Black Bull 298 Queen W, at Soho, 416-593-2766. The hip strip's busiest patio is a zoo from noon until late in the night. Partially covered and with 200-plus seats right on the curb, it's the perfect perch for watching the non-stop parade of alterna-types marching past. Warning: the badass dude in head-to-toe leather who just pulled up on a Harley may look like an outlaw biker, but he's likely a newly single dental supply salesman from Uxbridge. Licensed.
Queen Mother 208 Queen W, at Duncan, 416-598-4719. With its overgrown trellis overhead and cobblestones underfoot, the Queen Mum's backyard terrace has been one of downtown's definitive outdoor destinations for more than 20 years. While soft 80s rock plays at a comfortable level, kick back with an eclectic card that includes pad thai, wasabi guacamole and the notorious Cosmic Burger, a ground nut patty topped with flakes and sprouts slathered in Thousand Island dressing on a sesame-seed bun. Warning: to reach the rear deck you must navigate two steep stairways and a trek through the very low-ceilinged basement. Licensed.
Ultra 314 Queen W, at Peter, 416-263-0330. As tasteful as a centre-spread layout in a design mag, the swanky white-on-white rooftop deck at downtown's hottest A-list joint is a complete contrast from its former incarnation as the Bamboo's funky treetop lounge. Instead of roots reggae and Red Stripe, expect a South Beach-style spa complete with former YYZ chef Chris Zielinski's sharable seafood platters and Monday night's $20 whole lobster specials. Those looking for a somewhat more sedate scene can fashionably lounge in the boîte's shady inner courtyard. Warning: elitist dress code. Licensed.
West Queen West
Cadillac Lounge 1296 Queen W, at Grove, 416-536-7717. Behind its strorefront marquee of a sawn-in-half Caddy, Parkdale's leopard-printed self-described "home of roots, rock and country music" also houses the biggest backyard hideaway in the area. Partially covered and now twice as large as when it first opened, this grungy grotto is a fa-vourite with local music buffs, who knock back five bottles of Amsterdam Blonde for 18 bucks while chowing down on 35-cent wings Mondays. Licensed.
Not My Dog 1510 Queen W, at Fuller, 416-532-2397. In the short time it's been open, this modest neighbourhood watering hole has become Parkdale's boho central. Watch it become even more so once word of its heated, semi-covered backyard grotto hits the blogs. There, trucker-hatted denizens catch vintage B-movies Tuesdays, gargle $4.50 cocktails Wednesdays and take in comedians performing stand-up while perched on a wooden crate once a month. Licensed.
Red Tea Box 696 Queen W, at Euclid, 416-203-8882. Now in its fifth summer, this luxe bake shop with a tiny rear terrace and coachhouse was featured in French fashion magazines before it even opened. Luxur-iate under a picture-perfect pear tree while supping on sensational pan-Asian bento boxes and spectacular Pacific Rim sandwich 'n' salad combos. Breathtaking desserts as well as pricey cups of estate teas help make this downtown's ultimate al fresco dining experience. Warning: reservations are not taken, so if you manage to snag one of the three or so mismatched country-chic tables in the coach house, consider yourselves very lucky indeed. Unlicensed.
Sky Yard @ Drake Hotel 1150 Queen W, at Beaconsfield, 416-531-0429. Since it launched two seasons back, the hipster haunt's Sky Yard rooftop deck has proven so popular you expect a wristband policy to be in effect to gain exclusive entry. The attraction? A breezy island-style hideout complete with overstuffed day beds, a contemporary lineup of pan-global grub served at communal tables and Bob Marley in permanent rotation on the sound system. Lineup too long? Check out the less frenzied wraparound curbside patio off Beaconsfield for weekend brunch. Licensed.
Terroni 720 Queen W, at Claremont, 416-504-0320. Now that the city's favourite nu-skool pizzeria has doubled in size since it annexed the storefront next door, its neoclassical backyard grotto has grown as well. One thing's been left unchanged: minimally appointed but beautifully rendered thin-crust pies topped with garden-fresh basil, spicy Calabrese sausage and grilled red peppers plus summer Mediterranean-style salads and Italian cold cut panini. Now, that's Italian! Licensed.
