Outdoor dining in NYC has reached new heights in the past few years. With restaurant shutdowns followed by limited indoor service because of the pandemic, New Yorkers have been dining al fresco in sidewalk cafes, backyards, gardens, and decorated curbside sheds, thanks to New York’s Open Restaurant Program.
That said, most of the city’s eateries have seriously stepped up their outdoor game to accommodate the foodie crowd. But with so many options, it’s tough to know which places rank above the rest. Noted for an excellent outdoor setup paired with delicious food and plenty of atmosphere, these restaurants promise some of the best outdoor dining in NYC.
Best Outdoor Dining in Lower Manhattan (Below 23rd St.)
Forsythia (Lower East Side)
With stellar reviews and a tricked-out exterior space modeled after Italian pergolas, reservations at Forsythia don’t come easy. The heated outdoor pavilion means that this downtown favorite draws crowds year-round.
A $75, four-course tasting menu spotlights Roman-inspired pastas such as short rib agnolotti and the restaurant’s version of carbonara. Be sure to save space for the maritozzo, a decadent Roman dessert consisting of sweet bread stuffed with cream.
The Musket Room (Nolita)
Boasting one Michelin Star, this restaurant serves New Zealand cuisine with a modern, artful approach. In warm weather, guests can savor the omnivore or vegan tasting menu in the secret garden, but as the weather turns chilly, private greenhouses allow diners a warm, al fresco experience. The sidewalk café at The Musket Room is also ideal on a sultry summer night, but in winter, the outdoor space morphs into a cozy winter lodge. Fabulous.
This energetic French mainstay from Chef Keith McNally has been around since 1997. But in March 2021, the brasserie welcomed an anticipated addition: a quaint outdoor café echoing the restaurant’s design.
At Balthazar, it really doesn’t matter what you order—the steak frites (we recommend), Dover sole, or roasted lamb sandwich—it’s all delicious. But food aside, this Soho institution is a place to see and be seen, which hasn’t changed since its opening.
Cathedrale (East Village)
Hello, night sky in Manhattan. Sporting a chic greenhouse vibe, this spot in the hip Moxy Hotel provides a covered terrace with a retractable roof.
Settle into the pretty, comfy outdoor space at Cathedrale before ordering hamachi crudo, steak tartare, and black truffle fettuccine. And if you’re in the mood for cocktails, bartenders mix inventive drinks like “Aviation,” a refreshing concoction of Botanist gin, maraschino, crème de violette, and lemon.
Kubeh (Greenwich Village)
Melanie Shurka and her husband David Ort work their magic in the kitchen and with the restaurant’s design details. When indoor dining was restricted in 2020, the couple got to work and built an exterior space at Kubeh to house their guests.
Now, diners can enjoy the eatery’s flagship dish, also called kubeh—the Middle Eastern dumplings that Shurka learned from Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian women in Israel—outdoors among the streetscape of the Village.
L’Artusi (West Village)
This decade-old trattoria is one of the best outdoor dining restaurants in NYC. Small Italian plates emerge from the kitchen, but L’Artusi is also well known for its craft cocktails and 2,500-bottle wine list.
You’ll be wowed by the pasta—think pici cacio e pepe, garganelli mushroom ragu, and tagliatelle Bolognese bianco—but everything on the menu is worth trying. Enjoy your meal at a covered sidewalk table, or the restaurant’s plant-filled dining shed.
Best Outdoor Dining in Union Square/Chelsea/Flatiron
15 East @ Tocqueville (Union Square)
Reservations may be hard to come by here, especially for a coveted table on the romantic (and heated) outdoor terrace beneath a glass canopy, arguably one of the prettiest outdoor dining spots in NYC.
When 15 East and Tocqueville joined forces, they marred their menus for a unique American-French-meets-Japanese experience. Chef Marco Moreira’s a la carte dishes include Santa Barbara sea urchin angel hair carbonara, Argyll Coast ocean trout, and dry-aged, hay-smoked Margret duck breast. The chef also offers tasting menus and his sashimi and sushi omakase if you’re willing to splurge.
