Top Outdoor Dining in the Bay Area

Top Outdoor Dining in the Bay Area

Top Outdoor Dining in the Bay Area

Here are the best restaurants with seating on patios, sidewalks, and more — for when you're done eating off your coffee table
Photo: Stephen Lam
After the coronavirus pandemic made indoor dining a virtual impossibility in the restaurant world, many scrambled to add attractive outdoor dining to their locales to recapture the magic and recoup some of their financial losses. Those who already had beautiful patios, like St. Helena's Charter Oak, rearranged them to enable social distancing, while others built impressive decks out of reclaimed wood and Astroturf. At Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant in San Francisco's breezy Sunset District, vinyl shields protect both diners and the boiling lamb hot pot from getting too chilly. More personable than takeout but safer than indoor eating, outdoor dining is the new reality for many restaurants in the Bay Area with the space and means to make it happen. These are the top restaurants with outdoor patios and dining setups in the Bay Area.

1. Atelier Crenn

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez

At her Cow Hollow flagship, chef Dominique Crenn digs into her memories and personal narrative to craft her menu.

On the Saturday before shelter-in-place, Atelier Crenn was full. Since the dining room closed, the restaurant has maintained an active virtual presence on Tock with a variety of popular takeout offerings in the form of Crenn Kits. They're essentially cook-at-home meal kits, with instructional videos recorded by the restaurant's chefs. Courses might include a velvety trout mousse, crab tartare, a delicate tart made with caviar and koji, and a brioche that will capture your heart and never let go. Another fun way to pass the time might be with the restaurant's blind tasting kit: The sommeliers will send you three mysterious half-bottles of wine and a deductive tasting grid that you can use to guess the vintages. Recently, it opened a new terrace, where diners can enjoy a five-course meal ($165) in an enclosed environment. The restaurant also announced that it would be going full pescatarian for environmental reasons.

2. Beit Rima

Photo: Stephen Lam

A young chef's paean to Arabic comfort food is home cooking executed with fine-dining chops.

Samir Mogannam’s debut restaurant Beit Rima, an ode to his Palestinian heritage, was one of 2019’s most compelling openings; since the pandemic, his team has been hustling, offering shakshuka meal kits, building a humongous patio on Church Street and repackaging its food for takeout and delivery. Since then, it has expanded from its Duboce Triangle flagship to outposts in Cole Valley and Daly City. The format at Beit Rima has stayed consistent throughout, with a very al fresco-friendly emphasis on mezze like the luxurious fava bean ful and hummus topped with smoky spiced beef. The large plates, like the glorious whole fried branzino with tahini, are great for sharing with your quarantine pod, too.

3. Boulettes Larder

Photo: Stephen Lam

The best restaurant in the Ferry Terminal, where every egg is perfect.

Boulettes Larder, a restaurant designed to showcase and sell culinary components like sourdough starter, stocks and preserved foods, seems to have been made for this moment. For pickup or delivery, customers can go online to order those ingredients, cocktails, wine and seasonal prepared food, like chef and owner Amaryll Schwertner’s pink peppercorn gravlax and crunchy green beans tossed in olive oil and sea salt. An outdoor bar and outdoor dining space formed in collaboration with the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, has also been a success, especially during the bustling weekend farmer's market. Diners can stop by for wood-fired pizza and pair it with the Wine Merchant's expansive collection of bottles and wines by the glass.

4. Charter Oak

Photo: John Storey/Special to the Chronicle

Hearth-cooked, family-style dishes are the centerpiece of Christopher Kostow's casual Napa Valley restaurant.

The brick-paved outdoor patio, complete with a fireplace and lengthy sofas, has long been a highlight of dining at Charter Oak, an accessible restaurant with fine dining chops, and now those tables are even more precious. From the outside, you can still pick up on the aromas of the kitchen's wood-fired grills as they add smoke and char to buttery halved avocados, hanger steaks and eggplants, their insides turned creamy from slow roasting. Of note is "the cheeseburger," whose name points to its reputation as possibly the best cheeseburger in Napa Valley — perhaps in the entire Bay Area. The restaurant has recently opened its dining room at limited capacity for both reservations and walk-ins.

5. Foreign Cinema

Photo: Stephen Lam

A one-of-a-kind combination of food, art and music that's pleased both movie buffs and gourmands in the Mission District for two decades.

Foreign Cinema's magical patio, where countless patrons have noshed on brandade and oysters while watching Nicolas Cage thrash around on a projector screen, is now open with limited seating and enhanced safety protocols. This spot is no stranger to San Francisco's chilly patio conditions: You'll find that it's outfitted with plenty of heaters to make those sunset movie screenings perfectly comfortable. During the pandemic, the staff has been offering wine and food for takeout, including the restaurant's classic Madras curry-coated fried chicken, fresh oysters and crunchy Iberico pork chicharrones.

6. The French Laundry

Photo: Stephen Lam

The titan of the North American dining world is a well-oiled machine that still manages to surprise.

