This is the perfect holiday to wrap up August on the national food holidays calendar. Eat Outside Day celebrates the time-honored tradition of al fresco dining, reveling in the warm summer nights where dinner can be enjoyed with the outside air around you, transforming a dining experience from a meal in a stuffy restaurant to something feeling far more intimate and homey. And no one in the country does al fresco dining quite like New York City in summer: almost every self-respecting restaurant in the city has claimed a little space of their sidewalk with brightly colored partitions, making sure their guests can enjoy their meals out in the plain air of New York. Sure, there are some down sides to al fresco dining in the city–sweltering summer temperatures, roaming panhandlers, and the unique smells of some of Manhattan’s streets being just a few–but the trend of eating outside doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. The views you can find while leisurely enjoying a cafe latte or munching on a caprese salad can be like nothing else in the world. And it supports one of the most popular activities any New Yorker can partake in: people watching! So for today I’ve decided to take a departure from some of the best foods you can taste in the city and look more to the aesthetics of New York dining. Here are some of the best views and al fresco dining experiences around!
We may give it a bad rap for not being the cleanest river in the world, but the East River’s our river, dammit–one that we don’t have to share a shore of with New Jersey–and it’s still one of the best views we have of the city, its famous bridges, and nighttime views you get nowhere else. And no one gives you a better view of the river from Manhattan than Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark, situated right on the water, sandwiched between the FDR Drive and the river. Riverpark offers two different ways to enjoy the view: either reserve a table on their garden patio for a formal dinner, or take a seat lining the perimeter of the terrace for casual drinks and tapas. You can even check out the restaurant’s own garden, where they grow the large majority of the vegetables they use in the kitchen. Riverside views, a fresh garden…a night at Riverpark is definitely a pure departure from any other dining experience in Manhattan.
450 E 29th St
“Tom Colicchio’s new restaurant is certainly the best dining spot in Manhattan overlooking the East River. There are 44 seats on a terrace that’s lined with comfy sofa-like seating around the perimeter, dotted with plush pillows for really getting cozy. The popular Top Chef judge tapped Sisha Ortuzar to lead the kitchen, where the modern American cuisine has scored solid reviews.”–Huffington Post
“Tom Colicchio’s newest restaurant may require a trek to the eastern reaches of Manhattan, but the view of the East River on a balmy night is well worth it. For alfresco diners, Riverpark boasts two outdoor options. Those in the mood for a fancier affair can dine in the garden patio; or, for more casual eats, head to the terrace, which, with its picnic tables and communal seating, feels like a perfectly catered picnic.”–Fodor’s
“If it seems like a surfeit of good fortune to find outdoor seating with river views and a menu by Tom Colicchio right-hand man Sisha Ortúzar, believe it anyway. When Riverpark’s 72-seat terrace (not to be confused with the patio, which opened earlier this year) opens later this month, it’ll include biergarten-like benches surrounded by elm trees and shrubbery, with a shareable-snack menu of a mixed-grill platter, fried chicken, and oyster tacos ($10 to $18).”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The atmosphere at the Riverpark is extremely romantic and quaint. We were greeted by two extremely friendly and personable hosts who kindly walked us to a table outside. The views from the outdoor patio over looking the east river are breathtaking. Shortly after being seated we were greeted by our waiter, who explained that the restaurant week menu is the same as the regular menu just at a discounted price… SCORE!!”–Cos L.
“Anyways, we came here on a hot summer night and by the time we arrived, the skies let loose and it had started to pour. When we were being seated, we were given a choice of the indoor main dining room or the outdoor patio. We chose the patio, which was under an overhang. There was something incredibly romantic about eating outside on a hot night, with a strong downpour that cooled everything off, with the lights of Brooklyn off in the distance.”–John-Paul P.
But for an entirely different al fresco view of the East River, you’ll have to cross it and head to downtown Brooklyn, for Alma. Arguably one of the best rooftop decks for a restaurant anywhere in the world, Alma boasts an unimpeded panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline, the gridded roadways and skyscrapers that you will never spy from Tom Colicchio’s perch. Get here for a late dinner and be sure to catch the sunset, with the orange sun drifting below the skyline, a sight that is unrivaled anywhere else in the world. But Alma isn’t all ambience: they serve a full Mexican-themed menu with a full tequila bar, freshly made guacamole appetizer, and large entrees of enchiladas and quesadillas. Alma unfortunately doesn’t take reservations for the rooftop, and sometimes it is closed for private events (considering it IS one of the best views of Manhattan basically anywhere), but hopefully you will luck out and snag a spot to enjoy some great food and a spectacular view.
