Al fresco dining is a big deal here in Chicago, but not all patios are equally destination-worthy. While rooftop bars, lavish terraces and consistent hot spots like Big Star and Piccolo Sogno draw hordes, Chicago is filled with wonderful outdoor nooks worthy of your attention. From a tranquil sushi oasis to a tree-lined bistro, these are Chicago's most underrated patio gems.
1. Nando Milano Trattoria (2114 W. Division St.)
As evidenced by Lady and the Tramp, Italian food is best enjoyed under the stars. Nando Milano Trattoria in Wicker Park more than fits the bill, with its quaint perch on the Division Street main drag and its wholesome assemblage of string lighting, planted greenery and heaters for those cooler nights. The restaurant has room for 60 on the sidewalk patio, with plenty of pasta plates to share with a loved one.
2. The Betty (839 W. Fulton Market)
The West Loop is arguably the most patio-saturated neighborhood in the city, with customers lining sidewalks all along Randolph Street and Fulton Market nowadays. While perpetual staples like Lone Wolf, Little Goat and The Publican are all well and good, The Betty boasts a patio equipped to become your new summertime staple. With seating for 40, the outdoor area is enclosed by wrought iron fencing and bedecked with green ivy and purple alyssum flowers. The space is a transportive experience that takes guests on an ambient getaway for an evening, ideally enjoyed with copious amounts of cocktails and chicken liver mousse.
3. Ranalli's (1925 N. Lincoln Ave.)
A stone's throw from Lincoln Park proper, on a tree-lined street that looks plucked out of a modern fairy tale, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more picture-perfect patio than Ranalli's. The massive sidewalk area, which features seating for a whopping 175, is dog-friendly and perfect for families looking for something low-key and comfortable in the neighborhood. Ranalli's is revered for their pizza, so be sure and snag some of that, along with wine on tap, fresh salads, cocktails and craft beer. Floral planters add some nice lush accents, especially considering this one is draped in sunshine.
4. Seadog Sushi Bar (1500 W. Division St.)
Nestled behind this unassuming West Town sushi spot lies one of the most entrancing al fresco settings in Chicago. Seadog Sushi Bar, with its location just far enough east on Division Street from the Wicker Park fray, offers a quieter and more leisurely alternative for when those maki cravings strike. And there's no better place to do so than in Seadog's clandestine courtyard. It seats about 40 people, lined with flowers and draped with twinkly lights. Added bonus: Seadog is BYOB, so bring a nice chilled bottle of white or rosé to enjoy with your dinner.
5. Southport & Irving (4000 N. Southport Ave.)
Southport Avenue in Lakeview routinely hustles and bustles with a melee of strollers, dog-walkers, shoppers and Cubs fans en route to nearby Wrigley Field. Consider Southport & Irving your saving grace, a breath of fresh, calming air a bit north of the main artery. With its hushed setting along Southport just north of Irving Park, far enough from the fracas that you can actually hear yourself think, the patio at Southport & Irving seats 30 to 35, with a tree in the middle of it for shade. There's also planters, string bulbs and dogs are welcome. Order some goat cheese croquettes, butter chicken samosas, draft cocktails and call it a night.
6. Baker & Nosh (1303 W. Wilson Ave.)
The outdoor terrace at this charming Uptown cafe feels less like your typical urban patio and more like a secret garden. The gorgeous, sunny green space alongside the shop is a lovely hideaway for enjoying pastries, La Colombe coffee, soups, sandwiches and cheeses. With a bubbling fountain in the middle of the grass-lined enclosure, Baker & Nosh is truly a hidden gem. There's also bounteous blooming flowers, trees for shade and room for 25. It's also BYOB, making it a great spot for an afternoon picnic.
7. The Goddess and Grocer (1649 N. Damen Ave.)
There's a lot to love about The Goddess and Grocer in Bucktown, from the gelato and the rainbow cake slices, to the artisanal provisions and the daily sandwich roster. What some customers may not realize, however, is that the second floor contains one of the best al fresco scenes in Bucktown. Outfitted with small and medium sized tables overlooking Damen Avenue's retail strip, the terrace is covered with a pergola and string lights, accented by an abundance of florals. It makes for a really peaceful backdrop for enjoying a nice turkey BLT or a bowl of Thai corn chowder.
8. Replay and Elixir Andersonville (5358 N. Clark St. and 1509 W. Balmoral Ave.)
Entering their first full summer in business, sister spots Replay and Elixir Andersonville have joined forces for a 68-seat sidewalk patio that runs along one of the Andersonville neighborhood's more picturesque streets. With plentiful trees spanning the space and flower boxes in the offing, it looks to become the quintessential family dining destination in one of Chicago's prettiest areas. And with both menus available, there's plenty of dishes and drinks to choose from, be it nachos via Replay or the perfectly summery shrimp ceviche from Elixir.
Photos: The Betty, Ranalli's, Baker & Nosh, Replay and Elixir Andersonville