This top brunch destination features a lineup of decadent pastries well worth the trip, but the breakfast bread, egg dishes, and gluten-free options are also reasons to try this restaurant on the weekend.
Cookshop has a pretty sweet outside dining setup as well: a roomy sidewalk café set up along Tenth Avenue, ideal for accommodating the brunch crowd. The greenmarket-driven restaurant also serves lunch and dinner and whips up excellent cocktails.
If Greek food and a lovely, heated outdoor garden sound like a winning combo, head to this upscale, seafood-focused restaurant. Expect some Greek classics such as avgolemono (creamy lemon chicken soup), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and spanakopita, plus whole branzino or dorade, and a land section for carnivores. At Kyma, revel in the colorful flowers during your meal and escape New York City, if only for a few hours.
Best Outdoor Dining in Midtown
West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues offers a parade of eateries featuring various cuisines, from Japanese to Italian to French to Spanish to American. Called “Restaurant Row,” the block is one of Hell’s Kitchen’s most charming, especially with the added string of sidewalk cafés due to New York’s Open Restaurant program. Favorites include Lidia Bastianich’s Becco, French staple Le Rivage, and Joe Allen, an institution and theatre fans’ hangout.
Best Outdoor Dining on the Upper East Side
The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges
If there’s one Upper East Side restaurant with a sweet wrap-around sidewalk café, it’s The Mark, the namesake of the fancy hotel. Jean-Georges Vongerichten and his crew bake truffle pizzas, grill lamb chops, and assemble the chef’s signature ginger-marinated tuna tartare—always a great way to start a meal here.
If you’re in the mood for a more intimate dinner, an elegant courtyard is tucked out of the way and holds a few tables for two.
Jones Wood Foundry
Lights, awnings, and greenery set the scene in this gastropub’s garden that feels straight out of a village in the UK. Jones Wood Foundry serves one of the city’s best burgers and a drool-worthy version of fish and chips, not to mention English pies, bangers & mash, and a list of other hearty, high-caloric dishes. That means, go hungry.
Best Outdoor Dining on the Upper West Side
Restaurateur Jacob Hadjigeorgis is wild about pickles and cocktails, so you’ll see both at his eponymous eatery. Expect significant portions of comfort food, including mac and cheese, baby back ribs, and fried chicken biscuit sandwiches at this always-buzzing haunt on Amsterdam Avenue.
The street-side café at Jacob’s Pickles provides plenty of elbow room and people-watching opportunities, plus it’s one of the best hangouts to socialize uptown.
Tavern on the Green, Central Park
It’s classic and a slice of “Old New York” with probably one of the best outdoor dining spaces in the city. This storied restaurant was initially designed as a sheepfold before Robert Moses morphed the structure into a restaurant in 1934. Since Tavern on the Green claims Central Park as its backdrop, you won’t find any place offering outdoor dining in NYC that’s more nature-focused.
Best Outdoor Dining in Harlem
Marcus Samuelson’s mainstay has defined Harlem’s culinary landscape with his restaurant, Red Rooster. Canopied outdoor seating is staged along Malcolm X Boulevard so diners can take in the neighborhood’s energy and streetscape. Chow on deviled eggs, shrimp & grits, pan-fried catfish, cornbread and gravy, among other soulful dishes that honor the roots of American cuisine while celebrating this iconic neighborhood.
More Great Spots for Outdoor Dining in NYC
There are so many more excellent outdoor dining options in NYC. Some of our other favorite al fresco setups include the tented retreat at Hütte, the ambiance at Scarpetta with its partially enclosed arbor, the heated tents at Jeju Noodle Bar, and Castell Rooftop Lounge for its jaw-dropping city views. And although it’s seasonal and only open from May until September, The Frying Pan—a Coast Guard lightship docked at Pier 66 in Hudson River Park—promises one of the most unusual outdoor dining experiences in NYC. Try them all!
Tracy Kaler is a freelance journalist focused on travel, food, wine, and design. She fell in love with New York as a child and began writing about the city when she moved there in 2007. When Tracy’s not glued to her laptop, she’s likely planning her next food-filled adventure, uncorking a bottle of red, or wandering the streets of NYC.