5 Tampa Bay restaurants with great outdoor seating
Dining outside in the Florida elements isn’t always a trip to the beach. In fact, during the summer months, it can feel a lot more like a trip to the swamp. But we tend to forget that there is a glorious time of year (ahem, right now) where, for a good six months, eating outdoors can be downright lovely.
These five restaurants capitalized on their outdoor dining setups during the pandemic and continue to offer a delightful excuse to enjoy a little al fresco dining.
This story is part of our 2022 Top Restaurants series. Read the other stories:
5 new Tampa Bay bars where the food steals the show
6 newly revamped Tampa Bay restaurants you’ll want to check out
The 10 best dishes our food critic ate in Tampa Bay in 2021
For a large chunk of the pandemic, this charming French and Vietnamese bistro remained completely closed to indoor dining. That didn’t do much to dissuade diners and, especially, loyal regulars, many of whom have been frequenting this west St. Petersburg gem for the better part of the last decade. They come for the banh mi sandwiches, served on shatteringly crisp baguettes, the flaky pate-filled puff pastries, the steaming bowls of anise-scented pho and the cheese plates adorned with raw honeycomb.
Though the dining room has since reopened, the best seat in the house is still outside in the courtyard, flanked by lush bougainvillea plants and dangling lights.
7204 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-345-9701. alesiarestaurant.com.
The large retractable windows that open onto the patio overlooking Central Avenue give this St. Petersburg restaurant a breezy, al fresco feel regardless of where you’re sitting. Debbie and George Sayegh’s homage to their Mediterranean heritage has evolved significantly since opening in 2019 (there’s now a regular lunch and weekend brunch service) and, under chef de cuisine Sara Jones, the menu is better than ever.
Whether it’s a plate of golden beets and figs with pistachio tahini and whipped labneh, a crisp salad dotted with hunks of creamy Greek feta or the always-changing charred octopus dish, you simply cannot go wrong here.
2701 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-954-3406. eatatbaba.com.
Like other restaurant owners on the brink of opening new concepts, the pandemic allowed Noel Cruz to take a moment to reconfigure his plans. Gangchu, a Korean fried chicken and cocktail spot in Tampa’s Seminole Heights, opened early in 2021. As it turns out, taking over an old auto repair shop on N Nebraska Avenue provided the perfect backdrop for a blueprint that included plenty of outdoor seating. Designed with an increasingly outdoors-leaning clientele in mind, the large covered deck divides the restaurant space and includes an outdoor bar, several television screens and ample shaded seating on the wooden patio.
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Crunchy, spicy Korean fried chicken wings are the highlight here, for good reason. The wings and boneless fried chicken plates come served with a selection of six different sauces, but my personal favorites are the gochujang buffalo and the sweet chili garlic. Pair the wings with a bite of the accompanying sweet-and-sour pickled daikon radishes and a dunk into the house ranch sauce and it’s not hard to see why this place has amassed such a solid fan base.
6618 N Nebraska Ave., Tampa. 813-723-4264. eatgangchu.com.
Dining outside is still the only option at this Safety Harbor pizza destination, and that’s all good and fine because really, you’re here for one thing and one thing only: Gregory Seymour’s wicked delicious pies.
In many ways, it feels like business as usual: Guests still order at the counter from a chalkboard menu, and a small selection of beer, wine and soft drinks is served. But instead of grabbing a seat inside the tiny indoor dining room (now mostly used for storage), diners find a table on the 18-seat patio outside, a corner lot in downtown Safety Harbor that imbues a charming neighborhood feel.
The abbreviated menu includes a selection of nine pies, all featuring that perfectly crispy, chewy crust made with stone-milled flour the spot is known for. There aren’t any sides or salads offered at the moment, but there is garlic schmoo — a delicious garlic, olive oil and lemon combo that’s a must for crust-dunking.
400 Second St. N, Safety Harbor. pizzeriagregario.com.
There might not be a lovelier place to dine outside right now than Two Graces, which opened in late October in west St. Petersburg. The restaurant, which took over the space formerly home to the Reading Room, features a similarly verdant charm to its predecessor, with lush flower and herb gardens lining the entrance. Pendant lights illuminate a large oak tree, and the expansive outdoor dining area stretches out beneath a long pergola.
Proprietors Marlin Kaplan and partner Lisa Masterson also run the upscale beach restaurant Grace, and the menu here — while distinct — features a similarly upscale modern American spread, with several vegan and vegetarian options and a selection of wood-fired pizzas. The menu right now feels particularly seasonal, from the delightful Brussels sprouts dish dotted with chestnuts and grapes to the stuffed baby pumpkin, which arrives filled with a pumpkin risotto and topped with a Parmesan tuille.
6001 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. 727-803-6050. facebook.com/twograces.