Dundas West & Ossington
If Lounge 1212 Dundas W, at Lakeview, 416-588-4900. On leafy Lakeview Avenue Parkette and directly across from the Beer Store and KFC, this Little Portugal lounge has a distinctly split personality. By day it's home to Coffee Shop, a remarkably assured lunch 'n' brunch spot. Then, after dark, it morphs into If, a swanky (considering the nabe) cocktail joint. Watch for a new Mediterranean late-night lineup to start later this summer. Licensed.
Julie's 202 Dovercourt, at Argyle, 416-532-7397. For a decade now, Jesus's and Sylvia's relaxed Cuban grotto on a west-side residential street has been everybody's secret rendezvous. Sure, the people-watching amounts to occasional neighbours strolling past on their way to the laundromat, but the romantic resto's seductive ambience, all whispering trees overhead and the sparkle of candlelight on wine glasses, is a scene all its own. Add a pre-Castro Havana tapas card - grilled and then pressed marinated pork, ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches with sweet pickle, fried mashed potato Papa Rellena stuffed with spicy ground beef and green olives, powerful pork Picadillo de Marnita hash with jalapeños and raisins on saffron-scented rice - and understand why reservations are essential. Licensed.
Fat Cat Tapas 331 Roncesvalles, at Westminster, 416-535-4064. Formerly the short-lived Idoru and now an offshoot of chef Mathew Sutherland's Eglinton eatery, this sleek supper club has one of the loveliest patios on the avenue. Hidden from prying eyes, its chic walled-in courtyard is the perfect spot to nibble abbreviated takes on surf 'n' turf while sipping low-mark-up consignment wines by the glass. Licensed.
Freshwood Grill 293 Roncesvalles, at Westminster, 416-537-1882. Once the greasiest of spoons, this overhauled west-side diner appeals to both daytime moms with stroller-bound toddlers and late-night hipsters who linger over all-day breakfasts on the sizable shady backyard deck. Bonus: nearly everything on the luncheonette's lineup is made on the premises and additive-free. Licensed.
Vicky's Fish & Chips/Sue's Thai Food 414 Roncesvalles, at Howard Park, 416-531-8822. No other resto in town has such a disparate card at war with itself - so-so fish and chips versus terrific Southeast Asian eats. The difference between this grungy diner and its downright luxurious backyard deck is just as jarring. Who knew this lovely oasis of calm lurked behind its fading facade? Bonus: still one of the most inexpensive good Thai spots in town. Unlicensed.
Bairrada Churrasqueira 1000 College, at Havelock, 416-539-8239. While its front space is a noisy Portuguese barbecue take-away, its huge, grassy family-style backyard, complete with rows of picnic tables and a water feature, makes a great spot to pig out in the great outdoors. Besides suckling pig, count on succulent grilled-over-steam chickens doused with house piri-piri, sided with roasted potato balls, gargantuan carnivorus platters of egg-topped steaks sided with smashed spud 'n' olive, grilled sardines and barbecue salt cod. Roast pig on the patio all day Wednesday! Licensed.
Olivia's 53 Clinton, at College, 416-533-3989. Steps from the epicentre of Toronto cool, this Cal-Ital resto in a converted row house (owner Olivia Mizzi still lives upstairs) occupies two levels, one a small roadside affair out front, the other a breathtakingly beautiful backyard garden complete with trellises and creeping vines. If only the welcome were this inviting. Licensed.
Pony 488 College, at Palmerston, 416-923-7665. Down a narrow alley and up a flight of dark wooden stairs wait two of downtown's loveliest outdoor dinner theatres: an intimate shady deck rung with flowerpots, and a second flagstoned grotto below, complete with smoker and garden shed. It's a rooftop with history, too. Back in the 80s, Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander operated it as Palmerston. Since then, the gastrodome has evolved into a cozy neighbourhood bistro with a wallet- and palate-pleasing three-course prix fixe francophone menu ($22.95 Monday to Thursday, $25.95 Friday and Saturday). Bonus: charming septuagenarian server André Malibert. Licensed.
