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Dining Alfresco

What better way is there to enjoy the summer weather than relax in a patio chair with friends and family, feasting on the city's finest food.

By AMELIA LEVIN

What are your favorite things to do in the city when it's warm? We can name a few: stroll around Millennium Park; view the Air and Water Show; ride the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier; party at neighborhood festivals; visit the Chicago Botanic Garden; picnic at outdoor concerts at Ravinia; play sand volleyball; bike or run along the lakefront and lounge on the beach. But the number one thing to do? Dine alfresco, of course.

What better way is there to enjoy the summer weather than relax in a patio chair with friends and family, feasting on the city's finest food and drink? With daylight that never seems to end and warm breezes blowing through the city, you might even reconsider those thoughts of moving to California.

Here are some of our fa

vorite places to dine outdoors when it's warm in Chicago.

Best Sidewalk Patio
Sola
3868 N. Lincoln, 773-327-3868
The sidewalk patio along Byron Street at this contemporary-chic, North Central neighborhood bistro offers the perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and watch crowds of 20- and 30-somethings pass by with strollers, dogs and lovers in hand. The menu, upscale American with Asian influences, reflects the seasons and changes frequently, but look for fresh fish selections like striped bass with a peekytoe crab and green papaya salad. Entrees range between $15 and $25, but portions are quite apt and filling.

Best Garden
X/O Chicago
3441 N. Halsted, 773-348-9696
A tiki bar and lanterns along with waterfalls with changing lights make the garden area at this hip, small plates eatery feel like you're sitting in someone's really cool backyard. Maybe that's because at one point it probably was someone's backyard -- the restaurant is a converted apartment building. Soak up the summer breeze while sipping on tasty martinis and savoring appetizer-size dishes with interesting combinations like jumbo seared sea scallops and buttery pumpkin dumplings, oysters on the half shell with cucumber and horseradish tomato sorbets and lump crabmeat cakes with green pepper relish and cilantro. Most of the menu is seafood, but meat lovers can opt for the seared rib eye sliced medium rare with X/O's "special sauce" that has hints of soy and ginger. Small plates average $8, but the seafood and beef options are more. Make sure you save room for pastry chef Jordan Rappaport's raved about desserts like the Chocolate Orgasm, which is, let's just say, self-explanatory.

Best Alfresco Hotspot
Carnivale
702 W. Fulton, 312-850-5005
Inside, it's a 300-seat former club-space-turned-restaurant with kitschy, colorful d?cor, showcasing framed pictures of beautiful women and huge mirrors reflecting endless rows of wine bottles stored overhead. Outside, the "scene" continues into all hours of the night on the terrace overlooking, well, the Kennedy expressway, but at least that plus the aluminum furniture create an urban-chic feel. Here the servers greet you and before even taking drink orders, insist you order the guacamole, simply prepared with huge chunks of fresh avocado and lime juice, served with warm, crispy tortilla chips. After the guacamole, try the ceviche "flights" -- best ones are the scallop with coconut milk and curry and Alaskan King crab. That could be enough for some people, but if you're ordering entrees, skip the chicken and steak and go for the rum-glazed, slow roasted pork shoulder with fried plantains, rice and beans. Entrees run between $14 and $38, with ceviches priced around $9.

Best Romantic Alfresco
Basil Leaf Caf?
2460 N. Clark, 773-935-3388
This darling corner caf? in the heart of Lincoln Park features a very romantic and cozy sidewalk patio set along the residential Arlington Place. A wooden fence lined with pretty red flowers encloses the seating area, which helps to separate the noise level from nearby busy Clark Street. The menu features a long list of pasta dishes at reasonable prices between $8 and $15 with traditional sauces like marinara and Alfredo, plus specialty ones like pesto and creamy Gorgonzola and add-ins like prosciutto, crabmeat and butternut squash. Definitely don't pass up the decadent, triple chocolate cheesecake for dessert. Servers are friendly, well-trained and never rush you here, making for a great date place.

