Where to Eat Outside Now

Twenty-eight patios, porches, decks and other outdoor dining options you can’t miss this summer

The outdoor patio at Genna's Lounge is the place to be when the weather's nice.

The outdoor patio at Genna's Lounge is the place to be when the weather's nice.

PHOTO BY VAN GACHANG

Just as Madison has a restaurant to meet nearly every foodie’s needs, there’s a patio to suit your every whim and fancy all summer long. After this year’s never-ending winter, who isn’t ready to spend as much time as possible outdoors? Besides, meals somehow taste better when eaten under the sun. Here are twenty-eight patios, porches, decks and outdoor dining spots—and why you ought to enjoy them this summer. Like you needed any convincing. 

THE HIPPEST

Genna’s Lounge
105 W. Main St., 255-4770
When you take stock of Genna’s assets—an impressive craft beer list, open mic nights and veteran bartenders who know how to mix a stiff drink, to name just a few—it’s easy to see how the downtown bar rules the realm of cool. Post-grads and thirty-somethings pack into Genna’s triangular patio from happy hour until bar close, taking in picture-perfect views of the Capitol. And Genna’s Bloody Mary bar makes the perfect pit stop for thirsty farmers’ market goers. $ BOM  

MOST DOG-FRIENDLY

Capital Brewery
7734 Terrace Ave., Middleton, 836-7100
There’s nothing quite like enjoying a pint of local beer outdoors when the weather’s nice. Capital Brewery cranks it up one more notch of summer perfection: Dogs are welcome in the Bier Garten on weekdays; just be sure to bring a leash. Stop by on a Tuesday or Thursday (or Friday, sans pooch) for live music and food vendors. $  

BEST PARK VIEW

Banzo
2105 Sherman Ave., 441-2002
The only thing better than grabbing lunch from a Banzo food cart is enjoying its Mediterranean fare straight from the source at its restaurant, tucked inside a quiet residential area on the city’s northeast side. Order a glass of wine with the Banzo platter and dine on the beautiful wooden deck. Right across the street from Burrows Park and Lake Mendota, it’s the perfect perch for catching the sunset’s glow through the trees. $ BOM

TWO-FOR-ONE FUN

Brickhouse BBQ
408 W. Gorham St., 257-7675
This restaurant boasts not one, but two patios for guests to enjoy. While many folks know about Brickhouse’s rooftop lounge, fewer are privy to the second patio in the backyard. By day, hang out on the lower level, digging into barbecue and mac and cheese and playing beanbags. When the sun goes down, head to the upper patio for a chic setting to unwind. $$ BOM

SWANKIEST ROOFTOP VIEW

Fresco
227 State St., 663-7374
Whether you’re there for a strawberry basil mojito or a four-course meal, it’s not a visit to Fresco without peering out over the rooftop bar’s railing to take in the gorgeous panoramic views of State Street and the Capitol. Perched atop the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the patio fittingly hosts art installations of its own, notably an intricate web of PVC pipes by artist Jason Yi. $$$ BOM

MOST MARINE

Nau-Ti-Gal 
5360 Westport Rd., 246-3130
If you’re pining for a beach bum getaway, Nau-Ti-Gal is the next best thing. This waterfront restaurant with an expansive nautical-themed deck serves a variety of seafood entrées you’d find on the ocean shore, in addition to Wisconsin favorites like the Badger Burger, made with beef from Black Earth Meats. $$$

QUINTESSENTIAL SUMMER PERCH

Memorial Union Terrace
800 Langdon St. 
Madisonians know summer hasn’t truly arrived until those colorful chairs are out on the Terrace—and you’re there lounging by the lake. Grab popcorn and a beer inside the newly renovated Stiftskeller or hit up the Brat Stand or Gazebo food truck outside. $ BOM 

POSHEST SEATS ON THE SQUARE

Graze
1 S. Pinckney St., 251-2700
Packing a picnic for Concerts on the Square is fun, but sometimes it’s nice to be wined and dined. Skip the fuss and make a reservation for Graze’s patio, complete with a four-course dinner and wine pairings—and a guaranteed great seat for the concert. $$ BOM

BEST ALMOST-ON-THE-SQUARE SPOT

Francisco’s Cantina
121 E. Main St., 294-1100
Francisco’s may be small and tucked just off the Square, but come summertime its sidewalk café becomes a bustling hotspot, especially at night. Find everything from homemade tamales to tasty enchiladas covered with mole sauce to corn tortilla tacos filled with meat, onions and plenty of cilantro.

