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Photograph: Chris Lake

BYOB Japanese restaurants in Chicago

Bring a bottle (or six) to one of Chicago's top BYOB spots


People come from all over the city to get whatever chef “Sushi Mike” is dishing out, but if you don’t know his style, be warned: He didn’t become famous for his cuts of salmon. His style is more fusion in nature, slipping pickled pearl onion and Boston lettuce into his maki rolls and coming up with spicy tuna dishes that resemble nachos more than anything Japanese. Order all of that stuff, but don’t get attached—some of these dishes are fleeting. In fact, regulars know not to even ask for menus. They just name a price, and Sushi Mike does the rest. 5547 N Clark St, 773-878-6886.
Corkage fee $2 per person
Best nearby liquor store In Fine Spirits (5418 N Clark St, 773-506-9463)

Though the dining room here is slick and minimalist, the food can sometimes go over the top—in a good way. Case in point: maki such as the ceviche roll (lime-cured scallop with mango and jalapeño), Maine roll (lobster with ginger mayo and salmon roe) and the enormous white dragon roll (shrimp tempura with eel sauce, wasabi dressing and cream cheese). Anybody hoping to eat a little more demurely shouldn’t panic, though: The sashimi is as pristine as the decor. 2045 N Damen Ave, 773-235-5775.
Corkage fee None
Best nearby liquor store The Goddess & Grocer (1646 N Damen Ave, 773-342-3200)

It takes confidence to open a sushi joint in this city, where it seems as if there’s raw fish on every corner. It takes even more confidence to do so in this economy. But so far, Shiso, which debuted just a few months ago, has given us no reason to doubt it. From the salt-and-pepper calamari to the massive hamachi-stuffed volcano roll, this food has capable written all over it. 449 W North Ave, 312-649-1234.
Corkage fee None
Best nearby liquor store Galleria Liqueurs (1559 N Wells St, 312-867-7070)—David Tamarkin


BEER In the immortal words of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, “Oooh baby, I like it raw?/?yeah baby, I like it raaaaww.” Especially when it comes to sushi. If you’re like me, you leave the fried shrimp-crab-stick-mayo-jalapeño-crunch rolls for the cuke-tini drinkers and stick to nigiri and sashimi. It’s not only better for you, it’s a better match for sake and beer. Can’t decide on one? How about a sake-style beer? The Japanese brewery Kiuchi makes the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale that tastes like toasty, malty rice with a touch of fruit sweetness, so it nearly mimics what you’re eating. Another style with similar ricelike toasted malts, but low hops so it won’t obliterate delicate fish flavors, is a Vienna lager like Great Lakes’ Eliot Ness.—Heather Shouse

WINE There’s a widely held belief that the best pairings match food with wine from the same region. This may be why so many people insist on drinking sake with their sushi, but Japan’s booziest export will only take you so far. Sake is great for pairing with delicate sashimi such as scallops or hamachi, because it’s subtle enough to complement the fish without taking it over (a surprisingly good sake is Momokawa’s organic junmai ginjo sake, made in Oregon, of all places). But when it comes to maki, you need something bigger. You need wine—red wine. A juicy pinot noir like New Zealand’s Isabel is hearty enough to take on the strong flavors of eel sauce and cream cheese yet diplomatic enough to work with multiple rolls. Can’t wrap your head around pinot and sushi? Fine—grab a bottle of unoaked chardonnay (like Morgan Winery’s Metallico) instead and use its crisp character to cut through all that tempura.—David Tamarkin

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