America's Best Outdoor Restaurants
“A great outdoor restaurant is more than patio tables and umbrellas; it must thoughtfully create a sense of personality and character,” says celebrity chef Tim Love, who recently opened Woodshed Smokehouse along the Trinity River in Fort Worth, TX.
Fortunately, there’s a great alfresco dining experience to fit every personality, from the romantic wraparound terrace at fine-dining destination Auberge du Soleil in Napa, CA, to the laid-back waterfront patio of the Crab Claw in St. Michaels, MD, where you can watch local fishermen land their daily catch.
At Linger in Denver, you walk through the neon Olinger Mortuaries sign (from the restaurant’s past life) onto a rooftop patio where you’re treated to skyline views, refreshing cocktails served from a retro RV, and the first-ever rooftop food truck. It’s a winning combination of atmosphere, intoxicating food and drinks, and, as chef and owner Justin Cucci puts it, “an element of fun.”
While Linger plays up its urban location, other outdoor restaurants make a point of being in tune with nature. Tabard Inn, a favorite D.C. brunch spot, has an ivy-clad brick garden with café tables out back that feels like a retreat from the capital’s hustle and bustle.
Auberge du Soleil, Napa, CA
The wraparound terrace at award-winning chef Robert Curry’s Bistro & Bar serves up panoramic views of Napa Valley vineyards and locally sourced cuisine in an effortlessly romantic setting (more casual than the dining room). Whether you want to watch the sun rise with a cup of coffee and a pastry, or sip some bubbly before lamb and potato gnocchi, the outdoor terrace can oblige; the full menu is available all day long. aubergedusoleil.com
Part of restaurateur Stephen Starr’s ever-expanding empire, Parc pays tribute to France’s café culture with its sprawling sidewalk seating in Philly’s Rittenhouse Square. Some diners wax poetic about the made-in-house baguettes and classics like coq au vin; others are here for the towers of fresh shellfish and perfectly shucked oysters. parc-restaurant.com
Big Star, Chicago
Come springtime, after nearly nine months of hibernation, Chicagoans practically sprint to this trendy taqueria in Wicker Park. With $30 pitchers of margaritas and an epic patio outfitted with sleek metal tables and sunshine yellow chairs, Big Star is where you come to while away a weekend afternoon with friends. Don’t be surprised if you see the same diners at both lunch and dinner. Once you’re here, it’s hard to leave the party. bigstarchicago.com
Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, Miami
Escape Miami’s midtown district by retreating to Sugarcane’s 850-square-foot outdoor oasis, complete with vintage garden gates, star-shaped light canopies, and 52 seats. The restaurant has three distinct kitchens—a robata, a hot grill, and a raw bar—all of which deliver Latin-inspired food to the terrace. One order to start: shrimp ceviche and a caipirinha or two. sugarcanerawbargrill.com
Walking out onto the 100-seat rooftop at Linger engages your senses: aromas of sweet sesame BBQ tacos from a food truck fill the air, while ahead lies an unadulterated view of the Denver skyline, with the Rockies in the distance. A line of thirsty hipsters forms at the walk-up window of a futuristic RV; they want a taste of the $5 happy-hour cocktails. It’s no wonder the rooftop is packed. lingerdenver.com
The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove, Orange County, CA
It takes effort to reach the Beachcomber Café—you must park along the Pacific Coast Highway and take a shuttle through a tunnel to get to the open-air restaurant in historic Crystal Cove—but it is worth it. Start your morning with a plate of decadent beignets right on the beach, or meet friends for grilled artichokes and cocktails. The café actually raises a martini flag at five o’clock sharp. Cheers to that. thebeachcombercafe.com
TWO Urban Licks, Atlanta
This revamped warehouse dishing out innovative small plates broke new ground with the installation of the city’s first restaurant bocce court in 2004. The courtyard, which also supports an herb and vegetable garden, is full of trendy locals vying for a view of the downtown skyline. The nearby paved bike trails created as part of the city’s ongoing BeltLine project have brought in so many new customers that TWO Urban Licks added Sunday brunch to the repertoire. Don’t miss the 26-foot wine-on-tap wall, which features 72 stainless barrels of wine, or the live music Tuesday through Saturday. twourbanlicks.com
Mama’s Fish House, Paia, HI
Imagine sitting on the beach with the sun on your shoulders, the ocean breeze at your back, and a plate of tender ahi tuna poke presented before you. At Mama’s Fish House—an open-air restaurant in the coconut grove of a secluded beach—this fantasy is known as lunch. Fresh local catch is offered year-round at the converted beach house, which pays homage to old Polynesia with the décor and menu items like lobster-and-crab-stuffed mahimahi baked in a macadamia crust. It’s been a mainstay of the island of Maui since 1973.