Best Destination Alfresco
Park Grill on the Plaza
11 N. Michigan, 312-521-7275
If you've worked up an appetite sightseeing in Millennium Park or are looking for some pre-Jay Pritzker Pavilion concert grub, stop by this outdoor patio grill, one of the largest alfresco dining venues in the city. It features two big-screen TVs, live music and killer views of Michigan Avenue and the park. The spot may be a bit touristy, but the much raved about, juicy Park Grill burger with Herkimer cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon, makes the trip well worth it. Small plate items for sharing (around $10 each) include taco variations with beer-roasted pork, tilapia and duck. Kids are very welcome here -- a children's menu offers a choice of quesadilla, hot dog or burger.

Best Rooftop
Vines on Clark
3554 N. Clark, 773-327-8572
Don't want to shell out $100-plus or risk getting beer spilled on you by inebriated crowds watching the Cubbies from one of the many rooftop decks? Then head over to this contemporary eatery's rooftop where the crowd is a tad more sophisticated than at the typical Wrigleyville hang out. The outdoor area seats approximately 50 people and features a menu of upscale salads, paninis, pastas like fettuccini with pulled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes and creamy marinara and meat dishes like beef tenderloin. Entree prices run between $15 and $25.

Best Outdoor Sushi
Japonais
600 W. Chicago, 312-822-9600
During the warm weather months, this very trendy and modern sushi restaurant opens its downstairs bar area to a scenic terrace overlooking the Chicago River. The half-inside/half-outside space features a mix of comfortable lounge chairs and sofas with white linen drapery and wooden benches for a relaxing, lounge-like place to wine, dine and linger all night long. For a quieter, more intimate dining experience, head upstairs to one of the few patio tables overlooking the old Montgomery Ward building across the street. Try the fun maki rolls with a variety of fillings, like the popular Tuna Tuna Salmon -- fish wrapped around more fish. Priced at around $10 or higher, these rolls can add up after a while. Although it may be warm out, that's no excuse to pass up "the Rock," a large, super-hot stone that cooks accompanying slices of raw Kobe beef in a minute or two. One warning, though: be prepared to wait on weekend nights, even with reservations.

Best View
Fulton's on the River
315 N. LaSalle, 312-822-0100
The outdoor caf? overlooking the Chicago River offers stellar views of the skyline, especially on summer nights when the lights are reflected on the water. The alfresco area makes for a great spot to lunch and watch the boats go by, as well as a place for outdoor receptions and large parties. Fulton's menu concentrates on seafood, with a raw bar featuring oysters on the half shell, plus lobster bisque and coriander-crusted seared tuna. But the classic prime steaks here are a hit, too, like the filet mignon. Entree prices are a bit steep at more than $25, but the nice view and atmosphere make the bill worth it.

Best Kept Secret
Menagerie
1232 W. Belmont, 773-404-8333
No one seems to talk about Menagerie anymore, but this charming treasure in West Lakeview hasn't been forgotten. The outdoor garden area fills up quickly during the warm weather months with diners devouring small plates like spicy steamed mussels in lemongrass broth or filet mignon tartare with mushroom tart. A must-try is the "fish-and-chips" -- delicious chunks of fresh sashimi grade tuna in a light tempura batter that won't clog your arteries like most fried versions will. Entr?es here run between $15 and $20 and vary with the season, but look for the venison, a rare and delicious find. For dessert, the fondue for two with fresh fruit, truffles, cookies and cakes is heavenly.

Best Outdoor Brunch
Ina's
1235 W. Randolph, 312-226-8277
Here the comfortable, country-esque sidewalk patio overlooks the west end of Restaurant Row, which stays quiet most of the time, allowing for more lively conversation at this restaurant, which caters to a family-friendly crowd. During weekend brunches, Ina herself can be seen making rounds at the tables, greeting diners and giving hugs to those with whom she's close. Don't pass up her "heavenly hot" pancakes, light and fluffy, yet buttery on the tongue, and the scrapple, a delicious mix of corn, black beans, eggs and cheese. Omelets are also always stellar, and if available, try the French toast. Prices are reasonable, hovering around $7.50 for good portions.

