Imagine this: You’re sitting outside at a charmingly-small-but-not-annoyingly-small wooden table. There is no M1 Bus interrupting the very important comment you have just made about burrata. Instead of blood, amaro spritzes run through your veins. Instead of traffic, there are only other tables of diner spaced at least six-feet apart. Are you abroad? No. You’re in the middle of Canal Street in Manhattan.
Back in the beginning of the summer of 2020, Mayor de Blasio announced that designated sections of the city would be closed off to traffic on weekends and certain weekdays to give restaurants and other businesses free reign of the road. It’s called the The Open Streets: Restaurants program. We went through all of the Open Streets areas in NYC and chose the best clusters of outdoor dining available. All you have to do is pick which street to plop yourself in the middle of.
Brooklyn: 5th Avenue Between President & 5th Streets
Saturdays 11am-10:30pm & Sundays 11am-10pm
Park Slope has tons of restaurants with outdoor dining along 5th Avenue (most of which shuts down to traffic on weekends), but very few of them work for a big night out with a group, or for a cool dinner with a date you want to impress. Haenyeo - a Korean spot we’ve sending people to for years - is an exception. We like starting our meals here with grilled oysters with seaweed butter and fried chicken in a sweet-sticky glaze, and then ordering dukboki fundido topped with chorizo and Oaxacan cheese, as well as sizzling pork KBBQ served with ssam. Drinking in the middle of the street is advised as well, so try some makgeolli or a cocktail (we especially like the “Seoul Train” with rye, absinthe, ume plum wine, and bitters).
In our minds, summertime, snapper, and oxtails always work well together. That’s why this Caribbean spot on 5th Avenue makes for an ideal outdoor dining location when there are no cars in sight and a cool breeze (if you’re lucky). In addition to dishes like jerk lamb meatballs and stuffed snapper you’ll want to eat on a hot summer day, they also make memorable rum cocktails. The catch is, a lot of people know how great Negril is already, which is why their first-come, first-served street patio set-up is usually packed on weekends. Our advice? Show up early for a table and oxtails should be in reach.
Al Di La
Eating spaghetti vongole and drinking wine at Al Di La feels romantic pretty much anywhere you sit - but especially so in the middle of a big pedestrian plaza as the sun is setting. You should fill your date night table with regional specialties from the northern part of Italy. We’ve never been disappointed with any of the pasta, whether that’s the tortelli filled with ricotta or the homemade black ink spaghetti with spicy octopus confit.
Queens: Woodside Avenue Between 76th and 78th Streets
Fridays 5pm-10pm, Saturdays & Sundays 12pm-10pm
This particular blocked-off section of Elmhurst happens to have some of our favorite Thai restaurants in the whole city. If you’re looking for something casual with just one other person, try Khao Kang. The food here changes every day, but you might find dishes like fried garlic pork with a sweet glaze or a Southern-style fish and vegetable curry that is equal parts sour and fiery.
It’s important that you bring a group to Ayada, due to the fact that you’re going to order an unreasonable amount of food. We can say this with 100% certainty, because it’s what happens to us every time we come here. Get the drunken noodles, the whole fried fish, the panang curry with a large mound of crispy duck, and be sure to start your meal with the raw shrimp salad.
The Bronx: 140th Street Between Brooks and Willis Avenues
Every day 8am-8pm
La Morada makes some of the best Mexican food in NYC, and we think anyone who loves Oaxacan food should try this place once. Their storefront is technically located around the corner from the blocked-off section of 140th Street in Mott Haven. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t order some mole Oaxaqueno and crispy gorditas to-go and hang out where there’s usually traffic. Make sure to check their Instagram for special events and fundraisers they often host to support a nearby community garden on 136th Street (which is managed by one of the chefs).
This all-day cafe serves everything from green goddess salads and chili con carne to maple-glazed cronuts and chocolate chip cookies the size of your face. Which is just another way of saying you can rely on Mottley Kitchen for a full brunch with your family or just stop by for a 3pm snack. In addition to their Open Streets seating outside, Mottley Kitchen also has a roof deck that’s best described as lush. They even host movie nights and yoga classes up there sometimes.
