Chicagoans love outdoor-dining season, all the more so because of its short duration. There are precious few days in Chicago when the weather is warm enough, calm enough and dry enough to permit dining alfresco, and we tend to make the most of them. Here's a look at some of the new, the tried-and-true and the soon-to-be-ready (summer's here, fellas) outdoor dining spots around:
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1664 N Ada St, Chicago, IL 60642, USA
330 E Ogden Ave, Westmont, IL 60559, USA
151 W Erie St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
508 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
25 E Delaware Pl, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
113 W Hubbard St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA
159 E Monroe St, Chicago, IL 60601, USA
10 E Delaware Pl, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
2118 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647, USA
Ada St.: What do you do when you're a funky, speak-easy kind of place, but your outdoor courtyard is basically a concrete slab? Cover the whole thing with artificial turf, add picnic tables and folding tables (which resemble oversized TV trays), throw in a Weber fire pit and a pingpong table and have yourself a retro-good time, that's what you do. Already popular for its seasonal small-plates menu and intelligent cocktails, Ada St.'s outdoor addition should be in high demand. 1664 N. Ada St., 773-697-7069.
Bakersfield: An across-the-street adjunct to the upscale Standard Market grocery complex, Bakersfield is a straight-up American restaurant with simple, unfussy preparations. The wood-and-stone interior is pretty enough, but the outdoor patio is gorgeous, featuring wood-clad walls and overhang, a couple of gas fireplaces and huge, protective umbrellas equipped with space heaters. I've had decent entrees here, but the sandwiches seem to be the best bets; beyond the very good burgers are an absolutely delicious French dip and the Knuckle Sandwich, a well-made lobster roll operating under an alias. Good beer and wine selection is a plus too. 330 E. Ogden Ave., Westmont, 630-568-3615.
Barcito: Adjacent to the Spanish restaurant Tavernita, Barcito is an open-air, stand-up bar (there's some seating if you get lucky) with separate light bites (bocadillos and pintxos) and cocktail menus and blaring rock 'n' roll music. Lively, to say the least, though at lunchtime, it's positively sedate. 151 W. Erie St., 312-274-1111.
Cantina Laredo: The greatest appeal of this upscale Mexican restaurant, part of a chain, is its multilevel architecture, which includes plenty of open-air and outdoor seating to go with its cocktail-driven atmosphere. There are no surprises on the menu, but the dishes are capably executed. Get here early for the "happier half" weekday promotion, where small plates on the second-floor lounge are half-price between 4 and 7 p.m. 508 N. State St., 312-955-0014.
Cru Cafe & Wine Bar: Remember Cru, that cool Gold Coast wine bar that was replaced by Feast? Well, it's back, with an appealing Euro menu, an even more appealing selection of modestly priced wines and a charming 90-seat sidewalk cafe. 25 E. Delaware Place, 312-337-4001.
Mercer One Thirteen From the people behind Moe's Tavern comes this upscale lounge-cum-sports-bar, billed as "Chicago's first and only Resta Lounge." Think servers that might have been recruited from a Robert Palmer video, a dressed-to-thrill clientele and a straight-up American menu augmented by signature cocktails ($12) and reasonably priced vino. No outdoor seating per se, but open-air tables alongside the removable glass windows let you compare the street scene with the bar scene. 113 W. Hubbard St., 312-595-0113.
Piano Terra: Terzo Piano, Tony Mantuano's sleek restaurant atop the Art Institute's Modern wing, has opened this salad and espresso bar in the Art Institute's North Garden. Freshly made salads are mixed to order; there also is a vegetable sandwich available, as well as espresso-based drinks and a dessert. Umbrellas will provide shade where the garden's trees do not. Open 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily, weather permitting; no reservations. 159 E. Monroe St., 312-443-8650.
