It's been a punishing winter, but now that the weather's reliably warm it's time to get outside. This city has plenty of outdoor dining—so much so, in fact, that it can be hard to know where to go. To help you out, we've rounded up some of our favorite restaurants, from cheap to blow-out, that satisfy on both food and outdoor atmosphere.
Shake Shack, New York's hometown favorite burger chain, has locations scattered across the city, but the Madison Square Park flagship is arguably the best. Besides the food, there's nothing like eating your Shackburger in the middle of a park. Pick up a burger, fries, a ShackMeister Ale (created for the chain by Brooklyn Brewery), and enjoy.
Louie and Ernie's Pizza
Some of New York's best, most no-nonsense pizza, with outdoor seating to boot? It's everything you could hope for in the Bronx. The sausage pie looks unassuming, but the chunks of juicy, fennel-spiked meat really are special.
Lechonera La Piraña
When it comes to eating outside, you can't beat the simplicity of street food, but the Lechonera La Piraña trailer in the Bronx isn't just some street cart. Eating among the folding chairs always feels a little like a party, and the eponymous lechon—fatty, super-crisp-skinned, and gloriously porky—doesn't disappoint. The pastelillos are a surprise hit, too.
L & B Spumoni Gardens
The asphalt landscape of Brooklyn's L & B is a rite of passage for pizza lovers, native Brooklynites, and anyone who wants to know what New York is all about. Summer nights bring thick Brooklyn accents, a unique Sicilian-esque square pizza, and spumoni, a creamy frozen dessert that's caught between ice cream and Italian ice. You're here for the scene as much as the food, but that pizza hits a definite sweet spot.
When it opened in 2007, Back Forty became one of the major players in Manhattan's "Eat Local" restaurant scene. It's retained that relevance with sensible but delicious dishes of pork chops, grilled trout, and a grilled kale Caesar. Come warm weather the restaurant starts up weekly crab boils (buy tickets in advance), which may be the best way to make the most of their charming outdoor seating.
Bedouin Tent's fresh pita, fatty lamb, and vibrant vegetable mezze are all just the thing for a neighborhood Middle Eastern restaurant, but their garden is an extra treat. It's a homey kind of space, astroturf at all, which just feels like the right pairing for a homey meal of creamy hummus, pillowy flatbreads, and some excellent lamb kebabs.
Bierkraft is primarily a destination for beer—a counterpressure growler fill system ensures that your beer stays nice and carbonated even if you wait a few days to crack it open. But with a charming patio and great sandwiches filled with the likes of Serrano ham and roast eggplant, you'd do well to stay awhile and pick up a growler on your way out.
If the crowds are any indication, we're hardly the first to recognize Cafe Mogador for its great open patio space; the St. Marks location (there's a less crowded one in Williamsburg) has been satisfying the brunch crowd with great Moroccan food for 30 years. Mezze and tagines are the order here: excellent hummus, greaseless fried eggplant, and a resoundingly rich lamb shank tagine.
You might not be able to make it to Paris this summer, but if you head uptown you'll find Harlem's Chez Lucienne putting out bistro classics like soupe de poissons, coq au vin, and steak frites. There's plenty of room on the patio to sit, dig into some moules frites, and enjoy a bistro done right in Harlem. Not all sidewalk seating is created equal in New York, but Lucienne offers a more peaceful way to take in Lenox Avenue.
You can get Brussels sprouts salad at any number of restaurants, but how many of them come with briny trout roe and crunchy sunflower seeds? And how many do a take of fish and chips with cod, yucca, and singed wheels of citrus? This is the subtly inventive fare you'll find at the Cleveland, and it's best eaten in their gorgeous semi-secret garden festooned with rare greenery for Soho.
Fritzl's Lunch Box
A recent addition to the Bushwick dining scene, Fritzl's offers a small menu of pastas and sandwiches, but the burger is the restaurant's pride and joy. Think of it this way: are you looking for a stunning city view or a casual outdoor space for a simple but well-done meal? If the latter, Fritzl's is your neighborhood joint.
