Once the cold part of spring ends and the sun stops being purely decorative, everyone in this city wants to be outside again. Consequently, most outdoor spots get about as crowded as those seabird colonies you see in nature documentaries. But if you want to sit outside and enjoy some relative peace and quiet, you still have options - you just might not know about them yet.
This is our guide to the secret patios of Chicago, and it’s full of relatively unknown or forgotten places where you can eat and drink outside. Memorize this list, and you’ll be better at summer than most people.
the Outdoor spots
From the outside, Enoteca Roma in Wicker Park looks like a little Italian restaurant that can fit about 25 people. But this place is the restaurant equivalent of Mary Poppins’ carpetbag, thanks to a huge back patio that dwarfs the dining room. It’s secluded and very cute, with string lights and lots of green stuff to ensure you get enough oxygen. Start out with a bruschetta flight (you can choose five different types for $12) and a polenta board for the table (our favorite is topped with a venison bolognese). Then round things out with a pasta, like the penne arrabiata or one of the handmade specials. Hang out here until they ask you to leave.
Like Jennifer Beals’ character in Flashdance, Lost Larson is leading a double life in Andersonville. By day it’s a bakery milling its own grain and making some very good bread and pastries, but at night it’s a full-on restaurant where you can order things like delicious Swedish meatballs. One other thing this place is hiding: a fenced-in, dog-friendly back patio that you can visit no matter if you’re a welder or a dancer.
Hopleaf in Andersonville has an exceptional beer selection, and the food menu (with dishes like mac and cheese, mussels, and a delicious cashew butter and fig jam sandwich) goes above and beyond what you’d find in an average bar. There’s also a large, secluded beer garden out back, which provides a nice break from the dark wood and dimly-lit atmosphere typical of Chicago bars.
One of our favorite spots in Logan Square is Giant. In fact, it’s so many people’s favorite spot that it’s really hard to get a seat here. But in the summer you can take advantage of their fenced-in back patio, which you might not realize exists since you can’t see it from the street. Once there, you can pretty much go with anything on the menu - we’ve yet to find something we don’t like. The broccoli and cheese is a must-order, and you’ll also want to try their pastas, like the tagliatelle with crab and uni butter.
The Delta in Wicker Park is one of those long, narrow hallway restaurants, so you might be discouraged from hanging out inside this place on one of the 17 beautiful days the city is allotted per year. But there’s a very nice back patio you can’t see from Chicago Avenue that’s away from all the noise of the street. Come here for Southern dishes like fried chicken, Delta-style tamales (which are simmered instead of steamed), and some very tasty pork ribs. The laid-back atmosphere and quiet patio make this place perfect for day drinking and/or never leaving.
Ada Street is in a barren, industrial part of Logan Square, and the entrance is on what looks like a frontage road. If you’re not expecting this, you might think you’re being lured into a trap. The isolated atmosphere continues with the enclosed and hidden courtyard in the back of the restaurant. But once you get settled and text everyone to let them know you’re alright, you can have a nice, quiet dinner without hearing city buses go by. Order the steak tartare and the pasta of the day.
The Midwestern-inspired menu at Daisies in Logan Square revolves around seasonal produce, and it’s the type of restaurant that will tell you where the lettuce came from that day and whether or not the beets are in a good mood. And there’s no better place to have an insightful discussion about produce than the flower-box-filled back courtyard you might not know exists. Order a bunch of vegetable-heavy pastas, like beet agnolotti or a tajarin with white beans and cracklins. Just be sure to ask how the beets are doing - and really listen.
Monnie Burke’s in Pilsen is already a large restaurant, and when you factor in the incredibly long back patio, it basically becomes a wormhole ripping through space and time all the way into Bridgeport. The patio is enclosed and invisible from the street, and it even has its own bar. In fact, it might even have its own zip code. Either way, the well-rounded menu runs the gamut from burrata to burgers and includes a pork shank that’s really fantastic. It’s perfect for a last-minute group dinner in the neighborhood.
This little Filipino restaurant in Wicker Park works well for date night, dinner with a friend, or even just having some wine and the chicken adobo alone at the bar. The cozy and dimly-lit interior makes Cebu charming inside, but the charm factor increases even more when you can sit on their small, tree-lined back patio. It feels like the kind of tiny urban backyard you’re certain exists but have never experienced for yourself, like exact change or a runner’s high. Don’t skip out on dessert while you’re here - the pastries are fantastic, and the halo halo is some of the best we’ve had in Chicago.
M. Henry is a very popular, very crowded brunch spot in Andersonville. This restaurant also has a little back patio that you might not notice, because if you’re here on a weekend there are about 784 people between you and it. But M. Henry is also open during the week, and it’s way less busy then. Order things like bacon-wrapped baked eggs, cinnamon roll french toast, or crab cake benedict and relax knowing that the hidden back patio means there’s a good chance your boss won’t see that you’re eating pancakes instead of having your eyes dilated.
At first it looks like the front patio at La Storia, an Italian restaurant in the Gold Coast, is your best bet for dinner outside here. But don’t let the misdirection fool you - there’s actually a hidden back courtyard that’s way more appealing. It’s filled with pretty string lights and has the perfect atmosphere for a romantic dinner outside. This is a great place to avoid the neighborhood foot traffic. After all, those dozens of dogs being pushed around in strollers would only make you feel guilty about the currently empty aquarium in your apartment.