Manhattan: Amsterdam Avenue Between 96th and 106th Streets
Moonrise Izakaya is the sort of place where time moves inexplicably quickly and corn makes little sense without an accompanying skillet of gooey cheese. The Japanese menu here has everything from karaage and udon to matcha waffles during brunch. They stay open for outdoor dining until 10pm and you can text 646-541-2506 to make a reservation ahead of time.
Malecon Restaurant II
The Amsterdam Avenue location of this Dominican spot is open for outdoor dining for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Stop by for dishes like emparedados, mofongo de chicharron, and our personal favorite, rotisserie chicken. For $7.50, you get a half-bird with skin that tastes like it’s coated in brown sugar, and for another $4, you can and should add a side of boiled green bananas. If you’re looking for somewhere to bring your whole family for a traffic-free dinner, this is the place.
Brooklyn: Vanderbilt Avenue Between Atlantic Avenue and Park Place
Fridays 4-11pm, Saturdays & Sundays 11am-10pm
Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights has an inordinate amount of great places to eat - Nuaa Table (which you’ll find below), Olmsted, Oxalis, Faun, Chuko, Maison Yaki, and more. But of all of the spots on this stretch just north of Prospect Park, LaLou is the best place for a low-key wine and snacks meal. The long wine list is mostly made up of natural wines, with a big selection of familiar varietals from famous regions in France and Italy, as well as lesser-known options of which we always botch the pronunciation. Don’t all bring your dates at once, Prospect Height-ers.
The Nuaa Table
Normally Nuaa Table’s outdoor patio consists of a thin strip of bright green artificial turf with about five or so tables. During weekends, though, this relatively new Thai restaurant sets up way more places to sit right in the middle of Vanderbilt Avenue. Nuaa Table’s fresh Thai food - like crunchy papaya salad, sour sausage and crunchy rice salad, and Jasmine tea-smoked ribs that any pitmaster would fall for - make it one of the best new restaurants in the city.
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Queens: Bell Boulevard Between 38th and 41st Avenues
Saturdays 5:30pm-11pm & Sundays 12pm-9pm
Like the Astoria and East Village locations, Taverna Kyclades in Bayside serves all of their Greek food family-style, and they specialize in seafood. You can get things like stuffed clams, several types of whole fish, and grilled octopus - or you can do some pork kebabs and lamb chops. This place gets busy, so arrive early (and bring some friends so you can order a bunch of things).
You Garden Xiao Long Bao
Shanghai You Garden is named after the Yu Garden in the Old City section of Shanghai, which borders one of the longest-standing xiao long bao spots called Nanxiang Bun Shop. At their Bayside location (the original is in Flushing), you can choose between 10 varieties of xiao long bao, all dyed with different colors so you’ll be able to tell what you’re eating from the exterior, tender skin. Our favorites are the classic, bright-yellow crab and pork (which taste noticeably crabbier than most other versions in the city) and a giant thick-skinned version where you slurp the soup out of a straw. Get a bunch, cheers with your friends, and then proceed to suck out the meaty soup out of a gargantuan straw. Make sure to order a plate of pan-fried pork buns that have a thick exterior and crispy bottoms.
Manhattan: Doyers Street Between Bowery and Pell Streets
Every day, 12-11pm
If you’re looking for somewhere with lots of space for a weekend meal in Chinatown, Taiwan Pork Chop House’s outdoor setup is a great option. While the titular pork pork chops here are enjoyable (especially for $2.50 each), our favorite dishes at this spot are the fried rice cakes with shredded pork and the tender wontons drenched in chili oil.
As much as we have enjoyed outdoor dim sum this summer, we also suggest experiencing it without beeping cars and trucks rattling your saucers of shrimp rice rolls. Like Taiwan Pork Chop House, Nom Wah has the benefit of Doyers Street, where the whole street feels like an outdoor dining room with yellow umbrellas and foliage.