187 Columbia St, Brooklyn
“Up on the roof of Cobble Hill’s upscale regional-Mexican restaurant, you’ll find an inviting patio and gorgeous view of the Manhattan skyline.”–Time Out New York
“There may be no better view of the Manhattan skyline than the one from Alma’s rooftop terrace. This restaurant/bar serves standard Mexican dishes like fajitas and enchiladas alongside delicious drinks and an extensive menu of house-infused tequilas.”–About
“In Brooklyn, four ambitious young guys bought a brownstone with the lofty dream of building a restaurant themselves from scratch—foundation up to roof deck. They enlisted talented chefs to create fresh-from-the-market Mexican dishes like poblano relleno stuffed with braised short ribs and Gouda atop a yellow mole sauce. When they opened tapas spot Alma on the Columbia waterfront, the area was still under the radar. A decade later it’s one of Brooklyn’s hot spots, and scoring a summertime table facing Manhattan can require a nearly two-hour wait. “We provide more open sky than any restaurant I can think of,” says co-owner Anthony Capone.”–Travel And Leisure
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I have been to Alma a few times. Once on a date with my now husband, once for a special event with some good friends and last night we went there for an early Valentine’s day evening. In the summer the roof is the best spot (invigorating in the summer air, and cooler than inside) and in the winter the enclosed heated roof is amazingly romantic. In any season you can see a panorama of southern manhattan, some of NJ, the stevedore yard and in the right spot all the way up to the Chrysler building.”–Rebecca H.
“Hey, yeah, Alma means “soul” in Spanish. This place has it. From the roof deck on down. The employees are cool but the bartender, a woman, seemed a little stand-offish. No problem, though, for the most part, as the great selection of food and drink makes up for any deficiencies. I will be back there because the food matches the breathtaking view of Manhattan and no other place has such a great selection of Tequilas.”–Sam J.
But personally, I’ve never eaten at Riverpark or seen the great rooftop view at Alma (not that it’s not on my bucket list!) One of my favorite memories as a kid was going to Bay Ridge on special occasions and eating in the outdoor patio area of Casa Pepe, a long-lived Spanish restaurant with a humble facade and delicious, rustic cuisine. It’s one of my mom’s favorite restaurants so it was on the top of the list for many a special occasion. While the exterior of the restaurant is nothing much to look at, the interior is cozy and warm, done up like a romantic Spanish hacienda, lit by dim electric candlelight. But my favorite part of all is their outdoor patio section, all lined in red brick, with a wood burning stove in the back and plant life all around. You would never guess this little gem is sitting in the middle of Bay Ridge! My favorite dish as a kid was–and it still is–their mussels in salsa verde, complete with unlimited homemade tortilla chips. I ate that up like freakin’ CANDY, man. There are a ton of restaurants in all the boroughs with outdoor patio seating, making them feel like an oasis of garden peace in the middle of a bustling city; but for my money, my favorite is Casa Pepe, for the atmosphere, the great food, and all the memories.
114 Bay Ridge Ave (between Bliss Ter & Narrows Ave), Bay Ridge
“This amiable Bay Ridge haunt confidently zigzags between Spain and Mexico on its menu, from citrus-squirted calamari to cheesy chimichangas. The comfortably faded dining room evokes Spain à la Don Quijote: A helmeted conquistador holds aloft a globe of light, while copper pots and lacy fans hang on the whitewashed walls. In the vine-strung outdoor patio, it’s Viva México, with drying corn husks and brightly colored blankets.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I love Casa Pepe! Especially now that the weather is nicer and they have opened up their patio seating in the back, lunch or dinner at Casa Pepe is almost guaranteed to be an enjoyable experience. The menu has a range of options, ranging from the thoroughly Spanish (fried chorizo, plantains) to more general American fare (salmon, chicken spinoccoli), so everybody in your group is sure to find something! Attentive servers, fresh food, and the delicious ‘it’ factor make Casa Pepe a true hidden Bay Ridge treasure.”–Grace A.
“Great Mexican cuisine in a cute little location in Bay Ridge! We ate in the back yard area that is nice with candles and great decor. A nice touch (I guess) was that a Mexican singer would come to each table sing, play the guitar and ask if you wanted any songs performed while you ate dinner. Now this is nice and all but it was so loud we could not even have a conversation until he left our table area. We had chicken tacos and burritos. I also had some pina coladas which were nice.”–Andy H.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!