10 Irresistible Summer Patios

There’s something special about dining outside in the summertime, and it’s an experience that’s all the more special at these 10 local patios.

What’s not to like about dining outdoors? There’s something special about enjoying a delicious meal surrounded by a bright sun and refreshing breeze.

And for good reason. We’ve spent the colder months cooped up inside our homes, but now that the weather is nice, we’re finding all the more reason to enjoy the great outdoors.

We’re lucky enough to reside in an area that’s full of amazing places to dine outside. Some places have breathtaking waterfront scenes or soothing landscapes, while others allow diners to enjoy a meal with an aerial view.

Whether it’s a date night or a casual sit-down experience you’re looking for, these spots are worth adding to your to-do list.

1. Benny’s at Franchesco’s Ristorante

Diners who visit this Rockford eatery are greeted with natural lighting and a classy atmosphere when the walkthrough glass patio is fully opened. The elegant and modern decor supports the feeling of a fine dining restaurant while diners enjoy the pleasure of a summer breeze.

This Midwestern dining destination serves up elegant meals like the Miso Sea Bass, served with red miso glaze piled on top of jasmine rice and sake cream sauce. It’s then topped with sesame seeds and green onions.

2. GreenFire Restaurant Bar & Bakery

This Rockford hot spot is taking its experience outdoors this year. Enjoy a meal under the night sky and enjoy it with some live music to set the mood.

A large tent hovers over a majority of the tables and chairs situated just outside the restaurant in the parking lot. Several strands of bright twinkle lights cast a gentle glow.

This restaurant also has unique dinner entrees, like Tequila Whitefish, which is seared with tequila lime glaze and Spanish rice served with charred Brussel sprouts. Wash it down with Koala Juice, a custom cocktail made with tequila, basil, eucalyptus bitters, simple syrup, lemon and aperol.

3. The Dock at Prairie Street Brewing

This Rockford brewery’s patio is appropriately named because it sits right at the Rock River – a perfect spot to enjoy beautiful riverfront scenery. The cool breeze coming off the water adds a nice touch on those warm summer days.

In addition to a top-notch menu featuring classic American fare, this destination brews its own craft beers, so the options are aplenty and include IPAs, lagers and stouts. The taps are constantly changing, so check back often.

Dockside Live returns this summer with live musical performances happening every Monday and Thursday.

4. The Shortline/The Firebox

Nestled in between The Shortline Sushi Bar and The Firebox Restaurant & Pizzeria sits a covered patio for diners at these neighboring restaurants in downtown Belvidere.

The retractable roof is open on nice days and closed when the weather isn’t so nice. Either way, it’s always comfy.

Handmade pizzas fired on a baking stone are what it’s all about at The Firebox, and the overwhelming favorite The Chicago, which comes with red sauce, Italian beef and giardiniera. The Shortline’s menu showcases plenty of Japanese-inspired dishes and sushi choices like the California Roll, which comes with crab meat, avocado and cucumber wrapped up inside.

5. The Top Lounge & Rooftop Deck

One of the latest additions to downtown Rockford, this open-air restaurant sits atop the stunning new Embassy Suites hotel. Regardless of whether you’re staying overnight, you’re still invited to enjoy a meal, a drink and the views – and the incredible views aren’t to be missed at the two-tiered rooftop deck, which is equipped with fire pits for those cool nights.

The lounge’s ever-changing menu features high-class options like ahi tuna nachos, flatbreads, pizzas and handcrafted cocktails.

6. The Olympic Tavern

With a kitchen that’s now open until 10 p.m., this Rockford restaurant’s cozy patio almost feels like a big backyard hangout you can enjoy into the night. Several heaters keep everyone comfortable on those brisk nights. Dogs are occasionally allowed here.

Delicious and mouthwatering menu items include the Pig Sandwich, with shredded pork shoulder and homemade barbecue sauce on a potato roll. The Steak & Bleu pizza comes with grilled rib-eye steak, caramelized onions, roasted red pepper and scallions.

Complete your meal with a custom cocktail or one of the rotating 28 beers on tap.

7. Merrill & Houston’s Steak Joint

Rustic beauty and sophistication join forces at this upscale steakhouse in downtown Beloit. The seasonal patio overlooks a quiet stretch of the Rock River that sets the mood for a calming and peaceful atmosphere. For a romantic touch, there’s also a casual cocktail area with loveseats.

Since its opening in 2012, the steakhouse has offered signature cuts and other house specialties, along with an extensive beer and wine menu.

The fan-favorite Ironworks is a house-cut rib-eye topped with shrimp, scallop and lobster meat blended with buttery breadcrumbs.

Seafood lovers will enjoy Seafood Alfredo, served with lobster, shrimp and scallops in an alfredo sauce on pasta.

8. Taco Betty’s

This rooftop is right in the middle of the action, especially on Friday nights during Rockford City Markets. Climb the stairs and enjoy a hearty taco, sip on a cocktail and take in the panoramic scenes. There are strings of bright lights hanging high above, so the party continues long after sundown.

Hip music from the sound system creates an atmosphere that’s lively.

Even better, there’s a full-service bar up here, so you’re never far from the signature Taco Betty’s margarita.

9. Fresco at the Gardens

This Rockford patio immerses diners in the tranquility of Anderson Japanese Gardens as it overlook beautiful ponds and sweeping landscapes. Listen carefully for the gentle sounds of streams and waterfalls within this 12-acre marvel.

The breakfast-and-lunch eatery brings seasonal and locally sourced cuisine to hardy breakfasts like the Biscuits & Gravy, Breakfast Flatbread and Early Start Sandwich. Lunch favorites include the Apple Chicken Walnut salad and handheld choices like the Crab Cake Sliders and the Lobster Roll.

The Java Jolt coffee lounge also serves up handcrafted coffee, espresso and cappuccino.

Pier 290 Photo

10. Pier 290

After a long day on Geneva Lake, relax with a delicious meal from this lakeside restaurant, located off the docks at Gage Marine, in Williams Bay, Wis.

Pier 290 serves up American fare like the Surf & Turf Trio, which comes with a 4-ounce filet, two grilled prawns and a petite Maine lobster tail. This work of art is served with a roasted potato medley.

The outdoor bar area is complete with a sandy beach and fire pits, which are located right off the docks. A new band shell, used for live outdoor music, keeps the party going throughout the summer and into the night.

Reservations are encouraged, but walk-ups are always welcome.