Where To Eat & Drink When You’re Remembering How To Socialize
20 spots where you can be a social butterfly who has just emerged from the cocoon you call an apartment.
After months of lockdown restrictions and wintry inside time, New York is slowly returning to its former state of normalcy. Covid vaccine rates are on the rise, the weather has turned relatively pleasant, and our pets are sick of seeing us wear the same sweatshirt for the third week in a row. It’s finally time to emerge from our apartment cocoons like the vaccinated (or soon-to-be) butterflies our lord and savior Anthony Fauci said we’d be.
As exciting as the prospect of spring socializing may seem, it’s possible you’re a bit rusty when it comes to making dining decisions beyond “let’s go eat Trader Joe’s Scandinavian Swimmers in the park.” Maybe you’re not sure how to navigate the dizzying universe of outdoor seating structures, or you said yes to seeing a friend who, frankly, you don’t want to see for more than an hour. Or perhaps you feel intense pressure to do an exquisite job playing the role of human who has their sh*t together in front of someone you see yourself dating by November. That’s where we come in.
We’ve gathered these NYC restaurants and bars with ample outdoor seating that will make socializing just a touch easier. And remember, you’ll have to order food with any purchased alcohol regardless of whether you go to a bar or restaurant. So go forth, wear a mask, sanitize, generously tip your servers, and have fun being social this spring.
Xilonen is permanently closed
photo credit: David A. Lee
We’ve spent many restless nights contemplating potential share plate scenario with third-tier friends. How do you tell someone you don’t want their cutlery to touch yours without offending them? This is all to say that Xilonen in Greenpoint is a restaurant where you can eat a personal carrot tostada or purple potato taco off your own damn plate and not worry about sharing. Their vegan and vegetarian Mexican food is thrilling to eat, partly because it’s prettier than anything that happened to us in 2020 and partly because of their commitment to letting vegetables be the stars of every bite. Plus, the restaurant is situated right on the edge of McCarren Park so you can always go for a stroll before or after.
Yun Cafe & Asian Market
We all have friends who insist on trying the newest, most exciting food in the city when you hang out (it’s likely you are that type of friend - we certainly are). Take that person to this excellent Burmese restaurant that opened in fall of 2020 on the lower level of the Roosevelt Avenue Subway station in Jackson Heights. They’re one of only two restaurants in NYC serving Burmese dishes like cold salads, chicken curry noodles, and comforting mohinga. We recommend getting your food to-go and then sit in the pedestrian plaza right outside.
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It’s possible you’re planning a dinner that’s not really a dinner. It’s more of a post-hibernation social debut to prove that you’re still very hot and know about cool new stuff. Such an Event requires a venue that’s equal parts exciting, new, and a little fancy (with a price that reflects all of those attributes). If Nolita works as a meeting place, Kimika is exactly what you’re looking for. The menu combines Italian and Japanese cooking techniques and ingredients, like gooey rice cake lasagna with sweet Italian sausage and light and crispy fried pizzettes with stracciatella from Di Palos, thinly sliced mortadella, miso, and pistachios. Get a sake martini or a chamomile negroni, sit outside on Kimika’s spacious corner sidewalk patio, and remember to blink often but not too often.
Corner Social is a neighborhood party spot in Harlem with the occasional (masked) DJ. This Lenox Avenue bar and restaurant is offering outdoor dining on their sidewalk space on weekdays from 4-11pm, and weekends from noon-11pm. The menu skews mostly American, with dishes like crab cakes, hot chicken, and a green chile cheeseburger you may or may not get on your white shirt while trying to look timeless-chic-minimalist.
Even if you worry you’ll spend too much of dinner talking about innocuous domestic details that have consumed your life for months (like buying new curtains), the lamb haneeth at this classic Yemenite restaurant in Downtown Brooklyn will keep the conversation flowing. It’s slow cooked for hours, and comes with complimentary homemade bread, salad, and marag (soup/broth) that is perfect for nights when it still feels like winter outside.
The back patio at this Ethiopian restaurant is right behind a brownstone in Harlem, and eating a vegetable combo or some doro wot here is an excellent way to spend some relaxed time in the sun (away from the busy street) with a person you haven’t seen outside of their Zoom box for a year. You can both order personal combo platters so as to avoid cross contamination while sopping up red lentils with a handful of spongy injera.
For all those looking for a sunny social experience (in part, so you can continue to do nothing at night other than watch Schitt’s Creek and Search Party intermittently), outdoor dim sum in Chinatown is our favorite daytime dining option these days. You may not see many roving carts on Golden Unicorn’s sidewalk setup, but you’ll still be able to order dumplings, fried shrimp balls, and egg custard tarts until 3pm every day. Our favorite dim sum dish is the baked pork pastries, which come as flaky, egg-washed triangles of pastry stuffed with sweet pork hunks. You’re going to want at least two to yourself.
photo credit: Strangeways
Strangeways is a restaurant in Williamsburg that could easily win a garden design competition show. The restaurant is essentially one huge covered patio surrounded by hanging plants, towering trees, and potted plants. Plus, this outdoor-only Williamsburg serves one of our new favorite backyard burgers in the city - complete with a dry-aged patty covered in a cascading layer of sharp cheddar and topped with lettuce, onion, and special sauce. Up front, they’ve got a row of heated picnic tables that work for small groups, plus there’s a quieter corner in the back with a bunch of heated two-top tables.
