Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
With the weather on the verge (we hope) of a sustained period of just-rightness, this week we examine the best places to eat or drink outside. In selecting what follows, we looked for good views, large seating areas and spots that, even if they didn't satisfy the first two criteria, still steadily draw crowds.
Acadia For casual fine dining, it's hard to think of lovelier outdoor seating than at Chef James Hale's consistently excellent Hillcrest restaurant. Elevated above Kavanaugh and with part of its three-tiered wooden deck wrapped around an oak tree, Acadia's outdoor tables can make you feel like you're in a tree house. Go on fixed-price Mondays and Tuesdays, when you can get three courses for $24.50. Or if you're more interested in drinking, wine by the bottle is 20 percent off on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and martinis are discounted from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 3000 Kavanaugh Blvd. Full bar. CC. 501-603-9630. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Boscos Maybe the best patio with a view in the River Market district, Boscos' skinny second-story back deck can accommodate close to 80 people. When there's a concert at the amphitheater and during Riverfest, the restaurant and brewery requires either a level of spending or a cover charge — often $25 per person — to sit outside. Buyer beware, the sight lines are great unless nearby crepe myrtles are in bloom. Still, there's no better perch for people-watching. Another good time to go? During happy hour, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. during the week, when appetizers, martinis, wine and beer are discounted. 500 President Clinton Ave. Full bar. CC. 501-907-1881. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Fri.-Sat., 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Brave New Restaurant On summer nights, when the temperature drops and Brave New standbys like Arkansas heirloom tomatoes and peaches are in season, don't let your hunger convince you to take a table inside if there's a wait for one of the 10 on the Riverdale restaurant's back deck. Brave New deservedly takes some lumps for being located in an office building, but whatever atmosphere the surrounding space lacks, the back porch, overlooking big willow trees and the Arkansas River, makes up for it. Perhaps the best food with a view in town. 2300 Cottondale Lane. Full bar. CC. 501-663-2677. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Forty Two If the Clinton Presidential Center architects had situated the restaurant on top of its cantilevered section instead of below it no other outdoor patios could compete. But the ground floor deck, accessed through the center's lower level, is still nice, with a great view of what will soon be the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. The food is good, too, and reasonably priced. Every third Thursday evening of the month, Forty Two offers a five-course "Around the World" tasting menu, usually with entertainment; reservations are required. Sunday is a brunch buffet. 1200 President Clinton Ave. Full bar. CC. 501-537-0042. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
Cajun's Wharf The deck by which all others are measured in Central Arkansas. With around 55 tables, a small stage area and a dedicated bar (that's generally open Wednesday through Saturday) overlooking the Arkansas River, it's the biggest outdoor party space around on spring and summer weekends. Between 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., minors accompanied by a guardian can sit on the porch. Otherwise, it's 21 and up. Go during happy hour, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, when beer, well drinks, wine and Cajun's play-de-do cocktails are all discounted. Wednesday through Saturday, there's live music, too. 2400 Cantrell Road. Full bar. CC. 501-375-5351. 4:30 p.m. until close Mon.-Wed., 4:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Thu.-Fri., 4:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat.
Casa Manana Possibly the only Mexican restaurant in town with a nice patio area, Casa Manana keeps us coming back for its salsa (red and green) and frosty cervezas. When the weather's nice, nothing can cure a hangover like chorizo and eggs, a michelada (beer, tomato juice and hot sauce) and a table on the cozy back patio. Breakfast is rarely crowded. Go for booze specials from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day but Sunday. 6820 Cantrell Road. Full bar. All CC. 501-280-9888. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Pizza Cafe Arguably the coldest beer in town and excellent thin, crunchy pizza make this cozy, open-air deck one of the most popular around. During peak hours during the weekend, expect to wait. Otherwise, somebody always seems to be getting up. Select domestic beer is discounted during all-day happy hour on Monday and Tuesday and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. 1517 Rebsamen Park Road. Wine and beer only. CC. 501-664-6133. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.
Revolution With two bars, a restaurant and the River Market's biggest venue inside, the back deck at Revolution isn't the main attraction, but it's a great escape during a concert and a perfect spot for pre-partying before attending an event at the nearby amphitheater. More recommended times: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, when all drinks are discounted, and Saturdays, when there's karaoke on the deck. 300 President Clinton Ave. Full bar. CC. 501-823-0090. 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Mon., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Wed., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. (or later on show nights). Scallions Where ladies who lunch in the Heights go for warm-weather patio dining. Tucked below street level, under a canopy of trees and patio umbrellas, Scallions' outdoor seating is the rare set-up that stays relatively cool during the day when the days start to really heat up. And with around 25 tables, you're usually assured of a seat or at least a short wait. 5110 Kavanaugh Blvd. Wine and beer. CC. 501-666-6468. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
Starving Artist The only restaurant with outdoor seating to speak of in Argenta, Starving Artist's open-air back patio doesn't offer any sort of view except of the stars, but when the weather's right, it's the go-to destination in downtown North Little Rock. Enjoy a drink outside when you're waiting for the restaurant's popular reading series, "Tales from the South," to get going. 411 N. Main St., NLR. Full bar. CC. 501-372-7976. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5 p.m.-close Tue. (for "Tales from the South" dinner and show), 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
U.S. Pizza In nice weather, the patio at the Temple of Pizza in Hillcrest is the toughest table to get in town. Cozy, but relatively massive by typical outdoor seating standards, it's rimmed by a stacked rock and wrought iron fence and lushly landscaped with bushes and young trees. Take advantage of drink specials Monday through Thursday. Tuesday, when drafts are $1.50 all day, is especially popular. When the lower patio is full, the upstairs porch opens. 2814 Kavanaugh. Wine and beer. CC. 501-663-2198. 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 10:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Vino's For years, Vino's back patio wasn't much more than a smoker's refuge for regulars. But then the brewpub added a second-story deck. The view's still not much, but there's plenty of room to spread out now and enjoy a slice or a pint or three of the house beer. Get it at happy hour prices from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. 923 W. Seventh St. CC. Beer and wine. 501-375-8466. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thu., 11 a.m.-12 a.m. Fri., 11:30 a.m.-12 a.m. Sat., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
Arkansas Arts Center The small patio off Best Impressions Restaurant offers a view of MacArthur Park and tables with umbrellas; dine on salads and fancier fare. Ninth and Rock Streets.
Buffalo Grill The Riverdale hamburger joint expanded its outdoor seating several years ago. That was smart; it's still full in nice weather. 1611 Rebsamen Park Road.
Capers One of the few West Little Rock outdoor seating areas that doesn't overlook a parking lot. 14502 Cantrell Road.
Ciao Baci The L-shaped porch at this Hillcrest bungalow-turned-restaurant is usually hopping. 605 N. Beechwood St.
The House A good range of beer selections, including cheap PBR, make this a prime drinkers' porch. 722 N. Palm St.
Stickyz Look for live music at this patio-turned-parking-lot every once in a while. Otherwise, a great place to get some air during a sweaty rock show. 107 Commerce St.