After months of eating takeout in cramped apartments, New Yorkers are finally going al fresco.
In this phase, restaurant customers can still head inside while social distancing to use the restrooms, pay their bill or even to access backyard seating, city health department officials tell The Post. The department’s dining recommendations include making a reservation to avoid waiting around and applying hand sanitizer just before eating.
Restaurants are now finding innovative ways to use their outdoor spaces and limit face-to-face interactions. But Phase 2 doesn’t mean a free-for-all — and restaurants could still be relatively crowded with stir-crazy diners.
The Post visited some of our neighborhood favorites to highlight the best in outdoor dining — COVID edition. To make our list, restaurants and their guests have to have been spotted by a Post reporter complying with the city’s guidelines, including maintaining 6 feet of space between tables, wearing masks and having hand sanitizer readily available. We also appreciate when a restaurant isn’t too crowded and, of course, when the food is worthy of a jaunt outside.
Here are our picks for the best outdoor dining spots in NYC.
Soho: Emilio’s Ballato
The setup: The Houston Street Italian staple is open for business with a new twist. There are four tables out front: two on the sidewalk and two in the street behind a barricade. And there’s the addition of a “secret garden” with four other tables, according to chef Anthony Vitolo, whose father, Emilio Vitolo, owns the joint. “That’s where the deliveries normally come in,” he tells The Post of the makeshift backyard. “The entrance is on Mott Street and we never thought to open it up, but now that we need more space we got landlord approval to use it. We turned it into a beautiful garden patio.”
The scene: The restaurant regularly attracts celebrities like Lenny Kravitz, Victor Cruz and Cindy Crawford, but it’s never pretentious.
The menu: The restaurant is known for twists on Italian staples, like rigatoni zucchini ($32, and Kravitz’s favorite), tagliatelle Bolognese ($32), chicken parm ($38) and veal parm ($48), which is on the bone. Vitolo posts daily specials on his Instagram, @ChefAnthony_BallatosNYC.
Tips: “Just come by,” says Vitolo. There are no reservations; it’s first come, first served.
55 E. Houston St.; 212-274-8881, @EmiliosBallato
— Kirsten Fleming
West Village: White Horse Tavern
The setup: The historic Greenwich Village tavern, which was taken over by restaurateur Eytan Sugarman last year, has one of the biggest outdoor patios in the city, with about 40 seats.
The scene: The venerable spot has always been a mix of loyal locals and serious drinkers, and it retains its casual vibe. “I think people are dying to have some semblance of their old life back and really embracing being served again,” Sugarman says.
The menu: Sugarman upgraded the pub grub with fresher ingredients and more innovative twists. Their burger with fries ($15), house-made roast beef sandwich ($17) and fried chicken sandwich ($16) are all favorites. Lighter summer dishes like a watermelon salad and grilled shrimp will be available by the weekend.
Tip: The tavern opens at 5 p.m. and isn’t taking reservations, so grab a table early.
567 Hudson St.; 212-989-3956, WhiteHorseTavern1880.com
East Village: Il Posto Accanto
The setup: “It’s our version of Quartieri Spagnoli in Napoli,” says Julio Pena, half of the husband-and-wife duo who own the homemade Italian food haven in the East Village. Masks are required at the restaurant’s new six-table al fresco digs. Menus are disposable and seating will be disinfected between use.
The scene: The neighborhood is party-central, but Pena will be making sure the crowd follows safety rules, even though locals often cool down at the nearby neighborhood staple known as Gutter Beach — a sprinkler rigged on a fire hydrant.
The menu: Chef Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta crafts dishes using locally sourced fresh foods — as her followers, whom she dubs “petunias,” know well from her online cooking tutorials — so new menus catered to hot weather are in the works. Their famed gnocchi ($22.50) will still be served on Thursdays, and lasagna ($27) on Sundays — now on “real, grown-up plates” instead of takeout containers.
Tip: You’ll need a reservation because of limited seating, but Pena says, “Don’t get your feelings hurt if you can’t play here [right away]. We’re open seven days a week.”
190 E. Second St.; 212-228-3562, IlPostoAccantoNYC.com
— Nadine DeNinno
SoHo: 12 chairs
The setup: The small Israeli restaurant has spread their wings onto MacDougal street with 11 tables, each 6 feet apart. “People have been craving this. It’s nice to see,” manager Manuel Cicle says.
The scene: The southern stretch of the street made famous by Bob Dylan is now bursting with new life as restaurants like 12 Chairs and Shuka all have set up outdoor tables. “It’s like a big block party,” says Cicle.
