The Great Oudoors


Who wants to be cooped up indoors when Sacramento’s summer is at its peak? These local restaurants offer a pleasing alternative: outdoor dining.

Putah Creek Cafe is no shrinking violet: It’s located right smack in the middle of the sidewalk at the main intersection of sweet little Winters. A massive wood-burning pizza oven serves as a visual and olfactory billboard for the restaurant. The sights and smells are hard to resist when the oven is in operation at dinnertime, producing pizza, crispy brick chicken, roasted meatballs with melted mozzarella and popovers served with spinach-and-artichoke dip. With its jaunty yellow umbrellas and strings of market lights, the patio has the feel of a town square, amplified by the presence of people sitting outside at nearby Buckhorn Steakhouse and Turkovich Winery’s tasting room. Last year, in response to demand, the cafe added more seating with a second patio along the side of the building and began serving cocktails in addition to beer and wine. 1 Main St., Winters; (530) 795-2682;

Midtown's Cantina Alley
Midtown’s Cantina Alley

This brand-new Mexican joint is a hidden gem squirreled away in a midtown alley. Behind big, wooden doors that give no hint of what’s inside is an open-air cantina serving authentic Mexican street food and beer. The place is decorated within an inch of its life with Mexican arts and crafts, along with evocative memorabilia like an old paletas cart and a Mexican food-delivery bicycle. (Just because.) The bar is protected by a roof in a structure with a big roll-up garage door. But the majority of the restaurant is given over to a wide-open courtyard with wood tables and chairs made by a carpenter in Mexico. At lunch, you order at the walk-up service window, but there’s table service at night. In addition to tacos and burritos, the restaurant focuses on regional cuisines, with guest chefs and a menu that changes every two months. 2320 Jazz Alley; (916) 936-2320

The raised wood deck in front of this happening beer hall offers drinkers and diners a front-row seat to the goings-on at one of the most vibrant intersections in all of Sacramento. There’s something to watch almost any hour of the day or night, from the Midtown Farmers Market that takes over 20th Street on Saturday mornings to the late-night shenanigans as last-callers pour out of nearby Faces, The Depot and the area’s other bars. The partylike atmosphere gets a boost from the picnic-style communal tables, where diners hang with strangers as they ponder the craft beer list. Rowdy LowBrau shares the patio with its sophisticated next-door neighbor, Block Butcher Bar, which specializes in craft cocktails and single-malt scotches. Chef Brock McDonald oversees the kitchen for both places, serving up a cheeky menu of beer-friendly fare like house-made sausages, duck-fat fries and charcuterie boards. The deck serves brunch on weekends and stays open until 1 a.m., but table service ends when the kitchen closes. After that, you’ll have to fetch your own drinks from the bar. 1050 20th St.; (916) 706-2636;

High Hand Cafe
High-Hand Cafe

This bustling cafe is located on the grounds of High-Hand Ranch, a sprawling, upscale retail plant nursery. It’s an enchanting locale, with gravel paths that wind through the nursery, a koi pond where kids can feed the fish and a historic fruit shed (now home to an art gallery, an olive oil company and other shops). The cafe is housed in a soaring glass-walled conservatory decorated with large potted palms—a genteel backdrop for dining with family or friends. The conservatory doors open onto a covered patio encircled by a low stone wall topped with flowering planter boxes.

During the week, the cafe (open only for lunch) serves a simple, seasonal menu of sandwiches, salads and pizzas—the last prepared outdoors in a wood-fired pizza oven. On weekends, the expanded offerings include brunchy dishes like banana bread French toast with caramel rum drizzle and Alaskan king crab Benedict on a house-made lemon-chive biscuit. A guitarist plays soft music in the conservatory on Sundays, when you may have to wait an hour for a table unless you have reservations. No worries: Grab a bloody mary or a glass of sparkling rose and explore your pretty surroundings. 3750 Taylor Road, Loomis; (916) 652-2065;

Crawdads on the River
Crawdads on the River

The party atmosphere and vacation vibe are strong at this floating restaurant on the Garden Highway. (You can drive your boat right up to Crawdads’ courtesy dock.) A good 70 percent of the restaurant is outdoors, and most of the interior opens up to the patio through large, roll-up garage-style doors, providing every diner with fresh Delta breezes and an eyeful of the Sacramento River. The food is meant to remind you of balmy climes: Louisiana gumbo, jambalaya, clam chowder, poke nachos and Crawdads’ spin on a Maine lobster roll: crawdad tail meat and shrimp moistened with spicy aioli and piled into a buttered roll. The bustling bar serves tiki drinks, complete with little paper umbrellas, and the refreshing house cocktail is made with fresh lemonade, Hanger 1 vodka and a sprig of rosemary. If you can’t get to the islands, this is your next best bet. 1375 Garden Highway; (916) 929-2268;

