Good eating at Big Star
Good eating at Big Star Credit: Heidi De Vries

Hundreds of the city’s restaurants and bars offer outdoor dining while they can. Here we’ve selected some of the notable spots among them; for more alfresco drinking and dining, see our bar guide.

Antico | Bucktown | $$$

Last year Brad Schiedler, formerly of neighborhood favorite A Tavola, opened this similarly intimate Italian restaurant in a former antiques store. While simple, fresh dishes like cuttlefish fritti and polenta with rich, buttery sauteed mushrooms shine, it’s the house-made gnocchi that remains the star of the show. Out back there’s garden seating. 1946 N. Leavitt, 773-489-4895, Dinner: Sun, Tue-Sat.

Athena | Greektown | $$

At Athena you’ll find old-world fare like loukaniko, dolmades, and lamb with artichokes. The bright interior is spacious and colorful, but the big draw is the lovely two-level outdoor garden, open spring to fall. 212 S. Halsted, 312-655-0000, Lunch, dinner: daily. Open late: Fri & Sat till midnight, other nights till 11.

Big Star | Wicker Park | $

At Paul Kahan’s taqueria and bar both food (by Justin Large, formerly of Avec) and drink are so much in demand that the waits seem never to end; the utilitarian patio is likewise always packed. But ordering from the carryout window is always an option. Cash only. 1531 N. Damen, 773-235-4039. Lunch, dinner: daily. Open late: Sat till 3, other nights till 2.

Birchwood Kitchen | Wicker Park | $

There’s not a cheap shortcut to be found at this ambitious sandwich shop: here the words local and sustainable have real meaning. The brunch menu has items such as croque madame and Belgian waffles, and burger nights are offered out back from Tuesday through Friday. BYO. 2211 W. North, 773-276-2100, Brunch; Sun, Tue-Sat; lunch, dinner: Tue-Fri.

Bourgeois Pig | Lincoln Park | $

Located in an old brownstone, this charming Lincoln Park establishment is true to 60s-coffeehouse form, with creaky hardwood floors, newspapers and books lining the shelves, and a menu of homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, and baked goods posted on blackboards. The extensive lineup ranges from a Great Gatsby Club (pesto, bacon, and smoked turkey) to a veggie panini with artichoke hearts and fresh spinach to a scrumptious daily quiche with a flaky, buttery crust. Expect a full complement of laptop-toting lingerers and a packed patio out front. 738 W. Fullerton, 773-883-5282, Breakfast, lunch, dinner: daily.

Bridge House Tavern | River North | $$$

Tucked down along the river by Clark Street, Bridge House Tavern has one of the finest outdoor patios in the city. It offers a view so spectacular that it’s nearly enough to distract from the lackluster food—if only the food weren’t screaming so loudly to be noticed, stacked with heavy-on-heavy ingredients like a stoner’s wildest dream. Even the spinach salad managed to be heavy, under roasted beets, goat cheese, pecans, “pork chips,” a fried egg, and a thickly applied strawberry vinaigrette. 321 N. Clark, 312-644-0283, Lunch: Mon-Fri; dinner: daily. Sat & Sun brunch. Open late: Sat till 3, other nights till 2.

The Chicago Firehouse | South Loop | $$$

Chef Kendall Duque (Sepia) has spiffed up the menu at this sprawling three-story restaurant in a 1905 firehouse, which remains focused on surf and turf. The leafy outdoor patio seats 70. 1401 S. Michigan, 312-786-1401, Lunch: Mon-Fri; dinner: daily. Sun brunch.

Chief O’Neill’s | Avondale | $$

The entire bar and most of the staff at this northwest-side pub was imported from Ireland; under new chef Alan Lake, the kitchen dishes up inventive takes on tradition. The lively outdoor beer garden seats 200. 3471 N. Elston, 773-583-3066, Lunch: Sat; dinner: daily. Sun brunch. Open late: Sat till 3, other nights till 2.

Davanti enoteca | University Village | $$

Scott Harris’s rustic Taylor Street small-plates wine bar is always bustling—especially when it comes to the rooftop seating, which is first come, first served. 1359 W. Taylor, 312-226-5550, Dinner: daily. Open late: Fri & Sat till midnight, Mon-Thu till 11.

Enoteca Roma | Wicker Park | $$

This laid-back wine bar is an extension of Letizia’s Natural Bakery, a fixture since 1998, and shares its charming back garden seating. It offers Letizia’s standard menu plus more than a dozen varieties of bruschetta, pizzas, dinner salads, and a number of meat, cheese, bread, and olive combinations—the salumi plates alone are enough for a light meal or ample snack for two. 2146 W. Division, 773-772-7700, Dinner: daily. Sat & Sun brunch. Open late: Fri & Sat till midnight, other nights till 2.

Handlebar | Wicker Park | $$

A cyclist hangout—­the bar stools are made from chrome rims, vintage bikes hang from the patio fencing­—this is a theme restaurant that doesn’t feel precious. The food is cheap and vegetarian friendly: most entrees run $10-$12, and the only meat option is fish. The chefs don’t do anything flashy, but they do a little bit of everything and do it well—the samosas with mint-cilantro raita and tamarind chutney, for example, are on par with any you’d find on Devon. The kitchen also does a bang-up job with comfort food: seitan and tofu sandwiches come with a variety of sides including a respectable vegetarian version of southern collard greens and a totally addictive smoked Gouda mac ‘n’ cheese. 2311 W. North, 773-384-9546, Open late: every night till 1.