PT at the Talbott Eventually this space in the Talbott Hotel will be a full-scale restaurant by the people behind Mercadito and Tavernita, but for now it's being billed as a pop-up restaurant with a light, mostly casual menu (including lobster tacos and an addictive smoked-fish spread) and a daily, alliterative all-you-can-eat feature (mussel Mondays, wing Wednesdays, fried Fridays and so on). The 100-seat sidewalk cafe, where woven-look chairs pull up to umbrella-topped tables, is insanely popular with the after-5 crowd, but dinner-hour tables are a little easier to get. A good breakfast/brunch option too. Talbott Hotel, 10 E. Delaware Place, 312-640-8135.
Red Door: The space that housed Cafe du Midi, Meritage and Duchamp is now home to Troy Graves' eclectic small-plates menu, where ssam of fried oysters and kimchi mingle with lamb-neck sloppy joes. The outdoor space is sort of communal-table-meets-picnic-table, but the three-level area has lots of stretching-out room. 2118 N. Damen Ave., 773-697-7221.
Ballydoyle: People come to Ballydoyle's Aurora location for the solid pub food (Irish classics and hybrids such as chicken wings in Guinness-barbecue sauce), Guinness on draft and full schedule of live music, but the outdoor deck, which takes in glimpses of the Fox River and the lights of the nearby Hollywood Casino, is a fun place to treat your eyes and rest your ears. 28 W. New York St., Aurora, 630-844-0400.
Chicago Cut Steakhouse: The sheer size of the riverfront patio that extends from this first-rate steakhouse increases your odds of getting a coveted outdoor table, and so do the restaurant's hours — the kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, and serves food until at least 1 a.m. Check out the $35 lobster boil, Sundays through August. 300 N. LaSalle St., 312-329-1800.
Fulton's on the River: Along a narrow strip along the southern edge of this restaurant's lower level are a series of umbrella-topped tables overlooking the Chicago River and the spectacular architecture along its south bank. Steaks and seafood are the kitchen's forte, cocktails and cocktail pitchers highlight the bar output. 315 N. LaSalle St., 312-822-0100.
Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse — Lombard: The west-suburban Harry's location, in the Westin Lombard hotel, has a huge back patio overlooking a man-made pond and fountain. It's a fine place for a warm evening, particularly on Friday evenings through August, when from 5 p.m. on there are drink and food specials (such as a $10.95 meatloaf entree), live music and prize giveaways. Should the air turn chilly, there's a fire pit for warmth. 70 Yorktown Shopping Center, Lombard, 630-953-3400.
Oak Street Beach Food + Drink: Chicago's restaurant-on-the-sand is back with a new four-sided bar (cocktails will be big this year) to go with its casual menu. Just steps away from the lake and, um, other eye-catching sights. oakstreetbeach.com; 312-988-4650.
The Terrace: The outdoor space adjacent to Shanghai Terrace in the Peninsula Chicago feels more like an elegant courtyard than a high urban perch; amid umbrella-topped tables, lounge furniture and fabric-draped cabanas, the fourth-floor space is surrounded by taller structures, so that the most interesting views are up, not down. Whether you're in for a full meal or just small bites and cocktails, this is one of the most tranquil outdoor venues in town. The occasional difficulty is that The Terrace hosts numerous private functions; do call ahead. Peninsula Chicago, 108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6744.
The Terrace at Trump: The city's most spectacular outdoor view belongs to this 16th-floor perch, which looks out over the lake, the Chicago River and the downtown skyline. The menu is big on seafood and sushi, along with plenty of libations. Seating is first come, first served (there's a nice indoor bar for people waiting for outdoor seats), and the space fills up fast. There are 32 more seats this season than last (196 total), which may help some. 401 N. Wabash Ave., 312-588-8600.
The tried and true
Agio Italian Bistro: Agio put a permanent roof over its outdoor space and surrounded it with glass garage doors, turning the area into a four-season room that's open-air in good weather and toasty warm in bad. 64 S. Northwest Highway, Palatine, 847-991-2150.