This busy, bustling restaurant at the corner of 18th and Capitol has one of the most highly trafficked patios in town. Enclosed within a low iron fence, the outdoor dining space wraps around both sides of the building, putting diners in the center of the midtown action. It’s the perfect place to enjoy summery Mexican fare like ceviche, fish tacos or halibut a la Veracruzana in a spicy tomato sauce with olives and capers. You can order margaritas, mojitos or Sangria by the pitcher. 1801 Capitol Ave.; (916) 441-0303;

People went nuts when Paragary’s unveiled its patio almost 20 years ago. Designed by the highly regarded landscape architect David Yakish, it was almost impossibly chic for its time, a mash-up of industrial construction materials and traditional Mediterranean plantings. So when Randy and Stacy Paragary overhauled the restaurant a couple of years ago, they left the patio virtually untouched, a testament to its timeless design. They kept the original massive fireplace, sheathed in corrugated metal, and a trio of wall-mounted lugelike fountains that spill water into big terra-cotta pots below. A pair of olive trees supply a bit of shade, supplemented by a system of movable canvas panels overhead. Brilliant fuchsia bougainvillea wends its way up a trellis system made of rebar (a signature Yakish design). Local artisan Steven Tiller of Reclamation Art + Furniture recently built several long community tables, which are paired with woven rattan benches imported from France. Brunch is served on the patio on Sunday and—something new this year—on Saturday as well. In the evening, the space is dark and romantic, the perfect place to enjoy a glass of champagne and the kitchen’s seasonal, Mediterranean-inspired cuisine. In case you’re wondering, large, lighted carnival letters on the patio’s wall spelling out the French word soigne are a nod to former chef Scott Ostrander, who had a fondness for the term. (It’s chef talk for “perfection.”) 1401 28th St.; (916) 457-5737;

Mulvaney's B&L
Mulvaney’s B&L

The opening of Mulvaney’s courtyard in March is like the first robin sighting of the season, signaling that spring has arrived. Where the restaurant’s red-brick interior is cozy and a bit dark, the patio is light and airy, with lots of greenery and trees wrapped in delicate white fairy lights. The courtyard is tucked behind a vine-wrapped fence that shields diners from the traffic on busy 19th Street. It feels like a garden party as people gather around white-clothed tables and dine by candlelight on Mulvaney’s exquisite seasonal fare. The menu changes frequently, based on whatever Mulvaney’s favorite farmers are growing at the moment. (But you can generally count on finding sweetbreads and foie gras on the menu.) At the end of the evening, when most of the crowd has cleared out, Patrick Mulvaney himself can often be found out on the patio, enjoying a cigar and whiskey with some of the regulars. 1215 19th St.; (916) 441-6022;

Der Biergarten
Der Biergarten

At this midtown beer garden, there is no indoors. It’s all outdoors. Walk in through the gate and head immediately to the service window cut out of a repurposed shipping container to order a German, Belgian or American beer from one of 32 rotating taps. Then grab a seat at one of the loooooong community tables, where you’ll perch, cheek by jowl, on a skinny wooden bench with other beer lovers. This open-air restaurant is open year-round, which requires the owners to engage in a constant battle with the elements. They put up a valiant fight: There are heaters to warm you in winter, misters and sun shades to cool you in summer. Still, Der Biergarten is no match for the rain. (This past winter was a rough one.) The food is a twist on classic German street fare: big, warm, doughy pretzels, wursts and waffle sandwiches, called belgies. There’s a small corral for smokers, and you can play ping-pong and cornhole, keeping score on a massive chalkboard painted on the wall of the restaurant next door. Dogs are everywhere; the place prides itself on its dog friendliness, putting out bowls of water and offering treats to your pooch. 2332 K St.; (916) 346-4572;

