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.