Outdoor dining options in Chicago

August 5, 2011 9:11:20 PM PDT
Eating outside, or alfresco, seems to make the food taste better, but not all outdoor dining experiences are the same.

A creamy burrata salad with summer tomatoes and balsamic is pretty all on its own. But throw in a jaw-dropping, ringside seat to the downtown cityscape along the Chicago River, and you've got a quintessential urban alfresco arrangement at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.

"To be sitting along a great water way here in Chicago and look at some of the best architecture in the country, it's a relaxing environment," said Chicago Cut co-owner David Flom.

A lot more relaxing than inside the dining room, which can be -- at times -- a few decibels too much. But here, on the generous patio, nibbling on lobster salads or even the more beefy steak salad, you'll only hear the occasional boat horn as you ponder a meal amidst the sounds of the city.

"A lot of people come down even later at night just to enjoy a really quiet, peaceful dinner at the end of the day," said Flom.

In terms of secluded patios, it's near impossible to beat the finely-manicured, generously spacious one at Piccolo Sogno in West Town. The homemade Italian fare from Tony Priolo looks even more sumptuous in natural light -- consider a sauce-less bianco pizza with peppery arugula and shaved parmigiano reggiano, or a pan-seared filet of halibut resting over toothsome faro grains and artichokes. It may not be Tuscany, but you'll definitely feel like you've left Chicago.

In Wicker Park, the hipsters have taken over Big Star, a modern honky-tonk with excellent bourbons, craft beers and inspiration from the street food of Mexico, which goes over even better in warm weather.

"All of a sudden we are slammed, we double our capacity. Everybody wants to be outside, outside is the place to be," said Big Star Chef Justin Large.

Tacos run just a couple of bucks, and every component is homemade, including the tortillas. Al pastor features spit-roasted pork with grilled pineapple, while the pescado highlights beer-battered tilapia and chipotle mayo. The gooey queso fundido -- jammed with roasted poblanos and homemade chorizo -- is just, well, a lot of fun to eat. Throw in some of the city's most interesting eye candy, and you can see why the sidewalk patio is perpetually jammed.

"I mean you get people that sit here and camp for six hours, you'll get people that are in and out in 20 minutes. I think we got a little bit for everybody," Large said.

Now I hate to even bring this up, but Labor Day is exactly one month away so heed my words: It's best to take advantage of the city's many outdoor dining options before it is too late.

Chicago Cut Steakhouse
300 N. Lasalle

Piccolo Sogno
464 N. Halsted St.

Big Star
1531 N Damen Ave.

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