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Outdoor dinner at Oda House on the Upper East Side will feel casual and bread-filled, in case those adjectives are priorities for your re-entrance into society. The menu at this fantastic Georgian restaurant has things like lamb kebabs, khinkali dumplings, and some cheesy khachapuri you can easily cut down the middle. They’ve set up a covered sidewalk patio with tons of plants on East 73rd Street. You can check out their outdoor seating any day from noon to 9pm, or book a table ahead of time online.
If you’re looking for a fun group dinner spot for a couple people who usually go out together. This Japanese restaurant in Chinatown has everything from tabletop jingisukan grills to French fries with uni and anchovies. But what really sets Dr. Clark apart are the eight outdoor kotatsu tables where you can sit with a group of three to six people under a roof and a disco ball. These tables are reservation-only, so make sure to check out their website ahead of time.
Meeting up with someone you decidedly don’t want to eat a full dinner with? The Immigrant in the East Village is one of our favorite places to hang out these days for a drink and a snack. They have a rotating selection of wines by the glass listed on their chalkboard behind the bar (we recommend taking a picture when you first arrive and then leisurely zooming in on your phone at the table), as well as shareable cheese plates with grapes and crackers. Plus, the people watching on East 9th Street is stimulating enough to entertain you for at least 45 minutes.
John Brown Smokehouse
Like the majority of the people you text on your regular basis, John Brown BBQ moved during the pandemic. In its new Long Island City space, the BBQ joint is still serving the same gloriously crunchy burnt ends, smoky brisket, and rich pork belly - the only new thing to note is the outdoor setup. They’ve got a huge courtyard where you can claim a table and hang out for as long as it takes for you to grow tired of trying to understand how March Madness works.
We’re big believers in Fish as a social activity, especially in Astoria. If you want to point at a fish and advise someone on exactly how you want it cooked, know that this Egyptian restaurant on Ditmars Boulevard is open and ready for you. Go inside to pick out your fish, and then head back to your outdoor table and order from their non-seafood menu. We’d suggest getting the dip appetizer sample, some grilled octopus, and then making a pita sandwich with the tahina, eggplant salad, and thinly-sliced tentacles.
Small talk has always been awful, and after months without practice, you’ve become borderline repulsed by it. So instead of asking your friend about their cat’s dietary habits, focus the conversation on ordering as many bright green momos as possible from this Himalayan/Nepalese in Sunnyside. And don’t leave with an order of their lightly spicy lamb soup with chunks of radish and the tender beef tongue mixed with bok choy that comes with a big, fluffy whole wheat tingmo. And the next time you need to meet up with someone you haven’t spoken to in nearly a year, remember that you can also come back to Dawa’s sidewalk patio this spring.
Moonrise Izakaya is permanently closed
photo credit: Moonrise Izakaya
Here’s a UWS option for people looking for more of a party dinner than an intimate heart-to-heart reunion after months without hanging out. This Japanese drinking-and-bar-snacks spot on West 96th Street is always a fun place to consume sake and cheesy corn, but especially so on their outdoor sidewalk patio. They also recently launched brunch where you can become rather intimate with a plate of karaage chicken and syrupy, matcha waffles. Go online or text 646-541-2506 for reservations.
Ayada is our favorite Thai spot in Elmhurst. Considering the quality and variety of Thai food in this neighborhood, that’s a very big deal. Eat the drunken noodles and panang curry on Ayada’s sidewalk patio and allow yourself to forget about phrases like “frozen dinner” and “microwave meal” for just a moment. Their raw shrimp salad is another one of their dishes we think about constantly, and if you want a different kind of raw shellfish, they make an excellent som tum with chunks of shell-on blue crab mixed in.
Even on a weeknight, we always feel like it’s the weekend at Rogers Garden. The huge patio at this rum bar on the border of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush has lawn chairs, turf, and murals galore, with tons of special programming beyond the cocktails and snacks on the menu. Check out their Instagram page so you don’t miss one of their special pop-up nights or live music events.
Any discussion about the best Mexican food in NYC needs to include Casa Enrique, so, naturally, any conversation about where to meet up for a casual meal in LIC should as well. Dishes like the chile relleno in a perfectly sweet tomato sauce, and chicken covered in rich, chocolatey mole are available on their partially covered patio. But even if you just need a low-key option for drinks and tres leches outdoors, Casa Enrique is here for you.
King Tai advertises “perpetual to-go cocktail service,” which is something we’d like to carve into a tree with a heart around it. This Crown Heights bar serves to-go rum cocktails every day between 4pm and 11pm from a little window, and there are a few tables where you can hang out with a friend, date, or friend who thinks it’s a date. And if you like the sound of jerk pork banh mi, and jerk chicken nachos sound like something you’d be into, stop by Wednesday through Friday when the bar hosts a restaurant pop-up with a Jamaican spot called C Marty’s Jerk.
If you don’t want to sit at a restaurant for too long, but still want to eat something great outside, grab a table at this Thai spot in Bushwick. Tong has a partially-covered sidewalk patio wrapped in hundreds of string lights, but it’s the huge selection of kub klaem here that deserves your undivided attention. From banana blossom pancakes to grilled octopus skewers covered in a chili lime sauce you’ll wish was being sold by the bottle, all 13 of their Thai small plates are ideal for grabbing a light bite with someone you talked to in a year. Plus, they’ve got passionfruit Thai tea, imported beer, and a bunch of cocktails on the menu made with Thai spirits like Mekhong rum.