By Jan Norris
Outdoor dining is the new “in.” With COVID-19 once more on the rise, a patio seat is suddenly more coveted.
Restaurants continue to follow protocol, with many such as Rose’s Daughter in Delray Beach having installed special air filters for indoor guests, and enhanced outdoor seating with social distancing. Servers are masked up, and guests are required to wear masks when leaving their tables.
Others are still following the 50% indoor rule, spreading out tables and taping off barstools.
But alfresco is still safest, other than picking up or having takeout delivered.
Here we’re highlighting new and old restaurants where outdoor dining is comfortable and fun — weather permitting, of course.
Notice a preponderance of seafood restaurants lately? Several new ones have opened this year.
The Blue Fish opened in Mizner Park (former Rack’s Downtown Eatery + Tavern, at 402 Plaza Real, Boca Raton), and the Asian chain brought with it fresh sushi and a notable happy hour. The discounts are available both inside and out at any table, so you don’t have to sit at a cramped bar. Numerous four- and two-tops are set up outside, with bar seating outdoors as well.
The Blue Fish features takeout if you’re still uncomfortable dining out at all: Get sushi and hibachi meals to go. The fish tower and signature rolls are the dishes everyone raves about. A wide sake selection is available as well.
Uncle Tai’s Chinese in Boca Town Center gave way to Copperfish Kitchen, a newcomer from Apeiro Kitchen & Bar. It has a large patio for outdoor dining, and live music on certain nights. The plan is to serve responsibly caught, sustainable seafood, with the kitchen’s own takes on global recipes. A Maryland crabcake is said to be a family recipe, and the shellfish tower is popular.
Specials are offered on certain days ($1 oysters from a wide selection on Mondays, lobster night on Wednesdays) and at happy hour (all night on Thursdays), cocktails for $8, and a $7 small plates menu. The weekend brunch is an a la carte menu, with bottomless mimosas and bloody Marys.
Chef James Strine has settled back in at Taru at the Sundy House after a March opening and closing, then a reopening this summer. The lush gardens are an ideal outdoor setting — romantic and compliant with CDC regulations at the 118-year-old house.
The menu is seafood-centric, with edges of comfort dishes like a roast chicken with panzanella salad and steak frites that round out the fish offerings.
The popular Endless Sunday Brunch continues here, too, but with a twist: Servers deliver foods to tables. Gone is the buffet.
At Hawkers Asian Street Food (640 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach), a bright decor under umbrellas on the huge patio is perfect for casual street foods like the baos, traditional soft buns filled with Korean-style hot chicken or pork belly. Or for small appetites, try the dim sum with Chinese chicken or coconut shrimp.
Plenty of choices are inspired from countries that thrive on street carts and pickup foods: rice and curry bowls, noodle dishes and soups, or quickies like spring rolls or the rip and dip roti.
Hawkers has both happy hour and late night menus as well, and offers cocktails, beers, wine, sake and Asian coffees and teas.
We can’t fail to mention Dada — Delray’s grand dame on Swinton with outdoor seating on the wood deck under the twinkle light-adorned trees.
Chef Daniel Dore gets in fresh fish, and uses locally sourced foods when possible on a menu filled with twists on the familiar. Airline chicken, with risotto and vincotto — a long-simmered wine sauce — and pork schnitzel with “butterscotch” onions, are on the list with vegetarian and gluten-free options like mushroom tikka masala made with cashew cream.
We appreciate the fact Dada has the Starving Artist — a grilled cheese with tomato soup that is sometimes all you want: a hug on a plate.
The cocktails are award-winning, and a curated wine list is approachable and eclectic — just like the restaurant.
At Rose’s Daughter (169 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach), the imported pizza oven is hot — literally and figuratively. The pizzas and doughs are pulled out for diners on the street-side front patio and on the huge patio in the back surrounded by the chef’s herbs. The open concept front room gives everybody space to be comfortable. Two bars mean there’s no walking in and out and around for drinks.
Chef/owner Suzanne Perrotto has perfected the crusts, breads and other dishes coming from the oven.
The house-made short rib pappardelle with black truffles and peas is among the most popular dishes, as is the mozzarella- and basil-splattered Margherita pizza. Lamb meatballs, a Bolognese, and familial recipes round out the menu.
A happy hour — with solid cocktails on the list, beers and wines — gives 20% off the check.
On the beachfront, there’s Caffe Luna Rosa. With doors open to the sea breeze, plenty of sidewalk space and a separate room for its bar, the cafe provides an ideal outdoor experience.
Chef Ernie DeBlasi turns out some Italian classics to make his grandmother proud. Fat shrimp in the pesto Genovese sauce are a winner, as is the penne with broccoli and sausages. Look for healthier additions: whole wheat pastas, grass-fed beef, brown rice, plus vegetarian and vegan offerings.
Breakfast and brunch are also notable. Omelettes are stuffed full of the diners’ choices. The menu has big waffles, fluffy pancakes and thick French toast with a twist — coconut, or the unique cannoli cream version.
