Eat. Out!

The good weather’s here, and the clock’s a-ticking: You’ve got approximately 12 short weeks to dine under the sun (or stars), and then it’s back to coat checks and crowded dining rooms. Make the most of the all-too-brief season with our enthusiast’s guide to thinking outside the boîte. Plus: How to score the best al fresco tables, order the choicest summer morsels, pull off the perfect impromptu picnic, and mow through grill-charred, cheese-crusted corn on the cob without wrecking the wardrobe.

al fresco dining in boston

Photograph by Keller + Keller

B & G Oysters
food: ★★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
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
food: ★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
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.

Casa Romero
food: ★★
atmosphere: ★★★★★
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
food: ★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
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.

 

Dante
food: ★★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★★
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.

 

Eastern Standard
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
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.

 

Gaslight
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★
outdoor seats: 72

Local flâneurs dine and drink in style beneath the flicker of the namesake gaslights in this cobblestone oasis, where greenery shields diners from the prying eyes of passers-by. The solid brasserie food—like the poêlée espagnol (a creamy seafood pan roast spiked with chorizo) and the béchamel-slathered croque-monsieur—tastes even better when masochists from next door’s Boston Sports Club are strolling past. Plus: free parking! Getting a table: Regulars get priority, but time goes by quicker when muddled. Spend your wait at the authentic Parisian zinc bar downing a stiff Five Grape Fizz. 560 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-422-0224, gaslight560.com.

 

Hamersley’s Bistro
food: ★★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★★
outdoor seats: 50–55

Southern France, eat your heart out. During Boston’s rare weeks of perfect weather, Nice has nothing on the Hamersley’s brick patio, on the South End’s most prime corner, Tremont at Clarendon. Nor the Provençal food, even: The pork tenderloin stuffed with asparagus and Morbier cheese and the lemon-lavender layer cake with raspberries are so fabulous, you may become too distracted to people-watch. Getting a table: Reserve inside but come early, request the patio, then bask on the wooden benches—or sip a fresh grapefruit gimlet at the bar. Garden proximity is a hot commodity, though we prefer mocking hipster wannabes from the Beehive side. 553 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-2700, hamersleysbistro.com.

 

Harvest
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★★
outdoor seats: 40

This city has no shortage of fair-weather fresco options. But on drizzly days, the renovated Harvest patio’s got us covered. Literally: The new retractable awning offers UV protection and refuge from passing showers, while the outdoor fireplace, along with the light jazz warbling overhead, provides a dose of romantic ambiance. We love the dayboat halibut served with asparagus, braised radish, and lemon-chamomile beurre blanc. Getting a table: Go at lunchtime, when diners tend not to linger. Otherwise, arrive at 5:30, and while away your wait over a Ruby Red (vodka, blood orange juice, Chambord). 44 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-868-2255, harvestcambridge.com.

 

The Hungry I
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 20

Six marble tables are fenced in by surrounding Beacon Hill brownstones, creating an intimate nook that on weekends fills with tourists. The classic French menu from executive chef Peter Ballarin includes decadent dishes like a pan-seared sirloin topped with pâté and drizzled with a burgundy-butter sauce. Getting a table: This is one of the few spots that actually takes outdoor reservations. Thursday evenings are quiet and draw a more social, local crowd. Reserve a two-top in the rear right corner before 8 p.m. to catch a glimpse of the rosy summer sky. 71½ Charles St., Boston, 617-227-3524, hungryiboston.com.

 

Intrigue Café
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 90

The best seat in the house is on whatever high-powered private yacht happens to be moored up against the side that day. Beyond that, they’re all still pretty terrific. So what if the service is spotty: The menu, by Daniel Bruce (of Meritage fame), nails the refined yet casual vibe with steamed lobsters and grilled pizzas. Hey, does Fort Point Channel (just across the harbor) have any foot traffic yet? You’ll be the first to know. Getting a table: Avoid the queue during the hotel’s series of summer music (Tuesdays) and film (Fridays) events. Less competitive: weekday breakfast. The sour cream and raspberry pancakes are heavenly. Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, 617-439-7000, bhh.com/intrigue.

 

Joe’s American Bar & Grill
food: ★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 100

This crowd-pleasing hangout commands one of the choicest spots on the waterfront, with views of Christopher Columbus Park and the Boston Yacht Haven Marina, plus a skyline backdrop. The food is formulaic—nachos, crab cakes, brownie sundaes—but it’s consistent, as well as nicely priced, with entrées in the mid-teens. Getting a table: For the finest water views, ask for the tables at the end of the deck, but be prepared to wait more than an hour. Meanwhile, check out the new top-floor bar for appetizers and cocktails. Or forgo the scenery and take one of the tables on the front patio, which are easier to score. 100 Atlantic Ave., Boston, 617-367-8700, joesamerican.com.

 

La Verdad
food: ★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★

Giving props to a Ken Oringer taco joint feels unsettlingly like recommending, say, a Wolfgang Puck chili dog. But the Mexican street food here is authentic—we’re addicted to the chile relleno torta (so labor-intensive that the staff is forbidden to order it) and the unwieldy cheese-slathered grilled corn called maíz asado (see page 83). The salsa beats overhead maintain the fiesta groove, and the sidewalk setup—strewn with tiny lights—is straight out of La Condesa. Getting a table: About 100 feet from Fenway, this place is standing-room-only an hour before the game. Then: utter ghost town. People forget that La Verdad is open for lunch, so on non-baseball days, you’re virtually guaranteed the midday seat of your choice. One Lansdowne St., Boston, 617-421-9595, laverdadtaqueria.com.

 

La Voile
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 36

A little patience goes a long way at this Back Bay brasserie, where time creeps by—and dishes are served—in a French manner (translation: très slowly). No matter. Only the most jaded sidewalk-gazer could glaze over while ogling the mix of artsy and fabulous that traverses this block of Newbury. The grilled sea bass, imported daily from France and Italy, will more than make up for temps perdu. Getting a table: Steps below street level, this cozy patio is prime real estate. If you want to dine on fricassée de légumes (and trust us, you do) under one of the broad maroon umbrellas, better make reservations—up to two weeks in advance for a weekend table. 261 Newbury St., Boston, 617-587-4200, lavoileboston.net.

 

Oleana
food: ★★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★★
outdoor seats: 30

Come the season’s first fine weather, Oleana suddenly—with eerily precise synchronicity—occurs to every foodie in the city, thus ushering in about four months’ worth of two-hour waits for arguably the Hub’s loveliest patio. (Only Hamersley’s gives it a run for its money.) Foodwise, this al fresco mecca channels its inner Mecca, with exquisite riffs on pan–Middle Eastern cuisine. Getting a table: Arrive as far before 5:30 p.m. as you can, give your name and number, then head down the street to B-Side Lounge for cocktails and wait for the call. Mondays offer the lightest competition. 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com.

 

Orinoco
food: ★★★★★
atmosphere: ★★
outdoor seats: 16

Die-hard Orinoco fans trot out the “winter escape” argument, but summer is when this Nuevo Venezuelan eatery morphs into a genuine roadside taguarita, complete with warm breeze. While neophyte foragers jockey for position on the South End’s main thoroughfares, locals and visiting foodies head to this narrow hallway on quieter Shawmut for the bacon-wrapped, almond-stuffed dates—not to mention the first or blind variety. Getting a table: Scoring one of the patio’s 16 seats can be maddening, but grilled chicken and arepas—loaded with creamy guayanés cheese and other delights—travel well. Order to-go and enjoy your picnic at Peters Park (where you can practice similar tongue-twisters). 477 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-369-7075, orinocokitchen.com.

 

Ristorante Fiore
food: ★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 130

The only roof deck in the North End provides an exceptionally upscale experience. White tablecloths cover the wrought iron furniture and overhanging red awnings lend most tables all-weather protection. The homemade tubular pasta, called bombolotti, is best tossed with spicy Italian sausage, tomato sauce, and torn basil leaves. The chicken saltimbocca di pollo—pan-seared chicken baked with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and sage—is a savory bite of heaven. Getting a table: Get there right at 4 p.m. for a guaranteed seat for dinner at the bar. An hour later, it fills with folks who will likely end up waiting hours for one of only 18 rooftop tables. 250 Hanover St., Boston, 617-371-1176, ristorantefiore.com.

 

Rocca
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 40

Rocca’s menu of light, fresh Italian fare seems precisely calibrated to al fresco dining, as does the restaurant’s new Ligurian Lemonade stand, pouring a decidedly non–Kool Aid blend of citrus vodka, limoncello, Campari, honey, and lime juice. Lanterns and manicured greenery provide a cozy setting for handmade pastas with pesto and—whenever the chef gets the urge—pizzette and fish served up right from the patio grill. Getting a table: The view of the parking lot and nondescript high-rises can seem a tad Soviet. We prefer seats along the curved wall of windows, affording views of fellow outdoorsmen and less strategically positioned indoor revelers. 500 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-451-5151, roccaboston.com.

