Eating outside always beats dining indoors. But dining alfresco in Cleveland — where we get 17 minutes of decent weather a year — is an unparalleled delight. Mother Karma repays us for the soul-numbing crumminess of winter with exquisite (however brief) summers, and fortunately, many of the city's best restaurants have thoughtfully provided patios on which to sample their fare. So when the hostess asks, tell her you'll wait a little longer for that table in the sun. And remember your Coppertone.
Lopez Southwestern Food Club
A spot where the food is spicy and the tequila flows like water (if water made you dance on bars), this popular Cleveland Heights eatery is the place to be in the warm months. Gorgeous mosaic-style patio tables abound in bright reds, blues, and yellows, and strands of lights crisscross in squares overhead. The whole patio is surrounded by a tall iron fence, with trees and the occasional cactus completing the charming decor of this cozy enclave. Try to grab a spot early on Tuesday, when the margaritas are half off. And don't forget to eat: There are plenty of summery flavors to whet your appetite — from citrus to spice, on everything from seafood to pork to veggie options. Try the lobster enchiladas for $18.50. 2196 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-932-9000, www.lopezonlee.com.
It's one of the places to be on St. Paddy's Day. But the beautiful patio at the Harp makes any summer evening just as fun. The spacious patio is situated on the north side of the restaurant, offering a panorama of Lake Erie and the downtown skyline just to the east. The solid beer selection — heavy on the imports, of course — is joined by a diverse menu of traditional Irish fare and eclectic American eats, like lobster pierogi ($16.25) and BBQ meatloaf ($11.99). But if you're feeling authentic, order one of the Harp's famous boxties ($11.29 - $13.99) and a black & tan, and take in one of the best views around. 4408 Detroit Avenue, 216-939-0200, www.the-harp.com.
South Side has one of the most happening — and huge — patios around. It's an indoor/outdoor combo, and at 1,000 square feet, there's room for everyone. By night, you'll find the hip set swilling brews, but at happy hour, lunch, and dinner, the patio belongs to those who hunger for reasonably priced, solid American fare. A wide-ranging menu of seafood, steaks, pastas, and more — including the legendary chicken and waffles ($8.50) — is served up here. For the ultimate in luxury, the Kobe burger ($10.50) is out of this world. 2207 W. 11th Street, 216-937-2288, www.southsidecleveland.com.
This chic Westlake eatery is all warm tones and elegance inside. But step out onto the patio, and you'll have every bit as much fun eating as the chef clearly has serving up your dinner. An outdoor bar makes refills dangerously easy, and the place gets hopping, especially on weekend nights, as diners turn into lingering barflies, tennis bracelets a-sparklin'. But to prep for all that vino, try any of the always-fresh seafood offerings, especially the cornmeal-crusted tilapia, served with lobster risotto, green beans, and lemon-thyme beurre blanc ($20). 24481 Detroit Road, Westlake, 440-835-3559, www.saucybistro.com.
The modern Mexican fare served up at this Ohio City spot is hot — so hot, in fact, that a bit of breeze seems like just the thing to cool you down. A nice Mexican cerveza goes a long way too, and fortunately Momocho offers both. Filled with wrought-iron tables and chairs, and surrounded by twinkle lights and pots of flowers, the patio here is an urban oasis — calm and tranquil, the perfect place to inhale the best guacamole we've found (particularly the blue-crab and goat-cheese options). For the ultimate summer pairing — seafood and citrus — consider the tuna taquitos, filled with seared tuna and blood-orange-jalapeño mermelada. Also check out the $40 per person Tequila Dinners held on Wednesdays, and be sure you make a reservation. 1835 Fulton Road, 216-694-2122, www.momocho.com.
John Q's Steakhouse
For almost 30 years, John Q's has been a cornerstone of the Cleveland dining scene. Legendary for big cuts of meat that are even bigger on flavor, it's fitting that they have a large patio. Seating up to 65 people, there's room to spare — and that's good news for everyone who enjoys alfresco dining with perfect views of Public Square. Dotted with flower boxes, this pretty patio is perfect for lunch or dinner for a special event, or maybe before a game (the classic Cleveland sports decor will help get you pre-pumped). Try the 12-ounce black-pepper strip steak ($32.95) or, if you're Joe Thomas, the 24-ounce porterhouse for $42.95. 55 Public Square, 216-861-0900, www.johnqssteakhouse.com.
Fire The lushly treed and eminently walkable Shaker Square is one of our favorite 'hoods. And Fire, one of our favorite restaurants in town, boasts an intimate, airy patio that seats 3 5 and plays host to a casual, diverse, unpretentious, but sophisticated crowd. The fresh air is the perfect complement to the fresh-from-the-farm food served at Fire, including the strawberry, cucumber, and goat-chee se salad in a minted lime vinaigrette ($9), and tandoor-roasted meats and seafood. 13220 Shaker Square, 216-921-3473, www.firefoodanddrink.com.
The patio at Three Birds is like a secret garden. Set back from the bustle of busy Detroit Avenue, the outdoor space is wrapped in luscious foliage, with twinkling fairy lights creating a romantic air. The brick-paved patio is the perfect place for dates or outings with friends to linger over a finely crafted dessert or an after-dinner cocktail or three. The seasonal menu is always changing, but should include surefire starters like the citrus crab cakes with tarragon aïoli, shaved fennel salad, and blood oranges ($12). We always seem to have room for dessert — it's hard not to, when items like honey goat-cheese cheesecake with candied almonds, honey-poached pear, fig compote, and Ohio honey drizzle ($7) are there for the devouring. 18515 Detroit Road, Lakewood, 216- 221-3500, www.3birdsrestaurant.com.