The Best Al Fresco Dining in Boston


Where to eat outdoors in Boston, MA. [Photographs: Rachel Lebeaux unless otherwise noted]

Boston isn't the friendliest city for year-round outdoor dining—and that's putting it mildly, given New England's infamously cold and snowy winters. But in these warmer months, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more appreciative dining public, or a multitude of restaurants more committed to unfurling al fresco set-ups into any space they can manage, many courting diners with outdoor musical performances, drink specials, street-fair-style tastings. Given how long Bostonians must wait to enjoy these outdoor spaces, restaurants generally keep their porches open well into the fall for those who want to linger over a refreshing cocktail, shared plate, or savored-to-the-last-bite dessert.

Selecting a spot to eat outdoors means choosing between a hidden garden or a table with a view, a lively scene or a little romantic seclusion. And of course, it depends on if you're craving margaritas or meatballs. Here's our guide to a range of patio favorites. You still have time to hit them all if you get started tonight.

For a Party on the 'PatiYo': Belly Wine Bar


[Photograph: Mike Diskin/Courtesy of Belly Wine Bar]

When your restaurant patio has its own moniker, you know it probably means business. At Belly Wine Bar in Kendall Square, set your sights on the "patiYo;" look for the 'Beef Lamb Veal Mutton' sign on one wall, a bevy of colorful picnic tables, and orbs of light dancing merrily above the well-sized space. There's a "patiYo" party the first Sunday of the month featuring live music and other amusements.

The restaurant's menu presents a lineup of enough salumi and cheese to make an Italian deli, alongside heartier fare like luxurious duck confit and rich, savory beef marrow bones. And of course, don't miss that wine list; this summer they've been offering 23 different rosés by the glass (or in handy 2-ounce tasters).

For a Mini European Vacation: Sophia's Grotto


The casual Mediterranean feel at Sophia's Grotto in Roslindale extends far beyond the menu. The sprawling brick courtyard, dotted with flowering plants and presided over by Roman-style statues, is a slice of Italy in Boston, and a popular meeting and special-occasion spot for residents on this side of the city. The upscale cheese shop backing up to the patio, as well as the nicely curated wine shop nearby, convey a real sense that good food and drink matter in this hidden garden.

Once you've selected your seat, order Sophia's meatballs, made with pork, beef, and veal, bobbing in a tangy plum tomato sauce. If your tastes lean spicy, there's paella overflowing with chorizo and a seafood buffet of briny clams, plump shrimp, and calamari rings, all tossed gently saffron-scented Arborio rice.

For a Tequila, Small Plates, and a Fireplace: Tico Boston


A meal at this Michael Schlow-helmed fusion of Latin and Spanish fare will probably kick off with tequila—the restaurant offers 140 selections, as well as tequila-based cocktails. Then you'll move onto small plates: a bright tuna ceviche "cooked" in lime juice perked up with serrano peppers and cilantro; and a vibrant dish of sweet corn and Thai basil that pops with smoky diced bacon and jalapeños. If you still have room, a tantalizing lineup of tacos awaits.

You might choose to enjoy these bites in the cavernous indoor dining room, but it would be a shame to miss the outdoor patio along Berkeley Street, rimmed in greenery and featuring a working fireplace encircled by lounge chairs and couches.

A Ritzy Streetside Brunch: Stephanie's on Newbury


Sophisticated Newbury Street is near the top of many Boston tourists' must-visit lists, and for 20 years, Stephanie's on Newbury has beckoned passersby to strain to see not only what's being eaten, but who's eating there. It's not a cheap meal, but that's the price one often pays for dining in the hub of the Hub.

If you're stopping by for brunch and you like your first meal of the day spicy, spring for the crab cake benedict, a fancy East Coast twist on your typical English-muffin base, topped with a couple of gloriously runny-yolked poached eggs and a jalapeño pepper-dotted hollandaise sauce that might leave your lips tingling. Wash that down with a fizzy mimosa that heaps orange-flavored Cointreau and Grey Goose atop the usual sparkling wine-and-fresh-OJ combo.

For a Romantic Mexican Dinner: Casa Romero


Whereas many spots in Back Bay are all about being seen, Casa Romero is all about focusing on the ones you're with. This hideaway in the shadow of the famed Prudential Tower is an antidote to the big-city hustle and bustle. Snake your way down Gloucester Street and then through the dining room and emerge onto a small back patio. It's private, serene, and awash in bright, saturated colors—the perfect backdrop for the restaurant's take on traditional Mexican cuisine.

In that warm glow, sample the restaurant's signature puerco adobado en chipotle y naranja, a hefty pork tenderloin awash in a fiery, citrusy glaze and grounded in smoky chipotle heat. To drink, go with a Margarita made with reposado tequila and Cointreau, or stick with your entrée's fruity theme and dress up your drink with Chambord raspberry liqueur.

