At last! Blissfully cool mornings, evenings with a hint of chill and daytime temps that mean we can lunch on a shaded patio without swimming in sweat. This right here, this seasonal slice of heaven is why we endure traffic, tourists and summer.
Here are 12 places to enjoy The Great Outdoors at its greatest. Although a few of them are spendy, most are easy on the wallet and at least three of them are kid-friendly.
Named for Mexico City's iconic central plaza, this charming Mexican food restaurant, housed in Chandler's historic Monroe building, has become a gathering spot in its own right, and there's no doubt the pretty patio has a lot to do with it. Lushly landscaped with vines, trees and exotic flowers, it's a traditional Mexican courtyard, replete with fountains, murals and private nooks -- a good place to laze away the afternoon over margaritas or settle in for a romantic supper (everything from steak to street tacos) under the twinkly lights.
Design buffs love the 60s-era, futuristic look of the farm grill's butterfly roof and mid-century modern decor, retro-fitted onto the converted farmhouse in which owner Joe Johnston grew up. But for those of us who just want to eat upscale burgers, fries and shakes outdoors, this funky-cool burger stand, specializing in "common food done uncommonly well," is aces for its old school charm. Huge (and seemingly ancient) tamarisk trees skirt the edge of a grassy yard dotted with picnic tables, citrus trees and flowers, offering shade and endless opportunity for kids to be kids. Parked in the middle of Agritopia -- a 12-acre urban farm planted with fruit trees, lettuces, herbs and vegetables (all used in the farm grill's kitchen, by the way) -- Joe's brings our agrarian past and future together in such a sweet way.
Although this Dallas-based corporate restaurant, built around modern-day comfort food, has a pleasant patio (with cool vertical garden) at ground level, you'll probably want to take the stairs to the second-floor Summit Bar -- a sleekly designed, al fresco hangout offering splendid views of Piestewa Peak. Admittedly, from this vantage, you can also see Biltmore Fashion Park and cars racing down Camelback, but there's something fun about being at the heart of the action yet slightly above it. Grab a couch, a table near the glassed edge, or a seat at the rectangular bar for cocktails and appetizers, brunch, lunch or dinner. Happy hour is coming soon.
House of Tricks When you're hungry for quaint and cozy, nothing beats this converted 1920s bungalow, fronted by a patio that sports a fountain, fire pit and grape arbor, not to mention a veritable jungle of flowers and plants. Kelly Fletcher's Modern American menu, which wanders the globe (choose among apps such as smoked Korean-style baby back ribs, harissa-spiced PEI mussels and asiago arancine with tomato jam), is worth the expensive trip, but when you've got a budget to stick to, opt for the terrific happy hour, offered at a roofed al fresco bar built between two towering shade trees. You can't lap up this much charm or sophistication -- at this price -- anywhere else in town.
Housed in a lovely Spanish Colonial mansion built in 1929, The House at Secret Garden, which sits right on bustling Baseline Road, is everything its name suggests -- a glittering gem hidden in plain view. Owner Pat Christofolo and her chef-son Dustin have created a peaceful, gracious retreat indoors and out, but unless your heart's set on happy hour (offered indoors only) you'll want to head straight for the cozy, flower-filled patio, finished in flagstone and bordered by orchid trees. Once you've taken in its other charms -- a small fish pond and stone fireplace -- you'll be ready to concentrate on Dustin's Italian-inflected, Modern American menu, which runs to lemon chicken with smashed potatoes and rosemary, hand-made pappardalle with wild boar sausage and shrimp and grits.
It's just a cozy little 20's era house, nothing fancy, really, fixed up like a 19th Century French bordello. Although the interior, with its flocked wallpaper, eye-popping, mirrored backbar and crystal chandeliers is a lot of fun, it's impossible to resist the charming bricked patio, edged by curling cat's claw and a row of shade trees (including one great big shady monster at the patio's far end). An imposing brick fireplace promises to be fun when winter arrives. Meanwhile Matt Carter's outstanding European-influenced modern American food, which includes wood-grilled crab leg with aji amarillo-lime butter, steak tartare and duck confit meat balls with foie gras is good enough to put time and place right out of your head.
Cowboy artist Lon Megargee built a one-room adobe studio on this spot in the early 30s, expanding it over time until he had created a small but authentically Southwestern guest ranch. Now it's a boutique resort owned by Fred and Jennifer Unger (who not only restored the property but took it to another level), but Megargee's name is on the restaurant and his abiding love of the Southwest is evident in every wood beam, adobe wall, vintage photo and artifact found in this lovely old place. The patio, which has won countless awards for being the prettiest in town, captures everything we love about Arizona -- up-close mountain views, blue sky, cactus and flowers, desert trees, a massive fireplace, a burbling fountain and chimineas. If there's one place you should bring visitors to give them a taste of Old Arizona, it's Lon's.
Situated on a lush 10 acres near South Mountain, The Farm is this town's best all-purpose, utterly idyllic getaway. Cyclists, tourists and couples with kids pop into the Farm Kitchen at the front of the property for fancy salads (think turkey Waldorf with local pecans), home-made soups and hearty sandwiches, eating lunch at a picnic table on an expanse of lawn shaded by 50-year-old pecan trees. Breakfast-lovers head down the lane to Morning Glory Cafe for home-style breakfasts of chili and eggs, pulled pork omelet and challah French toast, served on a tree-shaded patio surrounded by grass, flowers and Maya Dailey's organic farm. A weather-worn gate near the cafe's entrance leads to Quiessence, a converted farmhouse so secluded and charming it belongs in a fairytale. Savvy diners get there early enough for cocktails on the front lawn or the tiny back patio, both shady retreats that slow the pulse and soothe the savage breast. A cluster of tables on the front patio provide a romantic, candlelit dinner under the stars, where diners can expect to be just as wowed by Chef Greg LaPrad's house-made charcuterie and elegant farm-to-table philosophy as they are by the setting.
T. Cook's For some crazy reason, T. Cook's never gets much play for outdoor dining, but it absolutely should. Backed up against Camelback Mountain, surrounded by lush lawns, flowers and a small, on-property grove of citrus trees, every inch of this gracious restaurant and the ultra-private resort around it is drop-dead gorgeous. New York financier Delos Cooke built himself a Spanish Colonial mansion here in the late 20's, and this local Grand Dame still has the whiff of old money and Old World charm. There are two fireplace-furnished patios and a charming courtyard for soaking up sunshine and balmy breezes, but the courtyard is strictly first-come, first-served, so plan accordingly.
Windsor bills itself as a neighborhood bar and restaurant, and it is exactly that, a comfy urban hangout that caters to its well-heeled neighbors, many of them arriving on foot or by bicycle. Although the covered patio (more of a breezeway, really) doesn't offer knock-out views, everyone loves it just the same -- probably because it feels a bit like the way-cool patio at a hipster friend's home, you know, decorated by Crate & Barrel and featured in Sunset Magazine. The Modern American menu follows suit, featuring charcuterie, deviled egg dip and chips, a kale Caesar salad, and, of course, a Backyard Burger.
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