Athena: This open courtyard at this Greektown mainstay was renovated recently, adding a retractable roof over the 150-seat space, so that sudden sprinkles don't cause chaos. Pretty, east-facing downtown views and solid Greek food make this place one for your short list. 212 S. Halsted St., 312-655-0000.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse — Oak Brook: The brilliant design of this steakhouse's 200-seat outdoor patio includes tall landscaping that blocks the unattractive view of Oakbrook Center; an elaborate flagstone waterfall that mutes traffic noise; and retractable shade that can battle sudden sprinkles or blazing-hot sun. In one corner, a shaded bar has flat-screen TVs for sports fans; on the opposite end are pretty gas-fire tables. The space is beautiful. 2105 Spring Road, Oak Brook, 630-954-0000.
Maya Del Sol: This cheerful Mexican restaurant treats its outdoor-dining customers right. The restaurant will supply sunglasses if it's very sunny, blankets if it's cold — or you can sit by the open fire pit or huddle under the many propane heaters. The margaritas are well made, the ceviche lively, and the rest of the menu is short on surprises but long on value. 144 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, 708-358-9800.
Piccolo Sogno: This Italian restaurant sits on a corner of a very busy six-way intersection (Halsted Street and Grand and Milwaukee avenues), but you'd never know it once you're ensconced in the backyard patio, shielded by tall fencing and surrounded by uplit landscaping. One of the prettiest urban oases around. 464 N. Halsted St., 312-421-0077.
Sola: My favorite sidewalk cafe in the city sits on a tree-lined stretch of Byron Street, steps away from Lincoln Avenue yet preternaturally calm. Although frankly, it's Carol Wallack's food that I'm most fond of. 3868 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-327-3868.
The Southern: Sitting in the fenced-in patio next to this open-air (weather permitting) restaurant, digging into fried green tomatoes, hush puppies and crawfish, it's easy to imagine you're in New Orleans, or some spiritual kin thereof. And later in the evening, when the upstairs cabanas fill up and the music cranks up, it's like Bourbon Street, without the bad behavior. 1840 W. North Ave., 77-342-1840.
The hurry-up soon
Estate Ultra Bar: By day and weekday evening, this riverside newcomer is a small-plates restaurant with reasonably imaginative food and plenty of drink options. Weekend nights, Estate goes into full nightclub mode, with bottle-service tables and, presumably, long lines at peak times. Right now, Estate has a few outdoor tables under an overhang, offering river and downtown views, but two new areas, built onto the building's roof, will open soon: The Gazebo, a split-level space with weather-protection ability, and the Sky Deck, a Vegas-inspired environment with palm trees, cabanas, TVs, misters — the whole outdoor-nightclub bit. It'll probably be a couple of more weeks. 1177 N. Elston Ave., 312-582-4777.
J. Parker: The newly opened Hotel Lincoln will unveil its rooftop lounge, which will have fireplaces and grass plantings but mostly will offer unobstructed, 12th-floor views of Lincoln Park, Lake Michigan and the downtown skyline. Operated in partnership with Perennial Virant, the restaurant located on the first floor, the lounge will offer a menu (by Paul Virant) that will have one column of proteins and vegetables, another of accompaniments, and customers will be encouraged to make custom pairings. The drinks menu will follow an ever-changing "vacation-destination" theme (first up: Spain, Mexico, Cuba) with classic and original cocktails, as well as tableside-preparation punch, served in vintage bowls, that will serve six to eight. Partial reservations accepted; target opening date is July 10. 1816 N. Clark St., 312-254-4700.
Wet Deck: Just between you and me, this 50-seat, seventh-floor space in the W Chicago Lakeshore hotel is already open; it's waiting on some furniture to arrive before announcing the official opening in a week or so. Open Thursday and Friday evenings and day and evening Saturday and Sunday, Wet Deck will offer summertime nibbles and a full bar. Downstairs, Wave restaurant's lakefront patio (open daily) has already opened, serving the full Wave menu and offering discounted food and drink specials from 4-7 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. 644 N. Lake Shore Drive, 312-255-4460.