filed under Chicago, Dining Out

Chicago’s Best Outdoor Dining

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Whole Snapper at El Barco. Photos by Jeff Pearl.

Whole Snapper at El Barco. Photos by Jeff Pearl.

Despite the recent rain showers, I think it’s about time I put out my list of favorite outdoor dining options in Chicago. You might have to plan ahead for these guys, and it’s really not all that long until the heat gets to the unbearable point one might expect in late July or early August. That being said, the glory days of Chicago weather are upon us for the next few weeks. Go for a run during the day so that you can gorge yourself by night at some of these great spots.

10) El Barco Mariscos

It’s hard to miss the big sign with the fish just off of Ashland that practically screams EL BARCO! The inside is packed with large parties drinking heavily and making noise. The patio is lively as well, but in a more tolerable quantity. Go for the fried whole red snapper, and you won’t be sorry.

9) Spacca Napoli

Spacca Napoli

One of the best Neopolitan-style pizzas in town makes the trip up the Brown Line to Montrose a worthy journey. The patio has plenty of space and is on a relatively low-traffic street, making for some peaceful enjoyment of an ideally burnt and chewy crust. The Diavola is my pick here, with some excellent spicy salami.

8) Volare

Tortellini Bolognese

Tortellini Bolognese

It’s tough to find good food in Streeterville, and yet it’s probably one of the most common areas people ask me for recommendations (given that’s where I work). All that aside, Volare offers up classic Italian fare with some really standout pasta and chicken dishes. The patio helps you forget how fast-paced the whole neighborhood can be.

7) Irazu

You might be surprised how close the menus look between Irazu and 90 Miles, despite Cuba and Costa Rica being two obviously different countries. You’re bound to get a good fill of beans, rice, plantains, and possibly yuca. Irazu has a great outdoor, BYOB setup as well with a not-so-subtle kick to its food.

6) 90 Miles Cuban Café

Union 018

This BYOB spot has one of the livelier atmospheres in Logan Square. With a large covered patio in back and an open one out front, you can enjoy a bunch of different seating options. Plus, it’s more likely the heat from the food will make you sweat than anything the seasons might throw at you.

5) Perennial Virant

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On a summer day, this is one of the best brunch patios around. There are plenty of passersby on their way to the lakeshore path, Green City Market, or Lincoln Park Zoo. Of course that means you’ll have plenty to do after you eat as well. The menu changes up occasionally, but the French toast and the homemade sausage are usually a good bet.

4) Birchwood Kitchen

The Gruyère and Salami Sandwich

The Gruyère and Salami Sandwich

The back patio is just the best place to try one of the well-designed seasonal menus. Soup and salads for lunch are some of the best around. Special mention for the Grilled Gruyère. The prices are very reasonable too, making this an excellent place to enjoy the nice weather.

3) Big Star

Big Star Patio

As one of the more popular patios in the city, the wait might scare some away. You can, however, leave your cell number and go grab drinks around the corner. It’s probably so popular because of the tacos, margaritas, and $1 Schlitz. Come for the food, but enjoy the single-speed bikes and gauged ears that come with the crowd.

2) Davanti Enoteca

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What’s better than a patio? Obviously, a roof! There’s not too much to look at where Davanti Enoteca sits in University Village, but the rooftop is great nonetheless. Enjoy some Italian small plates and drinks, with special mention to the Chicken Liver Mousse and the Truffle Toast.

1) Piccolo Sogno

Arugula Pizza

Arugula Pizza

Despite the somewhat dumpy look to the surrounding area, Piccolo Sogno continues to provide a safe haven with its enclosed back patio. There are enough overhanging trees and table umbrellas to make you feel secluded from the noisy surroundings. This place is perfect for a romantic night out. Split one of the many salads and pasta dishes for what will become a surprisingly reasonable price despite how nice the digs are.


Jeff Pearl has lived in the Chicagoland area his whole life, and is currently a medical student at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Food has always been one of his passions. In his free time, Jeff enjoys cooking with his friends, going out to a new restaurant, or training for his next triathlon. In February 2010 he started writing about his dining experiences in his blog, Jeff Eats Chicago.