When it’s winter, you want to avoid heading off into your night without a down-to-the-second plan for where you’re going and exactly how long it’ll take you to get there, and how much of that time will be spent freezing your ass off in the cold.
Summer, on the other hand, means you actually want to be outside (except for those days when you definitely do not want to be outside), which means there’s a whole lot more room for spontaneity. 6pm on a Thursday and haven’t made your plan yet? Besides all the other just-off-work humans standing in your way, your eating and drinking options are endless. Here are some of the best outdoor spots to take advantage.
Check out the rest of our 2017 Summer Guide here.
Malatesta is that ideal West Village Italian restaurant you knew had to exist somewhere, but could never actually find. They keep their windows and doors open all summer, so in addition to the plentiful sidewalk seating, every seat in the house feels sort of outside. It’s walk-in only, which means it’s a great spontaneous move. Just be sure to bring cash.
You know those cool friends of yours who always invite you over to their back porch to eat homemade pizza and drink wine? Yeah, we don’t have those either. But Gristmill is a pretty excellent substitute. Not only do they make really good pizza - they’re also serving creative, seasonal food that’s way more fun than anything you’d expect from a little neighborhood place. Like everything garlic knots with smoked salmon, or a coffee sundae with cake and pie pieces and sprinkles. Gristmill is worth a spontaneous trip to Park Slope if you feel like mixing things up.
Dante is one of those restaurants we never stop sending people to. An early-in-the-game drinks date that could turn into dinner? An easy big group dinner? You’re wandering around Soho or Greenwich Village and kind of want to drink a negroni and eat some burrata outside? Dante works for all of them. The setup here is sidewalk seating, but the chairs face out in that way that’s extremely pleasant and vaguely European-feeling.
There’s some kind of magic forcefield bubble that hovers on top of LaRina’s back patio. Another word for it? The Feel Good Factor. It’s in full force at this neighborhood Italian spot in Clinton Hill, where you can split a pasta tasting menu for $37 or just go all-in on a personal bowl with your carafe of wine. We have no idea why this place isn’t absolutely slammed nightly, but you should be taking advantage of it now, whenever the sudden urge to eat pasta outside strikes.
If you haven’t been to Lilia yet, it’s probably because you’re not into the idea of staying up until 12:01am to try to make a reservation, and you’re even less into the idea of trying your luck at a walk-in only to be told you’re not getting in tonight. Which is exactly why you should file it in away in your brain for a spontaneous occasion. On a summer evening when you get off work early - or on a weekend when you’re down to eat on a geriatric schedule - head over to this incredible modern Italian restaurant. They open at 5:30pm, and if you get there in the first hour, you have an excellent shot at sitting on their plentiful sidewalk seating. Stop making excuses and just go eat here. You will not regret it.
If you find yourself around the Nomad/Murray Hill area on a warm night, you have a few options for eating outside: there are a handful of places with solid sidewalk seating, a couple not-too-cheesy rooftops, and a lot of extremely cheesy rooftops. But your best option is popping into The Cannibal, which has a semi-covered back garden and a menu that’s perfect for a full-on meat feast.
Sauvage is a somewhat-French bistro in Greenpoint that’s owned by the people behind Maison Premiere, and it’s a very pretty place to have a meal. The overall vibe is pretty much 100% French bistro, straight down to the chairs outside that look like they got pulled off a sidewalk of a fancy neighborhood in Paris. The food is all quite good - it could be described as somewhere between modern French and farm-to-table, which means you’ll find everything from white asparagus with trout roe to nettle ravioli to a very good burger.
Caracas Arepa’s original East Village location is a place we’ve probably had 15 random spontaneous dinners at over the years - it’s one of those spots you can always walk into for a cheap, highly enjoyable dinner without thinking too hard about it. The Williamsburg location is similar, with a few added bonuses. One, an awesome backyard patio. Two, a full bar - there’s actually a rum bar called Roneria that’s attached. Three, the ability to make reservations for a group of five to ten. This is a spontaneous dinner guide, but we don’t like to withhold useful information. You shouldn’t have a problem walking in with a small group.
“What do you feel like for dinner?” “Idk, steak?” probably isn’t your typical casual Tuesday night text conversation. But if you have El Almacén in your rotation, it can be. This is a charming little under-the-radar Argentinian place right off the Bedford L stop, where you can get a great, affordable steak (and lots of other things ranging from enchiladas to avocado fries) and sit on their little back patio while you eat. It’s perfect for everything from a group dinner to a laid-back date.
Are you wearing boat shoes? Do you have a list of the best restaurants in several European beach destinations? If so, Bar Pitti is probably in your regular rotation. This restaurant definitely attracts a scene, but we’re here to tell you it’s also a great place to stop in for a dinner when you’re wandering around the West Village or Greenwich Village, unsure of where to go. There’s an unusually large sidewalk seating area, the pastas are always great, and it’s actually not absurdly expensive.
The ultimate wine bar that does not suck, June is the kind of place you want to make carbon copies of and put in every neighborhood so you never have to be too far from it. They pour interesting natural wines, they make great cocktails, and the small plates are actually good - not just good for a wine bar. The string-light-covered back patio is nice and quiet, perfect for impressing someone without looking like you’re trying too hard. And if it’s one of those sticky nights where being outside only sounds good in theory, the indoor space is just as attractive.
In the summer, our default still-haven’t-made-a-plan-but-want-to-be-outside move is Lighthouse. What it lacks in views (the big picnic tables outside look out onto the street), it makes up for in incredibly good food, incredibly nice servers, and an excellent oyster happy hour that runs until 7:30pm nightly. Very little can feel wrong when you’re drinking a $25 bottle of rose, eating $1 oysters, and have kind of healthy but very satisfying food on the way.
Sally Roots is the kind of place you wish your entire crew would assemble at regularly. It’s a part American, part Carribbean place in Bushwick with a big backyard, plenty of tropical cocktails, and food like jerk chicken, a burger with a pineapple, and some kinda-healthy stuff too. This is a low-risk-high-reward type spot for a last-minute dinner.
Our favorite Chinese food in Brooklyn happens to have an awesome back patio on which to enjoy it. Come for a laid-back early in the game date, or maximize your menu sampling potential by coming with a group. As long as you get an order of long dumplings, there’s no wrong way to do King’s County.
Need to get some tasty but not too pricey food in your body before a night of running around the East Village? Start with one of the sidewalk tables at Esperanto on Avenue C, an always-fun Latin restaurant serving up exactly the food you want to eat all summer: guacamole, ceviches, citrusy salads, and main courses topped with fantastic mango salsa. Also: caipirinhas and mojitos. Lots of them.
A good, kind of trendy, but not fancy restaurant in the East Village/Noho area where you and your friends can probably get in on a moment’s notice? That’s Bar Primi for you. The outdoor seating on Bowery is prime real estate.
If you’ve ever been on a third date or to a casual dinner with your old roommate on the Upper East Side, you’re probably familiar with Uva and its reliable Italian food. Next step: get familiar with its back patio.