Souz Dal 636 College, at Grace, 416-537-1883. Named for the smoky Russian city whose ornate domes inspired the decor of this casbah-like lounge, Souz Dal is appropriately open only after dark. A true College original since 1992, its candlelit enclosed rear patio's a cross between some futuristic sci-fi flick and the set of West Side Story, complete with fire escapes to the sky. Bonus: $3.95 martini specials Sunday to Tuesday. Licensed.
Trattoria Giancarlo 41 Clinton, at College, 416-533-9619. If this romantic tree-shrouded Italian trat just off the main College drag is good enough for visiting celebs like Sophia Loren and Gina Lolabrigida, who are we to argue? Though you won't find the quirky crowd that inexplicably flocks to nearby Kalendar, you can count on a well-heeled clientele tastefully dining out on a classic lineup of carne e pesce like grilled Cumbrae lamb chops and garlicky tiger shrimp. Licensed.
Xacutti 503 College, at Palmerston, 416-323-3957. Though the fashionistas who made this Toronto's hottest spot to see and be scene circa 02 have thankfully moved on to trendier trats (hello, Doku 15), owner chef Brad Moore's Indo-inspired card remains intact. But the best thing about the former Ellipsis continues to be its minuscule secret courtyard where a select few can dine on the likes of Bengali-style chicken curry served with cashew-studded basmati under a starry nighttime sky. Licensed.
Hot Box Cafe 191A Baldwin, at Augusta, 416-203-6990. Hidden discreetly away from prying eyes in a walled-in backyard behind a head shop, this hippy-dippy café happens to be the only patio in town that allows its customers to smoke marijuana in the open. To the inevitable Bob Marley soundtrack (with occasional breaks for Dave Matthews or new Pink Floyd Coldplay), tie-dyed stoners and their grandchildren share tokes with suits or knock back smoothies while killing the munchies with hemp cookies and veggie-friendly sandwiches. Bonus: a makeshift rock-lined pond, complete with snapping turtles. Unlicensed.
Last Temptation 12 Kensington, at Dundas W, 416-599-2551. Despite the name change about 20 years ago, not much else has been altered since this JA-inspired joint was known as the legendary Tiger's: cheap Asian Caribbean grub and budget-minded booze on a tree-lined terrace in the heart of Toronto's vintage fashion district. Licensed.
Bodega 30 Baldwin, at Henry, 416-977-1287. The stretch of Baldwin between Beverley and McCaul is probably home to more patios than any two blocks in the city. Though John's Italian and Margarita's are always packed to the gills, our favourite on the strip is the vine-wrapped curbside terrace of this classy French bistro owned by former Le Select chef Paul Biggs. Bonus: $19.95 lunch/$29.95 prix fixes.
Amuse-Bouche 96 Tecumseth, at Whitaker, 416-913-5830. Since its launch last summer, owner/chefs Jason Inniss and Bertrand Alépée's beautiful bistro in Susur Lee's old Lotus has been hailed as one of the finest dining experiences in Toronto. Come summer, it's even more so, especially when you're tucking into Forbidden black rice cake and tomato confit in jasmine emulsion in the exclusive street-side grotto next to a burbling water feature. Warning: reservations mandatory. Licensed.
Bar Wellington 520 Wellington W, at Portland, 416-341-8880. From the owners of Bloor's Bedford Ballroom and Academy comes this newly opened three-storey downtown adjunct located kitty-korner from historic Victoria Memorial Park. Expect a slightly more upscale version of the Bedford's student-friendly card - including a massive 16-ounce house burger - as well as pizza, panini 'n' pitchers. Licensed.
Brassaii 461 King W, at Spadina, 416-598-4730. Located in the same gorgeous cobblestoned courtyard as Crush Wine Bar's sequestered patio, this South Beach-style terrace offers a late-night al fresco alternative to noisier neighbouring clubs. Bonus: live jazz combos during dinner Thursday through Saturday, and daily cocktail specials. Licensed.
