Sun! Sip! Sup!
24 Great Places to Eat and Drink Outdoors
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572 Bench St., Taylors Falls
THE VIEW: Your dashboard, and a giant, spinning mug of root beer on a pole.
THE VIBE: Happy Days—if Fonzie drove an SUV.
THE VITAL TIP: You could carry your food to a picnic table, but there’s nothing like eating behind the wheel.
When the Drive-In opened in 1956, James Dean was flicking switchblades in Rebel Without a Cause down at the St. Croix Auditorium Theatre. Today, the Drive-In carhops still don poodle skirts and hang trays of food on car windows. In fact, the place’s only concession to modernity is the small sign, tacked like an afterthought beneath the billboard-like menu, advertising a veggie burger and a “healthy choice” sub sandwich. Look higher—you want the Duke Western burger, dripping with barbecue sauce. You want the old-fashioned Frostop root beer, in a frosty mug. And, when you’re looking for a place to set your basket of criss-cross fries, your malt, and your newly expanded stomach, you’ll want a bigger car. Something with fins. —TIM GIHRING
5001 34th Ave. S., Mpls.
THE VIEW: The cozy deck is more about seclusion than spectacle, with brightly colored plants spilling over flowerboxes that line the space. You might forget that you’re in the city.
THE VIBE: Twentysomethings and fiftysomethings mix seamlessly at this popular, appealing neighborhood spot.
THE VITAL TIP: Bottles of wine are half-priced with dinner on Sundays, Mondays, and any other day before 6 p.m.
If you’re looking for a perfectly delightful spot for a first date or a fiftieth, look no further than Al Vento. Order up one of its craveable thin-crust pizzas (the simple, perfect Neapolitano is a good start) or any of its exceptional made-from-scratch pastas, and then leave plenty of room for dessert. We can’t get enough of the crème-brûlée trio, which includes a classic vanilla bean, a mild chocolate, and a sweetly surprising pistachio. Also worthy is the chocolate oblivion. The pastry, chocolate ganache, and sliced strawberry delight will make you wish you could tuck an extra order in a box to take home. —ERIN PETERSON
324 Main St. S., Stillwater
THE VIEW: The view here is all of the patio itself: pretty walls of stacked limestone rocks, a waterfall, and frothy grasses waving in the slight breezes.
THE VIBE: Casual in a nice domestic way, as if you’d found the most comfortable backyard in the Midwest.
THE VITAL TIP: The elaborate, (and free!) preschool-fantasyland Teddy Bear park is directly adjacent, making this a perfect picture-taking destination for family outings.
There’s an argument to be made that the Kitchen has Minnesota’s most diverse clientele. A typical Sunday afternoon on the patio will reveal wealthy retirees, Harley riders in full leather regalia, young moms rocking Graco buggies with sleeping babies inside, and bona-fide foodies snapping pictures of their eats with camera phones. The foodies are there because the Kitchen is the restaurant of Erick Harcey, whose farm-driven, elegantly glossed cooking has been the talk of several towns (he also owns the chef’s gastro-pub Victory 44 in north Minneapolis). Everyone else is there because the Kitchen delivers all the basic humble beer-and-a-burger value and hospitality you don’t need a single functioning taste bud to appreciate. Still, if your taste buds are functioning, all the better: Try the house-made charcuterie in the humbly named “ploughman’s plate,” the best-in-the-state wild-rice soup, or the ricotta agnolotti with braised pork belly and you’ll soon be making return trips with every wealthy retiree and Harley Davidson fan in your acquaintance. —DARA MOSKOWITZ GRUMDAHL
1624 Harmon Pl., Mpls.
THE VIEW: Loring Park in the front, urban courtyard in the back
THE VIBE: Casual hipster
THE VITAL TIP: Weekends are busy, but they take reservations for the back patio.
With friendly servers in the foreground and lively (but not-too-loud) music in the background, Bar Lurcat is a comfortable place to spend an afternoon. After a day of perusing art at the Walker or biking one of the nearby trails, the patio facing Loring Park is a great stop for lunch with family or your best pals, and in back it’s quiet enough for an intimate one-on-one. And if you’re caught in a rain shower? Try the “indoor/outdoor” option: a comfy couch or high-top table inside, right next to one of the open floor-to-ceiling windows. —JOCELYN STONE
The Dakota Jazz Bar and Restaurant
1010 Nicollet Mall, Mpls.
THE VIEW: Nicollet Mall, in all its people-watching glory.
THE VIBE: Managers from Target debating whether to return to work or have another Arnie Palmer.
THE VITAL TIP: Splurge on the Blue Note set lunch ($18, including soup, omelet, and dessert)—you’re here to eat, after all.
There are cheaper lunches to be had on Nicollet Mall (Masa’s three items for $10). There are better places to drink on the clock, too (hello, Barrio!). But of all the outdoor restaurants on the mall, the Dakota may be the only one where you’ll find yourself sated, rubbing your tummy, and contemplating never going back to work. Because chef Jack Riebel is the Charlie Mingus of local cooks: experimental, a little wild, but never less than soulful. And always right on the money, whether he’s doctoring the turkey meat loaf with ginger pickled-vegetable slaw or blending lingonberries into couscous. It’s culinary jazz, and for an hour or so you too can improvise a little, stepping outside your workaday life and eating not just for fuel but for inspiration. —TIM GIHRING