18 Fall-Friendly Outdoor Dining Options in DC
Bundle up with blankets, outdoor heaters, and warm cocktails.
Fall has been favorable to Washington DC. With warmer than usual temperatures, restaurants and bars have had some time to put off plans to winterize outdoor spaces, including patios, rooftops, alleyways, and even roadways, known as “streateries.” While some restrictions have loosened around the region and many still are eagerly embracing the opportunity to regain a modicum of normalcy by sitting on a patio for a glass of rosé or a chef-prepared meal, business owners are still facing the reality that winter may impact their bottom line.
But we have come a long way since the spring shutdown. In June, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Phase 2 reopenings, permitting indoor dining at restaurants. But the mandates include operating at half capacity, spacing tables at least six feet apart, and capping six people to a table. Still, many people feel more comfortable dining and drinking outdoors, which is why you’re starting to see restaurants invest in everything from space heaters and fire pits to plastic greenhouse enclosures and igloo bubbles.
On the service side, face masks and gloves for employees handling food are still in effect. And the CDC recommends dining outdoors at tables spaced six feet apart. Establishments are also asked to collect contact information from diners, and many are requiring reservations and limiting seating windows to an hour-and-a-half. Temperature checks and QR-code menus are becoming more common, and customers are required to wear face coverings while not eating or drinking, and to keep six feet away from anyone not in their party.
In Maryland and Virginia, regulations for outdoor dining are similar, with masks, proper spacing, and frequent disinfecting required, however, indoor dining has increased from 50 percent to 75 percent under Phase Three status. In July, Virginia was the first to move ahead increasing indoor seating limits, and last month Maryland followed suit.
While a lot has changed in a short amount of time, what shouldn’t change is your loyalty to some of your favorite restaurants and bars. The simple fact is DC businesses need your support, now more than ever. Here are several outdoor dining options to support right now.
The Four Seasons reopened Bourbon Steak after a kitchen fire temporarily shut down the restaurant this summer. Safety is taken very seriously here. All guests are temperature checked upon entering the hotel and paper and QR-code menus are used to place orders. The patio has also increased in size to accommodate more outdoor diners, and there are also some luxe new items on the menu, like a hot miso butter shellfish platter and Maine lobster pot pie. You’ll also stay cozy with more than a dozen fire pits and individual blankets washed for each use. It’s a great place to celebrate an anniversary, birthday, or some other special occasion. Just don’t forget to order dessert. A tableside s’mores comes served in a smokey effect.
When you step into the backyard at Brine, it’s as if you’ve walked into a nautical escape somewhere up north in say Massachusetts or Maine. The menu reflects that vibe, too. There is steamed shrimp and mussels, along with lobster rolls and oysters on the half-shell, plus a burger that pretty much everyone is raving about lately. Seafood is delivered daily, which means this is the spot for the freshest seafood on H Street.
Calico’s urban backyard in Blagden Alley was made for outdoor dining. The walled-in, multi-level space—with a wooden deck terrace and a turf lawn below—is equipped with picnic tables, string lights, lush planters, and a metal greenhouse frame, epitomizing the neighborhood cookout vibe. The menu follows suit, with loaded tots, Philly-style tomato pie, watermelon salad, BBQ brisket sandwiches, plus draft and frozen cocktails. And timed reservations, plus contact tracing, is in full effect for your personal safety.
If it’s a tasting menu you seek, head to Gravitas in Northeast DC, which earlier this year opened a rooftop bar and lounge that is heated and lit to make you feel as if you’re in a fairytale garden. In reality, this is one of the many gardens that Chef Matt Baker sources for his menu of seasonal dishes, including his “fall harvest menu,” a seven-course, $115 per person tasting menu. If you want a more casual affair, head to the Conservatory, which is open for a-la-carte wine, cocktails, and small bites.
The garden-like rooftop patio of the Columbia Room and a newly converted “streatery” out front are opening as a sandwich and cocktail pop-up, Your Only Friend. It’s an extension of partner and beverage manager Paul Taylor’s recently launched sandwich project, Get a Hero Be a Hero, which donates a portion of the proceeds to organizations like Campaign Zero and No Kid Hungry. The charitable mission will continue, as will popular offerings like the Italian hero-inspired Mort & Mootz. And coming in November, Columbia Room will be hosting virtual Zoom events, including a Dia de Los Muertos Mezcal Tasting Class.
Denizens Brewing Co.
Denizens’ turf-lined beer garden in Silver Spring has plenty of room to spread out, covered tents to protect against the elements, and a mix of picnic tables and outdoor sofas. The brewery includes a full menu of on-tap beers, plus wine, cocktails, and the new Denizens hard seltzer. Food options include burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, crab cakes, grilled cheese, and wings, making this an excellent option for a Sunday funday.
Got a serious hoagie craving? Philadelphia native Casey Patten has several options, including cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches that taste as if they came from the City of Brotherly Love. And recently, Patten has been experimenting with limited-run offerings of pizza. Be sure to check Grazie Grazie’s website for pizza pre-ordering instructions, but hurry these slices always sell out.
