The Best of Chicago Outdoor Dining
When summer hits, there is nothing better than quality food in a hip, bustling atmosphere. Big Star in Wicker Park delivers just that. While it may lack variety — it has a small, one-page menu of primarily tacos — you can count on each dish to pack a serious punch. One of the main appeals of Big Star is its huge patio. Twinkling lights and casual, bright yellow chairs create a laid-back, fun vibe perfect for a summer dining spot. The place gets crowded, so plan to wait a while (often over an hour) for your table. Roam the streets of Wicker Park’s hipster paradise while you wait, or, if you’re in a rush, head over to the walk-up window to get your food to-go in just a matter of minutes.
Price: $$ (cash-only)
Address: 1531 N Damen, Chicago
Phone: (773) 235-4039
Hours of operation: Bar: Sun-Fri 11:30am-2am; Sat 11:30am-3am. Kitchen & to-go window: Sun-Fri 11:30am-1:30am; Sat 11:30am-2:30am
As the name suggests, this Chicago hotspot was originally a firehouse for the Prairie Avenue area and surrounding neighborhoods. The ambience indoors is dim enough for a date night, but the outdoor patio (which used to be the garage of the firehouse) is ideal for a more casual meal. Many customers come for its delicious steaks and the famous burger, served with caramelized onions, aged cheddar and bacon. There are also various seafood dishes like the charred baby octopus served with roasted pepper, olive, tomato and a grilled baguette.
Address: 1401 S Michigan Ave, Chicago
Phone: (312) 786-1401
Hours of operation: Mon-Thur 11:30am-10pm, Fri 11:30am-11pm, Sat 4pm-11pm, Sun 9:30am-10pm
Located in the heart of Little Italy, Davanti Enoteca is a beloved neighborhood eatery and the product of restaurateur Scott Harris’ extensive travels throughout the Italian countryside. Davanti’s small plates have a way of making the simple delightful. The light, straightforward flavors of the classic cacao e pepe, a spaghetti dish with just three ingredients (pasta, black pepper and pecorino cheese) shine beautifully. On the heavier side, the combination of thick egg yolk, truffle oil and melted fontina in the egg truffle toast is wonderfully rich and savory. But the rooftop patio showcases the best of Davanti: charming foliage and light bulbs strung above diners’ heads make for a cozy, picturesque environment. When the weather gets balmy, it’s an ideal escape.
Address: 1359 W Taylor St, Chicago
Phone: (312) 226-5550
Hours of operation: Mon-Thur 11:30am-10pm, Fri 11:30am-12am, Sat 11am-12am, Sun 11am-10pm
Just a few steps off Michigan Ave, this gastropub embodies all the urban liveliness that pervades the late night Chicago scene. The kitchen is open until 1 am, and is famous for its diverse collection of smears and cheeses, as well as clever small plates like pig’s ear with crispy kale, fried egg and pickled cherry peppers. Diners enjoy their meals on red leather bar stools at long, communal tables, and the overhanging patio gives the impression of being suspended within the city amongst its skyscrapers.
Address: 500 N Michigan Ave, Chicago
Phone: (312) 464-1744
Hours of operation: Sun-Thur 11:30am-12am (kitchen open until 1am) Fri-Sat 11:30am-2am (kitchen open until 1am)
Overlooking the Chicago River, this contemporary Euro-American bistro has one of the Chicago dining’s best panoramas. Although Rivers is known for its seafood, consider ordering the teriyaki
tenderloin served with oranges, chives and sesame seeds as an appetizer. Each bite-sized piece is juicy, savory and not too chewy. For the main course, you can’t go wrong with the grilled mahi mahi, served with sesame-glazed baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, red peppers and ginger soy cream. If you aren’t in the mood for seafood, the chicken farfalle is a rightfully popular choice.
Address: 30 S Wacker Drive, Chicago
Hours of operation: Mon-Thur 7am-9pm, Fri 7am-9:30pm, Sat 5pm-9pm, Sun 4:30pm-9pm
If you feel like you deserve a treat for surviving one of the coldest Chicago winters on record, Boka is the perfect remedy for polar-vortex-induced malaise, with its Michelin-starred cuisine, top-notch service and beautiful outdoor patio. As part of the Boka Restaurant group (which includes the likes of Girl and the Goat and GT Fish & Oyster), it features the same meticulous attention to detail and trendy creativity as its sister restaurants. The seasonal menu offers options like the blissfully light asparagus and arctic char salad and the citrusy slow-cooked sea bass. The fenced-in patio is particularly charming, with brick walls, white-flowered trees and simple but elegant black iron-wrought chairs.
Address: 1729 N Halsted St, Chicago
Phone: (312) 337-6070
Hours of operation: Sun-Thur 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-11pm
This Chicago favorite, with locations in Andersonville, Wicker Park and near the South Side, focuses on serving the freshest and most unique breakfast and brunch fare available. The Bongo Room
closest to campus in Andersonville has a cozy outside dining area that has opened just in time to welcome spring. Look for
unexpected twists on familiar brunch standards, like red velvet pancakes or a sweet potato and black bean burrito.
Address: 5022 N Clark, Chicago (see website for other locations)
Phone: (773) 728-7900
Hours of operation: Mon-Fri 8am-2pm, Sat-Sun 9am-2pm
If you don’t want to spend time trekking downtown on a beautiful day, Tapas Barcelona is a great outdoor dining option right here in Evanston. Tapas serves savory Spanish small plates, as well as a delicious red wine sangria. You can order traditional Spanish fare, like grilled steak and paella, or sample some more gourmet bites like bacon-wrapped dates and baked snails. On a warm summer evening, walking just a few minutes away to this patio is an easy way to enjoy dinner and a pitcher of sangria — or two.
Address: 1615 Chicago Ave, Evanston
Phone: (847) 866-9900
Hours of operation: Mon-Thur 11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm, 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-9pm
Check out more good stuff from Spoon University here: