Enjoying food in the great outdoors feels like a vacation, a glorious escape from an overscheduled day. The clock slows down and you instinctively feel more relaxed, the sun warm on your skin, the wind ruffling your hair—and there's always eye candy, no matter where you look, especially with more than a thousand licensed sidewalk cafés across the five boroughs. Cipriani Wall Street's outdoor terrace overlooks the financial center of the world. Dos Caminos Meatpacking District's sidewalk café offers fiery, fresh Mexican cooking and front-row seats on a virtual runway of the latest fashions, with chic shoppers hitting the area's high-design boutiques. The sidewalk scene is less frenetic at The Harrison in TriBeCa, where it's blissful to sit back and indulge in a better-than-a-picnic menu of crispy skate fingers, bacon-crusted bluefish and summer berry shortcake. Looking for something more private? The back-garden patio at August, in the West Village, is quietly serene, spilling over with plants and scented with meats, fish and savory tarts roasting in the wood-burning oven. Staycation or vacation—there's nothing like an outdoor meal at a top restaurant to make the days of summer that much sweeter. —Julie Besonen
The River Café
Few restaurants can match The River Café's location in Brooklyn, nestled under the Brooklyn Bridge, peering across the East River at the downtown Manhattan skyline. And though it's been in business since 1977, owner Michael "Buzzy" O'Keeffe has always been vigilant about serving top-notch, luxurious food with inventive tweaks, like grilled dorade fillet with artichoke puree and verjus vinaigrette as well as Colorado rack of lamb with mint and mustard seed glaze and golden fondant potatoes.
Terrace in the Sky is a rarity for Morningside Heights: a sophisticated restaurant that also boasts a stupendous view, thanks to its unique location on the top floor of Columbia University's Butler Hall. Have a seat on the roof when the weather is nice. To the north, you can spy Harlem and the Bronx, and south, the college campus and the northern boundary of Central Park. The food is a mix of French with American flair, with crowd-pleasers like duck-confit risotto and crème brûlée.
Central Park Boathouse
The iconic Central Park Loeb Boathouse offers a serene city escape, as it boasts outdoor dining with a glittering lakeside view. Savor upscale cuisine at the waterfront restaurant or relax with beer and burgers at the Express Cafe as boats and birds glide by in the water. After you eat, rent a bike or a rowboat to further experience all that Central Park has to offer, or take a gondola ride—but be sure to make reservations ahead of time.
Mario Batali, Dave Pasternack and Joe Bastianich devote their Southern Italian–inspired establishment to piscatory delights and other fresh-from-the-sea fare. Soak up the sun on the pastoral outdoor patio with a plate of pristine crudo, the Italian version of sashimi, or park yourself at one of the indoor tables in the butter-hued space for whole pan-roasted yellowtail flounder with hazelnuts, pine nuts, almonds and chervil. Rustic treats like the rhubarb tart with buttermilk sorbetto go swimmingly well with the ocean-centric menu.
Cipriani Wall Street
Entrepreneur Giuseppe Cipriani brings his family's renowned history of service to New York City's Financial District with Cipriani Wall Street. Located in the historic Merchants Exchange Building at 55 Wall St., the restaurant is open from 6:30am to 10:30pm Monday through Friday. With an outdoor terrace among the building's granite columns, Cipriani Wall Street is perfect for dining alfresco or meeting for after-work drinks in this up-and-coming neighborhood. The terrace features unparalleled views of Wall Street and is open year-round, completely enclosed and heated during the winter months. This space and the upper level of the restaurant are available for private functions.
For a small space, August packs a lot of punch. This tiny, candlelit West Village restaurant manned by Terrence Gallivan, formerly of Gordon Ramsay at The London, serves up both French classics and deceptively simple Italian dishes, like brook trout crépinette and potato gnocchi with sea urchin brodo. And the oven isn't just for show: try a wood-fired pizza topped with ricotta, spring onions, fava beans and mint. Be sure to reserve a table on the greenhouse-inspired, covered back patio.
You don't have to go all the way to Italy for authentic Italian cuisine—just as far as Spring Street. Savore's light, healthy and seasonal menu features locally procured ingredients in its traditional Renaissance-era dishes, like goat cheese ravioli and grigliata di pesce, a grilled seafood medley. If the weather is cooperating during the milder months, dine alfresco at Savore's roomy sidewalk tables. The wine list is finely curated, but real connoisseurs will want to take a seat in Boutique del Vino, the restaurant's wine bar.
One of the great things about dining outside Manhattan is that it gives you the chance to look back at the island in awe. One spot with a fantastic view is the elegant Water's Edge, just across the East River in Long Island City, Queens. When making a reservation, request a table on the restaurant's outdoor terrace, where you'll sit just inches from the river with a dramatic view of the Manhattan skyline as backdrop. The impressive, seafood-heavy menu features macadamia nut–crusted wild salmon and licorice-dusted duck breast.
Dos Caminos Meatpacking District
The fourth NYC outpost of this mod-Mexican mini-empire boasts a chic Meatpacking District address (in the prominent space formerly occupied by Vento Trattoria) with plenty of sidewalk seating perfect for watching fashionable passersby. Like its sister restaurants, you can count on Dos Caminos Meatpacking District for mouthwatering, freshly made guacamole, inventive cocktails (such as the prickly pear cactus margarita), more than 100 types of tequila and contemporary Mexican takes on various delicacies, including heirloom-tomato gazpacho and tortilla-crusted swordfish. Unique to this branch, however, is the kitchen's wood-fired oven, which accounts for smokier subtleties in many dishes.
In the seemingly limitless sea of elegant TriBeCa restaurants, The Harrison stands out for its warmth and welcoming atmosphere. Executive chef Amanda Freitag—lured by owner Jimmy Bradley to The Harrison from Gusto Ristorante e Bar Americano—has pulled together a simple and flavorful menu. The English-cut lamb chops are served with anchovies and baby carrots, and the sardine "puttanesca" will make you want to lick the plate. Located in a quaint area of TriBeCa, The Harrison's relaxed sidewalk dining makes it an ideal spot for a summertime visit.
Opened by three Italians who met while working at San Domenico on Central Park South, ViceVersa is nestled among a number of French bistros in the Theatre District. Its sophisticated and sleek decor sets the tone for the contemporary Italian cuisine. Try the squid ink tagliolini with bay scallops and sea urchin or the pan-seared codfish with lobster mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus. Choose from a selection of ice cream and sorbet for a cool ending to a meal enjoyed on the plant-filled back patio, a welcome retreat from the busy Midtown streets out front.