After a 17-month-long winter, Chicagoans are desperate enough to consider a 55-degree day “patio weather” and are willing to eat on a six-by-eight-foot section of sidewalk crammed with 47 tables. But eventually the day comes (probably in early July) when you’ve had enough. It’s humid, the sun is transforming your face into a baseball mitt, and it’s just too f*cking hot.
When this happens, go to one of these 11 places with A/C that will be cool, but not make you feel like you’re letting summer disappear.
You struggled through your bathroom’s unrelenting heat and humidity while getting ready this morning, and sweat has been undoing all your hard work since you left the house. Your progression toward looking like Richard Nixon can be paused at Irazu, a Costa Rican spot in Wicker Park. The enclosed patio is air conditioned but has enough windows to create the illusion of being outside. The menu is long, with lots of sandwiches, empanadas, and entrees like casado, a Costa Rican specialty with skirt steak, an over-easy egg, plantains, and cabbage salad. It’s BYOB, so plan accordingly.
Along with A/C, the canopy-covered patio at 90 Miles in Logan Square has plenty of shade and a breezy indoor/outdoor feel. Come here when you can’t take any more sun and you’re tired of looking at your food from behind sunglasses. The Cuban food here is delicious, particularly the ropa vieja and Cubano. As a bonus, this place is BYOB, so remind friends to pick up some wine on the way while you stay in the shade.
The all-season back courtyard of Stella Barra is open and airy, with a retractable roof that helps keep air conditioning in and muggy Chicago weather out. The thin-crust pizzas are tasty, and there’s a brunch buffet on the weekend that’s way better than the one you shuffled through the morning after your cousin’s wedding. Plus, this place is very kid-friendly, and since nothing is worse than hot and cranky children, this is useful information to have.
Imagine the restaurant equivalent of a Smuckers commercial. That’s the atmosphere at Blue Door Farm Stand in Lincoln Park. Lots of plants and little watering cans make the interior feel like a farmhouse, and a large skylight provides enough sunlight so you know the plants aren’t in imminent danger. The decor fits with the Midwestern food; you’ll find stuff like fried chicken sliders (with some excellent pimento cheese), cheese curds, and seasonal vegetable dishes. If you’re in the mood for all-American comfort food, but don’t want to actually drive a tractor all day, this is the spot.
If, deep down, you hate eating outside and always have, suggest Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba the next time your friends want to have a boozy outdoor brunch (and they will). It’s another spot that has an air-conditioned patio with a retractable roof, plus a fun, friendly atmosphere that might prevent your friends from noticing the fact that they’re not actually outside. The tapas menu allows you to try a lot of different small bites, like waffle-battered chicken sticks or shrimp and grits. There’s a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar, too, which will also distract them.
A large skylight and aggressively summery atmosphere (complete with a somewhat stressful “countdown till summer” sign) make Summer House Santa Monica an excellent choice when you want a sunshine-y environment without any actual exposure to the elements. The food here is vaguely California-inspired and runs the gamut from kind-of-healthy things like grain bowls and salads to mahi-mahi tacos and various dishes that include avocado. There’s also a case full of really tasty baked goods like brown butter rice crispy treats and giant cookies, which you should be sure to grab on your way out.
Frontier in Wicker Park is a pioneer-themed restaurant that has things on the menu like antelope and water buffalo. But thankfully their commitment to the theme stops there, since pioneers didn’t have antibiotics and air conditioning. You might need to bring your own Z-Pack, but you’ll have plenty of access to A/C on the all-season patio.
Walking through Beatnik in West Town is like stumbling into a jungle-adjacent movie filmed at Universal Studios. The atmosphere at this Mediterranean restaurant is over the top, full of tropical plants, ornate chandeliers, and antique wooden furniture. The front room feels like you’re eating inside a terrarium, but one that offers dishes like Lebanese lamb, beef cheek arepas, and red curry noodles.
Combine a mall atrium, expensive furniture store, and biodome from the future after we’ve been forced to abandon Earth and terraform Mars, and you might have something like 3 Arts Club Cafe. It’s located inside Restoration Hardware in the Gold Coast, featuring a huge space with a glass ceiling and lots of full-size trees surrounding the tables. Come to the all-day cafe here for breakfast or lunch (with dishes like soft scrambled eggs and truffled grilled cheese) to discuss important things like how to clean red dust off your biodome.
Thanks to Lake Michigan and a lovely skyline, Chicago rooftops are very popular during the summer. But it can be exhausting dealing with the wind - everything on the table needs to be held down, and the occasional rogue balloon from someone’s “release ceremony” might interrupt your meal. Cindy’s in the Loop is a rooftop that has both indoor and outdoor tables, and both have excellent views of the city. The menu here has a lot of large-format dishes (like whole-grilled trout or platters of wagyu beef cheek), which makes it great for entertaining groups of out-of-towners who only visit when it’s warm.