May-June 2011

Take it Outside

A number of area restaurants are bringing something special to the table: Mother Nature. Here are our favorites.

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One of life’s sweetest pleasures is eating a meal alfresco. A potent tropism of the season draws us to sit outside and catch a summer breeze, to talk (or maybe eavesdrop), to eat and drink, to linger and watch the world pass by.

About 50 Bethesda-area restaurants offer outdoor service, according to Kevin Chinnia, licensure and services manager with Montgomery County Health and Human Services. And the number is growing.

If the space can accommodate a lot of people—and the weather doesn’t play any extended bad jokes—outdoor seating can provide a healthy bonus to a restaurant’s bottom line. Melissa Ballinger, owner of Mia’s Pizzas in Bethesda, says patio business “can double the size of the restaurant…[and] contributes a lot” when the seating equals that of the indoors.

Willie Neal, managing partner of Mon Ami Gabi in Bethesda, says patio sales can add 15 to 20 percent to the bottom line when the weather is good. “It’s all about Mother Nature, my dear,” he says.

What follow are 15 of our favorite outdoor restaurants, listed in alphabetical order, from family-friendly eateries with a casual atmosphere to tonier places appropriate for special occasions.

Most provide heaters for early and late in the season, and sometimes ceiling fans for the hottest months. The majority offer full menus outside, and prohibit smoking. Many feature happy hours, live music and even special events like fashion shows. Most welcome well-behaved pooches—and many will provide water—although bringing dogs was verboten until recently. (The state passed a bill in April permitting dogs at outdoor venues starting this month. But it’s at the restaurant’s discretion: Your fox terrier might be welcome at many; your mastiff might not.)

One final note of advice: If the day is balmy and dry, come early; unless otherwise stated, outdoor tables are first-come, first-served.