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Brooklyn: Hoyt Street Between Atlantic Avenue and Schermerhorn Street
Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays 12pm-11pm
This Boerum Hill bar on the corner of Hoyt and State Streets benefits from not one but two Open Streets closures, making it possibly the most fortunately positioned spot in the entire city. Every day, you can sit in the middle of State Street (or on Hoyt Street on weekends) and enjoy big towers of seafood and well-made cocktails. Plus, they run a daily Happy Hour (from 4-6pm on weekdays and 2-4pm on weekends) where you can get a dozen oysters for $25 and $1 of wine by the glass and draft beer. Also important: all of their summer cocktails are currently Nicholas Cage-themed. We’re not kidding.
Manhattan: Frederick Douglass Boulevard Between 112th and 120th Streets
Fridays 5pm-11pm, Saturdays 12-10pm, Sundays 12-9pm
We especially like Chocolat for brunch when you can eat anything from red velvet pancakes to ribs, as well as participate in a $20 bottomless-mimosa option. Come here if you need a fun spot for a daytime meal with your friends visiting from out of town.
Sitting on this iconic Harlem spot’s vine-covered, string-lit patio will only feel more comfortable with the absence of cars on weekends. The chicken and waffles are all but mandatory, and we also like the rich, tender short ribs that fall apart like the shirt purchased from Forever 21 in 2015. No matter what you decide to eat, get a side of mac and cheese.
If you’re in the business of finding a block-party atmosphere, consider Harlem Tavern. They serve things like burgers, frozen drinks, and chicken tenders, all under a big outdoor tent with speakers.
Vinateria’s corner patio is open on weekdays starting at 4pm and weekends starting at noon. If you really want to be strategic, stop by this Italian spot for Happy Hour, which runs every day from 4-6pm.
The Bronx: Arthur Avenue Between 188th Street and Crescent Avenue
Fridays 6-10pm, Saturdays 6-10pm, Sundays 1-9pm
photo credit: Dane Isaac
Zero Otto Nove
If you like the idea of eating a ton of red sauce pasta, fresh fish, and ending the night with sambuca and espresso in the middle of NYC’s true Little Italy, have dinner at Zero Otto Nove. A general rule of thumb while you’re eating at this classic Italian-American restaurant is to order whatever the “pasta in foil” is that day, the meatball appetizer, and a fresh and simple insalata di mare. We’d also recommend going out on a limb and trying any of the daily meat and fish specials.
Seafood admirers, please formally introduce yourself to Randazzo’s, a fish market on Arthur Avenue with a huge selection of fresh seafood. A lot of people do their grocery shopping here, so you’ll notice people buying everything from octopus imported from Italy to over 30 types of oysters. But, when the weather is nice, they set up a raw bar on the sidewalk out front where they shuck oysters and clams to order, and serve sea urchin you can eat standing up in the middle of the street.
Manhattan: Bond Street Between Lafayette and Bowery
Mondays-Fridays 4:30pm-11pm, Saturdays 10am-11pm, Sundays 11:30am-11pm
Il Buco makes the best Italian food in Noho. Even in extremely stressful and uncertain times, consuming some pasta, a black-kale salad, and a Negroni here will have similar effects to that of a fuzzy blanket or a prolonged hug. If you want to secure a table on a weekend (some of which are right in the middle of the blocked-off cobblestone street), make a reservation ahead of time here.
The primary reason this Thai restaurant is worth any wait time is their coconut crab curry. It’s golden in color and thin like soup, with big chunks of crab that you should fish out before your friend gets to them first. Eating this dish on a cool, car-less night on Bond Street will turn your life into a slow-motion montage set to “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” by Dionne Warwick.
Queens: 31st Avenue Between 33rd and 35th Streets
Saturdays & Sundays 12pm-11pm
Pizza in the middle of the street sounds like a birthday party fantasy we had long ago. And, if you’re in Astoria, Milkflower is where you should live it out. They make consistently good wood-fired pizzas, along with salads and other things you can share. Come for weeknight dinner or stop by for a casual date night and order a bottle of wine.
