Outdoor dining delivers fresh food in the fresh air

Muchacho owner Michael Lenox finds that being outdoors enhances the dining experience. (Jenni Girtman/Atlanta Event Photography)
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Muchacho owner Michael Lenox finds that being outdoors enhances the dining experience. (Jenni Girtman/Atlanta Event Photography)

Story by Hilary Cadigan

Restaurateur Michael Lennox has proved himself a bit of a patio whisperer. As owner of popular Reynoldstown newbies Muchacho and Golden Eagle, as well as camping-themed Old Fourth Ward standby Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall, the Atlanta lawyer-turned-restaurateur has found his niche in BeltLine-adjacent outdoor spaces.

“There is something inherently alluring and comforting about al fresco dining,” Lennox says. He believes the key to creating an ideal outdoor dining space is tapping into the “wistful reverence” we all carry for classic European café culture. But he also points out that most cultures around the world, particularly those near the equator, have mastered their own iterations.

“A bowl of noodles from a streetside stall in Hanoi or a few tacos and a beer from a taco stand in Mexico City can be hard to top,” Lennox says. “Fresh, vibrant flavor profiles will always carry the day, and I believe simple, straightforward preparations lend themselves better to the relaxed environment of dining outdoors. Ultimately, there has to be a sense of place that connects the ambience to the menu.”

Although city codes make Atlanta inhospitable to makeshift stalls and stands, our balmy spring weather offers ambiance to spare — and local restaurateurs have responded. Here, we bring you some of the best spots to sip and chew in the great outdoors.

Mediterranea Restaurant and Bakery. Tucked into a quiet residential corner overlooking Ormond-Grant Park, this rooftop escape serves light and tasty fare that just so happens to be entirely gluten-free. "Mediterranean culture and dining define the al fresco lifestyle," says co-owner Gary McElroy. "Our menu clicks right in." A leisurely rooftop brunch includes decadent black cherry cream cheese French toast and extra-hot Bloody Marys. 332 Ormond St. 404-748-4219. mediterraneaatl.com

Barleygarden. Tapping (pun intended) into the classic German biergarten formula of sipping suds outside, this new multi-level patio at Alpharetta's Avalon offers a massive selection of brews from around the globe. Soak 'em up with high-cal bar food like Spotted Trotter hot dogs and steak sandwiches. 900 Avalon Boulevard, Alpharetta. 678-266-6218. barleygardenkitchen.com

8arm. Last spring, partner Nhan Le and his team turned a barren square of Poncey-Highland parking lot into the hippest patio in town, complete with pop-up parties and tattooed bartenders hawking funky-fresh spins on classic cocktails from a repurposed shipping container. This summer, they plan to expand the operation with Ama, an al fresco grilled seafood concept perched between the BeltLine and vintage emporium Paris on Ponce. 710 Ponce de Leon Ave. 470-875-5856. 8armatl.com

BlueTop. This Chamblee newcomer offers hearty American fare like pulled pork sammies and mini shrimp po' boys paired with such fanciful cocktails as prosciutto-washed manzanilla sherry with a parmesan rim. The large, fenced-in lawn has a retro aesthetic, all dangling Edison bulbs and yard games like bocce and cornhole, plus outdoor televisions and a fire pit. 5362 Peachtree Road, Chamblee. 678-620-3490. bluetopchamblee.com

King + Duke. A 24-foot open hearth serves as centerpiece to this Buckhead hotspot, whose name nods to Mark Twain. Escape the heat with a series of open-air patio spaces sheltered from Peachtree traffic under saffron striped fabric draped with fairy lights. 3060 Peachtree Road. 404-477-3500. kinganddukeatl.com

9 Mile Station. Take the freight elevator up nine stories to spend a spring afternoon atop Ponce City Market, playing games at Skyline Park. Then, head next door for charcuterie boards, seasonal cocktails and European-inspired dishes made to share. 675 Ponce de Leon Ave. 770-999-1532. 9milestation.com

Insider tip

Rooftop tables at 9 Mile Station fill up fast, especially on the weekends. Reserve seats at $20 a person (a deposit that will be credited back to your bill) via the online Tock system.

Canoe. There may be no outdoor dining option more romantic than this secret garden built on the Vinings side of the Chattahoochee. Feast on seasonal fare for brunch, lunch or dinner on a covered porch overlooking the garden, or settle into an Adirondack chair on the grassy banks to sip rosé while watching the river run. 4199 Paces Ferry Road. 770-432-2663. canoeatl.com

Muchacho/Golden Eagle. Nestled between the BeltLine's Eastside Trail extension and a former train depot, this enclosed brick patio is Reynoldstown's newest spot for munching tacos and grain bowls beneath red and white striped umbrellas by day, and sipping cocktails amid lighted greenery by night. 904 Memorial Drive. 404-748-9254. muchachoatl.com

Doggy Dogg. Hotdog master James Hammerl serves up some of the chillest vibes in Downtown Decatur alongside smoked pork brats from Pine Street Market and surprisingly tasty veggie dogs topped with 'kraut and hot pickles. Order up at the window, then settle in beneath a thatched palapa on the tiny patio with a cold brew in hand. 310 E. Howard Ave., Decatur. heydoggydogg.com

Twisted Taco. Tacos may be the ultimate outdoor dish, and Twisted Taco's rooftop patio in Johns Creek is a pretty great place to eat one, or two, or 10. Grab some friends and gather 'round one of the fire pit tables for a molcajete full of made-to-order guacamole, washed down with a pitcher of margarita or a bucket of beer. 9700 Medlock Bridge Road, Suite 110, Johns Creek. 678-822-5900. twistedtaco.com/johns-creek

Three Sheets. If you prefer a patio with a bit of glitz, this Sandy Springs spot should do the trick. The sexy, sailcloth-shaded outdoor cocktail lounge is decked out with leather couches, glowy table lamps and an Instagram-friendly green wall. 6017 Sandy Springs Circle. 404-303-8423. threesheetsatlanta.com

Insider tip

Have you heard of “Miracle Fruit,” the West African berry that tricks your palate into making bitter and sour foods taste sweet? Three Sheets hosts monthly “flavor tripping” parties where $20 gets you a handful of the berries and a series of complementing small plates to taste while under their influence.

Roswell roam

Don't sleep on this quaint stretch of outdoor drinking and dining in the heart of Roswell. Canton Street is lined with historic homes turned into lively bars and restaurants, each with its own patio, porch, or courtyard. Try Table and Main for veg-centric Southern fare served on the porch of a renovated cottage, Osteria Mattone across the street for regional Italian on the elegant garden patio, or Vin 25 for a winning selection of wine and small plates beside a crackling fire. The Fickle Pickle is where it's at for soup and sammies al fresco, Little Alley Steak caters to carnivores, and Cajun haven Roux on Canton doubles down on the area's New Orleans-esque "carry out" alcohol policy, which allows open containers on the street as you hop between establishments.