For Some Tunes With Your Food: Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge


There are some steady competitors for al fresco dining in Jamaica Plain (tapas joint Tres Gatos and nearby Canary Square among them), but Bella Luna's oversized patio located within the Sam Adams Brewery complex gets the nod for the way this whimsical restaurant makes the most of its patio space. Bella Luna's patio hosts a summer music series on Wednesdays featuring live bands and occasionally serves Sam Adams brews you won't yet find on the general market.

Enjoy the music and drinks alongside the Menino pizza (named after Boston's former mayor.) This pie lets its meat flag fly with pepperoni and Italian sausage in a piquant red sauce, as well as mushrooms, peppers and onions woven atop a lightly charred base. Looking for some beer with your beer? The pulled pork for the nachos is braised in Sam Adams' Brick Red ale, then topped with a gooey layer of cheddar and Monterey jack cheese, and finished with a shower of tomatoes, black olives, and jalapeños.

For a Secret Garden Off the Beaten Path: dbar


Chef Christopher Coombs—known for French-influenced Deuxave in the Back Bay and steakhouse Boston Chops in the South End—started his Boston empire in his home neighborhood of Dorchester with dbar. The sleek, dark-wood interior melts into a perfectly idyllic back patio edged in foliage with high walls that shut out the traffic noise.

The menu draws upon the restaurant's rooftop garden; don't miss the summer vegetable salad, a crispy potato-stick basket wrapped around fluttery greens and a smattering of fava beans, asparagus tips, spring onions, and English peas. Unlike some salads, which rely on fatty add-ons, the focus is rightly on the vegetables here, touched only with a light avocado-based dressing. The bounties of the garden also make their way into the homemade tagliatelle, where the ribbons wrap around earthy morels, pearl onions, and green garlic tossed in a Madeira and crème fraiche-enriched sauce brightened by lemon. A fried araucana chicken egg crowns the dish.

dbar is known for its nightlife: if you stop by on a warm evening, order the 'Cool as a Cucumber' with cucumber-flavored vodka, elderflower essence, muddled basil, and lemon.

For Late Night Fare: Russell House Tavern


Russell House's porch is set behind an ornate iron gate and strung with cheerful lights, and there's something about this sliver of dining space—tucked neatly between brick buildings just off famed Harvard Square—that helps to recall Old England in New England.

To eat? There's a juicy grass-fed burger with sharp cheddar cheese, thick slabs of smoked bacon crisscrossing the patty, and faintly sweet caramelized onions, and the Andria pizza topped with impossibly creamy burrata, sweet black mission figs. and a healthy dose of garlic, all meant to be washed down with an impressive lineup of craft beers. Night owls gravitate toward oysters, which come in at a buck a shuck after 11 p.m.

For Nice Views and Great Pasta: Nebo Cucina & Enoteca


It's not only the views across bustling Atlantic Avenue to the nearby Rose Kennedy Greenway that put Nebo on this list, but also the fresh food that is so perfectly suited for an outdoor dining experience. Modeled after chef-owners' Carla and Christine Pallotta's mother's and grandmother's recipes from Puglia, Italy the sweet and savory flavors stem from the region, home to figs, almonds, chestnut trees, cheese, fat olives, and fresh seafood.

Pastas at Nebo are made by hand, shaped into cloud-light gnocchi or stretched into long, lustrous strands. Choose the ocean-bottom-black squid-ink pasta drenched in a mascarpone cream sauce and crowned with plump seared sea scallops. Pizzas are also primo: order the prosciutto e fichi, festooned with thick house-made fig spread, tendrils of prosciutto, creamy mozzarella, a nip of gorgonzola, and a touch of rosemary.

For Mezze and More: Oleana


[Photograph: Courtesy of Oleana]

Chef Ana Sortun draws raves for her mezze, such as spinach falafel, tinged green and held together with chickpea flour so that it's crispy on the outside and yielding within. It's dabbed with a simple tahini sauce and served atop a positively regal (and fuchsia) blend of yogurt, garlic, and shredded beets; the thin layer of lavash underneath the spread might as well act as a magic carpet transporting the falafel and all of its components directly into your mouth.

Clearly, Oleana's Arabic, Mediterranean, and Turkish-inspired cuisine is such a draw in itself that it wouldn't matter if you ate it while staring at a solid brick wall or watching paint dry. Luckily for us, though, this Inman Square standout invites diners into an intimate, flower-laced patio featuring a fountain, an herb garden, and even a fig tree. With its verdant atmosphere, Oleana is a good spot for an affair to remember: a special birthday party, maybe, or even a small wedding reception.