After closing for much of the pandemic, this Astoria panini spot is back open with a long menu of sandwiches served on pressed ciabatta. Get one with cured meat, like the speck with apricot butter, apple, and goat cheese. The sandwiches here aren’t necessarily large enough to constitute an entire meal, so get one of the huge salads or some crostinis on the side. Keep Il Bambino in mind for a casual date option with charcuterie, crostinis, and wine.
Manhattan: West 32nd Street Between 5th Avenue and Broadway
Fridays 5pm-11pm, Saturdays & Sundays 12-11pm
While BCD Tofu House isn’t currently open 24 hours like they typically are, you can still eat their excellent tofu stew until 12am every day. That, and the little fried fish that comes with the rest of your banchan.
At Woorijip, you’ll find Korean dishes like crispy squid pancakes, bulgogi kimbap, and about 100 other options. Stop by their outdoor area on a weekend when there are absolutely no cars around, and drink some beer or raspberry wine while you’re at it.
Typically, you have to take an elevator to eat Korean BBQ at Jongro. Now, you can sit on the street with pork belly and barbecue beef platters. Their outdoor area is complete with a turf floor, string lights, and the wonderful smell of ribeye and green tea noodles.
Pocha 32 is a party spot where we’ve historically enjoyed soju cocktails from a hollowed-out watermelon. Bring a few friends to this Korean spot’s outdoor area to try the budae jjigae,a big metal cauldron of ramen stew loaded with spam, rice cakes, kimchi, and hot dogs.
The Bronx: Alexander Avenue Between East 134th Street and Bruckner Boulevard
Thursdays & Fridays 2pm-8pm, Saturdays 11am-8pm
photo credit: Hannah Albertine
This South Bronx spot makes exceptional smoked chicken wings in a dry rub, along with a ton of other meat and BBQ sides that are perfect for a big, casual group meal. Dipping Hudson Smokehouse’s wings into their homemade apply, vinegar-based BBQ sauce tastes like fall decided to throw itself a party. So we recommend coming during their weekday Happy Hour (from 3-6pm), and loading up on wings, and baked beans laden with pineapple and pieces of tender brisket.
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This South Bronx is themed around Hip Hop. Meaning their bottomless brunch on Saturdays and Sundays between 12-5pm often includes a live DJ, and their outdoor dining structure has a mural of famous female artists. Each bottomless deal comes with unlimited mimosas, sangria, and live music for $19 per person. Plus, between dance moves in your seats, you can eat things like rum cake french toast, shrimp and grits, and a plate of eggs with fried white cheese, salami, and plantains.
Manhattan: Canal Street Between Orchard and Essex Streets
Every day 3-11pm
The Portuguese-inspired seafood at Cervo’s has always been exciting (at least to anyone who considers liking mollusks as an inherent personality trait). But the combination of sunshine and eating in the street is the real reason everyone we’ve ever stalked on the internet is eating here. Cervo’s has recreated their iconic yellow tile bar smack in the middle of the now blocked-off Canal Street. Apparently, this area is affectionately known as “The Tub.” Unless you show up before they open at 5:30pm, you’re going to have to wait at least an hour for The Tub, since there are no reservations to be had. Trust us, Cervo’s steamed-to-order clams, perfectly-pink lamb burger, and crispy fried shrimp heads make eating here well worth your time.
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It’s possible you know Clandestino as the bar where you hung out while waiting for a table at Cervo’s or Kiki’s back in 2017. In addition to beer and wine, they’ve been serving a short menu of bar snacks like a cheese plate and bratwurst. This is a good option if you’re looking for a weekend place in the neighborhood with a bunch of space to drink. On weekends, they put their wooden tables out into the blocked-off street. Think Paris, but with congregations of 19-year-olds wearing bucket hats and Thrasher t-shirts.