fb-pixel Skip to main content

Manhattan: concrete jungle where outdoor dining dreams come true

Dining sheds on every corner made it easy for my family of four to safely enjoy our favorite restaurants

The outdoor dining area at Odeon.Kara Baskin

Last week, my family and I actually managed to pull off an April vacation getaway that wasn’t ruined by cancellations or COVID. Afraid of being stranded on a tropical island with two pink lines, we went to the island of Manhattan instead — a relatively safe bet largely thanks to a plethora of well-constructed outdoor dining options.

It seemed that there were al fresco dining sheds on every sidewalk. Nobody batted an eye when we asked to sit outside, even when chilly, and it was easy to make online reservations that specified outdoor seats. It wasn’t a matter of showing up and hoping to be accommodated, or calling directly to barter with a host.


We’d all love for COVID to be over, but yet it persists: In Massachusetts, the seven-day percent positivity is 5.37; at the beginning of March, it was 1.62. I’d rather avoid infection as much as possible. Who wouldn’t? To the extent that patio dining can mitigate risk, well, I’m all for it, even if it means I’m wearing my fleece jacket in May. Should you want to follow in our footsteps, here are some suggestions.

Our first stop was Magron, a teensy counter-service Cuban cafeteria in Midtown (136 W. 46th St.). This is primarily takeout (there are a handful of booths), but it’s a fantastic choice for a walkabout sandwich. Get the $10 Cuban, served on a crusty pressed baguette slathered with zippy mustard and stacked with thick sheets of ham, roasted pork, and tons of pickles — or a thinly shaved steak sandwich drenched in a garlicky, oniony “mojito” dressing. We ate them in their wrappings while walking to an improv show.

Dinner brought us to Il Tinello, also in the Theater District (16 W. 56th St.), once a favorite of bygone bold-facers like Regis Philbin and Mary Higgins Clark. Yes, this old-school swankery is popular with Manhattanites of a Certain Vintage (did I really see Barbara Walters strutting in?) — but also the rare gem that treats kids well, too. Our server, clad in a jacket, tie, and bright-orange spectacles, was happy to fix my kids off-menu half-portions of whatever they wanted, which happened to be spaghetti Bolognese. As for the grownups? Antipasti served tableside, cocktails not from a list (just say what you like, and it will appear), clams casino, and a spicy lobster fra diavlo cracked open like a volcano.


As for the accommodations: Il Tinello maintains a covered outdoor shed with artificial turf, mood lighting, open doors and windows, and well-spaced tables draped with linens. It felt special but secluded, sort of like dining on a golf course. My kids threw back Shirley Temples like the world was ending (which it kind of is?).

For brunch, there was only one option: dim sum. It’s been two full years since I’ve sat at a round table, ordering like a drunken sailor, feasting on bottomless plates of clams in black bean sauce and chive dumplings: too close, too communal, too much. But Chinatown made it easy: We snagged a reservation at Ping’s (22 Mott St.), where we were placed in a trailer with partitioned walls and open windows. It was our own private dim sum dining room, staffed by a masked server who checked on us constantly. It felt wonderful to relax. Also wonderful: the overstuffed shrimp noodles, fatty beef tendon glistening with spice, savory pork buns (my kids’ favorite), and deep-fried shrimp wrapped in bacon. My kids said that this — not the Bronx Zoo, not even the Sour Patch Kids store — was their favorite part of the trip.


Beef tendon at Ping's in Manhattan's Chinatown.Kara Baskin

Finally, for some Reagan-era glamour, we ate at Odeon in Tribeca (145 West Broadway), a 1980s brasserie that still retains its glitterati glimmer (think: Studio 54 with steak frites). Despite housing the ghosts of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and Steve Rubell, it’s also remarkably kid-friendly.

We sat in yet another outdoor dining shed with hanging electric heat lamps, box trees strung with Christmas lights, and a floor nicer than my Boston-area living room. We could also opt for blankets. Our server filled my kids’ ginger ales to the brim and talked up their excellent ice cream sandwiches, kept the doors open for proper ventilation, and happily seated customers (at a distance) who wandered in with their dogs.

The menu hits all the highbrow-lowbrow-comfort notes: burgers, mussels, and fries, macaroni and cheese, omelets, steak tartare. The sleeper hit: a country frisée salad with fatty bacon, bacon vinaigrette, and a bulbous poached egg pouring forth with runny yolk. Bliss.

On our trip, we were able to experience the pleasure of restaurants without looking over our shoulders at rogue sneezers or hoping to be placed near a window. COVID-conscious families like mine with young kids want to eat out, and we want to do it as safely as we can, maybe indefinitely. For a few days in April, we could, and easily.


Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.