When warm months roll around, everyone in Chicago knows to head to the Gold Coast for lively patio action at the likes of Gibsons and Tavern on Rush. During prime time, you’ll have to wait up to two hours to settle into these steakhouses’ sidewalk seats, but it’s well worth it just for the people watching. And while it’s great to sit out in the open air in the most coveted places in town, the food’s always perfect. But to be honest, who wants to eat a big ol’ Porterhouse and mashed potatoes when it’s 85 degrees in the shade? For your eating, drinking and chilling pleasure, we’ve rounded up the absolute best spots to nosh lightly in alfresco splendor.
Tavern on Rush. Located kitty-corner to its fierce competitor Gibsons, Tavern features a sprawling patio that snakes around its exterior. Big sellers during the summer include fire-roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta; sweet basil pesto & crab pizza and the grilled Tavern chicken Caprese. “Tavern” Is the top spot for outdoor dining. The ambience, food and view has kept this spot at the top for outdoor patios for over 15 years.
Gibsons Steakhouse Outdoor Patio. Speaking of scenes, no steakhouse is more notorious than this Gold Coast heavyweight, where patrons wait patiently for outdoor seats for more than two hours. Your best bet is to do it up right with some chilled delights: spicy lobster cocktail, Alaskan Red King crab cocktail, spicy lobster Cobb salad or a peppercorn steak salad.
III Forks, Complete with “PRIVATE CABANAS” this place will rock out this summer. Located on the second level, the spacious rooftop lounge offers guests sweeping views of the neighborhood’s beautiful residential and business skyscrapers. It’s heated, with fireplaces, so it’s open year-round. It also serves as a popular after-work watering hole for area residents and workers of the New East Side area of Chicago. While you may order the New York strip, it’s much more likely guests will order smaller, share-able plates of strip steak flatbread, spicy Szechwan filet skewers or house-made lamb meatballs dressed in a caramelized fennel demi sauce.
Keefer’s Get It While You Can: The spacious outdoor patio is ideal to hang out in before jumping into the action around the corner on Hubbard Street. Grub from the bistro menu, which includes such classics as grilled top sirloin and frites, a sliced tenderloin steak salad or chopped salad.
Roka Akor. Known as both a superior sushi spot and steakhouse, Roka Akor never disappoints with its steak and seafood offerings. Those looking for something to enjoy in the heat should order a number of hot small plates. A great mix for an evening includes Wagyu beef and kimchi dumplings, crispy squid, chicken yakitori skewers and sweet corn & edamame dumpling.
Morton’s Steakhouse-Wacker Place. Outdoor seating for the Loop location of this classic Chicago steakhouse only seats about 15. Most diners know to arrive on the early end—especially if they’ve got tickets to nearby shows at Chicago Theatre or the Goodman. You’ll never go wrong with dishes like jumbo lump crab cakes, shrimp scampi or center-cut filet mignon.
EPIC Sky. If you’re super hungry, dine on a number of steak entrees in EPIC’s main restaurant. Those willing to munch on smaller bites should book a cabana on EPIC Sky’s rooftop and enjoy lamb meatball sliders, goat cheese & mushroom flatbread or fried chicken biscuits. It’s slightly hidden between two larger buildings, but it’s worth seeking out for those wishing to avoid scene-heavy spots like NoMI Garden and theWit’s Roof.
Chicago Firehouse. Remember those childhood summers you spent gleefully in your great-aunt’s backyard? That’s what alfresco dining’s like at Chicago Firehouse, which is animated with a variety of floral displays. Brunch consists of items such as tasty egg white scrambles that include a choice of three ingredients (spinach, tomato, asparagus, wild mushroom, bell pepper, cheddar cheese, goat cheese, ham or sausage), as well as a smoked salmon club and omelet amped up with tenderloin tips. Dinner’s best bets in warm weather include chili-rubbed grilled swordfish with quinoa and black beans; half Amish brick chicken with whipped potatoes; and the CFH filet “flight” of three, three-ounce medallions with bleu cheese, black pepper parmesan and horseradish crusts.
Chicago Cut. The sprawling 100-seat outdoor patio lines the riverside, so that diners may peacefully enjoy breakfast (7-11am Monday through Friday), lunch or dinner in a somewhat secluded setting. Watch the boats go by as you nosh on early-bird bites of an organic egg white omelet or a sandwich stuffed with scrambled eggs, smoked Applewood bacon, white cheddar and tomatoes. Head here for dinner and enjoy BBQ ribs, a shellfish “bouquet” (includes lobster, shrimp, Alaskan king crab and oysters) or spinach fettuccine with summer vegetables.
Smith & Wollensky. The outdoor patio isn’t half as fancy as Smith & Wollensky’s interior, but its sheer appeal is that it’s right off the Chicago River. Treat yourself to one of the signature salads and top it off with meat or seafood (prices range $7-$14). For instance, you can top your Caesar with Ahi tuna, sliced tenderloin, jumbo chilled shrimp or pan-seared salmon.
Roka Akor. Known as both a superior sushi spot and steakhouse, Roka Akor never disappoints with its steak and seafood offerings. Those looking for something to enjoy in the heat should order a number of hot small plates. A great mix for an evening includes Wagyu beef and kimchi dumplings, crispy squid, chicken yakitori skewers and sweet corn & edamame dumpling