Chicago’s best outdoor dining that won't break the bank

By Nicole Bruce

While five-star rooftop dining with incredible city views might devour your budget in an instant, a top-notch alfresco meal doesn't necessarily have to break the bank. Yes, it is possible to dine outdoors on unbelievably delicious plates without sacrificing your entire paycheck. To help get you there, here are eight acclaimed Chicago restaurants—all of which offer that enticing open-air ambience—that'll have you pinching yourself when the bill comes… in a good way.

90 Miles Cuban Cafe
Snag a primo spot on the patio at this easygoing Cuban eatery in Logan Square—not to be confused with the nearby sibling café in Roscoe Village—and check out the menu of pressed ham and roast pork sandwiches like the Cubano or medianoche ($11), plus traditional dishes like ropa vieja ($17), with shredded steak, onions, peppers, garlic, and a tasty Creole sauce. Bring your own rum to complete a pitcher of house-made mojitos or sangria, and linger to enjoy the live jazz or flamenco.

RM Champagne Salon
Located in an alleyway whimsically lined with fairy lights, this restaurant and bar is a picture-perfect spot for sipping bubbly and devouring shareable plates. The classic flatbread ($15) comes with double smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and a creamy, nutty-tasting Comté cheese; throw in a hearty side of roasted summer squash prepared with Bagna Cauda, Calabrian chilli, mint, and parsely ($8). Seafood lovers can get the steamed mussels for $14, or a half-dozen oysters for $18. (Also take note: Oysters are $1 each on Tuesdays from 5 to 8 p.m.) Tack on a side of pommes frites to dip in spicy mayo for an extra $6, and you’re in heaven.

Big Star
Tough out the long wait for a coveted spot on one of Chicago's most popular patios and you'll be rewarded with delectable tacos and margaritas. Starting with the queso fundido ($9) still leaves you room in the budget to try a variety of tacos: crispy, braised pork belly ($4), beer-battered tilapia fillet ($4), grilled steak ($4), and marinated, spit roasted pork shoulder ($3.50). If you're looking for a quick alfresco dining experience sans booze, pop over to their takeout window and grab a spot in the designated patio area, or head to nearby Wicker Park for a picnic.

Fuel up at this all-day eatery, which boasts a coffee shop and bakery with house-made pastries, plus a full-service café dishing up hearty-but-healthy plates. Stop in for breakfast and have a honey and cinnamon latte ($4.35), quinoa cakes with poached eggs ($12.95), and a side of brown sugar bacon ($4.95), or come by later for salmon layered with a chile and chocolate glaze ($19.95 for lunch; $24.95 for dinner). The flagship River North location features a sidewalk café and an open-window wine bar, while the Streeterville outpost has a larger patio area for lingering.

Summer House Santa Monica
Chefs Jeff Mahin and Francis Brennan bring their popular California-style concept to Lincoln Park with a seasonal, locally sourced menu and an expertly curated roster of California wines. In addition to the retractable glass roof over a main dining room filled with beach house–inspired decor, this laid-back restaurant also features a 16-seat patio. Whether you're noshing on an egg white omelette with shaved turkey breast and tomato-avocado salsa ($12.99) under the SoCal (er, Chicago) sun for brunch; or enjoying the wild mushroom enchiladas with toasted kale salsa and smoked eggplant ($17.99)—followed by their signature chocolate chip cookie with salted brown butter rice krispy treats ($3.50)—under softly lit bulbs after the sun goes down, we encourage you to get there early, since reservations aren't accepted for the patio.

Parson's Chicken & Fish
Sometimes you just have a hankering for some fried chicken and a Letherbee gin–infused Negroni slushy on a hot summer afternoon. Bring some friends to this joint's ridiculously popular, spacious patio to load up on citrusy fried Amish chicken prepared with scallions, rum, and habaneros ($6 for two pieces), hush puppies ($5), baked beans ($4), creamy slaw ($3), and the Bang Bang Pie slice of the day ($6). All of it comes in just under $25.

While the wood-accented interior of this modern Mexican hot spot in Lakeview is already airy and flooded with natural light, they've recently expanded the outdoor patio space, even building in fire pits for the inevitable cooler temperatures. Brunch on chilaquiles ($13) or a vegetable frittata with avocado mousse, black beans, and arugula ($11); or share the blue crab guacamole ($13) and tacos with braised pork shoulder and charred pineapple salsa ($12) for lunch or dinner. Sipping on an array of spicy, smoky, and sweet cocktails in the sunshine—while knowing the snacks won't set you back a bunch—will be delicious enough.

Volo Restaurant and Wine Bar
Chef Stephen Dunne's seasonally influenced New American small plates, designed for pairing with over 30 boutique wines, are best shared under the stars in a cabana. The charming and secluded back patio with table tops and covered booths offers a romantic ambience for sipping wines and sampling farmhouse cheeses like a semi-firm manchego or a vintage Gouda; select three for $12 or four for $16 and add sweet honey, candied nuts, and date jam for just $5. Afterward, snack on small plates like house-made pork pâté ($8), roasted veal bones with sea salt and thyme-scented toasts ($12), a bacon, mushroom, and goat cheese flatbread ($12), or steamed mussels in white wine ($13).

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