New Orleans only gets a few weeks during the year when the weather is comfortable enough for alfresco dining. But that doesn’t prevent over a hundred restaurants from offering it. Particularly since the city began allowing sidewalk tables, which have been eagerly patronized by diners.
The ranking below is based on a fuzzy combination of the excellence of the environment and that of the food, with the ambiance being the more important consideration in this case. I give more preference for restaurants with actual patios, balconies, or courtyards to those with sidewalk tables. Left out: Cafe Degas, whose deck-like dining room is sort of outdoors but sort of not. Slip it into this ranking wherever you think it belongs.
1. Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711. For most of its history, the courtyard at Brennan’s–certainly one of the prettiest places in the French Quarter–was not used for dining. After many millions of dollars spent in restorations, the bar offers a generous menu for more casual dining, and anyone who wants to dine among the fountains in the courtyard is welcome to do so. Until the new tree plantings come in, it may be a bit warm out there, though.
2. Commander’s Palace. Uptown 1: Garden District & Environs: 1403 Washington Ave. 504-899-8221. The apotheosis of courtyard dining, under immense oaks, quiet and romantic. With five-star food, to boot. Open when the weather is good, the courtyard at Commander’s is in use much more these days than, say, twenty years ago.
3. Broussard’s. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866. The largest courtyard for dining in the French Quarter, the big open area behind Broussard’s backs up into the courtyard of the Hermann-Grima House. Floweers, trees, and an enormous wisteria keep tit all Eden-like. The current owners of Broussard’s has made much greater use of all this, and at the very least has cocktail out there if the weather is even marginally tolerable.
4. Court of Two Sisters. French Quarter: 613 Royal. 504-522-7273. Open except in really bad weather, the large courtyard here is designed for dining. Live jazz. Better food than you think. More casual, too.
5. Cafe Amelie. French Quarter: 912 Royal. 504-412-8965. Café Amelie’s large, well-planted space is not only among the most attractive, but casual and affordable enough that it gets a lot of walk-in business from strollers on Royal Street. The courtyard is the focus, shady and breezy, with lush plantings all about. Broad umbrellas defeat falling leaves and even light drizzle. Summer days find the courtyard still full, with customers dressed very lightly.
6. Santa Fe. Esplanade Ridge: 3201 Esplanade Ave. 504-948-0077. The triangular building began its life long ago as a hamburger stand. Interior dining rooms are noisy and cramped certain corners. Even if that were not the case, the tables along the sidewalk, lit by tiki torches, are in the greatest demand. Big umbrellas and the canopy of large live oaks make it podssible to dine out there even in a light rain.
7. The Chimes. Covington: 19130 W Front St. 985-892-5396. In a parklike setting overlooking the Bogue Falaya River, Chimes has a big deck with ramps running through the cypress trees and down to the water’s edge. This makes for one of the most striking restaurant decks hereabouts. If only the food were better.
8. Lakehouse. Mandeville: 2025 Lakeshore Dr. 985-626-3006. In 1847, a two-story Greek revival plantation home went up on the lakefront in the center of Mandeville. In 1885, the Bechac family opened a restaurant there. It lasted more than a century, succeeded by at least five other restaurants in recent times. The current management uses both floors of the main building for dining. But on a nice day all working tables are on the patio and the lawn in front of the restaurant, with its view of the lake and the setting sun. The contemporary Creole cooking is good, too.
9. Blue Crab. West End & Bucktown: 7900 Lakeshore Dr. 504-284-2898. A large deck with views of the lake and the marina is ideal for the eating of big seafood platters. It’s not quite as scenic as the Katrina-destroyed West End Park, but to protect against future storms the building is lifted higher than any of the old places. And you’re actually outdoors.
10. Bayona. French Quarter: 430 Dauphine. 504-525-4455. A small courtyard with a few tables, very pleasant in cooler weather. And you get the food for which Susan Spicer is famous.
11. Sylvain. French Quarter: 625 Chartres St. 504-265-8123. A dark, low-ceilinged alleyway, after passing the bar, gives access to the desirable tables in the small courtyard. Very romantic.
12. Brisbi’s. West End & Bucktown: 7400 Lakeshore Dr. 504-304-4125. Another seafood house on the New Basin Canal, Brisbi’s deck also has a good view of the lake and the sailboats in the harbor. Down below is a very casual covered outdoor area where crawfish and crab boils go on while oysters get shucked.