You probably already have your favorite places to eat outside and enjoy the all-too-brief embrace of the Western New York summer.
That doesn't mean you can't put more on your list. Here are five suggestions aimed at specific desires in outdoor dining. What's on the plates ranges from hot dogs and curly-Q fries to Bronzini en croûte with beurre blanc and tournéed vegetables.
The array of settings are just as broad, from a blue-collar Buffalo beach to the sophisticated, verdant surroundings of a French-inspired courtyard.
1. For a beach day with family that includes the possibility of adult beverages and tacos served to your beach chair: Woody's Beach Club and Taqueria (Woodlawn Beach State Park, Hamburg, www.curtinrestaurants.com, 828-1011).
Woody's is not perfect. Parking is $7, the standard park fee, and sometimes the beach is closed by sewer overflow. So if it's been raining hard, call ahead to make sure the beach is open.
When it is, which is most of the summer, it's worth it to enjoy one of the best beaches in Western New York, with breakers and dunes and driftwood. At one end, Woody's offers an unusual opportunity for California-style beach luxuriating, only 15 minutes from downtown Buffalo.
The adults in your party can enjoy beach chairs where, weather permitting, servers will deliver margaritas – and on nights and weekends, tacos, too. Inspired by owner Tucker Curtin's travels along Baja California's seaside taco shacks, the menu includes mahi-mahi tacos with mango salsa and soupy Baja-style shrimp cocktails. There's also a shaded bar for those avoiding rays.
The kids, if taco-averse, can console themselves with hot dogs, chips and queso. Woody's also offers house-made desserts, including frozen bananas and an ice cream confection quite similar to a Choco-taco.
2. For a family sightseeing trip that combines good hot dog stand food with great views of the Niagara River landscape and Ontario: The Silo (115 N. Water St., Lewiston, www.lewistonsilo.com, 754-9680).
You wouldn't leave without your camera, sunscreen or cellphone. If you're planning a summertime excursion to Niagara County, you should also decide where you're going to eat.
Otherwise you run a substantial chance grudgingly spending a wad of money on food that's less than memorable. I've been there.
If Lewiston fits into your itinerary, The Silo is an all-but-guaranteed kid-pleaser of a restaurant that offers first-class views of an interesting landscape: a hot dog with a view. The restaurant and gorge sightseeing platform was built atop a disused coal fueling station for ships that plied the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.
The historian among you can wax eloquent on the days when crowds disembarked from the Great Gorge Railway on the spot, to board regularly scheduled steamships bound for Toronto. The kids can pretend to listen while they study the list of Perry's ice cream flavors.
3. For a classy summer dinner framed with historic architecture and blithely free from concern about looming rain clouds: the peristyle at the Roycroft Inn (40 S. Grove St., East Aurora, www.roycroftinn.com, 652-5552).
Sunshine isn't an essential ingredient of memorable meals outdoors.
Several readers recommended the experience of eating at the Roycroft Inn while it is raining. They were talking about the peristyle, a broad covered walkway linking the arts and crafts inn to Elbert Hubbard's former guesthouse.
The walkway has the feel of an extended porch, enclosing a formal garden and fountain. Tables of diners can lounge comfortably and enjoy the views as pedestrians, and the world, passes them by. Rain won't reach your seat unless it's really blowing, and the peristyle is equipped with retractable curtains for such an occasion.
The inn's full menu is available at those tables. Wednesday night is a peristyle-centric “Grille Night,” with a menu full of fire-kissed favorites. If you're itching to get out of the house for dinner despite the gray skies, the peristyle's got you covered.
4. For a glorious view of the sunset over Lake Erie from a comfortable deck, with capable upscale casual dining: Root Five (4914 Lake Shore Road, Hamburg, www.rootfive.com, 627-5551).
If you drive south along the Lake Erie shore from downtown Buffalo, you pass a succession of restaurants offering a spot to watch the sunset.
Each one offers a different way to set the scene for a night to remember. There are places where you may see guys swigging draft beer from the pitcher and high-fiving bros to rock lyrics.
There are ice cream and hot dog joints, if all you're really looking for is a double dip on a sugar cone and a waterside seat. There are places with broader menus, like fish fries and steamed clams.
Then there's Root Five. The parking lot seems to get full faster than the other places, but regulars know to park across the street. Inside the place is surprisingly roomy, and on weekends there might be a band playing jazz, but the main attraction is straight through and out back.
The deck is broad, with an arching canvas cover that offers protection from ultraviolet rays. The menu is broad, too, upscale casual with basics like prime rib to more creative daily specials and focaccia. Service is snappy.
As crimson leaks into the horizon, the view is unobstructed, and it is glorious. When you pay your check and say you're going to sit for a few, they understand.
5. For a quiet, intimate dinner surrounded by the natural beauty of blossoming flowers in an exquisitely gardened courtyard: Rue Franklin (341 Franklin St., www.ruefranklin.com, 852-4416).
The Rue Franklin is not just another Buffalo restaurant, and the Rue Franklin courtyard is not just another restaurant patio.
The garden combines trees, shrubs, ground cover and 12 more varieties of flowers to offer a colorful, verdant setting that changes week by week with the seasons. It's been maintained by the same gardener since it was added in 1985.
Stability has also reigned in the kitchen. Before Corey Kley took over Rue Franklin with his wife, Cheryl, last year, he was the chef for years. His seasonal menus of fine ingredients transformed with fine technique bring the eaters back, not to mention his reasonably priced tasting menus.
The romance is for free. Tables tucked into the courtyard's green nooks, served with grace by a veteran staff, are among the best in town. Dinner in the heart of the Rue has been described, more than once, as a classic “this is Buffalo?” moment.