Thomas Keller’s flagship restaurant reopened its doors in July, with outdoor seating in its tree-lined courtyard. In typical French Laundry fashion, reservations have quickly been snapped up. Dinner begins at $350/person. With an earnest emphasis on luxury, this is a meal that epitomizes fine dining: Come here to smell the aroma of black truffles shaved at your table; feel the salty pop of caviar and oysters on your tongue; and sense your eyes widen in shock at the royal feast of truffles, cakes, macarons and doughnuts that punctuate the lengthy tasting menu. A single indoor table is available with a special menu that starts at $850/person.

7. Miss Ollie's

Photo: John Storey/Special to the Chronicle

This popular Caribbean spot in Old Oakland draws homesick crowds for its soul-satisfying menu of standards like salt fish and ackee and curry goat.

The patio is open at Miss Ollie's, and it comes complete with a DJ spinning funk while diners enjoy sweet and sour escoveitch fish, skillet-fried chicken and citrusy Creole salad in the open air. Guided by the twin influences of her Barbadian grandmother, the original Miss Ollie, and Southern food powerhouse Edna Lewis, owner Sarah Kirnon has carved out an essential space for Afro-Caribbean cuisine in the Bay Area. She's also got plans to sell bottled pepper sauce and meal kits down the line. But until then, she's working on bringing the magic of Miss Ollie's to San Francisco via a three-month residency at Elda in the Mission District, where she'll offer some of the restaurant's calling cards — the chicken, smashed plantains with vinegar, and jerk pork scented with allspice and thyme — for takeout.

8. Mister Jiu's

Photo: John Storey/Special to the Chronicle

Mister Jiu's is one of the Bay Area's Chinese American pioneers, pushing boundaries with its new wave Chinatown cuisine.

There are all kinds of activities afoot at Mister Jiu's these days. Chef Brandon Jew has been offering excellent set menus for two — think Peking duck, char siu and wok-fried vegetables — for takeout. Its new retail concept, Jiu's Ho Ho, includes not only components like a char siu kit and bottled cocktails but local produce, wine and pastries made by friends of the restaurant. Don't miss the bags of frozen dumplings, which are just as easy to cook up as the ones you get at the grocery store (but much juicier and full of local ingredients). Finally, the restaurant has recently constructed a massive, lime-green outdoor seating area where diners can sample from a menu of dishes like cured Mangalitsa pork coppa, smashed cucumber salad with fresh tofu skin, and pork stir-fried with bitter melon and fermented black beans.

9. Montesacro Pinseria

Photo: John Storey/Special to the Chronicle

Pinsa, the Roman precursor of pizza, is the centerpiece of this cozy spot with a newly beautified rooftop dining area.

Owner Gianluca Legrottaglie’s Mid-Market Italian restaurant is offering its artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, roasted cauliflower and caper antipasti, and light, multigrain pinsas for takeout and delivery, as well as premium pastry items and make-your-own pinsa kits. There’s also outdoor dining, after the restaurant applied some needed elbow grease to turn the rooftop terrace at neighbor Dottie's True Blue Cafe into a lovely al fresco dining area. The $18 lunch prix fixe — which includes an arugula salad, margherita pinsa and shot of espresso — is an easy introduction into the restaurant's laid-back vibe.

10. Okkon

Photo: Michael Short/Special to the Chronicle

Customizable and savory Japanese pancakes, or okonomiyaki, are made from scratch by a very cool couple.

While Okkon used to make the rounds as a pop-up, the Kamimae family has stayed anchored to Oakland's eclectic O2 Artisans Aggregate courtyard, close to soba hot spot Soba Ichi. Now they show up every weekend, masked up and slinging their unique, oval-shape okonomiyaki, draft beer, and gyoza for eating at the courtyard's new patio seating. Each dish can be customized to order with ingredients like spicy cod roe, stretchy mochi, and organic mushrooms. They've instituted a new system for ordering, although walk-ups are still OK: You can now preorder through Instagram messages to cut down on the wait.

11. Old Mandarin Islamic

Photo: Patricia Chang

Muslim Chinese cuisine, rarely seen in restaurants here, is explored in depth through spicy lamb ribs and hand-pulled noodles.

This neighborhood restaurant has been offering the staples of northern Chinese cuisine for decades, and through the pandemic Old Mandarin Islamic's mom-and-pop team, Feng Wang and husband Xuqun Yang, has continued to sell tender handmade dumplings and standout, cumin-scented lamb ribs for takeout or dine-in at an outdoor patio. The phenomenal Beijing-style hot pot, which used to fill the dining room with its piquant aroma, is now available on the patio, which has been outfitted with vinyl screens to shield diners (and soup) from the formidable Outer Sunset breezes.

12. Palette Tea House

Photo: Paul Chinn

From the Koi Palace team, here's high-end dim sum that will surely impress out-of-towners and locals alike.

