Best Outdoor Dining in 10 DC Neighborhoods

By Rina Rapuano  |  June 9, 2014
Credit: Jeff Martin

Each neighborhood in DC has its own little quirks and characteristics, and many of those zones have a growing number of places that offer outdoor dining. Here, we call out some of our favorite alfresco experiences around the city - a list that begs for exploration while our unbelievable weather luck is holding fast. We steered clear of featuring any of the rooftop bars and restaurants that we wrote about here and instead found a whole new set of open-air dining and drinking options. It's all part of our determination to help you have the Best Summer Ever.

  • Iron Gate in Dupont Circle

    The stunning patio at this historic restaurant space has the feel of a secret garden - perhaps because it’s in a secluded courtyard reached only by walking through an old, ornate carriageway that now serves as an open-ended but covered bar area. Great pains were taken to preserve the 100-year-old wisteria vine that twists and curls above the patio, and chef Anthony Chittim serves his Mediterranean-inspired plates and roasted animals alfresco for lunch, dinner and brunch.

    Must Order: Hearth-baked crackers with three dips; faro salad with kale; spaghetti with tomato and basil; the Nicolaki cocktail.
    Insider Tip: The outside spaces offer a menu not available in the dining room, which features prix fixe tasting menus - but the tasting menus can be ordered either inside or out.

    1734 N St. NW; 202-524-5202

  • Belga Café in Capitol Hill

    Although DC is a cosmopolitan city, it has very few European-style outdoor cafes. That's why we love to sit on the patio at this longtime Belgian spot - it feels as if you've gone on a mini European vacation.

    Must Order: Mussels Ostendaise with a half lobster and clams bathed in a tomato-cream-lobster sauce, all served with Belgian fries; your Belgian beer of choice.
    Insider Tip: If you can't score a patio seat, sitting inside toward the front is the next best thing since they open the floor-to-ceiling windows on nice days. 

    514 Eighth St. SE; 202-544-0100

  • Credit: Flickr/Christybaugh

    Big Bear in Bloomingdale

    Day or night, this is one of our favorite outdoor spots in the city. The bushy, abundant herbs that surround it, the cobblestones underfoot and the lights strung above impart the feeling of a peaceful garden on a rolling hill - rather than a cafe steps from a busy Florida Avenue intersection. 

    Must Order: Any coffee, but particularly the lattes; homemade granola with yogurt; grilled cheese with apples; meat pie.
    Insider Tip: Weekends can be crazy here, especially when the weekly farmer's market is running right outside the door. Weekdays are much more chill. 

    1700 First St. NW; 202-643-9222

  • Credit: Jeff Martin

    Zaytinya in Penn Quarter

    No offense to Zaytinya, but we prefer a relaxed spot on the umbrella-dotted patio over a seat in the ultramodern dining room just about any day of the week. True, the Greek and Turkish plates are as sophisticated as the restaurant's sleek interior, but sitting outside seems to intensify the soulful Mediterranean flavors - and this patio feels like an oasis in busy, bustling Penn Quarter.

    Must Order: Htipiti and taramasalata dips; crispy Brussels sprouts; crispy eggplant with garlic-yogurt sauce; octopus Santorini; Greek yogurt with apricots. 
    Insider Tip: We rarely have trouble getting a seat out there, but you can minimize your chances of missing out if you go early or arrive for a late lunch. (And speaking of lunch, Zaytinya has a great four-course meze lunch deal for $25.) If you're intent on sitting outside but the patio is full, walk over to nearby Poste, which boasts a gorgeous courtyard.

    701 Ninth St. NW; 202-638-0800

  • El Chucho in Columbia Heights

    There's stiff competition in this neighborhood for great outdoor dining, what with Room 11, Meridian Pint and Red Rocks, just to name a few that are all within a block or two from this taqueria. But we love that this streetside roof deck is raised and covered - allowing the occasional summer breeze to flow in without risking getting burned to a crisp.

