The Easy, Breezy, Laid-Back, Super-Relaxed, We-Love-Summer Guide to Outdoor Dining

From Center City to the Shore, our 20 favorite places to dine alfresco Plus: The newest spots for cocktails

On the Balcony


Nineteen
Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, 200 South Broad Street, 19th floor, 215-893-1234,
parkphiladelphia.hyatt.com

There’s a Spider-Man feel to sitting on the narrow balconies that cling to the edge of elegant Nineteen, on the 19th floor of the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue. The same sweeping vistas — rooftops from river to river, and, okay, a few air-conditioning units — are available in the pearl-strewn formal dining room, but here, there’s only a railing separating you from the view. On the table, impossibly ample appetizers make entrées almost unnecessary, particularly when the plates are piled with tender spears of white asparagus gilded with brown butter, and crisp-battered soft-shell crab with a sunny chutney that tastes of India. An unassuming but irresistible dessert of steamed lemon cake with poached rhubarb is a true taste of summer some 200 feet above Broad Street.

Positano Coast
212 Walnut Street, 2nd floor, 215-238-0499,
lambertis.com

White, modern sofas set against billowing sheer white curtains give this second-floor Old City restaurant its immediate wow factor, as in, Wow, I feel like I’m on a tropical vacation. The food is Italian, but much lighter and more refined than Philly’s classic red gravy, and thus an ideal match for the breezy vibe. For years we’ve been raving about chef Pippo Lamberti’s “crudos du jour,” thinly sliced, delicately dressed raw fish dishes; they taste all the more refreshing when enjoyed in the outdoor lounge or open-walled front bar. Even better: happy hour’s $5 limoncello cocktails, bountiful $15 cheese plate, and charming off-the-boat Italian bartenders.

On the Porch

The Lobster House
Fisherman’s Wharf, Cape May, 609-884-8296,
thelobsterhouse.com

Jersey clams on the half-shell, mugs of cold lager, corn on the cob and red-sauced mussels may not be the most esoteric edibles, but when rendered simply — with the benefit of Lobster House’s decades in the seafood business — and served on a wooden deck where you can watch the fishing boats bring in tomorrow’s fish of the day, these items, along with crab soup and you-peel shrimp, become peerless gourmet pleasures, if only because you can enjoy them by the bay in the summertime. Another part of the fun: jockeying for a table out here. There’s ample room inside this stalwart seashore business, but why go there?

Jamaican Jerk Hut
1436 South Street, 215-545-8644,
jamaicanjerkhutinc.com

The word “alfresco” seems ill-suited — fancy talk — when it comes to eating beef patties and jerk chicken at South Street’s Jamaican Jerk Hut, a BYOB where diners sit at brightly painted picnic tables in the backyard, holding cans of Coors. To be sure, the Hut’s a dive — but a charming one, with live reggae on weekends, a tidy little porch for folks not into lawn dining, and laid-back staffers who’ll recommend the mild St. Peter’s fish fillet or a gently spiced, buttery curried goat for those afraid of the jerk’s serious heat. But, reader, don’t be afraid. The pleasure of the jerk — tender, garlicky, smoky — outweighs the pain. Plus, sides of sweet cooked cabbage and rice and beans help put out the fire. Hot jerk on a warm night, with a cool breeze and a cold beer … who wants fancy?

Quahog’s Seafood Shack
206 97th Street, Stone Harbor, 609-368-6300,
quahogsshack.com

This brand-new BYOB, brought to you by the adorable owners of adorable Sea Salt, is just what we want in a Shore restaurant. Old fishing poles hang at the entrance, red-and-white vinyl cloths cover tables, chalkboards list “dailies,” and half the seats are on the cozy, covered back porch. The shack is all about local, sustainable, simple — though not always familiar — seafood: just-caught black bass served head-to-tail; thick, buttery slabs of blackened escolar; thin, nutmeg-touched clam chowder; rich, celery-leafed lobster salad served on hot-dog buns; and the namesake quahog “stuffie,” with cauliflower puree and red peppers and chorizo, served in its shell. If the line to dine in is too long, order a fisherman’s broil to go, and have a beach picnic, the ultimate in outdoor dining.