Brasserie 133 John, at Nelson, 416-595-8201. Recently rebranded to suggest a sophisticated Parisian boîte, the former Frisco's may have changed its name, but the scene remains the same. Sprawling over several levels, the busy streetside terrace of the original Amsterdam brew pub is a favourite of the after-work crowd who like to blow off steam over Buffalo-style chicken wings and any of several of the house's absinthe-based cocktails, including the Van Gogh's Ear. Bonus: half-price aps Monday to Friday 5 till 7 pm. Licensed.
Harbourfront & Islands
Rectory 102 Lakeshore, Ward's Island, 416-203-2152. Nestled in a grove of tall pines just a quick streak from a clothing-optional beach, this idyllic island café off the south-shore boardwalk will be open 7 days a week for the summer starting in mid-June. While its front-yard beer garden makes the perfect pit stop for those who want to grab a quick pint while blading, the main attraction's the former community centre's patio on its south lawn, complete with shuffleboard court and weekend brunch. Bonus: dog- and bicycle-friendly! Licensed.
Waterside Bistro 255 Queens Quay E, at Sherbourne, 416-203-0470. Don't tell anyone, but there's a fabulous spot right on the lake that no-body knows about even though it's been there for years hidden behind an inflatable tennis club. Throw in free parking and three decks on the water's edge and those who fondly remember the similar but long-gone Sgana Café will make this their new summer hideout. Situated in the middle of a bleak parking lot, the Muskoka-style deck takes in a panoramic view of skyscrapers, idyllic Ward's Island and passing sailboats. Although the reliable resto's kitchen rarely falters, everyone's here for the dazzling scenery. Licensed.
Betty's 240 King E, at Princess, 416-368-1300. Surrounded by very tall walls, Betty's sequestered patio (once the "Betty Ford Clinic" until a certain ex-president's wife took exception) is the local of choice for students from nearby George Brown and members of the gutter press. Bonus: nearly 20 microbrews on tap, as well as pub grub like suicide wings and Deep Six nachos. Licensed.
Biagio 155 King E, at Jarvis, 416-366-4040. This pricey Italian trat located on a water-featured terrace behind the historic St. Lawrence Hall is one of the core's most romantic destinations. While fountains tinkle, regulars tuck into starters like cookbook-correct Caesar salad and Atlantic salmon tossed with fresh fennel and tart mandarin orange, delivered to table on a slab of ice, followed by Flintstonian secondi of Costoletta Milanese, the classic northern Italian Provimi veal cutlet. Bonus: thoroughly professional old-school servers. Licensed.
Bymark 66 Wellington W, at York, 416-777-1144. Dwarfed by the four black Modernist monoliths of the Mies van der Rohe-designed Toronto Dominion Centre, the terrace at Bymark sits at the centre of downtown's liveliest midday dining scene. While most of the white-collar crowd brown-bag it next to a grazing herd of cast-bronze cows on one of the few green spaces in the core, here on the elegant Yabu Pushelburg-appointed patio, the captains of industry knock back sea salt margaritas and chow down on expense-account meals of butter-braised lobster poutine, prime USDA steaks and the notorious $36.95 Bymark burger topped with shaved truffles. Licensed.
George 111 Queen E, at Mutual, 416-863-6006. NOW's resto of the year for 2005, this luxe supper club in a converted east-side warehouse cum spa takes it al fresco once the weather permits on a terrific terrace in the complex's four-storey atrium. Against a backdrop of shade trees glowing with fairy lights and a water wall, foodies nosh on chef Lorenzo Loseto's genre-busting five-course tasting menu while the rest of us make do with his slightly more accessible lunchtime card. Licensed.
Balzac's 55 Mill, at Trinity, 416-207-1709. Specializing in organic fair-trade beans, this Stratford-based coffeehouse also brings in sandwiches from Clafouti and Daniel et Daniel as well as pastries from dessert diva Dufflet. Bonus: grab a table on the cobblestoned patio and watch the historic 19th-century warehouse complex turn into a location for Hollywood flicks like X-Men, Chicago and Cinderella Man. Unlicensed.
