The GRUB GUIDE To What’s Hot . . .

The Bedford's "Vault" area. (Photo: Johnny Auer)

It sucks aplenty that The Bedford’s spectacular rooftop won’t be ready until 2012.

It would have been the first of its kind in Wicker Park, offering diners and drinkers an amazing view of Chicago’s skyline when dusk hits. But that’s OK, because The Bedford, which debuted in early May, will continue to be the neighborhood’s hit this summer. You know how unpredictable Chicago’s weather can be, so the subterranean spot is an ideal venue to hide out in when it’s unfavorable outside. Situated in a former bank, the restaurant is separated into several rooms offering different atmospheres. There’s the ultra-busy main dining room that’s filled with banquettes, the main bar and a deejay booth. A more chilled-out area is reserved for additional dining with more banquettes.

Prices are perfect for this part of town, ranging $6-$25. Mark Steuer’s contemporary American menu is a bit all over the place featuring mostly seafood and meat. We highly recommend the lighter bites from Bedford, particularly Deviled eggs sprinkled with hot sauce and powdered bacon; crispy Walleye Pike with chorizo and clams; steamed mussels with chilies and Schlitz; and the pan-roasted halibut.

The most coveted seats in the house are in the actual bank vault, which is filled with mismatched furniture. The room’s strictly for drinking mixologist Pete Gugni’s seasonal creations, which should keep you happy all summer long.

The Cucumber Cooler (made with your choice of gin or vodka, Aperol, lime, simple syrup and muddled cucumber) and The Bedford Bramble (Encanto Pisco, lemon juice, five spice, blackberry, ginger beer) are the biggest sellers on the cocktail menu.

Cantina 46's sidewalk patio area. (Photo: Cantina 46)

Now, for drinking and dining outdoors, your options are limitless with all the fantastic new spots opening all over town:

Cantina 46: Why go to a big chain for margaritas when you can sip handcrafted cold ones on the casual patio of a neighborhood-style Mexican restaurant? The new Gold Coast cantina also offers an alfresco sunken-dining area for a little semi-private action from the hordes of tourists walking by. The cocktail menu also includes potent pleasers like the Hum Paloma, sangria, mojitos and caipirinhas, which complement an updated Mexican menu of slow-cooked shortrib nachos, grilled shrimp empanadas and red snapper ceviche. But the highlight of the cocktail menu is the tableside service, when servers top off each margaritas with a one-ounce pour of pure agave tequila from a bottle carried in holsters.

Hoyt’s Chicago: Hotel 71’s smashing new restaurant has just opened its 60-seat sidewalk patio overlooking the Chicago River. We see this quickly becoming a destination for a happy hour crowd even though the patio stays open until midnight during the week and until 2am on weekends. Menu highlights include homemade pretzels served with chorizo cheese sauce, crispy calamari and Goose Island 312 Beer mussels. There’s also 18 signature cocktails created by master mixologist Bridget Albert, including the seasonal Midwestern Farmer Fizz (Skyy vodka, St. Germaine, fresh sour mix, fresh herbs, club soda; $12) and the Bee Keeper (bourbon, Domaine de Canton, honey syrup, lemon juice; $12).

Perennial Virant: You’ll find 60 seats also on the 1,000-square-foot outdoor patio at Paul Virant’s new venture with the Boka Restaurant Group. This is a chance for the venerable chef to showcase his passion for farm-to-table cooking with the restaurant located directly across the street from Green City Market. Each week, guests can take advantage of a seasonal three-course tasting menu for $35.

Roots Handmade Pizza: The guys behind The Fifty/50 open their second restaurant only a few short blocks away. This time the specialty is Quad Cities-style hand-tossed pizza made with simple, high-quality ingredients. More than 70 Midwest-only beers (with 15 on tap) as well as childhood-inspired cocktails will be on the menu when it opens May 31. The outdoor patio seats about 90 people along Winchester Avenue.

South Branch: And no doubt South Branch will be jumping all summer as the Loop spot to grab a drink and food after work during the week. The outdoor patio is massive at 4,000 square feet and offers guests a good view over the Chicago River. A number of signature burgers and wraps, plus bacon-wrapped shrimp, tilapia tacos and more are on the menu.