For a number of pandemic-related reasons, New York City’s alfresco restaurant scene is one of the industry’s biggest trends. Necessity has bred invention: the City’s restaurateurs have devised brilliant solutions for those who want to dine in the ventilated outdoors, no matter the temperature. We’ve rounded up 10 alluring spots that feel safe and serve satisfying food and drinks. Why wait until the summer sunshine when you can come together right now under a heat lamp?
35-27 30th Ave., Astoria, Queens
Astoria’s Avenue Café is best on a warmish day, since the outdoor seating—sidewalk bistro tables and an attractive, chocolate-hued, open-air shed—isn’t heated. The menu is nominally Greek (fries with feta and tzatziki, chicken souvlaki, grilled halloumi cheese with fresh figs) but also offers crowd-pleasers like burgers, pasta and avocado toast. And the crowds do flock in for weekend brunch, taking advantage of limitless mimosas, bloody marys and so on ($20 for 90 minutes). Get here before 1pm if possible; it’s usually packed the rest of the afternoon.
177 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Bolero, a chic Vietnamese restaurant in Williamsburg, has a serene back garden that’s warmed up by radiant heaters. Fairy lights are strung overhead and wooden tables flicker with candles. Executive chef-owner Matt Le-Khac (who worked at An Choi and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) and his team share center stage in the open kitchen, turning out an exhilarating beef pho and richly flavored bowls of plump littleneck clams and lemongrass submerged in a tingly, herbal, ginger broth spiked with beer. Incidentally, the beer list here is short but good, featuring farmhouse ales and hoppy IPAs.
75 Ninth Ave., Chelsea, Manhattan
Fingers crossed the outdoor wooden stalls flanking Chelsea Market are never dismantled. The food hall’s interior corridor is jam-packed with millions of annual visitors, so it’s a joy to be able to wolf down Los Tacos No. 1’s adobada (marinated pork) quesadillas in relative quiet at open-air tables wreathed in greenery. Each nook has an overhead heat lamp. Dozens of venues means variety galore, but you can keep it strictly outside by ordering from the Lobster Place’s windowed portal, which dispenses fresh oysters, buttery Maine lobster rolls, creamy clam chowder and crispy fish sandwiches. Pro tip: West 15th Street seating is often full, but West 16th Street usually has space.
156 Tenth Ave., Chelsea, Manhattan
Is there anything Cookshop doesn’t do well? The West Chelsea restaurant is lovely indoors and out (safely spaced tables, heat lamps, clean blankets), with attentive service, precise cocktails and an oft-changing American menu that’s appealing across the board. Twice-cooked potatoes, sautéed skate wing and whatever thin-crust pizza they happen to be making are among its many pleasures.
138 Smith St., Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
The HiHi Room’s back patio has a distinctly vacation-ready vibe, with awnings and heaters to protect diners from the elements and leafy plants spread out between the tables. The cheeky menu and friendly service make it a happy place—particularly at happy hour (Monday to Friday 5–6pm), when juicy sliders are $2.50 each. At lunch, the grain bowl is a great choice, packed with farro, vegetables and a hard-boiled egg. No matter when you go, it’s fun to share double-fried, chicken-soup-flavored chicken wings and tuna dip with potato chips and crusty bread.
53 Great Jones St., Noho, Manhattan
This Italian hot spot’s partially enclosed patio is graced with potted plants, a rain-proof awning and tabletop heating in colder weather. Chef Justin Smillie is rightly renowned for his crisp, creative pizzas, but don’t miss his cast-iron-skillet wild rice with forest mushrooms; wide paccheri pasta with slow-roasted lamb shoulder; and brussels sprouts livened with chili, lime and maple syrup.
53 Howard St., Soho, Manhattan
La Mercerie adapted and thrived during the pandemic, beautifying its corner of Soho with flora-filled, heated outdoor seating. Though touted as an all-day French café, La Mercerie is much posher than that. Splurge on dishes such as foie gras torchon with pear chutney, lobster salad with fennel cream and filet de boeuf au poivre. Each bite is silken and tender thanks to the skills of chef Marie-Aude Rose, an alum of Paris’ Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire.
145 West Broadway, Tribeca, Manhattan
Well-spaced café tables are arrayed along the Odeon’s façade as well as in an open-air shed on West Broadway. Both sections are heated and prime for people-watching. This Tribeca brasserie is a perennial favorite, polished but not pretentious. Open since 1980, it still feels very now and serves food that everybody loves, especially its towering hamburger. French onion soup has a thick topping of Gruyère, and mussels are bathed in a broth of tomato, leeks and saffron cream and paired with phenomenal, golden and crunchy fries.
57 W. 58th St., Midtown, Manhattan
The red curtains close on the charmingly appointed outdoor cabins at Midtown’s Quality Meats, keeping them cozy but still letting in fresh air. There are nine private spaces inside the cabins, available for parties of three to six and each equipped with a heating system under the seats so derrieres don’t freeze. Start with a big crab cake that’s nearly all crab, very little filler, and then move on to steak, preferably a New York strip or bone-in, dry-aged sirloin. Of the many sides, the dessert-like corn crème brûlée is most dreamy.
698 Nostrand Ave., Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Walk through the Ryerson, an inviting, Southern-inflected saloon in Crown Heights, to reach a fetching back patio bordered by greenery and decked with festive lights. The ample ventilation and heat lamps will make you want to linger. To start, split a plate of fried cauliflower nuggets with ranch dip and spicy buffalo sauce, which pairs well with beer or whiskey. Not everything is fried—there’s salads and pan-seared salmon—but for those who find bliss in such things, the house-butchered, free-range fried chicken and the beer-battered, bronzed cod with fries are a joy.