Whether the backdrop is the winding Illinois River, a bustling downtown or a cozy courtyard, Starved Rock Country has numerous al fresco dining options.
While there are plenty of choices, we've selected a handful of restaurants that cover a cross-section of Starved Rock Country.
These only represent a sliver of what's available, so we encourage you to seek out your own favorite spots; most towns offer some form of al fresco dining whether it be upscale or casual.
A'Lure Aquarium Bar and Restaurant, 213 W. Madison St., Ottawa, 815-324-5184
Since this trendy downtown Ottawa restaurant opened in the summer of 2016, its unusual aquarium bar has been making a splash with customers. However, owners Jackie Mente and her son, Brian Branson, believe their main attraction is the spacious outdoor courtyard that sets their business apart from other dining choices.
"Our plan for this restaurant was not only to build a great eatery, but to create a destination location unlike other establishments in the area," explained Branson. "That is why we hired Ottawa artist, Laurie Ragan, to paint a beautiful mural scene on the wall in the courtyard, which showcases the nearby Illinois River. Laurie's vision compliments this courtyard perfectly."
Customers can enjoy both lunch and dinner at A'Lure, with menu selections ranging from fresh oysters to mushroom sauce ravioli.
A'Lure aficionado Kyle Creedon praised the outdoor dining as one of his favorite places to eat.
"There's nothing better than having a quiet meal in the courtyard at A'Lure," said Creedon. "It is a great space to bring friends and family to for a nice lunch or dinner. The food is always great and the service very friendly."
Branson said the courtyard sets A'Lure apart from other al fresco dining options "with the mural, the live flowering trees, and the privacy of an enclosed, yet outdoor table setting."
Starved Rock Lodge Veranda, Starved Rock State Park, Utica, 815-220-7321
One of the quintessential places to dine al fresco within Starved Rock Country is the popular veranda at Starved Rock Lodge in Utica.
Open for decades, the veranda offers "the best panoramic views of the picturesque Illinois River Valley in La Salle County," according to Kathy Casstevens, marketing director of Starved Rock Lodge and Conference Center. "We have the space and outside seating available for hundreds of guests with lunch and dinner served on nice weather days throughout the spring, summer and fall.
Casstevens said, "It's a wonderful, pristine venue where family and friends can gather outdoors to enjoy the Lodge's full bar and food services."
The Lodge itself, built in the 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corps members, has long been a major attraction for visitors from around the Midwest and beyond.
During the summer months, the veranda hosts live entertainment on most Friday and Saturday nights with special and full menus available.
"The warmer the weather, the better the business and the more fun we have here on the veranda and here at the Lodge," Casstevens said.
Spoons, 541 S. Main St., Princeton, 815-872-9001
Matching its ambiance with the small American-town charm of its location, Spoons in Princeton offers outside dining along a classic main street backdrop.
"Here in Princeton, our outside dining area draws people to us and has been an asset to our downtown business," said Executive Chef David Jones. "After the cold winter months, people get cabin fever and many of our customers enjoy sitting outside to have a nice conversation, a glass of wine, a good meal while watching the world go by in front of them. No one is ever rushed here at Spoons."
Jones explained his kitchen specializes in serving "worldly comfort food," which he describes as "traditional with a twist." He said he has "infused all of his culinary experiences into Spoons' menu, incorporating a farm-to-table concept whenever possible."
When dining al fresco at Spoons, Jones suggested ordering the grilled avocado and tuna or the mushroom cream sauce-covered salisbury steak.
"I would also encourage new customers to try our Moroccan stew and Thai-curried vegetables," he said.
Uptown Bar and Grill, 601 1st St., La Salle 815-224-4545
When the Uptown Grill moved from its original central location in the 600 block of First Street in La Salle to its present corner location back in 1996, owner Ray Anderes said one of the main reasons was to add outdoor dining to his restaurant.
"I wanted to take full advantage of all the square footage we had at this location and so remodeling the building to include a front patio was a natural thing for us to create an outdoor dining space for our customers," explained Anderes.
The restaurateur said, "During the warmer months, we fully utilize our screened-in section as a seating option and also our open-air seating area. Both have worked to great success for the business — especially for our tourist trade coming from Starved Rock.
"Many people feel comfortable eating outdoors and we do allow our guests to bring in their pets to sit with them. The extra business the patio brings in, especially when we tie our open-air seating in with many city of La Salle downtown events, makes it very worthwhile for us.
"We have it open at least 25 to 30 percent of the year."
Uptown regular Lynn Cawley said, "I run a business not far from the restaurant, which is one of my long-time favorites. There's nothing better than getting off work and walking over to the Uptown to sit back and relax with family or friends and their beautiful patio.
"Whether we have drinks and appetizers or a complete dinner, it is always so welcoming and enjoyable. My favorite app there is seared tuna nachos and, I must admit, I also seldom pass up dessert when I eat there."
Corner 230, 230 W. Madison St., Ottawa, 815-434-0000
On a recent Saturday, Patrick and Miranda Resendiz, of Normal, shared a basket of sweet potato fries and enjoyed a refreshing Sangria in the afternoon sunshine at Corner 230's patio in downtown Ottawa.
"We're both originally from Ottawa and Corner 230 is one of our favorite restaurants here in our hometown when we come back to visit relatives," said Patrick. "And, when it is pleasant outside enough, we always try to sit on the patio here."
"We love this place," Miranda said. "Patrick and I are nature people so when we go out to eat, if it is possible, we always like to eat outside. Our infant son also seems to enjoy it with us."
Following a fire in September 2015, Corner 230 was closed for almost 10 months for repairs.
Manager Katie Ryba recently said how proud she is of her staff about how fast the restaurant has recovered its clientele and business following the reopening.
"Part of the credit for our swift recovery is our location and the popular patio that our customers love," she explained. "The patio is such an asset to our business. It is a great, relaxing place to have cocktails or a meal or just a quiet conversation with appetizers between friends."
Ryba said, "At times, in the summer, our outside tables are busier than our inside seating because the patio is so nice and beautiful. It matches the surrounding town of Ottawa, which is also a very pretty place itself. We love serving our customers with constantly changing menu choices and I think our staff's enthusiasm matches the quality of every meal we make."
Here's a snapshot of other al fresco dining in Starved Rock County:
--Morris Chop House, 701 N. Liberty St., Morris, 815-710-5006
--Jardines, 711 La Salle St., Ottawa, 815-434-2833
--Mark Allen American Kitchen, 1402 Peoria St., Peru, 815-220-0642
--The Pink Chiuahua, 700 La Salle St., Ottawa, 815-324-5227
--Fiesta MX, 221 Madison St., Ottawa, 815-324-9913
--Boondocks Food & Spirits, 1 E. DuPont Road, Seneca, 815-357-1100
--The Red Dog Grill, 1970 N. 2753rd Road, Ottawa, 815-434-4406
--Zeller Inn, 615 Columbus St., Ottawa, 815-431-9550
--HAZE Smokehouse, 159 Bucklin St., La Salle, 815-780-8374
--The Lone Buffalo, 812 La Salle St., Ottawa, 815-324-9549
--Captain’s Cove Bar and Grill at Starved Rock Marina, 1134 N.27th Road,
--Waterstreet Pub and Eatery, 1525 Water St., Peru, 815-223-0400
--Duffy’s Tavern, 101 Mill St., Utica, 815-667-4023
--Joy and Ed’s, 113 Mill St., Utica, 815-667-4850