Our Perrenial Favorites in Outdoor Dining

Allen's -- The New American Caf? 217 W. Huron, 312-587-9600. Try the excellent walleye with leeks and fava beans.

Bic? Ristorante 158 E. Ontario, 312-664-1474. Outstanding seafood and pasta dishes make this restaurant a truly special place.

Bistro Campagne 4518 N. Lincoln, 773-271-6100. Enjoy excellent salads, onion soup, caramelized onion strudel, and seafood.

Bistro Margot 1437 N. Wells, 312-587-3660. Start with the escargot or salade Nicoise or rack of lamb or salmon.

Brasserie Jo 49 W. Hubbard, 312-595-0800. Enjoy French-Alsatian cuisine in dishes such as coq au vin or fresh fish.

Caf? Ba-Ba-Reeba! 2024 N. Halsted, 773-935-5000. Creative hot and cold tapas, including goat cheese, beef and sea bass.

Caf? Selmarie 4729 N. Lincoln, 773-989-5595. View Lincoln Square concerts while enjoying delicious salads and entr?es.

Dinotto Ristorante 215 W. North Ave., 312- 202-0302. Delightful simple Italian fare -- pasta, veal dishes and salmon.

Green Dolphin Street 2200 N. Ashland, 773-395-0066. Go for the great live jazz or grilled veal chop and potato-wrapped halibut.

Heartland Caf? 7000 N. Glenwood, 773-465-8005. Try the delicious sweet potato fries and other organic and vegetarian fare.

Jacky's Bistro 2545 Prairie, Evanston. 847-733-0899. Try the onion soup, bouillabaisse and grilled shrimp with basil mashed potatoes.

Le Colonial 937 N. Rush, 312-255-0088. Vietnamese. Enjoy excellent seafood, including red snapper.

Maggiano's Little Italy 516 N. Clark, 312-644-7700. Enjoy generous portions of pasta, steak and chicken.

March? 833 W. Randolph, 312-226-8399. The French bistro fare is excellent, from the French onion soup to the steak with fries

Meritage Caf? and Wine Bar 2118 N. Damen, 773-235-6434. The grilled steak with Brie mashed potatoes and mushrooms is a stand-out.

Mon Ami Gabi 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, 773-348-8886. This lively bistro specializes in steak frites, fresh fish and roasted chicken.

Nacional 27 325 W. Huron, 312-664-2727. Try fresh seafood specials, ceviches and delicious pork dishes.

Naha 500 N. Clark, 312-321-6242. Enjoy excellent Mediterranean-influenced salmon and tuna appetizers and steak entr?es.

Nomi Park Hyatt, 800 N. Michigan, 312-239-4030. Nomi offers beverages, sushi bar and light dining.

North Pond 2610 N. Cannon Drive, 773-477-5845. Try the fresh tomato salad or the pizza topped with mushrooms, Swiss chard and edible flowers or excellent seafood.

Oceanique 505 Main St., Evanston, 847-864-3435. The French-influenced seafood is always delicious.

The Palm at Swissotel Chicago 323 E. Wacker, 312-616-1000. Enjoy the great view, steak and lobster.

Pops for Champagne 2934 N. Sheffield, 773-472-1000. The grazing menu features gourmet pizzas and black bean quesadillas.

Puck's at the MCA 220 E. Chicago Ave., 312-397-4034. Mediterranean and Asian cuisine integrating signature dishes from Spago.

Riva Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Ave., 312-644-7482. Enjoy some of the city's best views of the lake and the skyline -- and great fish.

?Salpicon! 1252 N. Wells, 312-988-7811. Try the grilled tiger shrimp or grilled pork tenderloin.

Shanghai Terrace 108 E. Superior, 312-573-6744. This upscale Chinese hideaway overlooks Michigan Ave.

Smith & Wollensky 318 N. State, 312-670-9900. Steaks are the draw here. Start with the pea soup or the asparagus and crab salad.

Thyme 464 N. Halsted, 312-226-4300. Specialties include grilled prime beef and pan-roasted rack of lamb.

Published: June 01, 2006
Issue: Summer 2006