Fine Print: “Andiamo” means “Let’s go” in Italian, and the regulars take it literally; the small restaurant packs in customers every night of the week. Make a reservation, even on a Tuesday, or you’ll be hungry and without a table. Capiche? – Casey Nilsson

Flan y Ajo

225a Westminster St.,
Providence, 432-6656, flanyajo.com

The Menu: Tortilla Espanola and gambas al ajillo are straight out of Spain, but these tapas artistas also know what to do with local seafood. Start off with Catalan pa amb tomaquet (bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil), chorizo and some pintxos — small bites served with a sliced baguette — then share as many tapas as you can prop on your tiny table or ledge.
Vibe: Artist-types taste plates next to a clutch of aspiring chefs, and once-upon-a-time globe-trotters reminisce about past European adventures. Take a seat at a bar stool overlooking the kitchen — what looks like a dorm room food lab turns out top notch cuisine — or sit or stand along a bench with built-in wooden tabletops and neato wine bottle cubbies.
Get: Choose a few mainstays but don’t skip the specials. Squid arrives fresh off the boat from Point Judith, then it’s sauteed and stuffed with squid ink and rice. Rabbit, duck and quail are prepared in a multitude of methods. And don’t forget the flan, custard from which this Providence gem draws its name.
Sommelier Says: Spanish reds from Rioja, albarino if you prefer whites, or go fancy with cava — Spanish-style sparkling wine. At a loss? Head next door to Eno and ask for suggestions.
Corkage Fee: $5
Closest Liquor Store: Eno Fine Wines, 225 Westminster St., Providence, 521-2000, enofinewines.com
Dinner for Two: $40 to $50
Fine Print: As the chalkboard scrawl states, “No, we don’t have more seats.” But if the nook proves too packed, visit their sister wine bar, Bodega Malasana, (complete with liquor license!), just around the corner at 186 Union St. – Jamie Coelho


823 West Main Rd.,
Middletown, 848-4545, sunriseviet.com

The Menu: February is the perfect time for pho — Vietnamese beef noodle soup that clears your sinuses and warms your soul. Served in medium or large (gigantic!) bowls, the specialty comes with a plate of fresh bean sprouts, Thai basil and lime wedges that you submerge and squeeze into the steaming broth. With dozens of combinations including chicken, beef, seafood and options of clear or yellow noodles or rice, you can customize your pho any way you like it.
Vibe: Super-sized bottles of sriracha and chopsticks-wielding patrons are surefire signs you’re in a good spot. The family-friendly restaurant sports neon signs, ceramic Buddha statues and a fish tank with live fish (no, you can’t order them for dinner). Sunrise sees its fair share of takeout orders, but hot potage is best served tableside for the full effect.
Get: Texture is the focus here with spongy shrimp cakes and soft rice paper rolls filled with the snap of pickled carrots and cucumbers and crisp ham. Sweet and savory mingle with sides of house made peanut dipping sauce paired with most appetizers. Go for the pho combo for a variety of meat — tendon, flank, tripe, eye-round and brisket — all in one bowl.
Sommelier Says: Vietnamese food pairs well with whites like riesling and gewürztraminer. Stay true to Rhode Island roots with a bottle from Newport Vineyards in Middletown.
Corkage Fee: None
Closest Liquor Store: Aquidneck Liquors, 15 East Main Rd., Middletown, 847-1522
Dinner for Two: $30 to $40
Fine Print: For dessert, the avocado shake is divine (and filling), but after a meal, your belly’s better off with a bowl of Asian fruit. If you’re brave, try the durian, the stinkiest fruit in the world. That’s one dessert you’ll never have to share. – Jamie Coelho



333 Wickenden St.,
Providence, 454-1412, abyssinia-restaurant.com

The Menu: Forgo forks and knives and prepare to get your hands dirty. Ethiopian cuisine is served on top of injera — crepe-like, sourdough flatbread — that you rip into small pieces and use to scoop up meat and vegetable stews similar to Indian food. With just as many veggie dishes as ones containing meat, choices delight vegans and carnivores alike.
Vibe: Stray from Thayer Street’s ho hum pizza and burritos and take a walk on the wild side on Wickenden. Professors break bread alongside undergrads and dating couples learn to share while everyone explores a different culture.
Get: Divvy up a meat or vegetable combination platter to sample up to nine dishes in one sitting. Meat platters contain two carnivorous selections and smaller portions of all the vegetarian dishes, including lentils, split peas, collard greens and more. For some that like it hot, choose doro wot or key wot, bone-in chicken or beef stewed in spicy berbere sauce made with hot peppers and a dozen other secret spices.
Sommelier Says: Ideally, you’d get your hands on a bottle of tej — Ethiopian honey wine. But if the rarity eludes you, then choose fruity wines with a good amount of acidity; riesling or gewürztraminer for white and cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir for red.
Corkage Fee: None
Closest Liquor Store: Campus Fine Wines,  127 Brook St., Providence, 621-9650
Dinner for Two: $30 to $40
Fine Print: The restaurant employs refugees and provides on-the-job training so that they may later enter the broader job market. – Jamie Coelho


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