The Al Fresco All-Stars
[sidebar]When summer rolls around, all the usual rules go out the door—in every sense. A restaurant that wouldn’t make your top 100 most of the year suddenly bounces up to your shortest of shortlists, thanks to its idyllic patio or roof deck. Likewise, many a stuffy five-star locale loses luster once such variables as umbrella wingspan and warm-breeze velocity enter the craving equation.
Behold: our 25 favorite places to eat al fresco.
**** Very good
*** Pretty good
** Hey, at least you’re outside
* There’s no such thing as one-star al fresco
B & G Oysters
Outdoor Seats: 25
In summer, the seafaring arm of the No. 9 Group’s, uh, octopus expands its tiny dining room to the patio, which seems more like a friend’s cozy garden‑level walkout than a restaurant’s. Except that the friend is Barbara Lynch’s competent crew, and the fare includes expertly roasted salmon and crisp grüner veltliners, not burnt burgers and plonk.
Getting a Table: Give the host your digits, then head across the street to the "waiting area" (a.k.a. the Butcher Shop) for a glass of wine. B & G serves lunch—with no break before dinner—so grabbing a midafternoon bite al fresco, then lingering, is another tactic worth employing.
550 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-0550, bandgoysters.com.
The Barking Crab
Outdoor Seats: 100
The Crab has had a tough year, what with those eviction threats and a sudden post-inspection shutdown last March. But it’s buffed and polished and back to see another summer. The food remains mixed: great for basics like boiled lobster and onion rings, not so great for fancy entrées. The dockside location and the "so-what-if-it’s Wednesday-we’re-on-vacation!" vibe are unbeatable, however.
Getting a Table: Aside from waiting for winter (when the shack becomes a cozy hideaway), there’s no way to avoid long waits at lunch and dinner. So give in and grab a beer. Aim for the quieter tables on the north side, but don’t expect hushed conversation. This is a party spot.
88 Sleeper St., Boston, 617-426-2722, barkingcrab.com.
Outdoor Seats: 18
The gussied-up Mexican fare at Casa Romero is absolutely—what’s the word?—edible. But the reason this stalwart stays on the rotation is the leafy interior courtyard, which always feels like a newly discovered secret garden no matter how many seasons ago you first stumbled in. The delicious serendipity pairs brilliantly with a carafe of excellent sangria. As for the grub? The simpler the dish, the likelier the success. Try the chipotle-garlic shrimp or the solid fajitas.
Getting a Table: Casa Romero offers a three-course "early-bird special" for parties who order by 6 p.m. and leave by 7. Arrive just before either hour for the pick of the patio.
30 Gloucester St., Boston, 617-536-4341, casaromero.com.
The Colonnade’s Rooftop Pool
Outdoor Seats: 100
Privacy is a given at Boston’s only swimmable watering hole, thanks to generous fencing and its skyscraping perch. (Though be prepared to elicit resentment from the 11th floors of nearby office buildings.) From the comfort of your deck chair you can order breakfast, lunch, snacks, kids’ fare, and cocktails, whipped up in Brasserie Jo’s kitchen.
Getting a Table: A $30 weekday pass (the pool is open only to hotel guests on holidays and weekends) is pricey, but worth it for beach-deprived urbanites. Arrive early and immerse yourself in SPF and summer novels until breakfast starts at 10.
Colonnade Hotel, 120 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-424-7000, rooftoppool.com.
Outdoor Seats: 82
If sherbety sunsets melting into the Charles aren’t your thing, you’ll want to give Dante’s festooned riverside porch a miss. Or simply roll with it: By the time you’ve inhaled a plate of spaghetti with crab, guanciale, and crunchy lemon crumbs and two or three liquor-infused Italian ices, all that pesky picture-perfection will seem blurry, anyway.
Getting a Table: Patrons habitually ignore the line of free parking spots along Cambridge Parkway, directly behind the patio. Ascend a short flight of steps and scope out the sweetest tables before you even hit the hostess stand.
40 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge, 617-497-4200, restaurantdante.com.
Outdoor Seats: 36
Eastern Standard boasts such a breathtaking dining room we’re often tempted to keep the party indoors. But once we kick back on the comfy couches outside, voyeurism and an expertly mixed Jack Rose (apple brandy, lemon, grenadine) take effect, and we’re glad we held out. The raw bar serves pristine shellfish, and the chef’s deft hand with random cow parts (sweetbreads, the daily offal special) makes us pity the squeamish.
Getting a Table: Savvy city-dwellers avoid Kenmore Square like the plague during Sox home games, but savvier insiders know that 10 minutes after first pitch is the best time to snag an outdoor seat. By all means, however, take public transportation.
528 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-9100, easternstandardboston.com.