The menu: The restaurant has a massive menu, hearty portions and reasonable prices. The most popular dishes are the hummus ($10), schnitzel ($20) and shakshuka ($14).
Tip: Right now they aren’t taking reservations, but they will reassess this policy as the new phase shakes out.
56 MacDougal St.; 212 254-8640, 12Chairscafe.com
Midtown: Le Rivage
The setup: Restaurant Row’s French fixture has a Parisian bistro feel, with sidewalk seating perfect for seeing and being seen. And thanks to the newly instated street closure on 46th Street, it feels spacious. Added bonus: It’s located on the “south side of the street, so the shade of the buildings keeps it cool and covered,” says chef and owner Paul Denamiel.
The scene: Mostly locals and those missing the famed theater-dining hot spot, but plenty of nearby bars and a street closed to traffic from 4 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 10 p.m. on weekends make it perfect for people watching.
The menu: Denamiel says the full menu is available, including his famed, award-winning French onion soup burger ($26). The bar has summer staples ($12) such as frosé and piña coladas, plus Moscow mules with a twist: “using French alcohol and flavors,” the chef says.
Tip: Reservations are not required and tables are on a first-come, first-served basis. Shoot for a table near the curb, which has trees for added privacy.
340 W. 46th St.; 212-765-7374, LeRivageNYC.com.
Hell’s Kitchen: Taboon
The setup: Devotees of the Mediterranean spot will notice an even bigger outdoor area than usual, says general manager Alex Taylor, with tables extending farther down the street, all with awnings for shade. “It looks very luxurious and much more spacious,” he says.
The scene: Catering to an upscale crowd, the aroma of the taboon, Arabic for a wood-burning oven, is still in the air. The spot now sports a new outdoor bar, which Taylor says will soon have “Good Boys and Girls Club” specials on drinks for those who follow health guidelines.
The menu: Taylor says they’re excited to serve their “signature showstopping dish” — the fan favorite terracotta lamb kebab ($38) — once again, “presented nicely on a plate” rather than a to-go box.
Tip: Don’t come here with a big group for now. Most tables fit two people. There are limited seats for groups of four.
773 10th Ave.; 212-713-0271, Taboon.NYC
Midtown West and East: The Perfect Pint
The setup: Craving some good ole Irish pub food? Two locations offer both sidewalk seating and rooftop dining options, and, except for some extra space due to its 50 percent capacity, it looks like prepandemic days in the Big Apple. “You wouldn’t really notice the difference,” says Midtown East general manager Paulina Aldona Lis.
The scene: It’s mostly New Yorkers looking to catch up with friends with some drinks and appetizers. “People are so happy just to be able to sit out on the street and enjoy food and drinks and have a nice time with their friends,” says Lis.
The menu: Traditional pub grub like fish and chips, along with more decadent options like the Guinness-grilled ribeye steak ($32). Wash it down with all-day drink specials like $6 house beers, $5 bottled beers and $7 wine.
Tip: They’re not taking reservations, but Lis says it gets busier toward the later afternoon and evening.
123 W. 45th St. and 203 E. 45th St.; ThePerfectPintNYC.com
The setup: You won’t find folding chairs and flimsy tables at Melba’s. Famed architect David Rockwell has designed a colorful sidewalk cafe for this Harlem mainstay — part of an effort that gives five black-owned restaurants in New York boutique outdoor seating for free. With inviting wooden booths and plants abounding, Melba’s is a real showstopper on Frederick Douglass Boulevard. “Everything was a gift,” says owner Melba Wilson. “It was just what we needed, because a lot of our employees were furloughed.”
The scene: With 62 seats, from large booths to two-tops, Melba’s is beloved in the neighborhood, but also brings in diners from all over the city. The tables are 6 feet apart, but the vibe is still family. The restaurant has masks on hand if you forget yours at home.
The menu: Melba’s bread and butter is chicken and waffles ($18.95) — hearty soul food. Then have a piece of sweet potato pie ($7.95).
Tip: The restaurant is far from most 9-to-5ers’ offices, so sneak out for a weekday lunch of collard greens ($6) and catfish ($18.95). The Rockwell booths on 114th Street are the hottest seats.
300 W. 114th St.; 212-864-7777, MelbasRestaurant.com
— Johnny Oleksinski
Upper West Side: Jacob’s Pickles
The setup: The popular Southern restaurant on the Upper West Side is lucky to be situated next to a lush private garden, and several tables are located right next to it. The greenery makes for a sweet escape from busy Amsterdam Avenue. “It feels good to see people comfortable enough to enjoy a nice meal and come back together as a community,” says owner Jacob Hadjigeorgis. Hand sanitizer is inside the restaurant.
