Chicago restaurants herald spring with fresh dishes and outdoor settings

To paraphrase poet Alexander Pope, our hopes for spring are eternal here in the middle of the country as sudden chilly winds toy with our sunniness. We're fairly sure that minimum 65-degree temps are here to stay and even if they're not, scads of robust Chicagoans don sandals and shorts sans shivers. We can explore the outdoors on lush patios and any of the burgeoning rooftops that restaurants and hotels open as the first crocus and daffodils push through the warming earth. Offering the season’s first bounty on the plate and in the glass, a clutch of eateries work overtime via food, location and service to serve the season through all the senses. 

Terraces and rooftops transport diners from the cacophony of the streets to a happy place of great bites and sips. Raised, an Urban Rooftop Bar fits the prodigious bill. Those preferring their spring dining closer to earth but still outdoors should pencil in stops at The Patio at Cafe Brauer, the venerable Tavern on Rush,  City Mouse and for mussels, frites and beer - Fisk & Co.  Le Sud has one of the prettiest outdoor patios in Chicago. Art lovers will go for the design and dishes at Marisol tucked into the Museum of Contemporary Art. Not the least bit stuffy, there's casual seating with places to drink, dine, or just plug-in and it's is open beyond museum hours. The spring menu at The Press Room, a subterranean wine bar on Randolph St., is bursting with freshly plucked ingredients and the veggie-forward Little Beet Table highlights fresh items artfully presented in a sunny space. Blue Door Farm Stand's high ceilings, white-washed walls and fresh greenery elicit the first smiles of the season.  

Bring on the ramps, morels, asparagus and fiddlehead ferns! 





If you want a stunning view of the skyline and Chicago River in an outdoor area that sports fresh flowers, fire pits, couches and a bar - try Raised, an Urban Rooftop Bar. Under the direction of Executive Chef Russell Shearer and Restaurant Chef Tim Powles, the fresh spring menu boasts: crispy Brussel sprouts with beer mustard, crispy shallot rings; roasted poblano avocado spring pea salsa with charred shallots, tortilla chips, watermelon radish, kohlrabi; mushroom tostadas with crispy corn tortilla, chimichurri, butter bean puree, avocado mousse, carrot & cilantro relish, and Cojita cheese; and bao sliders with lemongrass chicken, cucumber, radish, pickled slaw, cilantro, and jalapeño miso aioli. Chef sources ingredients within 200 miles. The beverage program features an array of wines on tap, a long list of local craft beers on draft and by the bottle, and specialty cocktails served by the glass or in a shareable decanter.

The intimate West Loop spot is perfect for a spring outing. Chef Jeff Williams just rolled out a new seasonal menu and the subterranean space in a century-old building is perfect respite from the flurry of Washington Street. Try charred asparagus topped with crispy ham crumbles, pickled ramps and a ribbon of lemon aioli; Market salad - tender baby kale, shaved asparagus, celery and radish, fresh Wisconsin goat cheese in herb vinaigrette; and roasted leeks crowned with brown butter sauce, smoked trout roe and chives. Simple and delicious: roasted airline chicken (boneless breast with the meaty part of the wing still attached) bathed in chicken jus, herbs and chive oil. Finish with Buttermilk Panna Cotta topped with strawberries marinated in absinthe, pistachio cake crumble, strawberry puree and African blue basil from Chef's Garden. The Happy Hour Charcuterie deal with two varieties of cheese and one meat is a sure bet.

With a name that has "farm stand" in it, the Lincoln Park eatery sounds like spring incarnate. Every inch of the two-story restaurant is flooded with natural light courtesy of oversized windows and first floor windows open up onto the street creating a modern indoor/outdoor vibe during the spring and summer. Chef Fernando Osorio keeps the mileage between the farm and what's on your plate as low as possible so sup on Green House Salad made with Mixed field greens, summer Squash, quinoa, white beans, heirloom tomatoes, Parmesan and basil vinaigrette; then how about a juicy veggie burger created from cannellini beans and quinoa, cilantro, mango and avocado; or perfectly seared scallops with leeks, confit potatoes, lemon butter sauce and bright watermelon radish.


One of West Loop's hottest restaurants, City Mouse is Ace Hotel Chicago's signature eatery offering indoor and outdoor seating every day of the week (natch, it's a hotel restaurant), but also happy hour and late-night menus. Its seasonal fare is inspired by the Midwest and is complemented by craft cocktails, local beers and natural wines. There are healthy options round the clock like smoothies and a roasted cauliflower grain bowl; delightfully greasier choices like a Gas Station Sandwich (hashbrown, egg, cheese, grape jelly, sausage, fruit); and quite refined dishes - like a spring dish of ricotta gnudi with artichoke, Grana Padano, guanciale, olive and scallions. Items starring fruit and veg are especially creative and flavorful. Daily Happy Hour and snacks in the lounge save some money on food and drinks. Dogs and kids welcome. A new initiative during Saturday brunch, called "Sound it Out," features live music.


