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Outdoor Dining: The Unexpected Hit List

Hot days and warm nights are finally here! Now where to eat outside? Sure, you know Foreign Cinema and pretty much any restaurant at the Ferry Building (from Slanted Door to Gott's). You've probably hung out drinking pisco sours on the patio at La Mar, had a bowl of mussels along Belden Place or done your share of carbo canoodling at Sociale. But when you're racking your brain for somewhere else, somewhere less expected, return to this list. Here are our suggestions for al fresco dining that's just a tiny bit more off the radar.

Chez Spencer (Mission)
If you're feeling fancy, Chez Spencer has a garden patio worth your money. Relax to the twinkling keys of the piano inside as you dine on foie gras and duck and wash it all down with one or two martinis or take a gander at their all-French wine list. 82 14th St., 415-864-2191

Red's Java House (Embarcadero)
A walk down to Red's on a sunny day, coupled with a bucket of ice cold PBRs on their patio with panoramic bay views is the kind of experience that reminds us why we love San Francisco. Grab a breakfast sandwich or a cheeseburger on sourdough for just a couple of bucks. Ultimately you're not here for the food though, you're here for the view. Pier 30, Bryant & Embarcadero, 415-777-5626

Bistro Aix (Marina)
Newly reopened, this Marina gem is a classy stop for a sunny day, but it skips the pretention and goes straight for good, bistro flavor, executed to perfection. Start with a butter lettuce salad, and move onto grilled calamari. Sip one of their dozens of wines offered by the glass out on the big glass-covered back patio (which is heated for colder days). 3340 Steiner St., 415-202-0100

Starbelly (Castro)
In the heart of the Castro, Starbelly has a cute patio decorated with succulents by Flora Grubb, and great, seasonal food to go along with it any time of day. They have house-made pates, pizzas, roast chicken, and a to-die-for salted caramel pot de creme and sometimes, if you're lucky, Dynamo Donuts. To complement warm weather, try their homemade kombuchas, Calimochos, limey Micheladas, and Shandys. 3583 16th St., 415-252-7500

Spork (Mission)
Don't go telling all your friends, but Spork's lovely back deck—where they spin 45s and you can chow down on fresh salads and the signature in-side-out burger—is where Missionites can go once they've tired of the scene at Zeitgeist. 1058 Valencia St., 415-643-5000

Bar Bambino (Mission)
A glass of Italian white, a bruschette or platter of charcuterie and a sunny Mission evening—if you've got a care in the world, this trifecta should cure you. While the sun is shining, opt for a table in the cozy, enclosed back patio. 2931 16th St., 415-701-8466

Universal Café (Mission)
Though Universal Café has been around for 15 years, coming upon it on its residential stretch of 19th Street still feels like a happy discovery. A tight knot of four tables flank the entrance—it’s not much, but it’s a great spot to while away a warm night or Saturday morning while working your way through the farm-fresh California menu. 2814 19th St., 415-821-4608

Park Chow (Sunset) Upstairs on the cloistered, wind-blocked roof deck is where you want to be on a sunny day in the Sunset. Post bike ride in Golden Gate Park or fueling up for a walk, diners sit down to dive into the hearty, eclectic, reasonably priced menu that please kids and adults alike. Great for bigger groups. 1240 Ninth St., 415-665-9912

Chez Papa Resto (SoMa) Located in Mint Plaza, this restaurant, run by the talented chef David Bazirgan, has an outdoor space that by nature is peaceful due to the fact that the tucked-away plaza doesn't have cars rushing by. It makes as good of a place for a power lunch as it does a little rendezvous. 4 Mint Plaza, 415-546-4134

Claude Lane (Union Square) Not quite as sunny or lively as Belden Place, Claude Lane still offers a little taste of being Euro for a day. Choose from Cafe Claude, Gitane (where chef Briget Batson just took over) or Boxed Foods and go for lunch when the shady alleyway is catching the sun's warmth.

Samovar Tea Lounge (SoMa) For a little peace and quiet, make plans to meet here for a little tea and tranquility in the middle of the city. Sit out and take in the Yerba Beuna fountains and the view. The the delicious jook, or Chinese porridge with salmon. You'll leave rested and healthier for it. Located in Yerba Beuna Gardens, 730 Howard St., 415-227-9400

Contigo (Noe Valley) Probably the best place to eat at this charming Spanish-inspired restaurant is the back patio. They often leave the back French doors open so that the whole restaurant flows into the private outdoor space. Warm nights are meant for this kind of indoor/outdoor experience. 1320 Castro St., 415-285-0250

Photo via friedmanlynn on Flickr.com