The scene: Jacob’s Pickles is the rare UWS favorite that regularly draws a younger, enthusiastic crowd. But in the early days of Phase 2, the pace is much more European than usual — as in, you can actually lounge and relax without feeling rushed.
The menu: The cuisine is “Southern-accented,” and while the honey chicken and pickles biscuit sandwich ($17) is delish, the pickled green tomatoes ($5) and catfish tacos ($21) are bright summer options. For a drink, the Bloody BLT ($13) rightly gives you bacon with your vodka.
Tip: Jacob’s Pickles has always been a white-hot spot for Sunday brunch, with marathon waits, and with outdoor seating it is sure to be again. A weekday brunch or weeknight dinner is a safer bet.
509 Amsterdam Ave.; 212-470-5566, Jacobs.PickleHospitality.com
Upper East Side: Sfoglia
The setup: An intimate joint whose Italian fare critics have deemed downtown-worthy since it opened in 2005 is offering al fresco dining for the very first time. There are 13 wooden tables, all painted different colors and seating two to five people, along Lexington Avenue and East 90th Street.
The scene: Intimate, rustic, homey: the corner restaurant’s atmosphere extends to the curb. For the most secluded, serene experience, one two-top table has a sun umbrella perched above it and sits at the base of a brownstone’s stoop.
The menu: Don’t miss Sfoglia’s handmade pasta, which is back on the menu after a hiatus due to the coronavirus. A summertime staple is the fusilli with corn, basil pesto and house-made ricotta ($22 for a half portion; $34 for a full portion).
Tip: Make a reservation on OpenTable; slots are available between 4 and 9 p.m. every night. Expect the hours, as well as the number of tables, to expand in the coming weeks.
1402 Lexington Ave.; 212-831-1402, SfogliaRestaurant.com
–Hana R. Alberts
Upper East Side: JG Melon
The setup: The storied burger joint’s signature green-and-white tablecloths are draped over about 10 cafe tables for parties of two and four that are spaced carefully along Third Avenue and down East 74th Street. Planters painted matching hunter green overflow with foliage and help separate diners.
The scene: Founded in 1972, JG Melon is a go-to spot for hamburgers, fries and Bloody Marys — even for those beyond the Upper East Side. The old-boys’-club vibe inside the restaurant, which has a saloony feel, doesn’t extend to the sidewalk seating.
The menu: Melon’s menu has always been simple, limited to one page. In that sense, nothing’s changed: Burgers (from $12) and cottage fries ($6.75) are the obvious picks, but other neighborhood faves include the turkey club ($13.95) or nicoise salad ($16.50). A Bloody Mary is $11.
Tip: The tables are first come, first served, so arrive early or go for lunch to make sure you can nab a spot. And though Melon’s has enforced a strict cash-only policy for nearly five decades, the coronavirus crisis has led to an easing of the rules: They now take credit cards, too.
1291 Third Ave.; 212-744-0585, JGMelon-NYC.com
Park Slope: Bricolage
The setup: In Park Slope, Bricolage’s garden offers socially distanced dining with aesthetic flair. A jungle of strategically placed plants creates barriers in the rear of the restaurant. “We’re trying to create an oasis,” co-owner Miro Gal says. “The idea is for our customers to forget that they are in the city.”
The scene: An eclectic mix of music — ranging from French synth-pop to American alternative — complements a vibe that manages to be both industrial and rustic. Mellow neighborhood diners take it all in and acclimate to being out again. As one woman exclaimed between sips of her scotch-forward cocktail, called For Peat’s Sake, “This is the first strong drink I’ve had since I don’t remember when!”
The menu: The French-Vietnamese menu is highlighted by dishes that include lemongrass-grilled pork chops ($28) and a beer-battered shrimp banh mi ($18).
Tip: Best time for dining is around 8 p.m. The temperature dips and the garden feels all the more transporting. Coziest table in the al fresco joint: the one that goes with a small sofa in the far right-hand corner.
162 Fifth Ave.; 718-230-1835, Bricolage.NYC
— Michael Kaplan
The setup: Fronted by a giant outdoor space, Parklife in Gowanus seems custom-built for post-pandemic dining. There are shade-giving awnings, small trees and a wall of foliage. “We’re creating a relaxed hangout and making it worthwhile for people to come by,” co-owner Julie Kim says. Tables are outfitted with small paper bags for stashing masks while dining, hand sanitizer displayed as if it’s a condiment and a red-tipped stick for flagging down servers.
The scene: Funky music appeals to a cool, young, casual crowd. Long pants will leave you feeling overdressed.
