BYOB. What’s Not to like?
I blame my mother for this, but I love a good bargain. For me, it’s not enough to buy a great new sweater, skirt, or what have you. The sweater has to be on sale too. If someone compliments me on that great new sweater, I can’t just say thanks. I have to say thanks, and I got it for 50% off. I love a good bargain. And BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) restaurants are indeed a good bargain. But a bargain alone is not enough. After all, stores like TJ Max and Marshalls are chock full of good bargains that no one wants. If it were only about the money, I’d be a regular at the Olive Garden. I am not.
BYOB restaurants have so much more to offer than good pricing. More often than not, they’re small, family or individually owned restaurants that feature food from countries halfway around the world. Yes, some restaurants that have a liquor license do let you bring your own, but frankly, I don’t care about those and don’t plan to write about them here. This, my first post on BYOB restaurants, is about a place called Isla Pilipina, a great example of what I love about this type of restaurant. Ready? Here goes.
To say that Isla Pilipina restaurant, located in an unassuming little strip mall on Lawrence Avenue in Lincoln Square, lacks curb appeal is an understatement. If I had not had the address, and known to look for the neighboring porn shop, I might have driven right by the place. But walk in the door and you sense that you’ve arrived someplace special. First off, on a frigid Thursday night in the middle of January, the place was packed. In fact, the place stayed packed, with Filipino families, couples on a date night, and giggling gaggles of friends, until late into the evening. In spite of the icy draft coming in through the front door (dress warmly if you go during the winter), the place had a warm and vibrant feel, which was augmented by quirky artwork and décor as well as lively music playing in the background.
Fortunately, Sally had made a reservation so we got seated immediately, even though the typically tardy (and well loved for it) Sally had not yet arrived. I was happy not to hear the usual “let us know when your party is complete”. After greeting us warmly, our waiter brought us glasses and opened our wine so Pam and I could get started on our wine while we perused the lengthy menu.
This was our first time with Filipino food and we did not know what to expect. Later, after our dinner, I checked in with my buddy Wikipedia and found that Filipino cuisine is filled with Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and even American influences. The menu includes a variety of noodle dishes as well as meat and seafood dishes flavored with coconut milk, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce and shrimp brine paste.
Made with Love
Our ordering was made easy with advice from our friendly and knowledgeable water. We opted to start with the pinky sized Lumpia Shanghai rolls. These bite sized morsels come in quantities of 10 or 20 and are deliciously crunchy, sweet and savory. According to the menu, they’re filled with pork, egg, jicama, green onions, carrots, soy sauce, and love. I have a feeling everything we ate that night had a healthy dollop of love.
We decided on three entrees to share. The mixed Adobo, which the menu describes as an unmistakable Filipino delicacy, was chicken and pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil soy sauce, and was tender and rich in flavor. The Bicol Express, meat, shrimp, squid, and mussels drizzled with coconut milk was both sweet and savory. The Eggplant omelet was, well, an eggplant omelet, and I am not a friend of the eggplant. All of the food was on the salty side, but it paired well with the slightly sticky white rice it was served with.
Filipino desserts are an interesting lot. Not surprisingly, given Spain’s historic influence on the Philippine Islands, flan was one of the dessert options. Not being a huge fan of that often gelatinous and bland dessert, we again went to our waiter, who suggested the Halo-Halo, “crushed ice mixed with fruit and bean preserves topped with ice cream and leche flan”. It’s one of those things you just have to try.
To be honest, I can’t wait to try this place again, there were so many dishes on the menu that sounded intriguing. And the beauty of Isla Pilipina is that at $12 a head before tip, I would have no trouble going back again and again.
The Bottom Line: Should I Stay (Home) or Should I Go?
Isla Pilipina is a great example of all that I love about BYOB restaurants in Chicago. This place has great personality. Go, give it a try. It’s great food and it won’t break the bank. I can’t wait to go back and try some of the noodle dishes.
Top 5 Things I like About Isla Pilipina
5. Personality (Get a taste of it on their Facebook page)
4. Vibrant atmosphere
3. Lumpia Shanghai rolls
2. Bicol Express
1. Budget friendly prices
Isla Pilipina is located in Lincoln Square at 2501 W. Lawrence, Chicago, IL, Unit D.