As the cherry blossoms bloom and bright green leaves unfold on New York City’s trees, it’s officially time for spring and dining outdoors. This year, drink your wine alfresco in the pavilion that finally opened up again in Union Square, get a picnic prepared for you by Perfect Picnic and head to Central Park, or visit one of the numerous rooftop bars that are starting to make waves this time of year. But, for those looking to soak in some sun while tucking into a plate of tacos or pasta, try one of these five under-the-radar places for your next outdoor eating excursion in New York.
The recently opened Baker & Co. offers a quaint, 20-seat garden in the back complete with a retractable, clear roof, so no matter what it’s doing outside, you can still sit in natural light. Run by Elena Fabiani, owner of Aurora and Emporio, and her general manager Markus Dorfmann, this seasonal Italian joint highlights fresh ingredients interwoven with classic comfort foods. Think fresh pasta, housemade focaccia with mozzarella and prosciutto, and salads brimming with vegetables and herbs from the closest garden. The space tips a hat to the past occupant, Zito’s Bakery, which stood there for 80 years. It incorporated reclaimed wood from the venue, kept the original floor and maintained the laidback, friendly vibe. Make sure to try the handcrafted beer and vermouth cocktails — after all, nothing screams dining outside more than ordering a crisp, lemony drink in the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day.
At the end of April, this new Mexican eatery from restaurateur Stephen Starr (of Morimoto and Buddakan fame) debuted in Battery Park City at Vesey Street and North End Avenue. With plenty of simple seats wrapping around the building in front, the vibe is more European café, but the food is decidedly Latino. Choose from summery bites including yellowtail and tomatillo ceviche with apricot and Serrano chilies, zucchini blossom quesadillas, Baja-style whole branzino and Mexican corn on the cob. El Vez serves lunch and dinner, with brunch just added to the menu.
Each summer, this restaurant opens up Terrazza, a simple yet elegant outdoor seating option set up in front of the grand, glass-encased building. Though Lincoln lacks the bells and whistles of some other alfresco establishments, the view of the glorious Metropolitan Opera House; a tiny, tree-lined park; and reflecting pool in front of the space offer a unique visage while you dine. Of course, then there is the food expertly prepared by chef Jonathan Benno. The cuisine is modern Italian at its finest, and some would argue it serves the best plates of handmade pasta in the city. Reserve a table for lunch or dinner and ogle the extensive Italian wine list before nibbling on perfect orbs of ricotta gnudi doused in seasonal sauce or Long Island duck breast with grapefruit mostarda.
For those looking to escape the bustle of Times Square or the Theater District, head to this delightful restaurant that recently opened in Hell’s Kitchen. Though you can’t tell from the outside, Bea has a charming courtyard in the center of the restaurant complete with a living tree that lights up at night. Technically, the space isn’t outdoors since it’s covered with a skylight, but on a sunny day you won’t be able to tell, given all the natural light and the bright, airy atmosphere. While the eatery has a French café feel to the décor, the menu contains mainly American-style fare, including a kale Caesar salad, fresh market fish and grilled lamb chops with avocado. Make sure you don’t skip the cocktail menu; aside from the setting, the real stars are the drinks, a favorite being the floral-tinged glass of bubbles dubbed Flora Belle and the smoky Bitter Duchess, which comes with housemade orgeat syrup, Campari, lime juice and El Buho mezcal.
Not every amazing alfresco spot is out in the open. At this neighborhood Italian spot in the East Village, it turns its inside seating into an airy, almost outdoor one with the aid of floor-to-ceiling windows that surround the corner restaurant. The result: fresh air and sunshine while having protection from wind, unfortunate bugs and that random dog that runs to your table looking for a scrap. Visit for dinner or weekend brunch and indulge in plates of blue fin tuna crudo with white sturgeon caviar, artichoke and avocado salad, and cauliflower risotto with imperial crab legs.
Photos Courtesy of Baker & Co, Paola Beretti and Evan Sung