Zelda's 542 Church, at Maitland, 416-922-2526. Show up early, girlfriend, or join the queue for a hard-to-get curbside table at the Village's cruisiest patio. Once admitted to Party Central, tank up on Zeldatinis like the Bitch Slap - sour apple, raspberry and melon liqueur with cranberry juice - to a soundtrack of non-stop 70s disco until it's time for Saturday night's Cheap Show hosted by drag queens Lena Over and Justine Touch and its notorious Best Ass Contest. Bonus: the first Sunday of the month, Zelda throws her trailer-trashy all-you-can-eat Leather Brunch. Licensed.
Amber 119 Yorkville, at Hazelton, 416-926-9037. Though this intimate subterranean boîte has attracted the likes of Justin Trudeau, Ben Mulroney and Sean "Puffy" Combs long into the night, by afternoon its shady backyard deck just off Old York Lane is one of the least pretentious spots in the nabe. Bonus: chef Signe Langford (ex Riverside Café and East Meets West) has just introduced her first patio menu. Salmon with wasabi mayo, or pan-fried halloumi splashed with Pernod on grilled Ace baguette, anyone? Licensed.
Boba 90 Avenue Rd, at Cumberland, 416-961-2622. A favourite of Elvis Costello and Diana Krall when they're in town, owner/chef Bob Berman's and Barbara Gordon's upscale uptown kitchen has been one of Toronto's most innovative for more than 25 years. Come May, the cutting-edge culinary action spills to its curbside terrace, where, under a large striped awning, Elvis and Diana dig into slow-cooked barbecued ribs and miniature grilled cheese sandwiches paired with salads of locally sourced heirloom tomatoes. Licensed.
Pilot 22 Cumberland, at Yonge, 416-923-5716. Now that the venerable downtown institution (63 years and counting) has completed the long-term overhaul of its three floors, the Pilot's rooftop Flight Deck is one of the most impressive around. Fittingly, the Deck's been given a retro streamlined aeronautic look, all rivet-studded stainless steel and aluminum panels, that reflects the esteemed pub's heritage. Still in place, a pub-grub menu that ranges from trendy pad thai to something called Calgary Ginger Beef - a Pilot exclusive, apparently. Bonus: an automated awning makes patio partying possible year-round. Licensed.
Skylounge 220 Bloor W, at Avenue Rd, 416-960-5200. Hidden away behind the chi-chi Intercontinental Hotel (hint: turn right at Harvey's), this serene Ultra-like lounge is miles away from the noisy street scene mere steps away. Decked out with pillow-tossed sofas made for, well, lounging, this sequestered gem features not only a Cecconi Simone design but a tapas-style grazing menu as well. Licensed.
Madison 14 Madison, at Bloor, 416-927-1722. Taking up two three-storey Victorian homes in the south Annex, the Madison is party central for the nearby University of Toronto. A maze of interconnected rooms, all red-velvet banquettes and brass draft pumps, leads to four separate covered and heated decks that face into the evening sunset. The spot's so popular, lineups snake down the alleyway and out front to the street. The management insists that customers wear shoes, but remember that rollerblades are unacceptable foot-wear. Bonus: 20 beers on tap! Licensed.
Paupers 539 Bloor W, at Albany, 416-530-1331. Once the local branch of the CIBC, this converted three-storey bank is now one of the most popular pubs on the Bloor student strip. There's a roadside patio on the ground floor, but up a series of stairways to the roof is one of Toronto's best-kept secrets. Reminiscent of the old Bamboo, this Caribbean-themed deck has a panoramic skyline view as long as you're standing. Bonus: daily half-price food specials. Licensed. Harbord
Kensington Kitchen 124 Harbord, at Spadina, 416-961-3404. For years, KK won NOW's Readers Poll in the best patio category. It's not hard to see why: moderately priced Mediterranean mezes - baba ghanouj, lamb burgers, vegetarian couscous with hand-cut frites - all served on a romantic rooftop under a spreading chesnut and evening stars. Licensed.
