the great outdoors

Where to Dine Al Fresco On Those Occasionally Warm Summer Nights

The back patio at Starbelly in the Castro (3583 16th Street).

The back patio at Starbelly in the Castro (3583 16th Street).Photo: Brian Smeets

It's almost officially summer in San Francisco, and despite being gypped out of a warm and sunny May, the next few months should offer at least a handful of days and nights when you'll want to eat outdoors, albeit sometimes with a heat-lamp nearby. To tide you over this weekend Grub Street brings you this list of our favorite dining venues with back patios and such, which you can feel free to refer back to the next time it's legitimately warm out.

For the sake of brevity, we're limiting this list to S.F. and the inner East Bay (with one Tiburon exception), because we all know it's nice in Marin and points north, and down south is always warm.

Arlequin - For those who don't know, there's a secret garden behind Absinthe and Arlequin with a quiet patio that feels very removed from city life, and where you're welcome to enjoy your Arlequin eats and a glass of wine.

Bar Bambino - They had to do a little wrangling with the city over heat lamps and such, but the back patio at Bar Bambino is a great and cozy space.

Beach Chalet/Park Chalet - When is it warm enough by the beach to sit outside at night? Like three nights a year. But this is where to do it. Just don't order anything except the burger.

Bistro Aix - The newly remodeled restaurant is still serving excellent food, and the patio is as lovely as ever.

Blue Plate - The back garden at Blue Plate, with just a few tables, is perfect for a romantic evening or a low-key, celebratory dinner with friends. Bonus: The food is reliably awesome.

The Butler and the Chef - This South Park bistro is very French, very mellow, and the back patio makes for cozy dining day or night.

Chez Spencer - The garden patio at Chez Spencer is the closest you'll get to Provence without going to La Note — and the food's a little better, and more classically French. (Also see La Note)

Chow - The back patio is open year-round and is well-heated at this Church Street mainstay.

Contigo - We love the back patio here, but only when its warm. Only then you can you enjoy your tapas as if it's really summer in Spain.

Delfina - Everyone knows about the sidewalk at Craig and Annie Stoll's beloved Mission eatery, but have you ever eaten out back?

Enrico's - It's kitschy, it's right in the heart of fratty North Beach, but the front dining area at Enrico's is great for a drink and a bite on a warm night.

Epic Roasthouse - The food may be a bit basic and priced for tourists, but the view of the Bay can not be beat. See also Lafitte, Il Cane Rosso.

Foreign Cinema - No list like this would be complete without the patio at Foreign Cinema, where movies are projected all night and where it always feels like a festive night in a small European town.

Gather - The new vegan-friendly and extremely inventive Berkeley eatery has both excellent cocktails and an outdoor seating area to enjoy them in.

Il Cane Rosso - Lauren Kiino and Daniel Patterson's Ferry Building take-away joint also offers the eat-in option, with a $25 prix fixe most nights and tables outside facing the Bay that make this the biggest bang for your buck, view-wise.

Il Fornaio - The esteemed Financial District/Barbary Coast Italian spot is great on warm days and nights.

Jupiter - For pizza and beer on a summer night in Berkeley, nothing beats it. Except maybe Gather.

Lafitte - Chef Russell Jackson's new Embarcadero restaurant offers great Bay views, interesting food, and great cocktails — all of which can be enjoyed on the semi-enclosed patio.

Lake Chalet - The new Oakland branch of the chalet empire is actually way nicer than the other two, with a fantastic back deck that also serves as a launch point for the Venetian-style gondolas and the costumed gondoliers. It's a little Disney, sure, but still, cute.

La Note - This Berkeley restaurant has probably the prettiest rear garden of any we know of in the inner Bay Area. An ideal brunch spot, bordered in herbs and fruit trees, that feels right out of Provence.

Medjool - Yes, it can be douchey, but we challenge you to find a deck with a better view and a more festive vibe than the roof at this Mission mainstay.

Nopalito - The outdoor area at Nopalito is nearly enclosed most days, so you're pretty well protected from the wind. Also, the food's fab, and they recently added a tequila and cocktail menu.

Passion Café - The new French bistro on Sixth Street has a suprisingly lovely rooftop deck, perfect for early evening cocktails or dinner.

Radius Café
- Kelly Hughett's full-service restaurant may make use of the space once it opens, but for now the back patio belongs to the café and is a lovely respite in the heart of SOMA.

Saison - The back garden terrace at Joshua Skenes soon-to-be five-night-a-week restaurant is getting a makeover. Update: The patio and open hearth are finished, and you won't find more refined food in a cozier outdoor setting anywhere.

Sam's Anchor Café
- This Tiburon mainstay makes for an awesome brunch or lunch destination, where you can sip a Bloody Mary or a margarita in the sun while watching the Angel Island ferry load and unload.

Sens - The Mediterranean menu, especially the deep-fried olives, is fairly solid, but the real draw at this Embarcadero Center restaurant is the huge third-story patio overlooking Justin Herman Plaza, which is perfect for after-work drinks.

Skool - It's not quite open yet, but owner Andy Mirabel promises one of the most fantastic outdoor spaces in town at this fish-centric Potrero Hill restaurant. Update: It's open, they have a full liquor license, and the patio out front is real swell.

Spork - They play music, and the patio is a great place for brunch or early Sunday dinner. We recommend the Mission Eggs with carnitas.

Starbelly - The still new-ish Castro favorite has a beautiful deck out back which is great for lunch and always in demand at dinner, except when it's totally frigid out.

Zazie - The back patio at this Cole Valley bistro is perfect for lunch, romantic dinners, or small events. Also, don't miss their Provencale B.L.T. on the lunch menu, as featured on our Sandwich Register.

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