LM Restaurant | Lincoln Square | $$$

Bradford Phillips (Blackbird, Tru, NoMi, the Pump Room) is back at this classically oriented French contemporary spot, which retains its lovely back garden (now a lounge) as well as a seasonal menu featuring outstanding dishes like a juicy pan-roasted poussin with chanterelles and bright green parsley-chive gnocchi. 4539 N. Lincoln, 773-942-7585, Dinner: daily.

Nana | Bridgeport | $$

This friendly family-run upscale diner generally adheres to the standards set by the USDA’s National Organic Program. There’s a seasonal cocktail program and a sidewalk patio, and on Sundays from 5 to 9 PM chef Guy Meikle offers a fried chicken dinner served family style for $22 in addition to the regular menu. 3267 S. Halsted, 312-929-2486, Breakfast, lunch, dinner: daily. Sat & Sun brunch.

Nightwood | Pilsen | $$$

It’s a testament to the Lula talent trust of Jason Hammel, Amalea Tshilds, and chef Jason Vincent that Nightwood is a lot more than just Lula south. Designer Kevin Heisner’s sleek design sets the tone, from the clean cubism of the outdoor patio to the modern squiggles of the chairs. The simple yet sophisticated seasonal food mirrors the elegant surroundings, with a wood-fired grill anchoring the ever-changing seasonal menu and cocktail list. 2119 S. Halsted, 312-526-3385, Dinner: Mon-Sat. Sun brunch. Open late: Fri &Sat till 11.

90 Miles Cuban Cafe | Bucktown | $

The second outpost of Alberto and Christine Gonzalez’s 90 Miles Cuban Cafe has table seating and a charming enclosed patio in addition to a counter. But it retains the warmth of its predecessor, as well as sharing the menu. A big part of the appeal of 90 Miles is the friendly, efficient service. BYO. 2540 W. Armitage, 773-227-2822, Breakfast, lunch, dinner: daily. Open late: Fri & Sat till 11.

Old Oak Tap | Ukrainian Village | $$

At this barstaurant from the owners of the Continental and Darkroom, the 1,500-square-foot front patio is frequently jammed. The menu’s full of spiffed-up bar standards; the craft beer list showcases a lot of predictable crowd-pleasers but also a couple intriguing curveballs. 2109 W. Chicago, 773-772-0406, Lunch: Sun, Tue-Sat; dinner: daily. Sat & Sun brunch. Open late: Sat till 3, other nights till 2.

Paris Club | River North | $$$

For R.J. and Jerrod Melman’s takeover of Brasserie Jo, Lettuce Entertain You has enlisted a team of formidable talent. But what results is an unnavigable minefield of well-executed classics, incompatible oddballs, and hilariously misguided attempts to reinvent iconic French dishes. That hasn’t kept the crowds away from the noisy bar and dining room or the indoor-outdoor rooftop lounge, Studio Paris. 59 W. Hubbard, 312-595-0800, Dinner: daily. Open late: Sat till 3, Thu-Fri till 2, Mon-Wed till midnight.

The Purple Pig | River North | $$

Snout-to-tail cooking is the name of the game at this restaurant and bar dedicated to “cheese, wine, and swine.” Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. offers odd bits like sow’s ears, pig’s tails, pork tongue, and neck-bone rillettes, but there are also plenty of veggie-friendly small plates and artisanal cheeses to choose from, along with an all-European wine list with loads of inexpensive options. Reservations aren’t accepted, so waits can be long—especially for the tented patio seating in summer. 500 N. Michigan, 312-464-1744, Lunch, dinner: daily. Open late: Fri & Sat till 1, other nights till midnight.

The Portage | Portage Park | $$

Here’s gentrification at its best: an old-man bar rehabbed into a friendly, unassuming little gastropub with one of the nicer alfresco settings around, a spacious back patio. The delicious duck-fat fries were much crunchier than the ones made famous by a certain north-side hot dog joint. A salad of roasted organic beets with goat cheese and marcona almonds was summer on a plate, the garden above, summer on a roof. 3938 N. Central, 773-853-0779, Dinner: Sun, Tue-Sat.

Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar | Humboldt Park | $

The main attraction at Humboldt Park’s Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar is the intriguing list of small-batch beverages put together by a trio of Webster’s Wine Bar vets. But the tight, well-curated menu of small and midsize plates is no afterthought. This is a fine spot to take a sip or two, with an outdoor patio that in the warmer months brightens an otherwise stark intersection. 954 N. California, 773-292-1616, Dinner: Mon-Sat. Sun brunch. Open late: Sat till 3, Mon-Fri till 2.

Rose Angelis | Lincoln Park | $$

The four rooms of this Lincoln Park storefront feel intimate even when they’re crowded, and the reasonably priced entrees are so large that doggie bags are the norm. The two outdoor patios are flower filled and protected from the street. 1314 W. Wrightwood, 773-296-0081, Dinner: Sun, Tue-Sat. Open late: Fri & Sat till 11.