268 6th Ave. (betw. Bleecker & Houston Sts.), 212-982-3300
Just a sliver of sidewalk allows this place to get some outdoor action while also serving up some of the finest Italian at a bargain price. Not going to head off to the old country? This is the next best thing with its casual air; and if you don’t mind the implicit moral wrangles, the veal meatballs come highly recommended.
363 W 16th St. (at 9th Ave.) 212-243-8400
The outdoor patio for La Bottega at the Maritime Hotel is elevated about 6 feet off the street, so patrons have the street-side experience without the encroachment of sidewalk traffic and noise: This is perfect for people-watching without people being able to watch back too easily. Umbrellas protect the sun-shy. Food is on the lighter side, with a few interesting dishes such as rabbit, but there’s nothing too chi-chi. New American, new European, nothing too heavy or creamy. Hot super thin-crust pizzas are great for sharing.
139 E 1st St. (betw 8th & 9th Sts.), 212-388-1234
Located in the heart of the East Village, this little Italian spot prides itself in its very traditional Italian meats, wines and coffees enjoyed either inside the ultra-modern interior, or in the gorgeous, cozy back garden. Known for its plates of meats and cheeses, Tuscan style, Café Emilia also offers a great, and actually affordable, wine list. So if you’re in the mood for some thin lean meats and cheeses while you swirl your glass of fruity, nutty Italian red, this is great little hideaway for a chill summer night.
214 Smith St. (betw. Butler & Baltic Sts.), B’klyn, 718-625-3815.
The entrance to Cafe Luluc demands attention. Its entire front is open to the street, like a pushed-up garage door. The backyard patio surrounds a large tree and bubbling birdbath fountain. A mural on the facing wall depicts a tropical oceanfront sunset, and a row of tables at the back is shielded by a large red awning. Little tables are covered in woven placemats, and the little chairs are mint-green plastic and steel. They’re delicate; be nice to them. The food is a pan-European mix of mostly light fare. A half-dozen sandwiches are reasonably priced under $10.
101 Saint Marks Pl. (betw. 1st Ave. & Ave. A), 212-677-2226
When you’re looking for an authentic Moroccan fix, you’ve found your place. We were conflicted about even mentioning this place since people already come from Jersey to pack the tables and keep us away. But hey, when you’re good, you deserve some props. Check out the coffee service for a big wow for out-of-town friends, and the tagines—to die for.
35 Cooper Square, 212-375-9195.
You get $4 drinks all night (about as cheap as it gets in the city) and that goes for the mojitos as well (although the bartender may hate you for all the mint mashing, so remember to tip generously). This is mainly an “Asian pub” but the food is all over the place: Maybe you’ll get some Buffalo wings as a side to your edamame and Pad Thai. Whatever it is, it’s surprisingly good and cheap for such a top-drawer location and setting.
Cowgirl Hall of Fame
519 Hudson St. (at W. 10th St.), 212-633-1133
This popular West Village Southern/Soul and Barbeque restaurant enjoys the raised eyebrows at being not only a gay family restaurant but also one with extraordinarily friendly service clad in cowboy hats and eyeliner under deer-antler chandeliers and longhorn decorations. The fatty fried foods are the best excuse to toss your diet (they even throw in free chips and black-eyed-pea salsa!) together with pitchers of delicious flavored margaritas. The catfish fingers and Jack Daniels Pork Chops are recommended. Talented bartenders, an impressive wine list and outdoor seating you would find at your neighborhood barbeque allow you to dawdle over your food while watching summertime West Village mayhem.
106 Kenmare St. (betw. Mulberry & Centre sts.), 646-613-7100
The best tacos and tortas can still be found at this corner Nolita location. Sure, there’s the sit-down café of the same name around one corner selling the same fare for a few bucks more, but it’s much more fun to load up on two-handers and yummy roasted corn on a stick and cross to the park in the median along busy Lafayette and chow down.
Fabiane’s Café and Pastry
142 N. 5th St., Apt 4R, Williamsburg, B’klyn, 718-218-9632
To do coffee drinking or sandwich eatin’ while also keeping score of all the latest forward-thinking Williamsburg fashion trends, this little guy is hands down the best. Grab an outdoor table and sit facing north…for some reason it seems people-watching is best from that direction. For real.
5 Front St. (near Old Fulton St.), Dumbo, 718-625-5559
This upscale bistro, under the Brooklyn Bridge, has a lovely multilevel deck out back. The deck is divided into lounging and dining areas, and the staff is prepared for any meteorological occurrence: with both umbrellas and gas heaters standing at the ready. The tall back wall is ivy-covered brick for a little more atmosphere. Appetizers are a bit steep, sandwiches and burgers start at $10, entrees start at $15. It’s sedate but very pleasant. The crowd was a little more, um, mature the night we visited, so use your inside voices, even though you’re outside.