Tabard Inn, Washington, D.C.
One of D.C.’s favorite brunch spots is especially glorious in warm weather, when you can eat alfresco in the ivy-clad brick sanctuary out back. The global-inspired, yet regionally sourced menu will leave you satisfied, whether you opt for oysters from the Chesapeake or a dozen of the homemade donuts. Show up early and prepare to build an appetite—the patio doesn’t take reservations. tabardinn.com
Woodshed Smokehouse, Fort Worth, TX
Given the steamy Texas heat, celebrity chef Tim Love made a strategic choice to locate this backyard restaurant along the Trinity River. He uses a variety of wood (from mesquite and pecan to hickory and oak) to lend unique flavors to crispy artichokes, pulled pork sandwiches, and bulgogi beef tacos. It’s enough to qualify Woodshed Smokehouse as one of America’s best new BBQ restaurants. So grab your friends and even your dog—there’s an entirely separate menu for Fido. woodshedsmokehouse.com
Bridgewater Bistro, Astoria, OR
Seafood items like Pacific Bay oyster shooters and Scandinavian-style pickled herring reign supreme at Bridgewater Bistro, a former cannery along the Columbia River. From the deck seating at the edge of the harbor, you can see Washington across the way while enjoying one of nearly 30 wines by the glass. When the weather gets chilly, there’s no need to head indoors—just request one of the complimentary lap blankets. bridgewaterbistro.com
The Good Fork, Brooklyn, NY
Hurricane Sandy couldn’t keep the resilient Good Fork shuttered for too long. Korean-born chef Sohui Kim is back at this Red Hook restaurant serving Asian-inspired dishes like steak and eggs with kimchi rice. Her plump pork and chive dumplings beat out Bobby Flay’s version on an episode of Throwdown. The 25-seat garden out back charms diners with bamboo chandeliers hanging from the trees and tables built by Kim’s carpenter-actor husband.
The Crab Claw, St. Michaels, MD
Summer wouldn’t be complete without a stop at this 250-seat waterfront deck, where buckets of steamed blue crabs with spicy Old Bay seasoning are delivered to newspaper-covered picnic tables overlooking Navy Point marina. The Crab Claw, which has been owned by the same family since 1965, is a quintessential seafood shack; kick back with a bucket of beers as you watch the watermen land their daily catch.
Noble Rot, Portland, OR
For one of the best views of Portland’s iconic White Stag sign, head to Noble Rot’s fourth-story patio, one of the only restaurants with a skyline view—let alone one that faces the sunset every night. The LEED Platinum building has its own 3,000-square-foot rooftop garden, whose ingredients find their way into dishes like the Roof Salad, which tosses seasonal produce in a pickled rhubarb vinaigrette. Pair it with one of the restaurant’s 40-plus wines by the glass. noblerotpdx.com
Ray’s Café, Seattle
At the end of a dock overlooking the Puget Sound, Ray’s Café offers front-row seating for the parade of Alaskan cruises, ferries, and small fishing boats that sail in and out of the locks all day long—with the backdrop of barrier islands and the snowcapped Olympic Mountains. A steaming bowl of clam chowder or plate of fresh steamers nicely complements a glass of Pinot and the impending sunset. rays.com/cafe