Il Tetto rooftop beer garden at Sienna Mercato, Downtown. Photo courtesy of Sienna Mercato.

Ten years ago, if you wanted to eat outside in Pittsburgh, you had to pack a picnic basket. Now it seems like every new place in town — and half of the old ones — offer some sort of outdoor dining and drinking.

What changed?

Maybe it was the “Paris to Pittsburgh” program for Downtown restaurants — Colcom Foundation-backed grants of up to $30,000 to fix up facades and add tables, awnings and lighting. The recent rebirth of Market Square, after its 2010 makeover, probably helped, too.

Ultimately, though, people just love to be outside.

So if you’re looking to soak up the sun (or the stars) while dining in Pittsburgh, you need to know where to go. Here’s a list of some of the best outdoor dining options in town — great places to go when the summer breeze beckons and on beautiful fall days:  

Hofbrauhaus, South Side. For a place with so many rivers, it’s a mystery why so few Pittsburgh restaurants seem to use them for anything. (To be fair, they were industrial sewers for 100+ years.) Hofbrauhaus is a major exception, now overlooking the city’s newest marina. Putting a Bavarian beer hall on the water was a smart move. The back deck above the muddy Mon is so nice that the actual food and drink are sort of a bonus, rather than the main event.

Il Tetto.

Il Tetto at Sienna Mercato, Downtown. We know all the big cities were doing this already. But here it’s still a novelty and this multi-level meatball emporium does it really well. The walls of the adjacent taller buildings give this rooftop bar some shape, and a glass roof and strings of lights give you somewhere to duck in a downpour. This stretch of Penn Avenue has long been one of the most attractive in all of Pittsburgh, and here you can look down on it from above.

The Abbey on Butler, Lawrenceville. It’s usually a bad idea to try to be all things to all people. But this former funeral home has a lot of space to work with and manages to make it all count. There’s a bar, a coffee shop, a sit-down restaurant, an outdoor patio and plenty of quiet space for conversation. It’s an architecturally fascinating space, which isn’t apparent from the street. There’s stained glass, cast iron fountains, bronze French doors, even garden-quality landscaping in the warmer months.

Harris Grill, Shadyside. This is one of the original spots for outdoor drinking and dining, reminiscent of the days when Shadyside was a quasi-bohemian enclave of students, musicians and weirdos (really!). From Harris Grill‘s front patio, it seemed like you could see the whole city parade by — instead of just, you know, rich people. But it’s still the best place to devour baskets of bacon while drunkenly discussing Dostoyevsky, Derrida or the laws of thermodynamics.

Photo courtesy of the Porch.

The Porch, Oakland. Aside from the Point and the overlooks on Mt. Washington, this might be Pittsburgh’s most iconic setting — in the shadow of the Cathedral of Learning, on a soft green expanse between the largesse of the libraries (Carnegie and Hillman). The Porch’s profusion of patios includes an impressive stone fireplace for chilly nights and an unobstructed view of college town Pittsburgh, where you can nap on the lawn between classes like the future is still ahead of you.

Redfin Blues, Washington’s Landing. Somehow Redfin Blues, which overlooks a marina on the Allegheny, had Pittsburgh’s rivers all to itself for the longest time. (Remember when it was Troll’s?) Located on the island of Washington’s Landing, Redfin is a great spot to dine on the water from the deck overlooking the marina. The menu sticks to the basics, plus lobster rolls and “all-you-can-eat Alaskan Snow Crab Clusters” — and the beer selection is quite good.

Spirit, Lawrenceville. Nightclub, concert venue, superior pizza place — is there anything Spirit can’t do? They’ve got a very nice, and very spacious back patio, too, for when your ears are ringing from the music and you just need to clear your head.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.