The ambitious dim sum restaurant has been offering takeout and delivery, including frozen dumplings and noodle and bao kits. On the fancier end of the dim sum spectrum, Palette, with its amiable service and high-end ingredient highlights, is ideal for brunch blowouts. Try the umami-packed abalone sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, its acorn-fed Iberico pork char siu, and pork belly lacquered in an aromatic shaoxing wine glaze. Despite losing a lot of business as tourism to Fisherman's Wharf dried up, the restaurant has stayed open in part due to rent deferment, according to general manager Dennis Leung. He hopes Palette's spacious patio, now open with stunning views of Fisherman's Wharf and the San Francisco Bay beyond, will help it regain its footing.

13. Popoca

Photo: Michael Short/Special to the Chronicle

Handmade pupusas and other Salvadoran delights are cooked over a wood fire at this Oakland pop-up.

Popoca has been offering takeout and delivery from its location at Classic Cars West, sticking with its seasonal Californian Salvadoran menu and even introducing some new items, like handmade chorizo and local carrot salpicon, that chef Anthony Salguero has dreamed up during shelter-in-place. With an eye toward eventually expanding his operation, Salguero has been putting on pig roasts on top of his normal pop-up schedule, pairing succulent, wood-roasted pork with his fantastic cauliflower and carrot escabeche, rice and refried beans. The venue's expansive patio, with its mismatched picnic furniture and hefty succulent garden boxes, is perfect for socially distant dining, too.

14. Red's Java House

Photo: Ian C. Bates

You'll find the best views in the city, and an excellent burger on sourdough, at this historical landmark on the bay.

It's easy to forget the world's troubles when you're sitting in front of the San Francisco Bay with a burger and a plate of french fries. Since 1955, through earthquakes and fires and all else, that's been Red's Java House's service to humanity. Consistency has been the key to Red's reign as a San Francisco institution: Its burgers all come with griddled onions, mustard and pickles on sourdough rolls with just a bit too much bread. (And no lettuce or tomato, ever.) That's why this place, perpetually resistant to the urge to keep up with the brioche buns and Wagyu grinds of the rest of the scene, feels like a time capsule. The only major change to the ambience? The parking lot has turned into a COVID-19 testing site, making it a true 2020-style one-stop shop. Now open for outdoor dining and takeout.

15. Rintaro

Photo: Lea Suzuki

Rintaro's eye-catching dining room and its menu of farm-to-table izakaya dishes are the pinnacles of new California Japanese cuisine.

Before Rintaro, owner Sylvan Mishima Brackett was known for the carefully arranged bento boxes sold by his catering company, Peko Peko. While the dining room has been closed, Brackett revived the project, offering boxes of chirashizushi with pieces of fish and radishes scattered like flower petals over a bed of rice, hand-rolled udon noodles with firm lingcod cakes, and hefty skewers of grilled chicken and seasonal vegetables. The courtyard, a quiet hideaway in the Mission District, is open with limited seating, and customers can dig into a set menu featuring oden, a brothy soup with tender fish cakes, vegetables and simmered eggs that wobble like jelly.

16. Soba Ichi

Photo: Michael Short/Special to the Chronicle

Japanese buckwheat noodles are made by hand every day and paired with soulful broths and toppings in a Zen temple-inspired setting.

I have good news and better news. The good news is that it's easier than ever to get ahold of chef Koichi Ishii's nihachi noodles (made with 80% buckwheat and 20% wheat flours), which have popped up for sale at restaurant-turned-markets like Family Cafe in North Beach. Each package of noodles comes with clear cooking directions to ensure soba success. The better news is that the courtyard at Soba Ichi is popping, and the kitchen is now offering an extremely pared-down menu for walk-ups: fresh soba noodles with a soy sauce-based dipping sauce, delicate homemade tofu and specials like cured mackerel sushi and tender braised squid stuffed with glutinous rice.

17. State Bird Provisions

Photo: Kimberley Hasselbrink

The popular neo-Californian eatery has temporarily merged with sister restaurant the Progress during the pandemic.

 You'll be able to dine in cozy little cabanas outside of the Fillmore restaurant, which has joined forced with family-style spot the Progress next door. The project, "State of the Progress," is open for full-service outdoor and indoor dining seven days a week. Incorporating the best of both State Bird Provisions and the Progress, the collaborative menu features the crisp, fried quail with onions and Parmesan; barbecued duck with peanut fried rice and hand-cut chips with smoked trout dip. In October, the group opened the Anchovy Bar just around the corner, where the restaurants' special condiments/spices, sauces & dressings are on sale alongside preserved local anchovies and imported tinned fish.

18. Zareen's

Photo: Kimberley Hasselbrink/Special to the Chronicle

This halal Indian-Pakistani restaurant/community center is a favorite of homesick tech workers and their families.

Though Silicon Valley office workers aren’t dining at Zareen’s like they used to, the restaurant’s popular chicken samosas, potato burgers and fajita-like chicken boti sizzlers are still available for takeout and delivery. Some of its dishes are also available frozen: Naan comes in four-packs and minced beef chapli kebabs and the beautifully flaky samosas come in packs of 10. Check in once in a while to keep track of the specials, like the steamy, congee-like Karachi Haleem, which owners Zareen and Umair Khan often run for holidays like Eid. They have also set up a thriving outdoor seating area at their Palo Alto location, thanks to the city's Shared Streets program.

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