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Dining al fresco in Pittsburgh. Better than ever.

When it comes to gray, cloudy days, Pittsburgh has its share, which may be why we appreciate a sunny cafe that much more.  As spring morphs into summer, here’s our list of favorite outdoor dining spots.
At Meat and Potatoes on Penn, a courtyard next to the urban gastropub is plump with marble tables and sturdy cane chairs, under lights strung in straight dense lines. The effect is Euro-chic, enhanced by soft blankets emblazoned with the restaurant’s logo that help you ward off the evening chill. Linger longer as you take in the scene along bustling Penn Avenue.  A half block away, Six Penn Kitchen has added new furnishings to its sun roof.  Make for the striped love seat and chairs arranged cabana-style or choose a high top and stools affording a view to the scene below.  Elements takes full advantage of Gateway Center’s manicured gardens by placing coffee-colored tables and matching umbrellas along an adjacent courtyard, and the restaurant’s glass wall offers a peek as waiters dash to and fro.  Even so, things feel right outside and instrumental jazz adds to the ambiance on Friday nights. 

Every day is a parade at Market Square, since throngs have been flocking to downtown’s pulsing heart since it was reborn over a year ago.  Plentiful tables and chairs let you brown-bag it al fresco, or grab a meal from nearby restaurants including Winghart’s, where the burgers are sublime or Noodles where they can prepare everything to go.

Nearby is The Garden Café at Heinz Hall which opened last year and just opened for the season this past Monday. Lunch is offered Monday through Friday with catering by The Common Plea which includes  wraps, cold sandwiches, salads and vegetarian options. There's also Happy Hour Wednesdays beginning today from 5 to 7 p.m.
Pay a game-day visit to Braddock’s in the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel and, if you’re early enough, you can snag one of a half-dozen outdoor tables close by the Clemente Bridge and PNC Park.  It’s Pittsburgh classics here, including short rib pierogies and homemade sausage.  Batter up!
And beyond
Next up is a walk on the North Side to Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, one of the most sybaritic outdoor dining spots in Pittsburgh.  The garden behind this cozy row house is awash in blooms and gurgling fountains, all under the watchful eye of smiling buddhas.  Wrought iron tables topped by fanciful umbrellas serve as backdrop for fresh spring rolls and a perfect pumpkin curry. Thoroughly charming.

Back across the Allegheny, Eleven is the setting for Chef Derek Stevens’ sophisticated cuisine and a grouping of tables out front is a see-and-be-seen scene come nightfall. Up the street, Big Burrito relative Kaya arrays a row of sidewalk tables under copper-colored ornamentation that marks the destination for Caribbean-fused fare. The second-floor deck at Roland’s, around the corner on Penn Avenue, is prime for Strip District people-watching on any game day.  Expect plenty of black ‘n gold, game-day beer specials and an extensive menu heavy on seafood. 

At street level, a handful of vendors working from sidewalk carts bring their unique talents to the city’s dining scene.  Reyna’s Tacos at 21st and Penn is the place for cooked-to-order tacos in house-made corn tortillas while palm-sized mung bean pancakes have been the plat du jour from Sam Bok three blocks away for years.  The shrimp egg rolls and chicken on a stick make for a steal meal.
In Lawrenceville, Latin-Asian fusion restaurant Tamari offers two outdoor dining options:  a front patio facing Butler Street is warmed by brick walls on three sides while rooftop seating offers a more intimate experience along with a view to the 31st Street Bridge and downtown Pittsburgh beyond.  Several blocks away, the Round Corner Cantina has added seating to its spacious back patio and the effect is Baja bliss on a weekend night as patrons get up close and personal between sips of tequila.  Across the street, Piccolo Forno serves wood-fired pizzas and Tuscan specialties at outdoor tables lining Butler Street and wending their way around the corner.  It’s a lively setting most any starry night.  If you cross the 31st Street Bridge and hang two lefts, you’ll land at Redfin Blues in Washington’s Landing.  Perched at water’s edge, the restaurant’s ample deck is a sea of tables topped by white umbrellas and backed by lush trees.  Boats seesaw on the docks, the beer is cold...is this Pittsburgh, Toto?
Schenley Park is a Pittsburgh icon that’s been improved upon with the addition of The Porch, a locavore’s delight at the edge of Schenley Plaza.  The restaurant’s modern, woodsy patio faces a greensward and is enhanced by a tall stone fireplace that keeps things warm at night.  Verde in Penn-Garfield puts a modern spin on Mexican cuisine and is easily recognizable by its namesake green building.  Bright orange chairs cozy up to squares on a patio that’s hopping during cocktail hour.  The mood is more subdued at Paris 66 in East Liberty, though no less enchanting.  An outdoor deck at the back of the restaurant employs white-napped tables as foil to Parisian posters and graceful metal art.  A small alley across the way is draped in ivy and strands of twinkling lights complete your trip to Paris.  Kitty-corner is BRGR, whose muscular name, and burgers, can be enjoyed on a way cool rooftop deck at traditional or high-top tables.  Craft (beer) cans are served outside and there’s live music on tap Friday nights.
At the Double Wide Grill on the South Side, a converted auto repair shop is lubricating the masses on an outdoor patio facing East Carson Street.  A giddy mishmash of tables, chairs and benches topped by the occasional umbrella is as inviting to happy hour revelers as it is to young singles and stroller-pushing parents on a Saturday morning.  Perfect for lunch, dinner and in between is the patio at Il Pizzaiolo, a neighborhood trattoria in Mt. Lebanon.  Wrought iron tables dance across cobblestones while the largest table rests under a pergola.  A nubile maiden graces a fountain, lemon trees cast their shadow and the whole is enveloped by brick walls dripping in ivy.  Romantic, yes, but it’s also an ideal setting for friends and family eager to be transported to Italy, however briefly.

And speaking of romance, there's always the magical setting of the Cafe at the Frick, a serene and welcoming spot with the surrounding greenery and gardens.

The choices for al fresco dining are plentiful but the season is short. See you out there!
New Girl In Town Elaine Labalme says everything tastes better when it’s kissed by the sun.

Captions:The Porch at Schenley Plaza; Market Square; Winghart's; Cafe at the Frick; Reyna's; Nicky's Thai.

Nicky's Thai, photograph copyright Tracy Certo.  All other photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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