Picture breathing in the fresh air as you watch the setting sun or telling intimate stories across a candlelit table. The charm of alfresco dining—oh how love I thee! For those who relish an outdoor dining experience, Oak Park has an array of patio—and even rooftop—options to feed every resident’s appetite. Here, in no particular order, are my top five favorites.
Maya Del Sol
Let me inform you that every night of the week, Maya is enviably packed. The main dining area includes a well-stocked bar, flat-screen televisions, and cozy space for patrons to enjoy live music. Venture to the back of the restaurant to find Maya’s true gem, the back patio. The enclosed patio has its own bar, scattered tents to fend off the sun, and a fire pit ensconced with slated stones and garden tables. The Latin-fusion restaurant is known for their eclectic cocktail selection. I highly recommend the el fresco and frutas picante cocktails, both infused with serrano and jalapeño peppers as well as cucumber puree. The spicy, but crisp blend is very refreshing to enjoy on a warm summer night.
Marion Street Cheese Market
Expect an upscale dining experience on the outdoor patio of Marion Street Cheese Market. The sidewalk cafe is located on cobble-stoned Marion Street, in the heart of the Pleasant District. The Parisian-inspired space has both tented and exposed options as well as heat lamps for cooler summer nights. They provide an elegant selection of artisan cheese from local farms, charcuterie, chocolates, European wines, and craft-brewed beers. The menu is filled with wholesome ingredients that are translated into original and sophisticated flavors. I have enjoyed every plate I’ve had at Marion Street and when friends come into town, this is the first restaurant we frequent. I recently had the pleasure of enjoying their 10-Hour Black-Earth Pork Shoulder that comes with a crispy sweet potato hash—holy smokes, so good. Before they change their seasonal menu, definitely dive into that plate and be sure to treat yourself on a weeknight to take advantage of their half-priced wine selection.
If you crave a more casual dining experience, walk across the street to Poor Phil’s. This pub has the largest beer menu in Oak Park, a huge outdoor patio that starts at Marion Street then wraps around to Pleasant Street, and still manages to be a relatively kid-friendly spot in town. Oak Parkers love their unlimited—and free—baskets of popcorn and the fact that the kitchen stays open after 10 PM six nights a week. The food is always simple and great. Amid all the seafood choices, I tend to gravitate towards the GuacaBurger, a hefty patty piled high with swiss cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, red onions. I also switch out the side of french fries for sweet potato fries with a side of barbecue sauce. I personally don’t like beer—I know, I’m a terrible person—but they have amazing ginger beer and a number of more-than-decent cocktails on the menu.
When I think of Fuego Loco, three words come to mind: flights of margaritas! It is hard to choose a favorite because whether frozen or on the rocks, all flavors are delicious. Fuego Loco staff squeeze more than 1,000 limes per week because of the popularity of their margaritas. Patrons can enjoy their drinks and authentic Mexican plates on Fuego’s streetscape seating area along Lake Street. Though their patio isn’t enclosed like many other restaurants, there is something energizing about taking in the lively people walking by and all of the action riding by on the avenue. In recent years, my love for Fuego Loco has only deepened as they’ve redesigned their dining concept to reflect the style of the Mexican tradition “Dia de los Muertos.” The new contemporary aesthetics keeps me coming back and definitely sets them apart from other Mexican restaurants, creating a more fun, fresh, and upbeat environment.
Avenue Ale House
The Ale House is the go-to place to watch any and every sporting event. Not only do flat-screens serve as a the backdrop of the bar, but there are jumbo screens to appease the most lively fans I’ve encountered outside of a stadium. Elevate to the second floor where the restaurant spills out into a rooftop patio. Tons of high- and low-top tables dance around a large family-style table that glows with holiday lights that adorn the wooden screen overhead. To take full advantage of their generous portions, I’m always sure to visit the Ale House hungry. The cafe wrap, which envelops skirt steak, pear, bleu cheese, and a red onion jam, is divine. My second favorite menu item is really any flatbread and for drinks, hands down its the passion fruit mojito. For late night eaters, their kitchen stays open until 11 PM every Friday and Saturday night.
And these are just a few! Oak Park is full of restaurants that offer outdoor seating: Kinderhook Tap, Munch, New Rebozo, Lake Street Kitchen + Bar, Mancini’s, Il Vicolo, Eastgate Café, Salerno’s, Winberie’s, and many others also help you take advantage of the warm weather. Next time you’re headed out for a bite, go alfresco in Oak Park!