Everyone loves eating outdoors, and New York City offers a variety of options, from quiet secret gardens to verdant (and not so verdant) spots for picnicking. But given restaurants’ close quarters, we mostly have to dine alfresco facing the somewhat-less-than-beautiful city street. Sidewalk seating offers the joys of people-watching and sun-tanning while eating. And yes, sometimes inhaling exhaust fumes and listening to crazies yelling tableside. But isn’t that why you live in New York? Behold our top spots for outdoor frolicking (remember, this list is all about the space first, food second).
10. White Horse Tavern: Dylan Thomas’s favorite pub doesn’t offer a lot in the way of gastronomic enlightenment (though the gazpacho isn’t bad), but it provides an ample (and umbrella-shaded!) stretch of Hudson Street, friendly waitresses, cheap drinks, and a fun, buzzy environment. 567 Hudson Street, 212-989-3956
9. Coffee Shop: What was once the trendiest spot in Manhattan has still managed to keep some of its cool, in large part because of the swath of sidewalk seating it offers overlooking the Greenmarket and Union Square. The Brazilian-influenced comfort food is also hit-or-miss (and often miss), but eating outdoors requires compromise. 29 Union Square West, 212-243-7969
8. Gemma: A big joy of sidewalk seating is watching the crowds walking by enviously looking at you enjoying your meal, but an added bonus is the celebrity gawking you can do in-restaurant. The faux-rustic Italian fare isn’t bad, though it is pricey. 335 Bowery, 212-505-9100
7. Cookshop: Tenth Avenue offers several spots for outdoor dining, but Cookshop stands apart from the crowd for its locavorish seasonal fare and the nice selection of plants that adds a touch of greenery to the otherwise dismal stretch. 156 Tenth Avenue, 212-924-4440 6. Fatty Crab UWS: Unfortunately, there aren’t many Asian restaurants offering sidewalk seating, but the Upper West Side branch of this Malaysian and pan-Asian restaurant offers up a good section of Broadway for people-watching and supping on chili crab. 2170 Broadway, 212-496-2722
5. Bar Pitti: Both Bar Pitti and its next door neighbor, Da Silvano, offer a relatively quiet patch on lower Sixth Avenue, well shaded and not too close to amblers. It can get crowded, but if any loud trucks go by, simply imagine they are large steamer vessels and you’re at the beach, right? Just order some burrata and your cares will vanish. 268 Sixth Avenue, 212-982-3300
4. Morandi: A downside to sidewalk seating is having people crowd up against your table. But since the sidewalk breaks here on Seventh Avenue South, the block that the restaurant occupies is surprisingly tranquil, even overlooking a tiny park (OK, more like a smattering of trees, but close enough). We’re partial to spending mornings at one of the wooden tables outside with a big latte and the breakfast pizza. Yum. 211 Waverly Place, 212-627-7575
3. Gigino at Wagner Park: This Italian restaurant in Battery Park City flies under the radar, which is unusual, because it offers, hands-down, one of the most spectacular views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan from its back stretch of pavement, a sort of patio-meets-sidewalk. Order a salad, sit back, and soak up the glory of the city. 20 Battery Place, 212-528-2228
2. Barbuto: What’s great about Barbuto’s outdoor seating is that when the restaurant’s garage-like walls are flung open, you still feel like you’re eating inside even though you’re creeping onto Washington Street. Come on a weekend to while away the afternoon with the roast chicken and a glass of rosé. 775 Washington Street, 212-924-9700
1. Wallsé: Eating outside doesn’t mean that you have to forsake luxury. True, the pavement here is narrow, but you’ll still find the tables draped in tablecloths and decked out with pretty floral arrangements, with flower boxes somewhat sectioning off diners from the passersby. Add in some excellent Austrian fare from Kurt Gutenbrunner, and you’ve got yourself one hell of an outdoor dining experience. 344 West 11th Street, 212-352-2300
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