Summer in Chicago has finally arrived. After an especially cooped-up winter, the weather is cooperating for glorious rooftop, patio, and sidewalk dining, all especially well-suited to social distancing. This city knows how to make the most of precious time outdoors, and there are plenty of places to do so.
Whatever the mood, there’s a stellar outdoor dining situation in Chicago to satisfy it. Craving fancy poolside ceviche? Laidback beer and bocce? Streetside jerk chicken and rum? This list has got you covered. Read on for the best places to book a reservation for dining outdoors in Chicago.
For guides to the best outdoor dining in other cities around the U.S. and Canada, head here.
For a Caribbean escape: 14 Parish
Boldly spiced Caribbean fare is on the menu at Hyde Park’s 14 Parish, recently relocated from South Loop. Dishes such as coconut shrimp, jerk chicken and catfish, and jalapeño mac and cheese can all be had on the streetside patio. Don’t skip the extensive rum collection or taco Tuesdays.
For Greek classics: Athena
Athena’s expansive outdoor patio comes with a retractable roof and waterfall, making it an ideal all-weather option. The classic Greektown restaurant serves up dolmades, spanakopita, various kebabs, and baklava that are sized for (sanitary) sharing.
For farm-to-table fare: Blue Door Kitchen & Garden
This historic Gold Coast carriage house is now home to sustainable American farm-to-table fare courtesy of star chef Art Smith. Smith’s famous buttermilk fried chicken is a must-order, along with any number of seasonal dishes such as shrimp and grits, deviled eggs, corn bread with black pepper ricotta mousse, and hummingbird cake, best enjoyed in the especially charming backyard.
For poolside ceviche: Cabra
Celebrated chef Stephanie Izard’s Peruvian hit is the rooftop to be right now. The West Loop restaurant on the top of Hoxton Hotel not only boasts skyline views, but also a pool to dine beside. The menu includes all sorts of raw fish preparations, plus saltado, dips, salads, and soft serve.
For old-school Chicago: Erie Cafe
Travel back in time at Erie Cafe, where the steaks come medium rare and the martinis are strong. The old-school River North steakhouse has a lesser-known outdoor dining area that overlooks the Chicago River. All the classics of the genre are here: shrimp cocktail, bone-in ribeye, creamed spinach, chocolate lava cake, and more.
For Italian with a major view: Gibsons Italia
Chicago’s famed architecture is splayed out in all its glory in front of Gibsons Italia’s outdoor seating in The Loop, split into three sections: one area on the retractable roof and two others with panoramic skyline views. Steak and Italian food come together here for an extensive menu full of pasta, many meats, seafood, and sides.
For beer and bocce: 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 meaty menu of sausages, sandwiches, and more. But the real draw right now is its extensive patio, complete with bocce courts that turn into curling come winter.
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. On its large, raucous outdoor patio, bright colors are everywhere courtesy murals, flowers and plants, fountains, and string lights.
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 RPM Italian and Aba. On the outdoors patio, wicker chairs, black and gold furniture, and lighted trees set the scene to feast on elegant dishes such as escargot, filet mignon au poivre, and trout almondine.
For Asian comfort fare: Mott Street
Wicker Park Asian comfort food standout Mott Street’s rooftop seating is made extra pleasant by plenty of shade, hanging plants, and twinkle lights. Don’t miss the burger, made with two chuck patties, sweet potato shoestring fries, pickled jalapeños, hoisin aioli, American cheese, dill pickles, and miso butter — so popular that it has its own spinoff restaurant, Mini Mott.
For outdoors brunch: Nellie’s
Nellie’s avena de coco (coconut oatmeal) is so popular that the family-owned Puerto Rican breakfast and lunch restaurant, open since 2006 in Humboldt Park, sells it to go by the gallon. But it’s also ideal enjoyed at the outdoor seating out front, along with other homey dishes such as mofongo, guava pastries, and a full coffee and espresso menu.
For pizza and chill vibes: Paradise Park
Kitsch reigns at Paradise Park’s trailer theme park of an outdoor patio. Design details in the large 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.
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 backyard, where twinkly lights, ivy, and lots of foliage add up to major ambiance. 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 upscale Indian: Rooh
No detail is left unattended at higher-end West Loop Indian restaurant Rooh. The menu has several options for 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 set the stage outside.
For South American flair: Tanta
Tanta’s River North rooftop is one of Chicago’s best, with cheery red umbrellas for shade, twinkly lights for ambiance, and foliage and flowers for flair. Food here tours Peru, from ceviches and empanadas to lomo saltado and grilled octopus with chimichurri, with cheffed-up touches such as ponzu gel and avocado mousse showing up in various dishes.
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 a fireplace at night, is simultaneously relaxing and energizing, accompanied by American fare such as a fried chicken sandwich, fish tacos, and mac and cheese.
For hot dogs and architecture: Tiny Tapp & Cafe
Built into the Chicago Riverwalk, Tiny Tapp & Cafe’s views of The Loop are unbeatable. Diners gaze out on Marina City and other iconic buildings and bridges along the water. The menu is casual, with hot dogs, fish tacos, sandwiches, and pretzel bites, and an extensive beer, cocktail, and wine menu.