Outdoor dining is more important than ever, as health experts recommend patios over eating inside. Chicagoans are always eager to dine al fresco, as the city’s identity morphs during the warmer months. While there are newer options around town, these essential spots are classic restaurants that provide some of the best food and drinks in the city. The list has been revamped with 10 additions. Newcomers include Mott St, Rica Arepa, and RPM on the Water.Read More
The 20 Essential Outdoor Dining Spots in Chicago
These classic spots are more important than ever
1. Moody's Pub
Moody’s Pub in Edgewater has been long a hideaway for groups and dates, with a treelined private patio besides a tiny restaurants off Broadway. For those who want more than a beverage, the burgers are very underrated with thick patties highlighted by Moody’s bleu cheese variety.
2. Las Fuentes Restaurant
Las Fuentes is known for reliable Mexican food and margaritas, and its secret weapon has been a beautiful private patio that’s also good for private events, including weddings. Located near DePaul, the space attracts more than students. It’s a solid, unpretentious spot for group hangs, dates, and even family dinners.
3. Parson's Chicken & Fish
A massive patio? Check. Negroni slushies? Ready to go. Fried chicken? Of course. The party never stops at Land and Sea Dept’s sizzling chicken shack, where patrons can easily spend an entire day hanging out. The food is worth sticking around for; the lineup of greasy goodness includes hush puppies, fried fish, and crunchy chicken that’s been brined and dipped in buttermilk hot sauce. A second Chicago location is now open in Lincoln Park.
4. Rica Arepa Venezuelan Restaurant
Hermosa’s dining scene has erupted in recent years, and one of the reasons is the delightful Venezuelan food at Rica Arepa. The signature with shredded chicken and beef, plus gouda, is a sweet and savory treat. There’s also a solid veggie option. The private patio is comfortable, allowing customers to peacefully sink into an empanada in a casual atmosphere.
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Taxim has been a trailblazer in Wicker Park, proving that great Greek food is found outside of Greektown. A modern approach to Greek, Taxim has a small rooftop space overlooking Milwaukee Avenue’s Hipster Highway. It’s an intimate spot that always delivers. (Note: the photo is from 2019 and doesn’t represent the current pandemic layout)
6. Big Star
The most-visited patio in town needs little introduction. Come early (dogs are welcome) or expect to wait a while as the line is sometimes hours long. Those who tough it out are rewarded with tacos, margaritas, whisky, and a prime spot for people watching. A second location is at Hotel Zachary across from Wrigley Field.
7. Mott St
Chef Edward Kim’s creative Asian cuisine goes outdoors at Mott St’s patio, along Ashland Avenue in West Town. It’s a versatile space that provides an escape, whether it’s trying Kim’s new fire chicken, or classics like imperial rolls or that famous burger.
Chef Brian Jupiter has made Frontier in West Town one of the most unique restaurants in the city. Known for whole-animal service, the restaurant is a meat lover’s paradise. The patio area is comfort, a nice spot to watch a game or relax with a craft cocktail.
9. El Barco Mariscos
For nearly 20 years, El Barco Mariscos has been educating Chicagoans to the depth of Mexican cuisine. El Barco concentrates on coastal Mexican cuisine. The parilada seafood platters are formidable, but the crowd pleaser continues to be the whole red snapper that comes fried or grilled. Customers will save a few calories going grilled, but the deep fried variety is tastier.
10. Shanghai Terrace
Within the Peninsula Hotel, near the Mag Mile, Shanghai Terrace has been serving Cantonese food in a formal setting for years. Folks may scoff at the high prices, customers will pay less for dim sum in Chinatown, but Chinatown restaurants don’t need to pay steep property taxes which is needed for the view. It’s a trade off, but worth it for those who don’t mind the prices.
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11. Homestead on the Roof
Farm-to-table doesn’t get more literal than at this 85-seat patio located above Roots Handmade Pizza in West Town. Its organic rooftop garden supplies much of the veggies and herbs used. Menu highlights include skin-on pork belly, fried quesadilla de hongo, and tostada de camaron.
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12. The Dawson
A massive West Town establishment with modern industrial design and a lively atmosphere, the Dawson’s large outdoor space feels like a sophisticated summer soiree. Frozen Mai Tais and bites of chicken-fried lobster are highlights on the patio. String lights illuminate the space and an outdoor fireplace keeps it open in the evening.
13. Piccolo Sogno
A trip to Tuscany should be on every summer bucket list but for a cheaper alternative, head to Tony Priolo’s classic Italian restaurant. The vibrant garden patio provides an intimate escape from city life while rustic dishes highlight seasonal flavors. Add an extensive wine list and the end result is one of the most romantic experiences in Chicago.
14. RPM Seafood
Chicago, IL 60654
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ megaplex along the Chicago River can’t be missed as a partnership between the city the Chicago’s largest restaurant group created the project. Pizzeria Portofino is on the bottom level, but there’s also RPM Seafood which is more sceney and serves more composed dishes.
Lettuce Entertain You’s West Loop restaurant has quickly become a go-to destination for al fresco dining and summertime vibes. The popularity is in part due to its rooftop patio, which is decked with cozy couches, lush greenery, and even heated igloos during winter. CJ Jacobson supplies ramped-up Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, such as hummus, kebabs, and housemade Stracciatella.
16. Gibsons Italia
Gibsons Restaurant Group’s tri-level achievement, situated next to the Chicago River, impresses on all fronts. Steaks are predictably a highlight of the menu but don’t forgo the gold-extruded pastas, either. And if that’s not luxurious enough, guests can dine outside while soaking in some of the best sights in Chicago.
17. Beatnik on the River
Beatnik, the popular restaurant and cocktail lounge in West Town, expanded to a second location down by the Chicago River last year. The 80-seat patio captures the bohemian-inspired feel of the original and is decorated with verdant plants, comfy daybed seating, and fringed umbrellas for shading. The Spanish- and Mediterranean-influenced menu includes curry meatballs, smoked octopus, and Lebanese-style roasted lamb.
18. The Duck Inn
It’s a known fact that hot dogs and burgers are best enjoyed outdoors. That’s why eaters flock for Kevin Hickey’s ramped-up comfort foods on the backyard patio. His signature Duck Inn dog, made from beef and duck fat, is dragged through a garden of Chicago-style toppings, while the hamburger sandwich features Brun-uusto cheese and dijonnaise on rye bread.
Sausages topped with “kraut-chi,” housemade pierogis, and kimchi poutine are just a couple of the creative fusion offerings at this Bridgeport eatery. The Korean-Polish street fare pairs perfectly with the brews and cocktails next door at Maria’s Packaged Goods and patrons can sample them on the back patio. The addition of Pizza, Chicken, Ice Cream offers more menu items for the patio.
20. Truth Italian Restaurant
For the past five years, Truth restaurant has been one the most underrated Italian spots in Chicago. With fresh pastas, killer mozzarella sticks, and more, this Bronzeville restaurant is a fun place to shoot the breeze with friends and family.