Cocooned for 6 months of the year, with furnaces and electric blankets blazing, Chicagoans revel in the warm months of late spring, summer, and early autumn. For locals and visitors alike, dining alfresco is an ideal way to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and social fabric of this multifaceted city.
Loop & Vicinity
Athena -- This Greektown mainstay offers a stunning three-level outdoor seating area. It's paved with brick and landscaped with 30-foot trees, flower gardens, and even a waterfall. Best of all: An incredible view of the downtown skyline with the Sears Tower right in the middle. It's located at 212 S. Halsted St., between Adams and Jackson streets (tel. 312/655-0000; www.athenarestaurantchicago.com).
Park Grill -- Millennium Park's restaurant serves upscale versions of American comfort food with panoramic views of Michigan Avenue. In the summer, you can pick up a sandwich and grab a seat on the large patio (converted into an ice-skating rink come winter). It's at 11 N. Michigan Ave., at Madison Street (tel. 312/521-PARK ).
Rhapsody -- A tranquil oasis amid the Loop high-rises, Rhapsody's outdoor garden is a great spot for a romantic meal downtown. It's located at 65 E. Adams St., at Wabash Avenue (tel. 312/786-9911).
Magnificent Mile & Gold Coast
Charlie's Ale House at Navy Pier -- One of several outdoor dining options along Navy Pier, this outpost of the Lincoln Park restaurant has lip-smacking pub fare and a great location on the southern promenade overlooking the lakefront and Loop skyline. It's located at 700 E. Grand Ave., near the entrance to the Pier (tel. 312/595-1440).
Le Colonial -- This lovely French-Vietnamese restaurant, located in a vintage Gold Coast town house and evocative of 1920s Saigon, does have a sidewalk cafe, but you'd do better to reserve a table on the tiny second-floor porch, overlooking the street. It's located at 937 N. Rush St., just south of Oak Street (tel. 312/255-0088).
Oak Street Beachstro -- Suit up and head for this warm-weather-only beachfront cafe -- literally on the sands of popular Oak Street Beach -- which serves inventive cafe fare (fresh seafood, sandwiches, and pastas). Beer and wine are available. The address is 1000 N. Lake Shore Dr., at Oak Street Beach (tel. 312/915-4100; www.oakstreetbeachstro.com).
Puck's at the MCA -- This cafe -- run by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck -- is tucked in the back of the Museum of Contemporary Art, where, from the terrace, you'll get a view of the museum's sculpture garden. (Restaurant-only patrons can bypass museum admission.) The address is 220 E. Chicago Ave., at Fairbanks Court (tel. 312/397-4034; www.mcachicago.org).
SushiSamba Rio -- For stunning nighttime views of the skyline -- accompanied by views of some pretty stunning people -- head to the rooftop deck of this Latin-Asian fusion spot. Canopied banquettes and flickering tea lights create a sultry atmosphere, along with a menu of specialty cocktails. You'll find it at 504 N. Wells St., at Illinois St. (tel. 312/595-2300).
ZED 451 -- You'll find another great rooftop deck on top of this funky all-you-can-eat spot. Here the wood decor and laid-back vibe let you imagine you're kicking back at a rich friend's penthouse. It's at 739 N. Clark St., 1 block south of Chicago Ave. (tel. 888/493-3451).
Charlie's Ale House -- A true neighborhood hangout, this Lincoln Park pub's wonderful beer garden -- surrounded by tall, ivy-covered brick walls -- is spacious and buzzing with activity and good vibes. It's located at 1224 W. Webster Ave., at Magnolia Avenue (tel. 773/871-1440).
North Pond -- Set on the banks of one of Lincoln Park's beautiful lagoons, the excellent North Pond serves upscale, fresh-as-can-be American cuisine in a romantic and sylvan setting. Also The address is 2610 N. Cannon Dr., halfway between Diversey Parkway and Fullerton Avenue (tel. 773/477-5845).
O'Brien's Restaurant -- Wells Street in Old Town is lined with several alfresco options, but the best belongs to O'Brien's, the unofficial nucleus of neighborhood life. The outdoor patio has teakwood furniture, a gazebo bar, and a mural of the owners' country club on a brick wall. Order the dressed-up chips, a house specialty. Located at 1528 N. Wells St., 2 blocks south of North Avenue (tel. 312/787-3131; www.obriensrestaurant.com).
Wrigleyville & Vicinity
Tapas Gitana -- The tapas and sangria at this cozy Wrigleyville restaurant can compete with other, better-known Spanish spots, and the intimate, leafy terrace out back glows with lantern light. Located at 3445 N. Halsted St., at Newport Avenue (tel. 773/296-6046; www.tapasgitana.com).
Moody's -- For more than 30 years, Moody's has been grilling some of the best burgers in Chicago. It's ideal in winter for its dark, cozy dining room (warmed by a fireplace), but it's better still in summer for its awesome outdoor patio, a real hidden treasure. The address is 5910 N. Broadway Ave., between Rosedale and Thorndale Avenues (tel. 773/275-2696; www.moodyspub.com).
Wicker Park / Bucktown
Northside Café -- On a sunny summer day, Northside seems like Wicker Park's town square, packed with an eclectic mix of locals catching up and checking out the scene. The entire front of the restaurant opens onto the street, making it relatively easy to get an "outdoor" table. Located at 1635 N. Damen Ave., just north of North Avenue (tel. 773/384-3555).
If you're lucky enough to be here during good weather, celebrate by enjoying at least one picnic. Peruse the city's farmers' markets and then carry your lunch off to Grant Park or a spot along the lake front.
The city-sponsored farmers' markets operate from late May through October. Two locations in the Loop are easy for visitors to get to: Daley Plaza (at Washington and Dearborn sts.; open on Thurs) and Federal Plaza (at Adams and Dearborn sts.; open on Tues), both open from 7am to 3pm. Both are good places to pick up fresh fruit or bakery treats. For more information, call the Mayor's Office of Special Events at tel. 312/744-3315. At the south end of Lincoln Park (between Clark St. and Stockton Dr.), local chefs and civilian foodies head to the Green City Market (tel. 773/880-1266; greencitymarket.org) for seasonal produce. Pick up some fresh bread, locally produced cheese, and in-season fruit, and enjoy an alfresco meal; Lincoln Park Zoo is just steps away. The market is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7am to 1pm, from mid-May through October, and often features cooking demonstrations by chefs from Chicago restaurants.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.