Approximately nine out of ten wines made in the U.S. are grown, aged, and bottled here in California. We love our wine, and our local restaurants know this, often commanding their sommeliers to construct some of the finest wine lists in the country. For this, we are grateful. Mostly.
The mark-up on wine in restaurants is sometimes enough to make you want to sit on the corner in front of the restaurant with your own bottle in a paper bag. But if you think about it, many of those wine lists were carefully selected after long tastings and consultations, and what you're paying for is not so much the liquid as the process - from the first-class sommelier all the way down to the dishwasher who's polishing your glass. If you think you can do better (and some of us can), some restaurants allow you to B.Y.O.W. Then there's the matter of the corkage fees...
So we've compiled a list of what we think are the ten best corkage deals here in Los Angeles. Some have wine lists of their own, some don't want the hassle. Regardless, you will have a great meal to pair with your wine without killing your bill.
There are some basic rules of etiquette to follow when bringing your own. Generally speaking, don't bring any wine that's cheaper than the least expensive one on the restaurant's wine list. Corkage isn't about finding a way to dupe the wine list prices - although we are about to show you some really great corkage values. If you're going to go to the trouble, bring something fabulous and tasty that simply won't work with a home-cooked meal. Take the time to review the menu online before making your wine selection and maybe give them a call to see if any of the evening's specials call for a particular selection from your stash. Now you're good to design your own wine-oriented meal out on the town - except for the location. Drumroll, please...
1. Providence on Monday nights - Providence is, without question, one of the finest restaurants in Los Angeles, and even they like to glimpse what kind of wine their patrons will bring. Well, that and they'd probably like to bring in a few folk on a slow night. Normally, they charge $30 for corkage, proof that as the quality of the restaurant rises, so does the corkage fee. But on Mondays, if you choose to shun their sommelier, you can delight the senses on the cheap. 5955 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, (323) 460-4170. Mon.-Fri., 6-10 p.m., Sat., 5:30-10 p.m., Sun., 5:30-9 p.m., Valet parking.
2. Grace on Tuesday nights - Normally, this sister to BLD has a $20 corkage, but on Tuesday nights, corkage is waived. Their food is big and bold and with an acutely French foundation - well-suited to some of California's finest big reds. 7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 934-4400. Tues.-Thurs., Sun., 6-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6-11 p.m. Full bar. Valet parking; difficult street parking.
3. Craft on Sundays- Another of the $0 corkage on one day restaurants. This western Tom Colicchio outpost will dazzle you silly with Hen of the Woods mushrooms, saddle of lamb, or Copper River salmon, depending on what's in season. They do have corkage rules though - two bottle limit and it can't be anything from their wine list, which is available online. If you're not sure, just give them a call. 10100 Constellation Blvd., Century City, (310) 279-4180. Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Mon.-Thurs., 6-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 6-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 5-9 p.m. Valet parking and validated self-parking.
4. The Park - This cute, casual, and completely comfortable Echo Park restaurant has quickly become a neighborhood favorite for two great reasons - the menu is accessible and affordable with a big dash of Californian fusion and it has $0 corkage. Just an FYI - they don't have stemmed wine glasses. But they will pour into perfectly serviceable round-bottomed wine tumblers. 1400 Sunset Blvd. (at Douglas Street), Echo Park, (213) 482-9209.
5. Café Bella Roma SPQR - The SPQR stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus, which should give you a clear picture of the type of Italian fare you'll enjoy at this quaint west L.A. eatery. We tried to come up for another acronym for SQPR that referred to low corkage but came up dry - it's only $4. They also tweet their daily and weekly specials, so take advantage of the info and bring something to match. 1513 S Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035, (310) 277-7662, street parking.
6. Ruen Pair - Zero corkage, in part because they're still in the process of working through their alcohol license paperwork - a little detail that makes them request that you bring your wine receipt with you, since they want to make sure anyone checking in knows for sure that your brought it yourself. Their Thai-Chinese cuisine (fried morning glory stems, papaya salad, and crispy pork to name a few favorites) is served into the pre-dawn hours and there is no bottle limit. So bring a few, order a lot, and take your time. 5257 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 466-0153.
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7. Café Bizou - This local stalwart is almost as well known for its $2 corkage as it is for a very reliable, French-inspired, meat-focused menu, which abridges the process of finding a good pairing. It's also very cozy and candlelit, making it a near perfect venue for showing off something singular from your cellar to that special individual. Three locations- 14016 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423, (818) 788-3536; 91 N Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA 91103, (626) 792-9923; 2450 Colorado Ave. Suite 1050 W, Santa Monica, CA 90404, (310)453-8500. Valet, street, and self-parking, depending on location.
8. Girasole - This too tiny, family-owned Italian restaurant has been a Larchmont favorite since 1993. Chef Sonia Tolot, who also has a YouTube cooking show, offers some traditional heavies - like Osso Bucco and Agnello- alongside a few lighter dishes of seafood and pasta. They've been B.Y.O.B. since they opened, and as such, the corkage is as non-existent as the wine list. Mangia, but do be polite and don't linger too long - the small dining room means there will likely be a few people waiting their turn. 225 ½ n. Larchmont Blvd., CA 90004, (323) 464-6978, street parking.
9. Casa Bianca - Along with being one of L.A.'s most consistently recommended pizza places, Casa Bianca also offers a delightfully low corkage fee ($5). The menu of family-style Italian standards, in both red and white sauces, as well as their famous, crusty pizzas, will be an easy match with a zin, cab, or classic chianti. 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock, (323) 256-9617. Tues.-Thurs., 4 p.m.-mid.; Fri.-Sat., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. street parking.
10. Jitlada - Not a free corkage, but under ten dollars - $8 to be specific - which is better than some valet fees. Their menu of Thai curries, some of which are spicy enough to melt paint, require some careful consideration before thunking just any bottle on the table. Choose both the wine and the meal wisely, otherwise you'll waste both. Which would be a shame - they serve some of the finest Thai food in the city. 5233½ Sunset Blvd., Hlywd., (323) 663-3104. Mon., 5-10 p.m., Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Beer, wine. Difficult lot parking.