The menu: The food is Mexican, and Kim’s go-to is the joojeh kebab ($6). It’s a take on a Turkish chicken dish with saffron yogurt, deliciously wrapped inside a flour tortilla.
Tip: On Wednesday nights, when movies are shown on an outdoor screen, show up at dusk and take in the flick. Try to snag the table that parallels the curling rink; it offers a perfectly unobstructed view.
636 Degraw St.; 646-949-4636, ParklifeBK.com
Prospect Heights: Alta Calidad
The setup: Vanderbilt Avenue’s Michelin-approved Mexican joint is open for business on the sidewalk, with five tables and a reimagined ordering system. Guests eat off disposable dishware on the 300-square-foot patio. And germ-covered menus are a thing of the past: “We’ve set up table tents with QR codes so that customers can scan those to look at the menu, and pay, on their phones,” says co-owner Michael Wetherbee.
The scene: There’s great people watching at this unpretentious spot — nearby bars have been doing to-go cocktails — so swing by “to see familiar faces other than the people they’re living with,” says Wetherbee.
The menu: The guacamole ($13.50) is a favorite here, but cocktails like the Mezcalero, with mezcal, Cointreau, ginger, grapefruit bitters and cava ($14), are the real reason to get off the couch.
Tip: For dinner, Alta Calidad’s corner real estate gets some shade, making it a hot table in town. Come early for a margarita with a date, but don’t plan on bringing a big group.
552 Vanderbilt Ave.; 718-622-1111, AltaCalidadBK.com
— Suzy Weiss
Prospect Heights: Art Cafe + Bar
The setup: Nestled behind some colorful fencing and covered in vines is Prospect Heights’ Art Cafe, which boasts a 1,200 square-foot garden with 30 seats and all-day service. Parties of four, five and six can fit comfortably on mismatched chairs for a drink and a bite.
The scene: The bohemian oasis is a favorite for artistic locals who value fare that’s “global…sustainable, organic and locally made” as owner Brianna Gureje puts it. Hey, if you can’t visit the nearby Brooklyn Museum, might as well get your fix among the creatives of the borough.
The menu: Empanadas ($3-$12), fried fish ($22), and raw kale salads ($6-$8) are part of the “all over the place” menu, plus a full bar that serves up sangria flights and papaya mezcal mules.
Tip: Tip: Happy hour ends at 7:30 p.m. at Art Cafe, but consider stopping by in the morning. They open at 8 a.m. for a more relaxing vibe. “We aren’t as busy in the morning as we are from 3 p.m. onwards,” Gureje says. “We have a full espresso set-up.”
884 Pacific St.; 516-690-0549, @ArtCafeBrooklyn
The setup: Named after the Aztec goddess of the night, this bright, elegant, Michelin-starred Mexican spot with wood-fired eats in Greenpoint is making use of its existing open-air patio and expanding to the sidewalk and street. The 360-square-foot patio currently has 16 seats but will double in size and be able to seat approximately 38 within the next week or so.
The scene: Oaxacan chic and sun-drenched, Oxomoco offers a tasty alternative to those now-canceled summer travel plans. “We want to create a transportive experience so you don’t feel like you are on a street in Brooklyn,” manager Gabby Ayoub says.
The menu: It’s limited for now, but includes “favorites” such as guacamole with smoked cherry tomatoes ($16), unctuous pork carnitas tacos ($17-$24), strawberry tres leches ($12), shrimp ceviche tostada ($19) — and, for vegans, spicy beet “chorizo” tacos ($15-$21).
Tip: They’ll only seat you if you have a reservation, and they’re open noon to 9 p.m.
128 Greenpoint Ave.; 646-688-4180, OxomocoNYC.com
— Rob Bailey-Millado
Greenpoint: The Springs
The setup: This welcoming Greenpoint spot has a sprawling, Palm Springs-themed patio — perfect for distancing at 5,000 dog-friendly square feet — with a sky-blue water fountain and umbrellaed tables. Masks are required when you’re not at your table.
The scene: “It’s like a real urban oasis,” says owner Irene Reyes. Sip a refreshing SoCal-inspired cocktail — spiked with fresh-squeezed grapefruit, prickly pear, organic cukes and more — while surrounded by an army of pink flamingo lawn ornaments and pool floaties. “It’s summer now,” Reyes says. “Time for some fun!”
The menu: The crisp craft cocktails and retro-cool Aperol slushies are $14 a pop, with $95 pitchers (serves 10) also available. To-go drinks on request. A food truck — serving brisket short-rib burgers with truffle aioli, fish tacos, fried-chicken sandwiches and vegetarian calamari made with hearts of palm and hot cherry peppers — returns this week.