The Belgian-inspired mussel and craft beer bar and restaurant in the Loop offers a spacious and inviting patio to soak up the sun and people watch while enjoying excellent menu options. New executive chef, Ashlee Aubin, a three-time Jean Banchet Awards nominee, runs a tight ship as cauldrons of mussels in aromatic broths and crispy frites exit the kitchen. Always check on the night's specials - it could be a hearty perch fry - and the $1 oysters at Happy Hour keep the place buzzing. Sure things include pretzel monkey bread with housemade pimento cheese, lobster roll, salmon BLT and hearty burger. Rum cake with roasted pineapple and Chantilly cream is impossible to pass up. Since you're sitting in the sun, you'll need to keep the pipes moistened and there are ten taps and a long list of beer in bottles and cans to do just that.

Gold Coast

At the first buzz of bumble bees, songbirds' melodies and the Cubs and Sox hitting 'em out of the park, homo sapiens emerge from the nest and onto outdoor patios. Tavern on Rush, on the corner of Rush and Bellevue Place, is a perfect perch to people watch while dining and drinking on the 114-seat outdoor patio cafe day to well into the night. Lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus are available from 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Passers-by will surely eye your prime steak, chops, fresh seafood, burger or pizza. Portions are generous and service is stellar. New dishes come four times a year and spring brings lush Burrata Prosciutto Crostini with roasted sweet vine-ripened tomatoes; earthy Mediterranean Lamb Flatbread; and Spaghetti Chitarra with crispy pork cheeks, fava beans, spring peas, cherry tomato, Parmesan cheese and basil-EVOO.

When The Patio at Cafe Brauer opens, it's officially spring. A few steps south of the main grounds of Lincoln Park Zoo, Café Brauer is a historic Prairie School-style edifice that overlooks a pond at the park's Nature Boardwalk. You'll witness stunning views of the prairie ecosystem as well as the Chicago skyline. Chef Daniel Kelly from Levy Restaurants shops the nearby Green City Market for fresh produce and other ingredients to make burgers, sandwiches and salads sing the praises of spring. Options appeal to all ages: crispy calamari, housemade guac and salsa, juicy burgers, panini, Caesar salad, Parm fries and more. There's a decent roster of craft beer and cocktails are definitely a few bucks less than what you'll pay at downtown spots. The lack of car traffic is another pastoral plus.

Chef Jason Hammel enchanted the city with Logan Square's Lula Cafe and now Marisol is his bully pulpit and the culinary congregation is singing his praises yet again. Marisol, in the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, re-imagines the relationship between food, art and design in a space created by renowned international artist Chris Ofili. The hyper-seasonal menu showcases vibrant vegetables, handmade pasta, meat and seafood. Spring brings curly casarecce pasta with crab, white asparagus, green garlic sofrito and yuzu kosho. Choose painterly plates of Hiramasa Crudo with kumquat, tiny artichokes and country ham; sunflower hummus with its accompanying flaxseed cracker is your new chip and dip, and the Marisol salad is moistened with an updated version recipe of dressing from the MoMA Artists' Cookbook (1977). Everything is good - even the music! Stop by for breakfast, counter service throughout the day, brunch, lunch, happy hour in the bar or dinner.

The vegetable-forward menu and cheery dining room experience at Little Beet Table sings spring. Vegetarians and those with food allergies are serviced but so are carnivores and all can enjoy healthful, whole foods in the sunniest environs. Launch with sunflower hummus redolent of za'atar and herbs waiting to be torpedoed by soft, grilled pitas. Salads range from tender baby kale to a roasted shrimp with lettuce, quinoa, avocado, spiced almonds. Come spring, there's Crispy Salmon with edamame, roasted carrots and a carrot top pesto. Executive Chef Matthew Aita likes using green garlic in spring which has a wonderful, slightly sweet, pungent aroma (and a good substitute for elusive ramps). Other winning spring dishes Sheep's Milk Ricotta with Rhubarb Jam, Mustard Greens and Spring Herbs and Broccoli Pzizetta with Chili Flakes, Parmesan and Walnut Pesto. Seasonal sorbet and gelato make a nice finish and brunch is fabulous.

Roscoe Village

April in Paris? Mais Oui! Or just take a ride to Roscoe Village's Le Sud. The popular French-Mediterranean spot offers a rooftop patio that transports you to a garden in the south of France. Flowers and herbs scent the air, wine barrel fire pits warm you if there's a sudden Chicago chill and proprietor Sandy Chen shows how a trip to the villages of Provence inspired her decor. A retractable roof is being added to the patio for year-round dining. Choose items from the full menu and wine list or some lighter warm-weather fare and seasonal beverages. Executive Chef Kevin McMullen's Provencal-influenced food includes house-made charcuterie, escargot, tuna tartare, foie gras tarte, Parisian gnocchi, bouillabaisse, rabbit a la Provencal, fettuccine with mussels, a fabulous burger and chilled tomato and cucumber soup. Don't miss dessert: Basque cake, chocolate-orange mousse and house-made ice creams and you'll say, "merci."


Meet Jacky Runice

Born in Bucktown when bulletproof was a home safety choice and not a coffee order, Jacky Runice has been knocking around Chicago as a professional print, online and broadcast journalist and...  More About Jacky