Top Outdoor Dining Restaurants 2020: Jason’s Picks

Food editor Jason DeRusha shares 11 favorites spanning the Twin Cities and beyond
A selection of food and drinks from Due Focacceria in St. Paul

Photo by Darin Kamnetz

No patio season will feel quite like this one, but our local restaurants are working harder than ever to bring normalcy to the pandemic. Here are eight spots that are destinations for amazing warm-weather dining. As always, check online for updates, and bring a mask.

If snacking on homemade crackers with pimento cheese and sipping a citrus-laced mezcal Negroni while sitting on a lounge chair around a fire pit is your idea of a good time, Bardo is the place for you. Lights twinkle through the trees, which provide enough buffer from the bustle of Hennepin Avenue in northeast Minneapolis to make you feel like you’re somehow home, yet far from it. (There’s a new hot dog menu and live music!) 222 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

Boat Club Restaurant
Most of Minnesota has lakes. Duluth has the lake. The Boat Club, in the lower level of the Fitger’s Brewery Complex, looks toward downtown and the lift bridge. What a spot to watch the sunset, while eating the best seafood Duluth has to offer. It’s open for lunch and dinner with the full menu, and often has live music on weekends. 600 E. Superior St., Duluth

Brunson’s Pub
A hidden gem on Payne Avenue, eastsiders know that Brunson’s Pub is the ideal hang. It’s a surprisingly large patio framed by tall ivy-colored walls, with some of the best sandwiches in St. Paul. A perfect burger and a pulled-bacon BLT, with a fried egg and avocado, are my favorites. You won’t leave thirsty: Brunson’s has 20 craft beer taps along with cocktails from its long-time bartender-slash-owner. 956 Payne Ave., St. Paul

Due Focacceria
There’s something about the casualness of Due Focacceria that feels right. It’s a Mac-Groveland neighborhood restaurant where you can sit at a picnic table under the canopy overlooking Randolph Avenue. Get one of the sharing boards of ricotta cheese or Italian carne, or the octopus salad with fried pepperoni, pair it with an aperol spritz, and then rub it in that your neighborhood is the best. 475 Fairview Ave S., St. Paul

Outdoor patio at Hai Hai in northeast Minneapolis

Photo by Darin Kamnetz

Hola Arepa / Hai Hai
Both of these Christina Nguyen/Birk Grudem restaurants feel like you should be eating outdoors: the tequila/mezcal feel of salsas and fried yuca at Hola Arepa in South Minneapolis, and the sugar cane rums and Vietnamese street food at Hai Hai in Northeast Minneapolis. Lots of room to spread out and transport yourself far from the typical Minnesota summer. Hola: 3501 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis; Hai Hai: 2121 University Ave NE, Minneapolis 

Jax Cafe
You’d never know you’re in northeast Minneapolis when you’re sitting alongside the stream of rainbow trout behind the iconic Jax Cafe. Trees and an awning provide shade, flowers bring the color. There’s even a fireplace out there. Net your own fish and have the kitchen prepare it, or order the legendary prime rib. 1928 University Ave. NE, Minneapolis

LoLo American Kitchen
I love biking to Stillwater (I cheat by hopping on the trail in North St. Paul), and my final destination off the Gateway Trail is almost always the little back patio at LoLo. You can see the lift bridge on the St. Croix, you can have a terrific cocktail, some fried brussels sprouts and duck tacos, and get ready for the uphill ride back home. 233 Main St. S., Stillwater

One of the most consistent, most delicious restaurants in town now has an absolutely beautiful reimagined patio, one of the positive developments to come from COVID-19. Lush greenery, twinkling lights, socially distanced. Same beautiful pastas and a knockout of a burger makes this Linden Hills hotspot even hotter. 4312 S. Upton Ave., Minneapolis

Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub
Lush landscape and terrific beer complement a menu of smoked meat sandwiches and brewpub favorites. It way overperforms what you’d expect. Easy to bike to in southeast Minneapolis, Northbound has a solar-powered installation on the pergola above the patio. Don’t miss the 18-hour porchetta sandwich with smoked Swiss, or one of the best fried chicken sandwiches in town. 2716 E 38th St., Minneapolis

San Pedro Cafe and Pedro’s del Este
Hudson, Wisconsin, has some terrific outdoor dining, but when I want to be transported to a warm-weather vacation, it has to be the patios at side-by-side restaurants San Pedro Cafe and Pedro’s del Este. Bold Caribbean flavors and bold flowers to match at San Pedro. Next door, enjoy craft cocktails and lovely Spanish tapas as the sun sets on the del Este patio. 426 2nd St., Hudson, Wisconsin