Pandemic precautions have limited restaurants to offering mainly outdoor service, so they have created charming open-air structures to entice diners.
Comfortably dining outdoors in the winter requires a bit of extra effort. However, planning ahead and bundling up allows for a new and enjoyable experience.
Space is limited, so make a reservation or show up during less popular times to grab one of these coveted seats. If you don’t snag a table right away, you may have to chill out in your car or opt for takeout.
Take a cue from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Inauguration Day attire: wear warm clothing and cover extremities with wool socks, gloves, a knit cap. It’s better to wear several layers and peel them off because it’s too warm than to dress lightly and freeze. Bringing a warm blanket isn’t a bad idea, either.
Here are six restaurants that offer standout outdoor dining.
Niche Wine Bar (1013 Main St.; 360-980-8352): Owner Leah Jackson enjoys spending time in her greenhouse at home, even when it’s cold outside, so she thought a similar structure would make a cozy outdoor space for her downtown Vancouver wine bar. A customer dubbed the clear plastic rectangle The Crow’s Nest, and the name stuck.
“Ideally a crow’s nest would be high. We do what we have to do,” Jackson said.
In The Crow’s Nest, three people from a single household can nibble from a charcuterie platter while sipping glasses of wine from Niche’s well-curated cellar. Niche also serves tea, coffee and the Hot Spaniard, Jackson’s own creation mixing hot cocoa and cream sherry.
Reservations last for 90 minutes and can be made by calling or texting Niche. The structure is aired between seatings by opening the top for 15 minutes, sanitizing and cleaning the space. Jackson recently added 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday to Niche’s prior schedule of 3-6 p.m. Tuesday and 3-7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Elements (907 Main St.; 360-258-0989): A rectangular structure surrounded by bowed pieces of driftwood repurposes natural materials gathered from the Columbia River.
“It was a nice excuse to get the kids out and it was cool searching for these pieces — like looking for gold,” said Juan Miguel Sosa, Elements’ chef and owner.
Elements requires reservations, which can be made at elementsvancouver.com, and charges a $25 nonrefundable fee that’s credited on the bill for your meal. Elements also has some spots in the back for uncovered seating on warmer, drier days. (Check social media for availability.)
Sosa created a new menu to go with the new seating.
“You’re paying $50 per person at my place. I want you to enjoy it,” he said.
He gave a lot of thought to customer experience, focusing on dishes that travel well and taste good even if they cool a bit outside.
Oregon white truffles, currently in season, make an appearance in the potato gnocchi with lobster, fennel, caviar and buerre blanc, as well as in a sauce for Snake River Farms wagyu rib eye with maitake mushrooms and foie gras butter. A Tuscan seafood stew followed by warm sticky date pudding makes for a warming outdoor meal.
Amaro’s Table (1220 Main St.; 360-718-2942): Genaro Amaro designed outdoor spaces at his restaurant’s downtown Vancouver and Hazel Dell locations to imitate the experience of dining inside. Customers enter the outdoor space in downtown Vancouver by walking through the restaurant to the outside courtyard where sparkling yellow patio lights illuminate tents.
The outdoor dining menu includes a stellar rotating list of cocktails along with food favorites like Amaro’s own pretzel with Bavarian fondue, Caesar salad topped with snarl of shoestring fried onions, tender steak medallions in with a tri-pepper demi-glace, and tender ricotta doughnuts. Amaro added warming drinks like hot buttered rum and mulled wine with brandy and herbaceous Alpe Amaro.
Call the restaurant for reservations.
Acorn & The Oak (3533 N.E. Everett St., Camas; 360-210-7439): Janessa and Chuck Stolz, owners of Acorn & The Oak, created a charming, romantic outdoor space. Janessa, a florist, has a lot of experience setting up elegant tents for weddings and festooning them with greenery and flowers. On a recent visit, cedar and pine boughs punctuated with white orchids intertwined over the ceiling of the tent. “The Wizard of Oz” projected silently (with subtitles) on one wall. The clear sides of the tent revealed serene views of Lacamas Lake.
During the day (from noon to 4 p.m.) the menu includes light bites like warm mixed nuts, deviled eggs, a cheese board and cocktails. At 5 p.m., the menu switches to supper club classics like a wedge salad, chicken stroganoff with wild mushroom, and sockeye salmon with roasted potatoes.
For Valentine’s Day, Janessa plans on redecorating the space with lush red roses. Chuck will create a romantic musical playlist and the Stolzes will choose a film to fit with the theme. A prix fixe menu featuring surf and turf (filet mignon and crab cake) and rich chocolate mousse comes with a special flower arrangement to take home. The restaurant will also mark Galentine’s Day (Feb. 13) with a screening of “Parks and Recreation.”
Valentine’s Day reservations will open up on Feb. 3 on OpenTable.com.
Little Conejo (114 W. Sixth St.; 360- 718-2633): Little Conejo is one of a handful of downtown outdoor spots that have inspired people to sit outdoors on even the chilliest night, proving that the tacos are freeze-your-butt-off amazing. Little Conejo’s cozy covered parklet, set off by decorative window frames, has outdoor heaters. The taqueria also has uncovered, unheated tables around the periphery of the restaurant. On a recent weeknight, people filled these uncovered tables at Sixth and Washington streets in a sort of a socially distanced winter street party.
Little Conejo doesn’t take reservations. Co-owner Mychal Dynes said that dinner and lunch times have been busy, but that the restaurant is slower between 2 and 4 p.m. He recommends showing up early for dinner on Saturday — “the earlier the better” — to get a seat.
Dediko (210 W. Evergreen Blvd.; 360-314-4370): Mother and son team Ella and Nico Bakh recently added an elegant outdoor space echoing the modern Georgian theme at their restaurant.
“We always wanted to do a patio space. This pushed us,” Nico Bakh said.
Dediko’s outdoor dining space accommodates three tables of up to five people per table. (Heaters are on the way, Nico Bakh said.)
Happy Hour runs every day (except Monday, when the restaurant is closed) from 3-5 p.m. with 15 percent off alcoholic beverages, including Georgian wine. Favorites like khachapuri (cheese bread) and khinkali (dumplings) are discounted.
At 5 p.m., the restaurant serves a full menu of Georgian soups, fresh salads and entrees, including cheese bread, tender dumplings, a luscious bean stew in a clay pot, and marinated grilled chicken or pork with fried potato wedges and a walnut sauce.
Reservations can be made by phone or at OpenTable.com.