Get Cozy: Chicago’s Best Winter Outdoor Dining for 2020

Credit: Mon Ami Gabi

Chicago has never been a city that shies away from winter. This year, restaurants are embracing the season like never before by outfitting patios with heaters and tents, and even encouraging patrons to BYOB: bring your own blanket. 

So whether you’re craving Indian fine dining under a canopy of heaters or a quick curling match with your beer, this list has you covered. Read on for the best places to dine outdoors this winter in Chicago.   

For Greek classics: Athena

Athena’s expansive outdoor patio comes with a retractable roof, making it an ideal any-weather restaurant option, but the addition of heaters makes it even more attractive as temperatures drop. The classic Greektown restaurant serves up dolmades, spanakopita, various kebabs, and baklava that are great for (sanitary) sharing.

For farm-to-table fare: Blue Door Kitchen & Garden

Experience star chef Art Smith’s American farm-to-table fare all winter long under the Blue Door’s tented, heated patio in the Gold Coast. Smith’s famous buttermilk fried chicken is a must-order, along with any number of seasonal dishes such as shrimp and grits, deviled eggs, cornbread with black pepper ricotta mousse, and hummingbird cake, which combines pecans with coconut crumble and a seasonal coulis.

For hand-cut steaks: Chicago Chop House

Normally in a Victorian-era brownstone, River North classic Chicago Chop House has moved the steakhouse experience outdoors for the winter. Housed in a turf-lined tent with heaters, floral arrangements, and a chandelier, the setting remains elevated even as temperatures drop. This is the place to order classics like the 42-ounce porterhouse and wash it all down with a martini. Don’t feel like dining out? These hearty dishes are also available for takeout via OpenTable.

For Italian with a major view: Gibson’s Italia

Take in Chicago’s famed architecture from Gibsons Italia’s partially covered, heated outdoor seating, located right on the city’s famed Loop. Steak and Italian food come together here for an extensive menu full of pasta, many meats, seafood, and sides. Still worried about the cold? The restaurant recommends BYOB — bringing your own blanket.

For upscale Indian: Rooh

No detail is left unattended at higher-end West Loop Indian restaurant Rooh. The menu has several options for 

Outdoor dining tables under a white tent.

Credit: ROOH Chicago

vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, from chickpea curry and jackfruit cutlet to lamb keema and banana leaf-wrapped sea bass. Palm fronds and twinkly lights lead diners to the 17-foot-high heated tent that holds a handful of socially distanced tables.

 

For margarita-fueled celebrations: Las Fuentes

This Lincoln Park institution has been serving Mexican favorites to the neighborhood — and beyond, with two additional locations — since 1982. Dishes include tacos, nachos, quesadillas, fajitas, and enchiladas, plus many types of margaritas. The restaurant has tented its expansive  outdoor patio for this winter, providing heated seating with views of the courtyard’s colorful murals.

For something a little more fancy: Mon Ami Gabi

It’s Paris vibes all the way at Mon Ami Gabi, a classic French bistro in Lincoln Park from Lettuce Entertain You, the group behind a myriad of Chicago favorites such as Summer House and Stella Barra. Feast on dishes such as escargot, filet mignon au poivre, and trout almondine under the restaurant’s covered, heated patio and take in the epic holiday light show at the nearby Lincoln Park Zoo.

this winter, providing heated seating with views of the courtyard’s colorful murals.

For pizza and chill vibes: Paradise Park

Kitsch reins at Paradise Park’s trailer theme park of an outdoor patio. Design details in the large covered and heated Wicker Park yard include a Winnebago, flamingo ornaments, swing sets, neon signage, and brightly colored mismatched chairs. On the food front, there’s a whole lot of pizza, plus calzones, nachos, salad, and more.

Canvas tents in an alleyway.

Credit: Sam Rice for Camp Lotties

For glamping with a cocktail: Lottie’s Pub 

This winter, Bucktown mainstay Lottie’s Pub is moving outdoors, creating a small village of canvas tents in a neighboring alleyway. Dubbed Camp Lottie’s, each tent can be reserved for groups of up to six guests and includes a heater and a TV for catching the game. A limited “canteen” menu serves up bar snacks like waffle fries and pretzels alongside drink specials such as hot cocktail kits that include a thermos to keep things toasty. Email Lottie’s to reserve.

For Italian romance: Piccolo Sogno

Romance is alive and well at Piccolo Sogno in River West. A big, ivory-covered tree anchors the Italian restaurant’s tented backyard, where twinkly lights, ivy, and lots of foliage add up to major ambiance and heaters provide warmth. The Italy-worshipping menu includes dishes such as pappardelle with wild boar ragu, braised beef short ribs over polenta, and cheese-filled fried squash blossoms, many complemented by the imported olive oil and wines.

For South American flair: Tanta

Tanta’s River North rooftop is one of Chicagos’ best, with twinkly lights for ambiance, foliage and flowers for flair, and most recently, heaters. Food here tours Peru, from ceviches and empanadas to grilled octopus with chimichurri and lomo saltado, with cheffed-up touches such as ponzu gel and avocado mousse showing up in various dishes. Can’t decide what to order? Book the two-person, six-course family style tasting experience, now available on OpenTable.

A curling rink under a tent.

Credit: Kaiser Tiger

For beer and curling: Kaiser Tiger

Kaiser Tiger is the place for beer, and lots of it. The Far West gastropub has 14 kinds on tap and another 80 in bottles and cans, plus a hibernation-worthy, meaty menu of sausages, sandwiches, and more. But the real draw right now is its winter wonderland of a patio, complete with nine 10-foot-long infrared heaters, hot drinks, and seasonal curling rink.

 

For a stunning industrial setting: The Dawson

On nearly all best-of-outdoor-dining Chicago lists, The Dawson’s River West patio is certainly one to behold. Glass, brick, wood, and ivy come together to create a stunning effect. The chic atmosphere, lit by twinkly lights and warmed by heaters and an outdoor fireplace, is simultaneously relaxing and energizing, accompanied by American fare such as a fried chicken sandwich, fish tacos, and mac and cheese.

For warming up with ramen: BITES 

Settle into the tented, heated patio at BITES in Lakeview to enjoy a menu that pulls from a variety of cuisines. Enjoy ramen and bao buns alongside taro fries and a General Tso fried chicken sandwich in the plant-filled space, all ideal for pairing with the restaurant’s sangria.