It wasn’t that long ago that we were wearing heavy coats and sitting at outdoor cafés in February, the heat lamps helping us get through the experience—while allowing us to leave the house and also support local businesses. Well, now that NYC restaurants are open both indoors and out, I’m still drawn to the al fresco seating, because it’s suddenly lovely and airy and also a chance to engage in the best New York City pastime of all, people watching. Here are eight Manhattan places where you can do just that.


VESELKA 

(144-Second Avenue, www.veselka.com)

Borscht, pierogis and good times are all on the menu at this East Village landmark, where you might have to wait a little bit for an outdoor table, but it’s certainly worth it.


HOLLYWOOD DINER

(574-6th Avenue; www.hollywooddinernyc.com)

There’s something comforting about good, old diner food, and this perfectly dependable stalwart aims to please, complete with outdoor tables both on the sidewalk and in the street. Enjoy your grilled cheese in the open air!


LOLO’S SEAFOOD SHACK

(303 W. 116th Street; www.lolosseafoodshack.com)

There’s a nice amount of outdoor seating at this unassuming and delicious uptown gem, where I have enjoyed the coconut shrimp, jerk chicken, fried fish, and plantains with mango salsa.


CHIRPING CHICKEN

(355-Amsterdam Avenue; www.chirpingchicken.com)

There’s a bunch of these, but my favorite is the one on 77th and Amsterdam, because the neighborhood people zoom by and provide endless visual entertainment. I also love the yummy quarter-chicken meal, which comes with salad, pita, and a side. Add a hit of hot sauce to make it complete.


TORTARIA

(94-University Place; www.tortatia-nyc.com)

Good Mexican food combined with comfy outdoor seating makes for a winning combo. The entrees, rice and beans, chips and guac, and fried ice cream all get high marks.


SARGE’S DELI

(548-3rd Avenue; www.sargesdeli.com)

Pastrami, marinated herring, cole slaw and the rest are all yours for the buying at this long running neighborhood staple, which has a limited but worthwhile outdoor area to park your butt at.


BAREBURGER

(514-3rd Avenue; www.bareburger.com)

As with Chirping Chicken, there are multiple Bareburgers around town, but this Murray Hill branch is my favorite, for watching the scrambling residents race back and forth while you calmly enjoy your Buttermilk Buffalo chicken.


RED HOUSE

(203 E. 14th Street; www.redhousenyc.com)

There are usually only two tiny tables outside this place, but being an aggressive native New Yorker, I always manage to nab one. It’s worth it for the lunch special alone. Entree, soup and rice for under 10 bucks—and the 14th Street people-watching parade is an extra treat.

By Michael Musto.