Tips for enjoying al fresco dining Chicago style. Now that summer is just round the corner, Chicagoans can finally peel off the extra layers and enjoy warm breezes and fun in the sun along the lakeshore. Along with pleasant weather comes the much-anticipated revival of al fresco dining.
Check the weather, bring sunscreen
At the risk of stating the obvious, weather is the key element to alfresco dining. Most restaurants will close their outdoor seating immediately during cold snaps and thunderstorms, but high humidity and overcast skies can also place a damper on an enjoyable meal. If dining in the afternoon, make sure to lather
on the sunscreen and wear sunglasses.
Call ahead, show up early
Most restaurants do not accept reservations for outdoor seating due to its overwhelming popularity. Eager to fill table outdoor spaces immediately, many restaurants seat on a first come/first serve basis. Nice weather also encourages patrons to stay a little longer to enjoy the weather, which makes it difficult for restaurants to guarantee that a reserved table will be available.
However, some restaurants will reserve alfresco dining for special
events or take requests into consideration. Your best bet is to
(1) call ahead and ask; (2) request outdoor seating when making your reservation online; and (3) show up early.
Location, location, location
While some restaurants feature intimate, enclosed terraces, others place their tables street side a la French cafes for those who enjoy people watching. Size matters, too. That is, larger parties may find themselves out of luck at restaurants with smaller outdoor seating, while a couple or smaller parties may feel confined amid the noise of crowded spaces.
Loop / Downtown
The Park Grill: As one of the city’s largest al fresco restaurants, The Park Grill can also boast about its prime location in Millennium Park. Facing an historic stretch of Michigan Avenue, patrons can take in the sights of Chicago’s famous architecture as they wine and dine. The restaurant frequently features live entertainment as well. The outdoor plaza seats 300-350, while the Cafe adjacent seats 60. The Park Grill does not take reservations for alfresco dining.
Rhapsody: Rhapsody’s impressive seasonal garden patio whisks patrons away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Bright yellow umbrellas surrounded by a colorful array of planted flowers create a charming atmosphere that continues to draw in new customers. Rhapsody?s garden patio seats about 50, with a first come/first serve policy.
Volo Lounge: Hip and chic, Volo’s outdoor cabana lounge serves as a vineyard haven with private cedar wood cabanas, outdoor seating and a weathered barn. The backyard garden accommodates for 75, with an additional sidewalk cafe with seating for 20. Volo Lounge does not take reservations for its alfresco dining.
Mon Ami Gabi: Nestled in a flourishing garden, Mon Ami Gabi’s charmingly French outdoor restaurant complements the quaint Lincoln Park neighborhood it resides in. Weather permitting, outdoor seating is first come/first serve, with space for around 64 people.
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba: This summer, take your tapas on the terrace with a cold pitcher of sangria at Caf? Ba-Ba-Reeba. The breezy, enclosed patio invites a colorful view of Lincoln Park with a lively ambiance of world music and entertainment. Terrace seating is plentiful in number with a capacity of 150, but goes quickly with their first come/first serve basis.
Boka: Whether stopping in before a production at Steppenwolf or just looking for trendy dining, Boka’s terrace is a metropolitan must. Much like the interior of Boka, the veranda incorporates simple modern design that integrates nicely with the recently updated landscaping elements. If attending before a show, make sure to allow extra time as alfresco seating is first come/first serve and limited to a 30-person capacity.
North Michigan Avenue/Gold Coast
Peninsula Hotel Shanghai Terrace: With a sophisticated menu and breathtaking view of Michigan Avenue, the Peninsula Hotel’s Shanghai Terrace ranks among the most luxurious in alfresco dining. The restaurant can accommodate around 70 people, and Shanghai Terrace will take reservations for the outdoor terrace.
Tavern on Rush: Always packed with people, Tavern on Rush is the ideal alfresco dining venue for people watching. The ample-sized sidewalk cafe accommodates 80 people on a first come/first serve basis.
MAS: MAS’s Latin dishes are a perfect complement to the summer heat. Outdoor seating is limited, but worthwhile if you can grab a table. MAS does not take reservations for outdoor seating, operating on a first come/first serve basis.
Adobo Grill: Adobo Grill invites you to enjoy regional Mexican fare on the patio at their Old Town and Wicker Park locations. Seating is moderate between 8-12 tables, but goes fast as the restaurant does not take reservations for their outdoor seating.
Bistrot Margot: This French bistro features 12 intimate street side tables for 2-3 along the bustling Wells Street ideal for people watching while sipping on wine and nibbling on French bread. As a popular feature of the restaurant, Bistrot Margot does not take reservations for their alfresco dining.
Jacky’s Bistro: Known for their Southern French elegance, Jacky?s Bistro opens its terrace to the quiet and comfortable greenery of Prairie Avenue. Featuring 11 tables, outdoor seating is on a first come/first serve basis.
Lovell’s of Lake Forest: Surround yourself with refined French Colonial ambiance and cuisine with a view at Lovell’s of Lake Forest. The restaurant does accept reservations for the 10 available outdoor tables.
Antico Posto: Dine alfresco Old World-style at Antico Posto. The restaurant features over 30 varieties of wine by the glass and half-glass, ideal for a romantic evening at one of 10 outdoor tables. Alfresco seats are first come/first serve.
Carlucci Downers Grove: Combining elegant and modern ambiance with Old World cuisine, alfresco dining at Carlucci’s brings chic, metropolitan dining to the west suburbs. 10-15 outdoor tables are available depending on the evening on a first come/first serve basis.
Catch 35 Naperville: Eat your surf on the turf at Catch 35’s outdoor terrace. While you might not be able to have the summer seaside view, pleasant dining weather can usually make up for that. Accommodating up to 30 people, the restaurant does not take reservations for the veranda.
The Clubhouse at Oakbrook: The handsome Clubhouse restaurant opens its doors to enjoy the prime cuisine and luxurious service under the stars. With 11 outdoor tables, the restaurant cannot guarantee outdoor seating, but will try to accommodate special requests.