Let's take this outside

III Forks. This relatively new steakhouse — the only Illinois location of a seven-link chain — has a shiny steel-and-glass rooftop space whose outdoor bar and fireplace draw a good (and sometimes dressed-to-kill) crowd. But though this is a rooftop, the restaurant is surrounded by the tall condos of the Lakeshore East development (east of Michigan Avenue and north of Randolph Street), so you get a rooftop effect (there's a pretty park just below) and a canyon effect simultaneously. If you're going to make an evening of it, I'd suggest ordering appetizers and cocktails on the roof (the fennel-laced lamb meatballs and serrano-spiced chicken flatbread are pretty good), but head downstairs for your steak. 180 N. Field Blvd., 312-938-4303.

The Terrace. The outdoor space adjacent to Shanghai Terrace, in the Peninsula Chicago Hotel, is a courtyard so pretty, so beautifully finished, you're actually disinclined to treat it like a city-view space (though it is, albeit on the fourth floor, so the best views are above) and more inclined to treat it as an elegant courtyard lounge (which it also is). Lunch, dim sum, cocktail and dinner service available. 108 E. Superior St., 312-573-6744.

The Terrace at Trump. Yeah, it's crazy expensive for the bar bites and cocktails. Yes, it can be full of tourists, crowding around the inside bar awaiting their chance at an outside seat. And it galls some people (based on emails I have received) that it's Trump. Nevertheless, the 16th-floor Terrace, adjacent to the outstanding Sixteen restaurant, offers unmatched, close-up views of the Loop skyline, the Wrigley Building, the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. It really is a spectacular venue. 401 N. Wabash Ave., 312-588-8600.

Terzo Piano. Sitting on the Art Institute of Chicago's third floor (which is what terzo piano means), Tony Mantuano's sleek, white-on-white restaurant has an appropriately minimalist outdoor area, shielded from the weather but overlooking Millennium Park and the Michigan Avenue skyline (though for the best views, get up and walk out to the open-air space). A new menu adds some dishes to the all-Italian selection, including malloreddus (ridged, conch-shaped pasta) with braised rabbit, and seasonal specials such as softshell-crab risotto. Open every day for lunch, but dinner is available Thursday nights only. 159 E. Monroe St., 312-443-8650.

The tried and true

Agio Italian Bistro. One of the cutest places anywhere is this charming Palatine Italian. The dark wood and stone-finish look of the interior is more than matched by the roof-topped open-air exterior, landscaped and equipped with glass garage doors and heaters that make seating an option no matter what the weather. Cavatelli and eggplant Parmesan are two of the most reliable dishes on the menu. 64 S. Northwest Highway, Palatine, 847-991-2150.

Bakersfield. An adjunct of the upscale grocery Standard Market across the street, Bakersfield justifiably prides itself on its wood-grilled meats and top-quality produce (sourced across the street, naturally). The outdoor patio, with its fire pits and tables sheltered by massive umbrellas, is one of the nicest outdoor options in the suburbs. 330 E. Ogden Ave., Westmont, 630-568-3615.

Carlucci. Ivy-covered stone walls surround this spacious suburban garden, large enough to support a canopy-covered full bar, massive water fountain and, on certain nights, a music combo. The menu, overseen by chef Jonathan Harootunian, offers excellent pastas amid other Italian staples (I can never resist the linguine, tossed in the recess of a cheese wheel, a Carlucci signature from way back), and Carlucci's happy hour includes a nice selection of $3 and $5 appetizers (available 4-7 p.m. Monday-Friday). 1801 Butterfield Road, Downers Grove, 630-512-0990.

Carriage House: A pretty and spacious sidewalk cafe abuts this Southern charmer, and the people-watching along this stretch of Division Street is never dull. New additions to the menu include a lovely strawberry salad with English-pea creme fraiche, a modern take on hoppin' John that includes nuggets of pork belly, and a sized-for-two lamb-chop entree with grits, pickled favas and mint vinaigrette. Beer selection and cocktails are strong points. Open for lunch or brunch six days (closed Monday). 1700 W. Division St., 773-384-9700.

Chicago Firehouse Restaurant. This South Loop restaurant's backyard patio is softly lit enough to qualify as sultry. The area is bordered by high stone walls and raised beds of uplit trees and shrubs, and most of the tables have umbrellas. Steaks are the big draw here, but the kitchen also puts out a very good roasted chicken, a first-rate crabcake and a hefty signature burger, all of which will save you money vis-a-vis the big beef. On Tuesday nights, "Pinot on the Patio" offers $5 glasses of pinot noir, pinot gris and pinot grigio. 1401 S. Michigan Ave., 312-786-1401.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse — Oak Brook. Surrounded by tall trees and a flagstone waterfall, equipped with retractable shades, Gibsons' 200-seat patio can seem far, far removed from the heavy traffic nearby and the Oakbrook Center Mall across the street. But that's what you want from an outdoor space, isn't it? 2105 Spring Road, Oak Brook, 630-954-0000.

Greek Islands Lombard. The suburban outpost of a reliable Greektown mainstay offers outdoor comfort via its pergola-shaded, bi-level outdoor space, done in Aegean blue and white. The menu is exactly what you expect — not in and of itself a bad thing — and it's reliable. 300 E. 22nd St., Lombard, 312-932-4545.

Maya Del Sol. The spacious outdoor patio offers propane heaters and gas fireplaces if it's a little cold, colorful blankets if it's even colder and will lend you a pair of sunglasses if it's nice and sunny. Good, solid value-driven menu is highlighted by good ceviches and better margaritas. 144 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, 708-358-9800.

Piccolo Sogno. Still one of the most beautiful outdoor dining options in the city, the restaurant's outdoor space offers privacy fencing, mature landscaping, dramatic lighting and, of course, Tony Priolo's exceptional Italian menu. The only trouble is that, when the weather is nice, nobody wants to eat indoors. 464 N. Halsted St., 312-421-0077.

Red Door. Throughout the history of this space, previously home to Cafe du Midi, Meritage and Duchamp, outdoor dining has always been a draw. And so it remains, now a small-plates concept by chef Troy Graves, with a redesigned (last year) tri-level outdoor area with simple wood seating. 2118 N. Damen Ave., 773-697-7221.

Salsa 17. This lively Mexican restaurant in downtown Arlington Heights doesn't offer alfresco dining per se, but when the weather behaves, the huge windows are thrown open for an open-air effect, which goes nicely with the menu and the very good margaritas. 17 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, 847-590-1122.

Sola. I really like Carol Wallack's tastefully designed interior more than I like dining outside here, but given the natural advantage of tree-lined Byron Street to set with outdoor tables, alfresco is hard to resist, especially at brunch. 3868 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-327-3868.

Tesori. This used to be Rhapsody, but while the restaurant name has changed and there's a new Italian menu in place, the outdoor garden is as inviting as ever, a green oasis in the heart of the Loop. Yes, the occasional "L" car will screech around a nearby turn, but that just emphasizes how unusual a spot this is. 65 E. Adams St., 312-786-9911.

Tokio Pub. A small-plates pub offering Japanese and Latin-influenced small plates (house-made ramen, fish tacos) in an open-air space protected from all but the most wind-driven elements. Attached to Shaw's Crab House, so if you crave more substantial food, you can always stroll in there. A good place for a drink and a bite. 1900 E. Higgins Road, Schaumburg, 847-278-5181.


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