The patio at HalfSmoke is a shady, secluded spot with sofas, picnic-style seating, and globe lights hanging overhead. The entire menu is available outside, but the main event is as the name suggests: a bevy of sausages that can be customized with toppings and sauces of your choosing. The barbecue spot also has snacks like crab fries and mac and cheese bites, plus sandwiches, flatbreads, cocktails, and fully loaded boozy milkshakes, ready for their Instagram close-up.
The rooftop of Union Market is the perfect place to meet friends in a safe socially distanced space with a view of the Capitol Building. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance—tables book up fast here. This fall, chefs Greg Algie and Nathan Beauchamp are pulling out all the stops on fall flavors, including spiced cider cocktails and Bavarian beers and jumbo-sized pretzels.
With very little foot traffic downtown these days, Chef Enrique Limardo’s Immigrant Food continues to serve food for a cause at lunch and dinner. The space helps raise public awareness of immigrant communities and frequently hosts fundraisers and events for local nonprofits in support of refugees and immigrants. The fast-casual menu and cocktails span several countries’ cuisines. And Immigrant Food recently had an “extreme patio makeover.” Find improved furniture that embraces chillier weather with blankets, rugs, heaters, lamps, and an overall cozy-chic vibe.
After the beloved Vinoteca closed, Lulu’s Wine Garden (by the same ownership) took its place—but only for a few weeks before going on hiatus. Now, the bottle-driven wine garden is back open, with two airy outdoor spaces: an ivy-lined front patio and a hidden back courtyard. The space is filled with patio tables and heaters as well as natural woods, string lights, and plants galore. The menu leans Southwest with white queso, spicy whipped feta, crispy chicken sandwiches, patty melts, and smoked pastrami pork belly on Texas toast. Drink selections include more than 45 bottles of vino, craft beers, and zero-proof options.
La Famosa features the flavorful cuisine of Puerto Rico, and opened its doors in September. A wrap-around patio makes this highly anticipated restaurant a safe bet for outdoor dining at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Inside there is an all-day menu and walk-up coffee counter serving a variety of savory and sweet-fried turnovers called Pastelillos, as well as locally roasted beans from Ceremony Coffee in Annapolis. For happy hour, the bar leans into tropical-inspired drinks, like piña coladas, guava smashes, and nonalcoholic batidos aka tropical fruit blended with milk, sugar, and ice.
The Salt Line
The venue of choice for Nats victory celebrations continues service on its massive patio, serving up New England-meets-Chesapeake coastal fare. Chow down on fried clam bellies, seafood towers, Nashville hot soft-shell crab sandwiches, lobster rolls, New England smash burgers, or even a lobster boil for a group. Add a few draft beers on a football Sunday or Saturday brunch.
Peep the colorful houses along 18th Street from atop Roofers Union, which is now offering dinner service on the roof. The restaurant and bar have a vast selection of unique and specialty beers, plus wine, cocktails, and Octoberfest fare like sausages and pretzels, plus sandwiches, flatbreads, grilled flat iron steak, and pastas.
This fall, Stable is expanding its restaurant to a few doors down the street at the Gallery O on H’s patio, which formerly played host to a crab shack concept this summer. Find three variations of Stable’s signature fondue, as well as glühwein and other Swiss spirit-spiked beverages served warm. The fondue will be served with homemade white bread for dipping, with additional accoutrements available including potatoes, pickles, and sliced apples. Guests can round out their meal with Swiss charcuterie including air-dried beef, served with mustard, pickles, and Landjäger, a cured and smoked Swiss-style salami. Twinkling lights and space heaters also help to make the outdoor space feel warm and inviting.
The tiki bar adjoining Todd Thrasher’s rum distillery is a multi-story tropical escape. Escape to the first-floor patio or top floor deck for libations and grub with views of the Potomac. The outdoor menu includes tiki drinks, beer, wine, and snacks like Spam musubi, tiki tots, poke, coconut shrimp, and Hawaiian flatbread.
Opening a food hall during a pandemic comes with several challenges. Fortunately, the new 12,500-square-foot space from Neighborhood Restaurant Group was designed to be an enormous space and there’s COVID-19 safety procedures. Enjoy heated patio space outdoors and distanced indoor space between stalls that currently include tacos, coffee, pizza, a butcher shop, and more vendors coming soon. Most folks gravitate to the outdoor beer garden, which serves Bluejacket beers on tap. We especially appreciate the flexibility of ordering food directly to the table using a QR-code menu.
It’s worth a little drive out of the city for a taste of small-town charm at the newly renovated Trummer’s. The welcoming two-story building has a wrap-around porch and spacious back patio, with latticework and greenery surrounding. They new American restaurant is taking reservations via pre-order for a three-course menu, which includes a choice of soup or salad, an entrée (like red wine braised beef short ribs or hand-cut pasta), a side of veggies, and desserts like chocolate bourbon pecan pie or strawberry shortcake.