Ebbitt Room
25 Jackson Street, Cape May, 800-732-4236,
virginiahotel.com

No Shore town is better preserved than Cape May, and none takes its cuisine so seriously. While the island offers marvelous spots to tuck into fresh local bluefish (Louisa’s) or fete a grand occasion (Congress Hall) or breakfast among surfers downing Greek omelets (George’s Place), there’s only one setting — the porch of the elegant Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel — where a sundressed-and-Bermuda-shorted couple can savor the ocean breeze from crimson-cushioned chairs, nibble chef de cuisine Carl Messick’s crabcake sliders with basil aioli, shrimp cocktail with avocado and micro parsley salad, and lobster risotto beignets while sipping a smart rosé, and watch beachgoers traipse up Jackson Street.

The Blue Pear Bistro
275 Brintons Bridge Road, West Chester, 610-399-9812,
bluepearbistro.com

On a quiet strip of wooded West Chester sits the venerable Dilworthtown Inn and its gem of a spin-off, the more casual Blue Pear Bistro. Housed in an 18th-century general store, the bistro’s warmly lit dining rooms fill to the brim, even on weeknights. But our favorite spot to eat is on the wide front porch, where a handful of tables seats couples, small groups and — sometimes — their dogs. The down-home appeal of porch dining, complete with the soundtrack of crickets chirping, jibes with a seasonal menu of playful classics, like skewered chicken nuggets served with a sweet-sharp white-truffle honey mustard, and fleshy pan-seared scallops atop sweet peas and wild mushrooms. Lingering over dessert is a must, be it the gorgeous, pillowy profiteroles or the house dessert, a simple poached pear.

Restaurant Taquet
139 East Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, 610-687-5005,
taquet.com

There’s a proper entrance to Taquet, up the ramp from the parking lot and into the restaurant’s bar area, where the hostess is waiting to take you to your table. But there’s something lovely about climbing the front stairs of the Wayne Hotel from Lancaster Avenue directly onto the restaurant’s veranda, as if you’ve just arrived at a friend’s fabulous house for dinner. Taquet’s porch — the best view is facing west toward the imposing Presbyterian church — is the best type of outdoor dining, offering open air without sacrificing comfort. The floor is carpeted, the chairs are padded, and the tables are covered with brocade cloths. On the menu: simple summer options like tomatoes dipped in syrupy balsamic; roasted peppers, salty and sweet with olives and mozzarella; and trout in a sprightly lemon-caper sauce.

In the Courtyard

Gayle
617 South 3rd Street, 215-922-3850,
gaylephiladelphia.com

You can’t see the city from here, but no dining room has ever felt more perfectly Philly. This accidental space behind Queen Village’s Gayle, aglow with tea lights and, on cooler evenings, a fire pit, is formed by the walls of nearby rowhomes — one crumbling stucco, one ivy-clad brick — and backyard fencing that hides the restaurant’s smoker and the source of the cheerful din from the casual courtyard dining room of Hostaria Da Elio next door. A tree grows through the decking, shading the simple iron tables. What’s on those tables is far more impressive: scallops, rich with a thin slice of seared foie gras and summery with a green fava bean puree and garlicky ramp foam; a “fish and chips” of halibut crowned with crisp shards of potato and dotted with unexpectedly delightful blueberries.

The Gables at Chadds Ford
423 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, 610-388-7700,
thegablesatchaddsford.com

Enclosed by stone walls replete with climbing vines and flowers, the Gables’ tiered courtyard is among the prettiest in the region. The Chester County scene is romantic enough for a cozy dinner à deux, but there’s plenty of space for larger groups to relax. Request a table by the mossy waterfall — the rushing sounds help muffle the traffic noise from Baltimore Pike, which can intrude on the otherwise tranquil garden-party vibe. Appetizers on the seafood-focused American menu are portioned to share; a creative take on spinach-feta pie resting on a spicy eggplant puree is a meal in itself. Entrées are wisely offered in both full and smaller portions — a boon for those whose appetites wane as the weather warms. Our favorites are from the grill: mahimahi with chorizo and roasted corn, and the pork chop with a seasonal vegetable ragu.

