Basking in the sun on a breezy patio during the warm summer months is a hallmark of the Chicagoland dining scene. No matter if you are looking for a picnic table on a grassy lawn, a cluster of bustling sidewalk tables or an indoor-outdoor party room, Elmwood Park has a proper space to meet practically any al fresco dining desire. As the calendar moves deeper into spring, outdoor dining spaces along Restaurant Row (and beyond) are coming back to life. Get your daily dose of Vitamin D while savoring iconic beef sandwiches, sunny shrimp and cooling ice cream shakes in our sister suburb to the north. 

The original pork sandwich on a picnic table at Russell’s Barbecue in Elmwood Park. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

1. PORK ON A PICNIC TABLE: Looking to fulfill an all-American picnic fantasy? Plan to pay a visit to Russell’s Barbecue, 1621 N. Thatcher Ave. — the meat-focused mainstay has been a family tradition since 1930. Just behind the retro restaurant, diners will discover a bevy of picnic tables just waiting to be used. No matter if you order the original slow roasted pork sandwich or a slab of tender ribs, pork tends to taste better when served on a picnic table. Russell’s simply seasoned meats are designed to be doused with their house made barbecue sauce prized for the Jamaican spices and bold cinnamon notes that keep customers coming back to Russell’s year-after-year.

Johnnie’s beef sandwich with lemon ice. (Andy Kaczkowski)

2. SAVOR SUMMER AT JOHNNIE’S: Widely celebrated for serving some of best Italian beef sandwiches, Johnnie’s, 7500 North Ave., is only made better by a sunny day and a cup of Italian ice. Though beef piled on a bakery bun and enhanced by the addition of optional sweet or hot peppers is a delightful indulgence anytime of year, Johnnie’s only offers outdoor seating at their counter service venue.  For more than 60 years, hungry folks have been lining up on sunny days to savor one of Chicago’s signature sandwiches.

3. FEEL THE BREEZE AT JIM AND PETE’S: Jim and Pete’s state-of-the-art party room is designed to welcome guests to enjoy an indoor-outdoor dining experience. The retractable roof offers protection from a sudden rain shower when dining at the Italian mainstay, 7806 W. North Ave. Enjoy cross breezes as you savor house made rigatoni, succulent seafood, or remarkable risotto at Jim and Pete’s.

4. A MINI GET AWAY: Flowing plants, windchimes and twinkle lights bring a distinctly vacation feel to Café Cubano, 7426 W. North Ave. Gather around a table on the sidewalk to enjoy sunny dishes like the camerones flamenco appetizer — the dish featuring shrimp in tomato sauce with toast, is large enough to be enjoyed in lieu of an entrée. No matter what you order it will pair perfectly with a mojito!

Pistachio and hazelnut gelato on a gorgeous day at Massa Café Italiano. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

5. COOL OFF WITH SWEET TREATS: If you crave a sweet ending to a sunny day look no further than Restaurant Row along North Avenue for gelato filled cones or cold ice cream shakes. The summer tradition of patio dining is alive and well at Massa Café Italiano, at 7434 W. North Ave. The cheery café is a natural gathering place in Elmwood Park and no visit to the vibrant destination is complete without a scoop of their award-winning gelato — available in traditional flavors. Burger Moovment, 7512 W. North Ave., serves up nostalgia in the form of  stackable smash burgers, crispy handcut fries and sweet ice cream shakes. The signature toasted coconut shake is the perfect sweet indulgence on a toasty day, but everyday flavors like chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, caramel, and cookies and cream are all suited to keeping you cool on a warm afternoon.