FAMILY-FRIENDLIEST

Pasqual’s
100 Cross Country Rd., Verona, 497-3333
You want a margarita. The kids want to be out in the fresh air. You all want chips, salsa and guacamole. Pasqual’s Verona location is your answer. Gather the family for a meal at the cantina’s third and newest outpost for an evening on the back patio overlooking a picturesque pond. $ BOM

BEST BY BOAT

Christy’s Landing
2952 Waubesa Ave., 222-5391
Ditch the car and plan a boating trip to Christy’s Landing. The restaurant, located on the western shore of Lake Waubesa, boasts a lakeside patio with a dock where guests can tie up their boats. Christy’s is packed with entertainment—there’s a weeknight volleyball league, live music and weekly open mic nights, plus a tiki bar serving up cool drinks. $

TRULY TROPICAL

Café Costa Rica 
1133 Williamson St., 256-9830
The sweet little patio at Café Costa Rica packs a powerful pura vida vibe. This Willy Street spot stays chill with plenty of green plants, colorful signs and authentic Latin American food. Try the Mango Man salsa and chips or indulge in fried sweet plantains.  $$ BOM

ROMANTICO CLASSICO

Porta Bella
425 N. Frances St., 256-3186
Porta Bella is consistently lauded as one of the most romantic spots in Madison for its intimate courtyard just off State Street, providing a quiet reprieve perfect for an anniversary or date night. Order a nice bottle of vino or a pitcher of sangria and you’re set. $$  

MOST DYNAMIC

Colectivo
25 S. Pinckney St., 255-0474
Can’t decide whether to sit indoors or out? Here you can have the best of both. While this Capitol Square café’s sidewalk patio provides plenty of space in the sunshine, what’s really special is the area at the café’s entry, where expansive windows slide open to create an open-air spot that’s still covered. It’s a prime people watching spot. $ BOM

 

PHOTO BY JULIA LEVINE

Cafe Zoma

BIKE FRIENDLIEST

Cafe Zoma
2326 Atwood Ave., 243-1300
Ride the Atwood Avenue bike path right up to this Willy Street coffee shop, where the vibe is low-key. The back patio is a funky garden getaway complete with a Little Free Library, eclectic outdoor art and a play area for the kiddos. Pets are welcome, too. $

MOST CHARMING

Sardine
517 Williamson St., 441-1600
While the historic Machinery Row building provides a cool urban atmosphere for this French-infused bistro, the front deck makes it magical. Overlooking the shores of Lake Monona, Sardine is a favorite spot to unwind after work—the happy hour rocks—or to spend a lazy weekend morning over brunch. $$$ BOM

MOST SECLUDED

Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.
123 E. Doty St., 284-0000
You’ve probably read the Secret Garden … but have you ever visited a secret beer garden? Find it at the downtown Dane, where the ivy-enclosed courtyard provides a refreshing retreat from the urban core. Sip your favorite house brew—we’re into Old Glory American Pale Ale at the moment—and enjoy a meal while the city bustles around you. $$ BOM

BIGGER IS BETTER

Sprecher’s Restaurant & Pub
1262 John Q. Hammons Dr., 203-6545
If your first thought when someone mentions Sprecher’s isn’t “awesome patio,” then you’re doing it wrong. The west-side restaurant has a huge outdoor spread complete with tableside fire pits, a bar, live music and plenty of food—a perfect combination for a night out with friends. $$ BOM