The Firehouse
The Firehouse

The brick-paved, tree-shaded outdoor dining room behind this venerable Old Sac restaurant is reminiscent of an elegant courtyard in New Orlean’s French Quarter. White tablecloths, good china and heavy hotel silver lend a serious note to the proceedings. This is a special-occasion restaurant, offering a la carte delicacies like foie gras and roasted whole lobster, along with a five-course chef’s tasting menu and an impressive wine list. 1112 Second St.; (916) 442-4772;

After two decades, one of Sacramento’s most popular outdoor dining spaces is getting a makeover. This spring, the owners began cutting back the vegetation, adding new lighting, fixing trellises and installing new plantings. “It had gotten very overgrown,” says Aziz Bellarbi-Salah, whose father opened Aïoli almost 23 years ago. The brick patio is bordered by massive cedar trees, their trunks wrapped in white twinkle lights that cast a magic glow that makes you forget you’re in the heart of the city. (If you look up, L Street Lofts rising just behind the patio will remind you where you are.) The tables are close together and covered in burlap topped with white butcher paper. The food is traditional Spanish: things like paella, beer-braised octopus and Spanish meatballs. The patio is open year-round, weather permitting—and some people insist on eating out there even when the weather isn’t so nice. It’s particularly pleasant on late-summer nights, and if you don’t ask for the patio when you call to make reservations, you’ll probably be out of luck. 1800 L St.; (916) 447-9440;

Because of city regulations, de Vere’s was severely limited in how much outdoor dining space it could claim along its busy stretch of L Street. That didn’t stop the owners of this rollicking Irish pub from fashioning a skinny strip of a patio on the sidewalk out front. Less than 6 feet wide, it has room for only five tiny tables and 10 wooden barstools, plus a teeny-weeny ledge where you can stand and sip a pint of Guinness. Despite its diminutive size, you can eat and drink all you want on the patio year-round; there are two powerful heaters to keep you toasty. (You can bring your dog, too.) It’s a fantastic spot for people-watching, not to mention a primo locale to observe events such as the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race (blowing through Sacramento this year on May 14 and May 17) and the California International Marathon in December. 1521 L St.; (916) 231-9947;


Fans of this small Granite Bay restaurant wait impatiently all winter long for the patio to open in spring. When the warmer weather arrives, they can spread out and enjoy chef Michael John’s American-style comfort food along with the fresh air. There’s a fountain, potted olive trees, heaters for cool nights, umbrellas and shade sails for warm days—not to mention live music (either a guitarist or saxophonist) on Thursdays and Sundays. The menu features simple, craveable fare like sizzling prawns with bread for mopping up the juices, chicken pot roast and seafood stew. The restaurant cures and smokes its own pastrami, which makes an appearance in several dishes: a sandwich at lunch, a pastrami-and-potato appetizer at dinner, and hash at Sunday brunch. Dogs are more than welcome; just walk them around to the back. 8230 Auburn-Folsom Road, Granite Bay; (916) 772-3276;

This latest outpost of the popular local burger-and-beer chain opened in December in the old Washington Fire Station, which had been abandoned for more than a decade. An all-weather patio wraps around two sides of the building, with a roof over one section to keep diners dry and adjustable heaters to keep them warm. There’s also a nifty fire feature: a gas-fired trough that sits on top of the patio wall, sending up mesmerizing fingers of flame. There are big metal picnic tables to accommodate large groups, as well as smaller tables. A decommissioned fire truck from the 1950s, nicknamed “Old Mary,” sits behind glass for an interesting bit of historical decor. And fronting the old fire bays, glass doors roll up in nice weather to give diners inside a taste of the great outdoors. This summer, Burgers and Brew plans to open a beer garden out back to serve rare beers that aren’t available inside. 317 Third St., West Sacramento; (916) 572-0909;

In Italy, dining outdoors is practically the national pastime. Leonardo Fasulo learned all about it growing up near Lago Maggiore in Northern Italy. He re-created that authentic ambience at his Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Davis. Ringed by massive Chinese elms, the patio has decomposed granite under foot, rustic wood tables and chairs, and market umbrellas to block the strong summer sun. Trickling terra-cotta fountains supply the only music you’ll hear. A profusion of foods grow in the nearby garden: grapes, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, peppers and more. In the summer, there’s nothing better than Fasulo’s Caprese salad, made with warm tomatoes and basil plucked fresh from the garden. Dogs and kids are welcome, and you can linger for hours without anyone trying to hurry you along. “It’s the Italian way,” says Fasulo. 2657 Portage Bay; Davis; (530) 758-1324;