As a transplanted East Coaster, it took me a long time to get used to the fact that summer months in the East Bay can be the coldest time of year. But that hasn't shaken my conviction that the summer is made for outdoor dining — for hot dogs on the grill, pitchers of cold sangria, and scrumptious meals eaten while huddled around a campfire. All the better if the person doing the cooking is a professional chef.
In this issue of Summer Guide, you'll find a comprehensive list of restaurants and bars with patios or sidewalk seating in our Outdoor Dining and Outdoor Drinking guides (see pages 28–34), but I figured it would be helpful to highlight the best of the best — places in which the food is worth seeking out, and where there's more value added, ambience-wise, than a restaurant that simply plops down a couple of tables overlooking a parking lot.
2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
If you're looking for an elegant outdoor setting, then the covered back patio at Comal is your spot, with all of its tasteful reclaimed wood and festive string lights. There's also an open-air picnic table area, where restless children have room to wander — steering clear of the fire pit — while their parents nurse a beer or cocktail from the patio section's dedicated bar. You could scarcely imagine a more picturesque setting to enjoy some of the best guacamole in the East Bay, or any of the restaurant's interesting masa-based regional Mexican dishes.
1000 Embarcadero, Oakland
Brotzeit is located on the Oakland Estuary — literally right on the water — so you can even get there by boat (it has a guest dock). But this is not a restaurant with high-end trappings. The German beers and house-made German-style sausages are reasonably priced, and the sunny outdoor deck wouldn't seem out of place in a working-class seaside town somewhere down the coast. Here in the city, that feels like a real luxury.
Abigail's Moroccan Cuisine
1132 Ballena Blvd., Alameda
Abigail's, a hybrid Italian deli and Moroccan restaurant, is located about as far southwest as you can go in Alameda without driving into the ocean. The front patio isn't much to look at — during my last visit, there was an old sofa and a couple of mismatched tables — but, man, if it isn't a kick to eat your meatball sub or your bowl of fragrant harira soup practically on the beach (okay, right across the street from the beach), with the San Francisco skyline off in the distance.
1611 2nd Ave., Oakland
In a city in which a new beer garden seems to crop up every other week, the Lake Merritt neighborhood's now-three-year-old Portal is still one of the best in the East Bay. Portal's patio is awesome in the way that a cozy and well-appointed backyard deck is awesome: lots of lush greenery, sturdy picnic tables that are perfect for big groups, and, of course, access to plenty of cold beer. The food is pretty good, too, leaning more heavily on vegetables than your typical bar-snacky drinking establishment — a nice option for those looking for something other than the usual array of chicken wings and deep-fried pig products.
2318 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Speaking of beer gardens with a backyard vibe, no list of East Bay outdoor dining would be complete without a mention of Telegraph's back patio, where graffiti adorns the walls of the adjacent buildings and the atmosphere could hardly be more low-key and community-oriented. The food — a rotating selection of burgers and sausage sandwiches — is just the kind of thing you'd want to eat at a casual backyard barbecue.
Rio California Cafe
1233 Preservation Park Way, Oakland
Downtown Oakland's Preservation Park, a cluster of restored Victorians that house about forty nonprofits, is home to one of the city's best-kept secrets: Rio California Cafe. This Brazilian lunch spot could aptly be described as an urban oasis. Walk just a few short blocks away from the hubbub of City Center, and within minutes you can enjoy a hot plate of feijoada (bean and sausage stew) in one of the most serene outdoor patios in all of downtown — a palm tree-shaded deck that'll make you feel as if you're vacationing at a quaint bed and breakfast. You might even forget for a minute that you have to go back to work.
2050 University Ave., Berkeley
Perdition specializes in slow-smoked, Texas-style barbecue, and if you're of the mind that this is a cuisine best enjoyed outdoors, at a picnic table with a big roll of paper towels, then you'll be happy to know that the restaurant's expansive back patio has you covered. The craft beer selection is one of the best in the area, and there's cornhole if you want to put your beanbag-tossing skills to the test.
Boot and Shoe Service
3308 Grand Ave., Oakland
The best time to check out the backyard patio at Boot and Shoe Service is during the Cal-Italian restaurant's daytime cafe hours. Grab a seat at one of the repurposed church pews, and spend an hour luxuriating over a cappuccino or one of the best margherita pizzas in town. When the weather's fine, there aren't many spots more pleasant and relaxing.
66 Franklin St., Oakland
Of all the waterfront restaurants in Jack London Square, Forge has the best patio — and not just for the view of the boats on the water. What I like is the invocation of the idyllic American summer, complete with Adirondack chairs and fire pits, which are often at full blaze in the evenings. How sweet it is, then, to put your feet up and kick back with good friends, a cold beer, and a few of the restaurant's excellent wood-fired pizzas to share. The patio also makes for prime people-watching, especially if you come for lunch on a Sunday when the weekly farmers' market is in full swing.
Cheese Board Pizza
1512 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
For those who like to keep their outdoor dining experiences simple, a to-go slice from Cheese Board Pizza is hard to top, especially now that the sidewalk in front of the iconic, collective-owned shop is home to a shiny new parklet, featuring colorful planter boxes and a fair amount of seating. That said, one of the quintessential Berkeley experiences is snagging a spot on the grassy median in the middle of Shattuck, where on any given night you'll spot a gaggle of Cal students bonding over an impromptu picnic of sourdough-crusted pizza. Somehow the pizza doesn't quite taste the same if you bring it home.