Tip: Reservations are suggested to guarantee a spot. Do not move furniture: It’s properly spaced for a reason!
224 Franklin St.; 347-227-7114, TheSprings-BK.com.
Bed-Stuy: Bar Camillo
The setup: Bed-Stuy’s Bar Camillo had been open only five weeks — and had premiered their 300-square-foot courtyard one day — before the city shut down. But they’re back and safer than ever. In addition to the five tables in their courtyard, they’ve also placed four high-tops on the street in an enclosure in front of the restaurant. New measures include disposable menus, 6 feet of spacing between tables and a “detailed” digital menu that encourages diners to “answer their own questions and reduce employee-customer interactions,” says Michael Schall, one of the restaurant’s three owners.
The scene: Think of Bar Camillo as the “aperitivo hour” spot — referring to the Italian tradition of pre-dinner cocktails and small plates. The Negroni menu ($10 each), featuring a half-dozen or so riffs on the classic cocktail, is the heartbeat of the restaurant.
The menu: Their provincial Italian style shines through with starters, such as alici burro, a dish of marinated anchovies, bread and butter ($9), and their eggplant parm antipasti ($15), which is plenty enough for one as a main course. But their signature dish is the pinsa — a pizza-like flatbread ($13-$19) in varieties from margherita to salsiccia and friarielli.
Tip: Schall asks that customers not arrive without a reservation: “We want people to know they can come in and don’t have to wait in a crowd or hang over a table to get a seat.”
333 Tompkins Ave.; 347-533-6340, BarCamillo.com
— Hannah Sparks
Sunnyside: Pete’s Grill
The setup: The 12-year-old diner in Sunnyside repurposed its adjacent parking lot to offer outdoor seating for the first time ever. About a dozen umbrella-covered tables are perfectly separated within individual parking spots. While you’re catching some rays, take your pick from their newly expanded summer cocktail menu. “People don’t usually get [cocktails] at a diner, but since we’re doing outside, we’re going to focus on the drinks,” owner Peter Moundros says.
The scene: Flower planters and piped-out music distract from the gas station next door and the 7 train rumbling by.
The menu: Like any self-respecting diner, expansive choices include everything from omelets and waffles to gyros, fajitas, sauteed dishes and more than three-dozen burgers. Opt for the popular Cowboy Burger, with bacon, barbecue sauce and American cheese ($10.45). Wash it down with Pete’s signature mudslide (Baileys Irish Cream, Kahlua, Ketel One vodka and vanilla ice cream; $12).
Tip: No reservations, so it’s first come, first served for those who want to “park” outside from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
3914 Queens Blvd.; 718-937-2220, PetesGrill.com
— Eric Hegedüs
City Island: Johnny’s Reef
The setup: This seaside counter-service joint features separate food- and drink-ordering sections on the inside and an assortment of covered picnic tables with sprawling views of the Long Island Sound beyond. Distance stalls separate customers once they reach the counter, and the location at the edge of City Island keeps the outdoor area breezy and cool.
The scene: Bronx and island locals make up most of the line, plus a handful of other-borough residents who know it’s worth the schlep.
The menu: A diner-length menu is divided into separate steamed and fried options, not to mention a whole section just for clams, assorted sauces and the bar.
Tip: The perimeter of the restaurant has the best views of the sound. Bring cash — no credit cards accepted.
2 City Island Ave.; 718-885-2086, JohnnysReefRestaurant.com
— Hannah Frishberg
Randall Manor: Blue
The setup: The only thing blocking your view of the Manhattan skyline and the banks of New Jersey are passing container ships at Blue, the waterfront restaurant situated just a few feet from the Kill Van Kull waterway. The Mediterranean joint was destined for social distancing, with three spacious, tented outdoor areas, now properly separated by 6 feet.
The scene: Staten Island isn’t exactly known for being accessible, so expect to see a local crowd. It’s worth the journey for the breezy view, though. “It’s the best on Staten Island,” says general manager Jeff Caravella. “Get a cocktail, watch the ships go by — it’s a cool little area.”
The menu: Lunch is a more casual event, with a menu of 20 wraps and sandwiches served on brick-oven-baked bread. Dinner’s a fancier affair, with specialties including an on-brand seafood pot with clams, mussels and shrimp, served over rice noodles and lemony vegetables ($28.95).
Tip: The earlier the better to avoid dinner crowds — try 4 to 5 p.m., and try to score a table on the farthest patio for optimal skyline views. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
1115 Richmond Terrace; 718-273-7777, BlueRestaurantNYC.com
— Lauren Steussy