Peel off those winter layers, get some fresh air, start soaking up that vitamin D and find the best things to do in the summer. There are only so many blue sky days in a year, so don't wait to start dining on the patios, decks and gardens of these amazing Chicago restaurants. From Mexican restaurants to spots for Italian food, here's where to eat outside.
RECOMMENDED: Beer gardens, rooftop bars and outdoor dining spots in Chicago
Outdoor restaurants in Chicago
The sprawling patio at the Logan Square restaurant is the place to be, and there are light-wood picnic tables, striped umbrellas, strings of lights, spindly trees and ping-pong tables. Ordering a negroni slushie is practically a requirement, and you'll need some snacks to be able to drink more than one. The hush puppies are your best bet, and the grilled chicken tops the fried.
They say the pie is the thing at this instantly beloved Logan Square shop. And it's true: The pie's terrific. But don't overlook the coffee, the insane biscuits (with a spread of housemade jams and butters) or the huge yard, strung with lights and filled with picnic tables and lush greenery.
This sibling location of Clybourn Avenue’s popular Cuban carryout joint is nearly a spitting image of the original—same toasted Cuban sandwiches, same flaky empanadas, same garlicky yuca chips, same potent café con leche. But even if the tiny interior, with its newspaper-covered walls, elicits the same claustrophobia, the big draws here are the spacious front and back patios, tropical ambience and mixers to turn BYO liquor into mojitos.
Never tried Costa Rican food? This spot is simple, authentic, cheap, supercasual, friendly—and all about the outdoor patio. Start with the hearts of palm salad—tangy stalks on a bed of shredded cabbage tossed in a lime vinaigrette, along with radishes, cilantro, cucumber, pickled beets and ripe avocado. Make it a meal by adding the steak-and-beans “pepito” sandwich and sweet plantains. Bring a bottle of malbec to match, and end the meal with an oatmeal shake (sounds strange, tastes great).
The second location of the hot dog chain in the city serves up the same dishes you've come to know and love at Portillo's. Stop by for a quick lunch for an Italian beef or a Chicago dog and crinkle fries and finish off your meal with a cake shake. Plus, at this location you can sit at the patio and enjoy your meal.
Inside the ivy-covered walls of this Italian oasis, it’s as lush and romantic as a fairy-tale forest. It’s hard to complain about the light, simple Italian dishes, but the food doesn’t stand a chance against the perfectly balanced setting, bathed in warm, golden light. Antipasti and something from the enormous, reasonably priced Italian wine list is all you need for a perfect summer evening.
If it’s a scene you’re after, you’re in the wrong place. The only scene at Chez Joël is an antiscene: Nobody’s dressed to impress you (not that they don’t look nice), and the music is straight from the playlist of Gérard Depardieu. Joël’s brick-laid courtyard is a respite from all that, a quiet spot where the pâtés are creamy and the Champagne is cold.
While the inside of this bar can feel a little bit like Wrigleyville (especially on game day), the patio has both low and high-tops and a ping pong table to entertain yourself. Plus, it's totally gorgeous and just the spot to enjoy a pizza, a beer and the Cubs game.
With a name that translates as “countryside bistro,” this restaurant is so warm and inviting we could stay all night. Ingredients are fresh and meld into French bistro classics with unforgettable flavors. There isn’t a bad thing on the menu, but if we had to limit ourselves, we’d go with onion soup, mussels steamed in Belgian ale, roasted chicken and pan-seared hanger steak flanked by amazing frites. Oh, and if you can snag a table on the romantic back patio, you have the makings of a perfect summer night.
John Manion's La Sirena Clandestina opens its 30-seat patio for both lunch and dinner, so you can start early drinking those capirinhas and eating Latin fare. Since you're there early, you might as well stay for happy hour, which starts at 3pm during the week.
This Mexican mainstay has an amazing back patio; potent and fruity margaritas; sweet-as-pie servers; and decent dishes for a nice price. Favorites include tilapia tacos, inky black beans with perfect white rice, plantains with crispy edges and the giant red snapper with crispy coating. The potato tacos keep vegetarians happy, as does the ever-present owner, José, who’s quick to pour tequila shots for newcomers and old friends.
This West Loop staple may have just a sidewalk patio, but it's a beloved sidewalk patio—once the weather warms up, you'll hardly see anyone chowing down on their sandwiches and meat and cheese plates inside, with the sunny patio making for outside digs that feel just right.
Find more of the best outdoor spots in Chicago
After months spent huddling around fireplaces and shivering from inevitable bar-room drafts, you deserve a drink. Outside. With the sun beaming down, margarita in hand. Our guide to the best outdoor bars, from hidden gardens to sidewalk seats, will give you lots of ideas for things to do in the summer, the very best season in Chicago.