Latitude Wine Bar & Grill 89 Harbord, at Spadina, 416-928-0926. Taking its well-chosen name from "Latin with attitude," Latitude has two outdoor eating areas. Those who prefer truck exhaust with their pan-seared tilapia over potato pavé in Tequila saffron cream will prefer the curbside tables out front, but most head for the Miami Modernist rear garden, especially for its acclaimed nuevo Latino brunch and a couple of Caipirinhas. Extensive New World wine list, too. Licensed. Cabbagetown
Provence Delices 12 Amelia, at Parliament, 416-924-9901. First as Le Canard, then Provence and now Provence Delices, this long-running bastion of accessible French cuisine has proved one of the most popular bistros in town. On an awning-draped terrace, regulars tuck into $15 steak frites while swilling glasses of sparkling Café De Paris. Bonus: $16.95 weekend brunch buffet. Licensed. Danforth
Coco Banana 1690 Danforth, at Coxwell, 416-406-0534. This funky east-side Caribbean roti shop might look like something straight out of Shaft, with its luridly hued fuzzy 70s sofas and potted palms, but its secluded garden grotto out back - though still painted in seriously psychedelic colours - is one of the avenue's most serene spaces. Overstuffed couches, pots of geraniums and the chef's own special herb garden, too. Licensed.
Il Fornello 576 Danforth, at Carlaw, 416-466-2931. Although the Danforth is clogged with curbside patios, few offer more than souvlaki served up with a side order of car exhaust. One of the rare exceptions is this Italian pizza chain's east-side outlet located in a stylish art deco storefront that once housed a gun shop. Here, a good-looking crowd wolf down thin-crusted pies topped with the likes of warm prosciutto, mascarpone and honeyed figs. Licensed. Little India
Lahore Tikka House 1365 Gerrard E, at Highfield, 416-406-1668. This inexpensive Indo-Pakistani resto/take-away has always been the east side's busiest summer patio scene, but now that its two-year renovation is nearly complete, House is destined to become even more hectic. Under billowing tents made from sari silk, more than 400 diners feast al fresco on a fiery card of tandoor-baked entrees while sipping plastic tumblers of frothy sugar cane juice at family-style picnic tables lit by twinkling Christmas lights. Bonus: horse 'n' carriage rides up and down Gerrard every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Unlicensed. The Beach
Boardwalk Pub 1681 Lakeshore E, at Northern Dancer Blvd, 416-694-8844. The only patio in the Beach anywhere remotely near the water, this family-style roadhouse on Ashbridge's Bay offers a spectacular view of the park's volleyball court and the dappled waters of Lake Ontario beyond. Bonus: much of the pub-grub menu of burgers, pizza and pastas comes accompanied by the house heat rating: "one glass of beer," "two beers," and "how 'bout a pitcher?" Licensed. Bloor West
Ciro's House Of Imported Bier 1316 Bloor W, at Lansdowne, 416-533-4914. As its name suggests, this west-side pub is home to more than 100 different imported suds, with a strong emphasis on Belgian marques. Out back, find a heated deck shaded by an overhanging canopy of trees where regulars devour better-than-average pub grub in between shots of absinthe and $3.75 tax-inclusive domestic lager chasers. Licensed. St. Clair West
St. Clair West
Rushton 740 St Clair W, at Rushton, 416-658-7874. Since it opened last winter, this boisterous bistro sibling to the equally raucous Ferro has been north Toronto's hottest cantina, the uptown Drake, as it were. With the launch of the just-completed patio that doubles its capacity, you now have twice the chance to snag a table. Bonus: now serving lunch and weekend brunch. Licensed. Uptown
Auberge du Pommier 4150 Yonge, at York Mills, 416-222-2220. Snuggled between two recreated 19th-century crofters' cottages (think Disney does French country), this out-of-the-way Hogs Hollow garden has been a dining destination for lovers since 1987. Next to a fountain ambiently burbling centre court and a wall of pruned apple trees that fill with fruit come late summer, chef Jason Bangerter offers a card of classic Gallic grub with contemporary spin. Don't miss the house's signature dairy-free multiple mushroom soup. Licensed.