Astoria's self-described "paninoteca" is beloved by locals for its well made salads, crostini, and panini. Add in cheese from Murray's and an affordable selection of wine and beer to round out your meal, then eat it all in what may be Astoria's nicest garden space: wide wood tables under a long fabric canopy, with a large table that seats eight in the back.
Flatbush Farm and Bar(n)
Tucked away just off a busy intersection at the edge of Park Slope, Flatbush Farm is two spots in one. The table-service restaurant and the more casual Flatbush Farm Bar(n) share a backyard, so you have a choice between just stopping by for a beer and bar snacks or indulging in the full dinner menu.
Dumbo has some of the best waterfront views in Brooklyn, and Gran Electrica takes full advantage of the location—the back patio has a prime view of the Brooklyn Bridge. The restaurant, drawing influence from both Brooklyn and Mexico, features hand-pressed tortillas, elegant Mexican fare, and an extensive tequila and mezcal list. Don't miss the quesadilla with chorizo and potato and the stunningly red beet margarita.
The Lobster Joint
The Lobster Joint's backyard is an expansive graveled lot full of picnic tables, so even during peak hours you'll probably get seated without a problem. Though the lobster rolls aren't quite the best in the city, they're well worth an order, as are greaseless fried oysters and crab tossed with tartar sauce.
Locanda Vini e Olii
The only sign outside of Clinton Hill's Locanda Vini e Olii reads "Lewis Drug Store," but the tables out front in the warmer months let you know that the space isn't filling prescriptions anymore. Instead, you'll find Tuscan-inspired fare like Venetian sardines in saor and potato and pancetta tortelli.
Head down to Bay Ridge and you'll find a bar and beer garden serving craft beer and homemade hot dogs in some funky flavors. Heaters keep the backyard open in the winter, too, and there are TVs indoors and out tuned in to the night's sporting event. Don't miss the "everything" fried pickles.
Andy Ricker took the Thai food scene in America by storm when he opened up the original Pok Pok in Portland, Oregon. His New York outpost tucked away in Brooklyn's Columbia Street Waterfront neighborhood, has been no less of a success for its always-faithful northern Thai food. A spacious garden feels straight out of a Chiang Mai side street, a fitting setting for meals of papaya salad and grilled pork neck.
East Williamsburg pizzeria Roberta's has become a Brooklyn icon since opening in 2008. The exterior might be a little grungy, but the patio out back is anything but, a surprising touch of elegance for the industrial neighborhood. Come for the pizza, the burger, brunch, pasta, charcuterie, and then some.
Did you know that one of the city's most beloved Thai restaurants has outdoor seating? It does, and it's as slick as the dining room (which seats over a hundred). Come for the spicy fried watercress salads and all the curries, arguably the best of their kind in the city.
Astoria is the destination for Greek dining in New York, and Telly's Taverna is one of the best spots in the neighborhood. Mains are fine, but the menu shines with its mezze, which are reasonably priced and generously portioned. The spicy feta dip, Greek-style fried potatoes, and fried zucchini are standouts. Come warm weather, the front floor to ceiling windows open wide to let in the air, and the back garden is open for business.
Birreria at Eataly
It's no secret that New York City is lacking in open space, but we have more than our share of rooftops, and Birreria on top of Eataly is the Flatiron's oasis with wonderful beer and housemade sausages. The only trouble is getting in—this spot commands long lines.
Stepping into the elegant, vine-enclosed garden at Maison Premiere, you're immediately transported from Williamsburg to New Orleans. The restaurant has a full menu of seafood dishes, but is best known for its great oyster selection—show up during happy hour and every bivalve on the list is just a dollar each. Absinthe cocktails drive the NOLA experience home at what may be the city's most civilized oyster bar.
Sitting right on the edge of Kips Bay, Riverpark has two options for outdoor seating: a formal patio and a more casual terrace furnished with communal picnic tables. Both options put you right on the edge of the East River, but Riverpark isn't just about the view—Tom Colicchio opened the restaurant with Gramercy Tavern and Craft veteran Chef Sisha Ortúzar, who is putting out a menu of bar classics like an excellent cheeseburger and upscale offerings like short rib ravioli and grilled swordfish.
A splurge restaurant but well worth it for special occasions, and there's a beautiful patio for eating outdoors. One of the city's top seafood restaurants, hands-down.