109 1st Ave. (at 7th St.), 212-260-6223
It’s rare that you can enjoy such skillful sushi and get an “outdoor experience.” The double picture window up front makes you feel like you’re dining outside without all the nasty grubby things that go along with it. That way you can cozy up to your huge sashimi cuts without any worry about mess.
7 Rivington St. (betw. Bowery & Chrystie St.), 212-253-7077
Get your wieners and suds on simple pine tables and benches just as if you were in Cologne. Maybe it’s lacking in ambiance—not enough old guys with kooky stories and big, red noses—but the hip factor hasn’t seeped in too far, so you’ll be able to sustain yourself through a few pints.
94 Greenwich Ave. (betw. W. 12th St. & 8th Ave.), 212-366-6110
Who wants to chow down on car fumes? The leafy garden out back of this Franco-Brazilian restaurant is an excellent place to while away hours and hours without feeling like you need to do anything other than sip on another caipirinha. The resto also bills itself as a Cachaçaria—meaning they specialize in the Brazilian spirit distilled from sugar cane—so expect plenty of versions of fave drinks. It also serves up the X-tudo (aka Cheese Tudo), one of the best burgers around (topped with an egg). Who needs backyard weenies and burgers when you can be so easily transported with sophisticated fare.
129 E. 18th St. (betw. 3rd Ave & Irving Place), 212-473-7676
Known as the Tavern that O. Henry made famous by writing his short story “Gift of the Magi” in one of its cozy booths, Pete’s Tavern boasts its historical significance as the longest-running bar and restaurant in New York City. You may recognize it from several Hollywood and Network TV appearances, or ogle it from outside as you walk past the relaxed diners outside wrapping around the restaurant on a quiet Irving Place corner contrasting with the vivacious sports-watching after-work crowd lining the bars inside.
62 Prince St. (at Lafayette), 212-219-2129
It can feel a little corporate in this airy garage-esque space, but it can also be the best thing that resembles the outdoors while remaining climate controlled. A fun beer list and big ol’ sausages, the menu won’t make you feel like you’re getting a bargain (when in Soho does that ever happen?), but it’s one of the better quick-stops along the super-busy shopping route. Yeah, maybe it feels like it belongs in a schmancy L.A. strip mall, but remember, there is a Prada store just a few blocks away.
Sweet Water Tavern
105 N. 6th St. (betw. Berry & Wythe Aves.), B’klyn, 718-963-0608
A very local Brooklyn spot good for after work drinks and delicate, Mediterranean gourmet food—even at the bar! Drinks are affordable and the crowd is varied and friendly, often meeting at the garden in the back to chat over large draft beers. Doubling as a local restaurant and billiards bar, Sweet Water has a little to offer to everyone, recommended in particular for their provolone rice meatballs with sausage ragú and arugula salad with pecans and green apples. Vegetarian-friendly for the greener of our lot.
The Terrace at Hurley’s
232 W. 48th St. (betw. Broadway & 8th Ave.), 212-765-8981
This is one of those little “I had no idea this was here!” discoveries. The Terrace has a great view of the sky, and you can’t even tell you’re in the heart of Times Square. It makes you feel like you’re having drinks on a friend’s balcony—a very rich friend. The tiled patio gives a Mundo Latino atmosphere, with mosaics and elegant wrought-iron tables and chairs. The bar menu is pretty typical but well-priced (around $10) with an emphasis on seafood, but the real reason to come is the patio and tall drinks.
Trestle on Tenth
242 10th Ave. (at W. 24th St.), 212-645-5659
For all wine aficionados who have been gritting their teeth through winter, it’s time for a little wine and cheese al fresco at this sweet Chelsea restaurant specializing in European, particularly Swiss and American New Cuisine. An international wine list focuses on small growers and natural wines and was given the Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator magazine. Though a little pricy, something fresh and interesting for your palette as you swirl under moonlight may be worth the few extra dollars.
The Yard @ SoHo Grand
310 Broadway (at Canal St.), 212-965-3588
Serving as a poor man’s penthouse bar, the Yard offers apartment-bound New Yorkers a chance to lounge in a backyard at this little bar in a narrow slide alley laden with beer-garden lights and all-weather fabric. Warm weather draws a fair crowd of diverse and generally spirited patrons. The drinks are reasonably priced, the service friendly and the bar is open late to quench your thirst for booze and fresh air. Recommended drinks are caipiruvas, raspberry hibiscus coolers and Tartinis.