THE QUIRKIEST

Mickey’s Tavern  
1524 Williamson St., 251-9964
Mickey’s makes delicious food (ahem, Sexy Fries), hosts live music, sports an eclectic interior and makes one heck of a Bloody Mary. But most of all, we love Mickey’s for its spunk, and nowhere is it on display more than on the back patio. It’s laid back (heck, there’s a fill-your-own-water station) but never quiet. The crowd is diverse, ranging from Millennials to Boomers, and patrons are just as likely to be Willy Street diehards as bike travellers stopping in for a mid-trail beer. $ BOM

WISCO WONDER

Tipsy Cow
102 King St., 287-1455
A quintessential corner tavern, Tipsy Cow is a Sconnie paradise. Its triangular patio is the perfect spot to watch the hustle of downtown as you sit back and sip a local craft brew and nosh on cheese curds and the Tipsy Burger—recently named the best burger in the state by Business Insider. $$ BOM

A+ NAME GAME

Veranda Restaurant & Wine Bar
2784 S. Fish Hatchery Rd., Fitchburg, 661-4161
With a name like Veranda, expectations for a great patio are pretty high—and this restaurant delivers. Filled with towering trees and hanging baskets of flowers, Veranda’s patio offers a shady spot to spend an evening. Order the bruschetta, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus or house-made truffle fries for sharing, and ask for a wine recommendation from the extensive list. $$$ BOM

GREAT FOR GROUPS

Ale Asylum
2002 Pankratz St., 663-3926
When Ale Asylum relocated in 2012, it amped up both its indoor and outdoor footprint. With its spacious two-story patio, the brewery can now accommodate up to three hundred beer lovers, who undoubtedly come for brews like Hopalicious and Bedlam but also for surprisingly tasty offerings like fresh pizzas and fish tacos. $ BOM

SOPHISTICATED SCHOOL SPIRIT

The Wise at HotelRED 
1501 Monroe St., 819-8228 
The Wise within the chic HotelRED is located on a busy intersection kitty-corner from Camp Randall, but the bar and restaurant and its Monroe Street patio feel grown-up compared to its nearby collegiate surroundings. Stop by for the 3-2-1 happy hour specials where martini prices drop by $3, wines glasses by $2 and draft beers by $1. Sample small plates, like the roasted asparagus salad or fried walleye sliders, any time. The best part? You needn’t be a guest at the hotel to enjoy all The Wise has to offer.
$$ BOM

MOST HOMEY

Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar 
923 Williamson St., 819-6319
Considering the fact that this modern Asian restaurant sits inside a renovated house, it’s only natural that the front yard patio gives off a neighborly vibe that’s friendly, cozy and comfortable. Paired with piping-hot ramen, chicken and shiitake dumplings and the ever-popular spicy tofu buns, there really is no place like home. $$ BOM

MOST HAPPENIN'

Monona Terrace Rooftop
1 John Nolen Dr., 261-4000 
There’s always something going on at the Monona Terrace rooftop—a concert, dance, tai chi, you name it. But if you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, pick up a sandwich from the Lake Vista Café, nab a chair and gaze out at beautiful Lake Monona. $

SWEET ESCAPE

Indie Coffee
1225 Regent St., 259-9621
For a private spot to enjoy breakfast, try Indie Coffee’s back patio. Filled with ivy and plenty of shade, it’s an urban oasis tucked behind busy Regent Street. Grab a strawberry-topped waffle, a coffee and the morning paper and settle in for a relaxing start to your day. $

BEST LAKESIDE DECK

Lakeside Street Coffee House  
402 W. Lakeside St., 441-7599
Just as its name suggests, the café is only a short walk from the water’s edge, making it a scenic spot to stop in for a scone and coffee while you look out over Monona Bay. Whether you choose to wander down to the lake or grab a seat on the patio, you’re guaranteed an incomparable view. $

FUNKY FRESH

Star Bar
756 E. Washington Ave., 257-7827
If you’re looking for a trendy new spot to see and be seen, give East Washington’s Star Bar a shot. The patio makes its debut this summer, as does its next-door neighbor Cargo Coffee. Expect specialty cocktails, ninety-nine bottles of beer and another ten on tap, plus a crowd that’s decidedly youthful and hip. $

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