Your neighborhood probably isn't happening unless you've got an ambitious New American BYOB.

For the last two decades, no genre has prospected our hot new dining zones, or captured the accessible sophistication that defines the unique character of eating here, as much as the prototypical Philly BYOB.

Most have 35 seats and minimal frills. But with a prime focus on the creative talent and food, personal hospitality and value, these cozy bistros have become the ultimate launching pads for some of our city's brightest stars.

The trend, of course, has evolved. But New American BYOBs remain some of our most satisfying places to eat, including Helm in Kensington, which ranked among my Top 25 favorites in the Ultimate Dining guide recently sent to subscribers.

But there are many, many others worth noting. From two of Philly's most daring avant-garde kitchens, to some veteran neighborhood pioneers in Old City and Graduate Hospital, to a pre-theater favorite in an elegant townhouse where whole-animal cooking gets a seasonal Italian spin, these five outstanding restaurants prove that the Philly BYOB is still very much alive and well.

(Not a subscriber? You can order a copy; info is below.)

1911 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-271-7683

Christopher Kearse creates some of the most gorgeous and intricate modern French plates in town, from chicken five ways on a single plate to salads that look like art. The dim light and noise of the bare-bones room, though, make it harder than it should be to appreciate.


7 N. Third St., 215-931-1560

Michael O'Halloran's Old City survivor recently underwent a smart makeover, with globally flavored small plates and sharing platters, like an epic whole chicken (both stewed and curry-fried) that's worth a visit.


1713 South St., 215-545-4448

This tiny BYOB pioneer from Ian Moroney and Hillary Bor is still going strong, serving pretty, ingredient-driven plates, from Moroccan-spiced pork chops to corn pot de créme, in an intimate nook wrapped in salvage chic.


501 S. 45th St., 215-222-3699

This West Philly Victorian home-turned-atelier for avant-garde cuisine remains one of our best for contemporary tasting menus of six or 13 courses served with wit and grace.


1521 Spruce St., 215-546-1521

The low-key elegance of this townhouse space is a refined pretheater and brunch choice, where Andrew Wood cooks seasonal fare with Italian accents, from eggplant ravioli with mint to trout with fennel-orange butter.


"Craig LaBan's Ultimate Dining," a glossy, 52-page, magazine-style book that wraps up the food critic's 25 favorite restaurants, as well as lists such as favorite BYOBs, Chinatown, and Philadelphia classics, is available by mail, through this link, or in person at the newspaper's offices, 801 Market St. (entrance on Eighth Street), from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays ($5.95, cash only).