When warm months roll around, everyone in Chicago knows to head to the Gold Coast for lively patio action at the likes of Gibson's and Tavern on Rush. During prime time you may have to wait without a reservation to settle into these steakhouses’ sidewalk seats, but it’s well worth it just for the people watching. And while it’s great to sit out in the open air in the most coveted places in town, the food’s not bad either. But to be honest, everyone doesn't want to eat a big ol’ beautiful steak in the summer time. For your eating, drinking and chilling pleasure, we’ve rounded up the absolute best spots to nosh lightly in alfresco splendor.
Tavern on Rush
III Forks. Complete with “private cabanas” on the rooftop terrace, this place is guaranteed to rock every summer. The spacious rooftop lounge also offers guests sweeping views of the neighborhood’s beautiful residential and business skyscrapers. It’s heated, with fireplaces, so it’s open year-round. It also serves as a popular after-work watering hole for area residents and workers of the New East Side area of Chicago. While you may order the New York strip, it’s much more likely guests will order smaller, share-able plates of strip steak flatbread, spicy Szechwan filet skewers or house-made lamb meatballs dressed in a caramelized fennel demi sauce.
Erie Cafe. This River North steakhouse is adjacent to an intimate park and also overlooks the Chicago River. It's a quiet respite from the bustling areas where all the other steakhouses reside. Because portions are extremely generous, you'll want to order a few rounds of appetizers, namely mussels marinara, a dozen baked clams, Italian sausage with peppers and classic Caprese salad.
Chicago Cut. The sprawling 100-seat outdoor patio lines the riverside so that diners may peacefully enjoy breakfast (7-11am Monday through Friday), lunch or dinner in a somewhat secluded setting. Watch the boats float by as you nosh on early-bird bites of an organic egg white omelet or a sandwich stuffed with scrambled eggs, smoked Applewood bacon, white cheddar and tomatoes. Head here for dinner and enjoy BBQ ribs, a shellfish “bouquet” (includes lobster, shrimp, Alaskan king crab and oysters) or spinach fettuccine with summer vegetables.
Gibsons Steakhouse Outdoor Patio. No Chicago-based steakhouse is more notorious than this Gold Coast heavyweight, where patrons wait patiently for outdoor seats for more than two hours. Your best bet--once you nab a table--is to do it up right with some chilled delights: spicy lobster cocktail, Alaskan Red King crab cocktail, spicy lobster cobb salad or a peppercorn steak salad.
III FORKS Outdoor Patio & Private Cabanas
Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse. The sidewalk cafe is a big attraction for tourists and residents alike, as this area is steadily growing with businesses. It's especially popular during lunchtime on warmer days as large groups come for the steaks and Italian entrees. Lighter fare includes grilled skirt steak and the seafood cobb salad. The covered sidewalk cafe features ceiling fans on warmer days and heaters on those days when the weather's a bit more brisk.
Morton’s Steakhouse-Wacker Place.Outdoor seating for the Loop outpost of this classic Chicago steakhouse only seats about 15. Most diners know to arrive on the early end—especially if they’ve got tickets to nearby shows at Chicago Theatre or the Goodman. You’ll never go wrong with dishes like jumbo lump crab cakes, shrimp scampi or center-cut filet mignon. The venue is across the street from the Chicago River.
Chicago Cut On The River
Prime & Provisions. The owners behind Bull & Bear, Public Houseand Siena Tavernopened their North Loop steakhouse with much fanfare in spring 2015. It's a massive space with 300 seats inside and a small patio outside, which is certain to be especially popular during lunchtime and after work. Among the highlights of the lighter fare includes the shellfish tower, broiled wild salmon drizzled with smoked mustard glaze, and the dry-rubbed skirt steak.
Revolucion Mexican Steakhouse. The Mexican-inspired steakhouse offers a pretty, flower-lined patio in front of the restaurant. You'll find generous portions of the usual steak offerings, but this time with Latin accents such as chipotle cream sauce, avocado-tomatillo sauce and grilled cactus. For lighter bites, order steak fajitas, fire-roasted poblano peppers stuffed with roasted corn and other vegetables, or a share-able plate of carne asada or Barbacoa tacos.
Smith & Wollensky Outdoor Patio
Smith & Wollensky. The outdoor patio isn’t half as fancy as Smith & Wollensky’s interior, but its sheer appeal is that it’s right off the Chicago River. Treat yourself to one of the signature salads and top it off with meat or seafood (prices range $7-$14). For instance, you can top your Caesar with Ahi tuna, sliced tenderloin, jumbo chilled shrimp or pan-seared salmon.
Tavern on Rush. Located kitty-corner to fierce competitor Gibson's, Tavern on Rushfeatures a sprawling outdoor patio that snakes around its exterior. Big sellers during the summer include fire-roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta; sweet basil pesto & crab pizza; and the grilled Tavern chicken Caprese. The ambience, food and view have kept this spot at the top for outdoor patios for more than 15 years.