Out for steak? Cut 432 (432 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach) puts out a mean Delmonico. Chilean sea bass is the alternative go-to for people who eschew meats. The don’t-miss side is the truffle mac ’n’ cheese. (You’re at a steakhouse already. Give up worrying over cholesterol.)
Solid cocktails befit a meaty menu, with reds leading the wines. Something unexpected for dessert, the banana cream pie, is worth checking out.
Sit on the sidewalk or open-air near the window. Social distancing and mask-wearing are required.
Hurricane Alley (529 E. Ocean Ave., Boynton Beach) has always served outdoors, with doors open wide, and the familiar locals vibe couldn’t be more comforting. (Little did the staff know a hurricane would be the least of its worries this year.)
The restaurant was named the Best of Boynton in 2020 for a reason: fat, stuffed sandwiches, a raw bar, homemade fish dip and fresh seafood — all get raves. The seafood bisque served in a bread bowl is quite a meal, and made for that comfort zone on a chilly evening.
It’s a spot where you can bring your own catch, and a chef will cook it.
The happy hour showcases the drinks, some served in coconut shells. Check out the new tiki hut, 5-8 p.m., and live sax music on Tuesdays.
Boynton’s Prime Catch, at 700 E. Woolbright Road, sits waterfront with an open air bar on the docks. Come by boat or car and check out the raw bar, or the lengthy appetizer list from which you can create a sharable meal.
Notables are the Spanish octopus a la plancha, with white bean salad, and the Caribbean lobster ceviche.
Get fish your way: A selection of fresh fish with myriad preparations means you can design your own plate. There are plenty of steaks and other land-based dishes for carnivores.
At Deck 84, 840 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach, while away your cares watching boats cruise down the Intracoastal from the covered deck tables. The restaurant is boater- and dog-friendly, and deck-casual.
Nosh on the popular shrimp and Baja fish tacos, or try one of the burgers made with a special meat blend. Signature cocktails are a must; they’re half off at happy hour.
Boynton’s waterfront has Two Georges at the marina on East Ocean Avenue — all outdoor seating, including in the glider tables along the docks. Crabcakes get raves, as do the Bahamian conch fritters. A lobster melt and fresh grouper sandwich are good choices, too.
At the neighboring Banana Boat, sit along the wraparound patio with the huge bar under the neon yellow-striped awning. Try the lobster nachos, or snapper Veracruzana, with avocado rice. Tuna poke is also recommended.
Not in the mood for fish? Try a Cuban sandwich or a Greek chicken wrap.
Speaking of Greek, check out the alfresco oceanfront dining at Dune Deck Cafe in Lantana.
Giant Greek salads, great gazpacho, gyros and big breakfasts — come here for a crabcake Benedict, and don’t miss the bloody Marys. All food is served on the deck with an ocean view.
The Dune Deck is popular, so you may encounter a line. It accepts cash only, and the metered parking is closely watched.
John G’s, in Manalapan’s Plaza del Mar, remains a go-to under new owners, who have added extra patio dining. The friendly service, big salads, fish and chips, and almond French toast are still drawing diners. And John G’s now takes credit cards.
You don’t have to be a golfer to get into the Al Fresco at Palm Beach Par 3 in Palm Beach.
The name says it all as far as outdoor dining on the patio overlooking the links. Go for a weekday breakfast or the big brunch on the weekends. Lunch and dinner also are served: Italian favorites such as osso bucco Milanese, and bucatini all’amatriciana. A large selection of pizzas rounds out an extensive menu.
A good, approachable wine list is available along with beers and modern cocktails.
Sophisticated seafood is on the menu at the Atlantic Grille on East Atlantic Avenue in Delray. A covered patio overlooking the avenue serves as a perch for people watching. Look for porcini-dusted sea scallops with a lobster and barley version of risotto. The pan-sautéed shrimp comes on a bed of squid ink pasta in a spinach cream with an artichoke.
The chef is talented with vegetables here. Consider the vegan “falafel” cake made with turnips, shaved squash and asparagus in a carrot and ginger sauce with pea puree.
Other outdoor dining
Driftwood, 2005 S. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Eclectic menu and crafty cocktails.
Oceano Kitchen, 201 E. Ocean Ave., Lantana. Whatever’s fresh comes out of Jeremy Bearman’s kitchen.
Luff’s Fish House, 390 E. Palmetto Park Road, Boca Raton. A local and chef favorite. Nice patio seating with open-air deck.
Farmer’s Table, 1901 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton. Still serving a healthy “clean food” menu with vegan and vegetarian offerings alongside fresh seafood and meats. Large outdoor courtyard.
Max’s Grille, 404 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Patio and sidewalk seating at this classic American grill.
Kapow! Noodle Bar, 431 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Creative Asian noodles and small plates with cocktails to match. Sidewalk seating.
Jan Norris is a food writer who can be reached at email@example.com.