Knight House
96 West State Street, Doylestown, 215-489-9900,
theknighthouse.com

The blue-umbrella-topped tables on the front patio of Doylestown’s Knight House offer a fine vantage point on the goings-on of the small town. The drivers of minivans stopped at the Clinton Street stoplight call out to families seated here, feasting on burgers and mussels, to make playdate plans. But the real party is just down the alleyway in Knight House’s courtyard. Follow the music — there’s enthusiastic live jazz most nights during the summer — and laughter to the shady, slate-floored space dominated by a busy stone bar where fried calamari and simple summer beers are as at home as seared tuna and signature martinis like the mimosa-inspired mimotini.

Southwark
701 South 4th Street, 215-238-1888,
southwarkrestaurant.com

Tucked behind the small dining room and far from the street, Southwark’s outdoor tables are barely visible to passersby. The patio, which almost doubles the seating at this Queen Village spot, is shaded by the four-story brownstone next door, adding to the feeling of secrecy. And while the wrought iron tables and chairs aren’t the most comfortable, a plethora of flowers and the white-light-and-vine-adorned trellis more than make up for that. Early each afternoon, the kitchen staff wheels a smoker out here to give the summer menu the barbecue treatment; a recent smoked duck breast proved it’s worth the effort.

Illuminare
2321 Fairmount Avenue, 215-765-0202,
illuminare2321.com

Illuminare’s secluded, tucked-in-the-back courtyard is so popular that the wait can be an hour or more. The good news: You can call ahead for priority for seating under the sweeping magnolia tree twinkling with white lights. If the Fairmount restaurant’s gurgling fountains aren’t enough to distract you from city humidity, start with an icy cocktail like the Creamsicle martini or Caribbean Island iced tea. The brick-oven pizza — delicate crust, gourmet toppings — is a specialty, but you can go upscale with Italian seafood pescatore and sweet-and-spicy crabcakes topped with Cajun shrimp. An expansion of hours is planned, and late summer will bring late-night snacks out of doors.

Hamilton’s Grill Room
8 Coryell Street, Lambertville, 609-397-4343,
hamiltonsgrillroom.com

From well-executed classics to an enviable address right on the canal, this enchanting landmark, which is celebrating its 20th year, deserves the praise it’s garnered. Chef Mark Miller’s grilled shrimp starter arrives hefty and hot, soaking in a pool of salty anchovy butter; a fat pork chop — juicy and gently crusted with horseradish — pairs perfectly with crisp sugar snap peas; a satisfying chocolate-peanut butter cake is lighter than it sounds. And when the restaurant opens its small outdoor courtyard, with vine-covered walls and a gentle little fountain, it’s that much harder not to fall in love — again — with the best reason to visit little Lambertville.

On the Patio


Water Works Restaurant
640 Water Works Drive, 215-236-9000,
thewaterworksrestaurant.com

The setting — a peaceful, pretty stretch of the Schuylkill; twinkling Boathouse Row — isn’t just the reason to dine at Water Works; it’s the raison d’être for the restaurant itself. Chef Darryl Harmon’s duo of tartars (ruby tuna on a pile of lemony cucumber, and salmon on a briny potato salad) may be light and gratifying; the puffs of goat cheese under a tender rack of lamb may be heady; the sautéed mushrooms may be zesty and addictive. But they won’t necessarily help you overlook dishes that occasionally fall flat, or service that’s sometimes lacking. (One waiter forgot the salads, and left us without drinks for 30 minutes.) What will: the total contentment — bliss, even — of a summer supper and a good riesling under a flickering tiki torch at Philadelphia’s loveliest spot.

Le Virtu
1927 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-271-5626,
levirtu.com

In the middle of South Philly’s concrete desert is Le Virtu’s new brick patio — fringed with actual grass. It’s easy to embrace the summer vibe here as you sip a Dogfish Head draft under an umbrella. For the season, Le Virtu has lightened up its Italian menu with raw preparations, like a salmon and swordfish carpaccio, and grilled dishes. And the excellent house-made pasta tastes even fresher dressed with a lemony sauce and ribbons of prosciutto. The outdoor service is decidedly unhurried, offering time to unwind. The spacious outdoor tables are set comfortably far back from the street, but it’s wise to focus your attention on the flickering candles or the verdant lawn instead of the neighbor washing his car at the curb.