 

Sophia’s Grotto
food: ★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 40–45

Although the looming photo of Sophia Loren presides over the dining room inside, the trattoria’s open-air courtyard framed by stucco walls does a fine job of evoking the loveliness of its namesake. Nominally Italian, the restaurant serves a variety of Mediterranean dishes, the most tempting of which are the zesty paella and the excellent mussels with polenta and chorizo. Getting a table: Sophia’s Grotto shares its courtyard with several other restaurants—Birch Street Bistro, in particular, is worth considering if the wait gets too long. You can also pass time browsing through dozens of nearby boutiques, or enjoying a pitcher of sangria at the bar. 22R Birch St., Roslindale, 617-323-4595, sophiasgrotto.com.

 

Stephanie’s on Newbury
food: ★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 80

Rumor has it that this scene-y stalwart is open year round, but we wouldn’t know. This is a summertime haunt—the ideal pit stop during an all-day shopping marathon. Patio hopefuls start lining up at 11 a.m. and are rewarded with comfortable rattan chairs, a lengthy cocktail list, and a huge number of seats to choose from. The gargantuan salads are just so-so, but the Stephi burger is a deftly executed classic. Getting a table: The nine tables along the front rail make for prime pedestrian gawking. On weekends, arrive as early as 4 p.m. for dinner seating. Any other time, order a Fallen Apple cocktail to keep hydrated while you wait. 190 Newbury St., Boston, 617-236-0990, stephaniesonnewbury.com.

 

The Tavern at Granite Links Golf Club
food: ★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 40

From any one of the 17 tables on this course-side lookout, diners can visually feast on Boston Harbor, the city skyline at sunset, and a new 45-foot fountain being installed in the quarry below. A well-mixed martini and the Tavern’s terrific red pepper and mozz Fenway sausage are par for the course. Getting a table: Priority goes to members and regulars, so it doesn’t hurt to look the part. We’re betting pressed chinos (or a wrap dress) and a pre-meal G & T—mixed with proactive small talk at the bar—will reduce future wait times. Otherwise, order to-go and hit the new snack bar patio, where you can enjoy drinks and the same views. 100 Quarry Hills Dr., Quincy, 617-689-1900, granitelinksgolfclub.com.

 

Tavern on the Water
food: ★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 200

Fresh-from-work yuppies and postcard photographers gather here for cheap beer, decent pub fare, and a breathtaking view of the Zakim Bridge across the harbor. Graze on calamari and oysters on the half shell at the bar, then dig into fried catfish and a Marina burger once seated. The biggest plus: With 200 chairs to choose from, you’ve got an excellent shot at sitting down. Getting a table: The place gets quieter on Sunday afternoons and most Monday nights. Or hang out at the downstairs bar. Though slightly obstructed, the waterfront backdrop is pretty spectacular. One Eighth St., Charlestown, 617-242-8040, tavernonthewater.com.

 

Tremont 647
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★
outdoor seats: 25

Tremont 647’s patio is big enough to accommodate you and your neighbor’s Bugaboo. Its west-of-center location translates into fewer honking cabs, which makes it a favorite spot for weekend brunch (the “Pajama Brunch” theme means staffers wear their Nick & Noras, but you don’t have to). Favorites include the gingerbread pancakes and the huevos rancheros, served with homemade tortillas. Getting a table: Since South End night owls tend to sleep in on the weekend, you’ll have a competitive advantage if you arrive by 10:30 a.m. 647 Tremont St., Boston, 617-266-4600, tremont647.com.

 

28 Degrees
food: ★★★
atmosphere: ★★★★
outdoor seats: 35

The overchilled vibe of this loungey haunt—named for the optimal martini temperature—takes a turn for the warmer once the cozy patio opens up. It’s only then that it dawns on us how competent the kitchen is, with inventive spins on hackneyed bar classics (pulled-pork “sliders”) and super-fresh ingredients (handmade burrata). The whimsical martini lineup is good, but the wines-by-the-glass list is an unsung masterwork. Getting a table: Yes, you can make reservations! Whether it’s for a full meal at one of the 15 tables, or a cucumber mojito and $1 Island Creek oysters (between 5 and 7 daily), just call a few hours ahead. One Appleton St., Boston, 617-728-0728, 28degrees-boston.com.

 

Via Matta
food: ★★★★
atmosphere: ★★★
outdoor seats: 50

Via Matta captures a particular brand of Italian spirit: the chic, chatty, dolce vita one. And the busy patio—screened by latticework fencing and some well-placed bushes—combined with the buzz of Park Plaza traffic behind it, does a good job of giving you that dinner-on-the-piazza feel. Housemade pastas and antipasti are perfect for hot summer nights. Getting a table: Dinner service begins at 5:30, but if you arrive at 5, you can snag a patio table for cocktails, then loiter for an early dinner. Aim for the corner tables—they’re quieter and more private. 79 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-422-0008, viamattarestaurant.com


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