    Must Order: Elote callejero; calabacita tacos; ginger and blackberry-poblano margaritas.
    Insider Tip: Show up for tequila Tuesday and you'll likely be treated to 20% off tequilas all night, including flights.

    3313 11th St. NW; 202-290-3313

  • Credit: Jennifer Cubas

    Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown

    The patio here not only offers a view of the Georgetown Waterfront fountain (which turns into a twinkly ice-skating rink in winter), but also the Potomac River and Roosevelt Island. And while you soak in the sun and sip on vintage tiki cocktails, you can feel good about the sustainable sourcing of the kitchen and the LEED-certified design throughout the restaurant's spaces.

    Must Order: Purple and black kale salad; spicy ahi tuna poke; Wisconsin grilled cheeseburger; ice cream sandwiches; Manhattan soda.
    Insider Tip: If you want to try the popular brunch, definitely make a reservation. If you don't and the wait's too long, mosey over to Fiola Mare, which also offers stunning views and equally stunning food - but with price tags to match. 

    3000 K St. NW; 202-298-8783

  • Vinoteca off U Street

    Sure, there's a great patio in front of this wine bar, but the Plaza Bar out back is where you want to be on any given summer evening. There's bocce and a large grill, where housemade hot dogs, burgers and skewers are cooked alfresco. Plus, mixologist Horus Alvarez's Green Excitement cocktail - his cucumber-mint-jalapeño spin on a gin and tonic - just might be the drink of the summer.

    Must Order: Pan con tomate; mushroom crostini; beef carpaccio; a burger or hot dog; the Green Excitement cocktail.
    Insider Tip: If you have your heart set on playing bocce, don't go on Monday or Tuesday nights when the court is reserved for a bocce league. Through August, on Thursdays from 5 PM to close, $11 will get you an "adult kid's meal": a hot dog with a glass of bubbly or a burger with a beer, plus housemade chips and a pair of sunglasses.

    1940 11th St. NW; 202-332-9463

  • The Liberty Tree in the Atlas District

    The Atlas District draws a lot of partyers from outside the neighborhood, but this is a place that locals return to time and again. The majority of the drafts are from area breweries, and the menu skews heavily toward New England favorites. 

    Must Order: Lobster mac 'n' cheese; Ipswich clam roll; casino pizza.
    Insider Tip: As one of the less frenzied spots on H Street NE, you have a decent shot of showing up here on a weekend night and getting a table without too much of a hassle. 

    1016 H St. NE; 202-396-8733

  • Le Diplomate in Logan Circle

    What Le Dip lacks in authenticity it makes up for in charm - and excellent cooking. It's almost impossible to walk past this Logan Circle patio and not feel the pull of Parisian romance, which is likely why it continues to be nearly as hot as the day it opened.

    Must Order: Foie gras parfait; trout amandine; burger Americain; seafood plateau; cafe au lait; the baguette.
    Insider Tip: Make reservations if you don't want to wait, or put your name in for a table and wander up and down 14th Street NW till you find a spot that looks inviting. Lupo Verde, for one, makes great cocktails; head to ChurchKey for an outstanding beer selection; or hit Red Light for some bubbly.

    1601 14th St. NW; 202-332-3333

  • Osteria Morini in Navy Yard

    Navy Yard is still undergoing its major transformation, but this Italian import from New York City chef-restaurateur Michael White is among the few things already open down there. The restaurant looks over the Anacostia and has beautiful bridge views, making it the perfect place to grab a sophisticated bite before or after a Nationals game. 

    Must Order: Passione Arrabiata cocktail; spuma de mortadella pistachio; testa; duck with farro; any of the excellent desserts.
    Insider Tip: Happy hour includes a seven for $7 deal, when diners can choose from a list of seven dishes and drinks at that price from 4-7 PM weeknights. If the patio here is full, try Agua 301 next door or The Arsenal about a block away. 

    301 Water St. SE; 202-484-0660