Melange Café
18 Tanner Street, Haddonfield, 856-354-1333,
melangecafe.com

The new outpost of Joe Brown’s Melange Café offers a spacious patio with leafy views of quaint Haddonfield (if you face away from the PATCO parking lot). This BYOB’s sweet servers are quick to open your wine, rattle off the numerous specials — Creole dishes are Chef Brown’s specialty — and even whisk you indoors if inclement weather threatens. Red beans and rice topped with chicken breast and sour cream is one example of Brown’s bold Southern cooking, and Louisiana barbecue shrimp with cheese biscuits conjure up the spicy fare of New Orleans, even if shell-on shrimp make this saucy dish a challenge to eat. Portions are huge, but save room for dessert: The pecan pie is the best this side of the Mason-Dixon.

Pond
175 King of Prussia Road, Radnor, 610-293-9411,
pondrestaurant.com

In a setting with such surefire crowd-drawing power — lush, woodsy, and yes, there’s a pond — some cooks would be content to sling ho-hum hash. Yet the Mediterranean kitchen at Pond turns out prettily plated dishes — grilled jumbo shrimp with coconut basmati rice, grilled pork tenderloin with lentils — on a tented patio backdropped by bubbling fountains and bright-blossomed gardens. The outside bar buzzes at happy hour (fair warning: so might the mosquitoes), and the menu from Pond’s sister restaurant, casual bistro Cassis, is also available alfresco. On steamy nights, the house-made dulce de leche ice cream is a must-have meal-ender.

Kafe at Rat’s Restaurant
16 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-584-7800,
ratsrestaurant.org

Kafe at Rat’s at the beautiful Grounds for Sculpture does one better than your run-of-the-mill museum eatery: It makes you part of the art. You can’t make reservations for a seat on the outdoor patio at this whimsical fairy tale of a restaurant, but waiting here means a charming stroll through the garden’s artistic and natural treasures. Once seated, you’ll savor punchy vodka cocktails with a view of Monet’s Giverny garden pond — the iconic image of a bridge over lily pads brought to life. On the plate, this same artistry is applied to a casual cafe menu of steak frites, spring pea risotto and saffron mussels.

Redstone
The Promenade at Sagemore, 500 Route 73 South, Marlton, 856-396-0332,
redstonegrill.com

By day, the lushly landscaped outdoor bar at Redstone is a pleasant place for leisurely family lunches of roast chicken flatbreads and Waldorf salads. Come nightfall, older couples and 20-something crowds lounge with cocktails, ESPN on plasmas, and meant-for-sharing appetizer platters filled with sliders, seared tuna and grilled wings. Thanks to strategically placed plants, catalog-pretty oversize outdoor furniture and atmospheric lighting, you’ll never realize you’re actually relaxing beside the parking lot. Alas, the long waits and hit-or-miss service will remind you that this is — gasp — a chain. You’ll forgive all come fall, when the toasty fire pit makes cool October nights feel like L.A. winters.

For a drink

The newest spots for cocktails, rooftop to poolside

Vango
116 South 18th Street, 215-568-1020,
vangoloungeandskybar.com

On a nice night, the dance floor of Center City’s sleek Vango is often all but empty; patrons decamp to the spacious third-floor roof deck. While the club’s specialty cocktails (Green Wednesday, Turquoise Thursday, Black Friday, etc.) seem as gimmicky as the big square beds (yes, beds) clustered in the corner, we actually liked them once we tried them (unlike the beds) — especially the Blue Monday, with blueberry schnapps, champagne and a sugared rim.

Apothecary
102 South 13th Street, 215-701-4786, apothecarylounge.com

As it turns out, there might be something better than a bottle of rosé sipped at a sidewalk cafe: a bottle of cocktails on the oh-so-civilized second-floor roof deck at Midtown Village’s new Apothecary. This isn’t the over-the-top and overpriced bottle service of too many chic clubs. These are cocktails for wine drinkers; six-glass portions of bartender-mixed classics (the brandy-and-rum Philadelphia Fish House Punch) and creatives (the shochu-based Kyushu Sour) to be poured into proper old-timey glasses.

The Water Club
1 Renaissance Way, Atlantic City, 609-317-8888,
thewaterclubatborgata.com

Sure, enjoying chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s extra-spicy white Bloody Marys (made with tomato water and wasabi) and sweet and kicky dark ‘n’ stormys by one of the new Water Club’s five posh pools will cost you all your poker winnings — and then some. But in A.C., where exclusivity never feels all that exclusive, such truly chic treats are very much worth the price of admission.