The temps are cooling off and a crisp fall breeze is blowing in. It is the perfect time to eat outside. In a normal year it would be time for our typical best patio roundup, but it is 2020 and even outdoor dining is a little weird. So this naturally means we need to take a different approach this year.
Outdoor dining remains the safest option to eat at a restaurant, and any restaurant with a square inch outside to spare has made the shift. Notice we are trying to avoid using the word patio when talking about eating outside this time around. We have seen restaurants take over parking lots, sidewalks, walkways, and even streets, not to mention those who have built or expanded patios.
So for the 2020
patio outdoor dining edition, we are going to focus on spots that are innovative, and collaborative.
The restaurants around South Main were the first area to come together in a big way to collaborate on an outdoor dining spot. The SoMa outdoor dining room is open Tuesday-Sunday in the parking lot on the east side of the 1300 block of South Main. While the outdoor dining started off simple, with just a few covered tables to sit down and enjoy your food, it has expanded to allow alcohol (thanks to a temporary entertainment district), live music, trivia, open mic nights, and even the occasional chess tournament. Heading into the fall there are a number of other events being planned around the area including a community driven Halloween trunk or treat to provide a safe option for kids.
While SoMa may have been first, Argenta has found a way to nail the outdoor dining vibe in the biggest way. Not content with a parking lot, Argenta quickly moved to shut down the entire street, giving their outdoor dining district a festival like feel. Tents line both sides of Main Street along with including the already existing Flyway Tent City and the new(ish) Argenta Plaza. Each restaurant has stands set up easily outside their entrance to order from and you are free to roam anywhere within the nearly 8 block space with alcohol. Like SoMa they are also looking to add plenty of live entertainment, starting with a concert by Arkansauce this weekend.
While the River Market might be a little late to the game (likely due to city furlough), they are taking the extra time to combine best ideas of SoMa and Argenta into their new Friday-Sunday outdoor dining district. Like Argenta, they are taking to blocking off the street in the 300 and 400 blocks of Clinton Avenue (Nexus to Cache), although people are free to roam the sidewalks that are part of the larger entertainment district. Like the others, they will feature plenty of live entertainment. It all starts this weekend.
Now for some people do things a little different. The Rail Yard has always been an outdoor focused venue since conception, but they did a great job of blending the indoor and outdoor options. With COVID they decided to go all in on the outdoor options. They have a brand new ordering counter that is completely outdoors where you can order any of the Count Porkula options. Then they fully embraced their food truck focus by rolling out a new truck just for drinks (CaBooze) that joins their beer serving Can-Tainer. They also are serious about keeping tables clean between guests and use a simple, but functional, clean or dirty card that is swapped when someone checks out.
Like Rain Yard, La Terraza is an outdoor focused place. Yes they have a traditional full dining room, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to assume most people experience La Terraza on their patio. It is a reason it is always at near the top of our best patio list. During COVID however they are faced with having to greatly reduce the number of seats due to distancing. In a creative measure they have been able to spread the seats around, utilizing walkways in the building and even adding on to achieve the same number of seats while keeping the familiar setting that everyone enjoys.
Opening a restaurant any time is hard, opening one during COVID is especially difficult. While any other year Cypress Social would be added to the top of the list of classic patios, their care and thoughtfulness of design they put into building the patios here is even more appreciated. They start with a beautiful piece of property with a large pond off Maumelle Boulevard. they follow that up by making sure every dining area has a balcony with a great view.
Classic great patios:
Hill Station, Loca Luna, Red Door, Petit & Keet, Faded Rose, The Fold, Soul Fish, Ciao Baci, Dizzy’s, Dugans, 42 Bar and Table, Table 28, Trio’s, Pantry (West and Crest), Cheers, Fassler Hall, Kemuri, East Sixth Brewing, Brave New, Maddies Place, Buenos Aires, Izzy’s, Lost Forty, Local Lime, Big Orange, ZaZa, Heights Taco, The Pizzeria, Baja Grill, Samantha’s Taproom, Bruno’s Little Italy.