A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

[caption id="attachment_168156" align="alignright" width="300"] Blue Blaze Brewing’s patio is the perfect spot to grab a brew on a warm, breezy day. [/caption] Rick Benfield always prefers to dine in the open

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

[caption id="attachment_168156" align="alignright" width="300"] Blue Blaze Brewing’s patio is the perfect spot to grab a brew on a warm, breezy day. [/caption] Rick Benfield always prefers to dine in the open

Made in the Shade: Charlotte’s Al Fresco Dining Scene

Blue Blaze Brewing’s patio is the perfect spot to grab a brew on a warm, breezy day.  Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Rick Benfield always prefers to dine in the open air. “It feels a lot freer when you go outside,” he says. He’s noticed that people at Blue Blaze Brewing in Charlotte, which he co-owns, seem a little more friendly and approachable when there’s a gentle breeze and a chorus of frogs from nearby Stewart Creek trilling in the background.

“It’s easy to have conversations with folks when you’re sitting outside,” Benfield says. And sharing a picnic table with others feels a bit more natural out on a patio, like the one in front of Blue Blaze.

In Charlotte, numerous open-air rooftop bars, breweries with beer gardens, and restaurants with comfortable patios give patrons a chance to catch up in the great outdoors. If you’re longing to join in the al fresco fun, Benfield has scoped out great places to dine and imbibe outdoors in the Queen City. Read on for seven of his favorites.



The easy elegance of Dressler’s at the Metropolitan spills out onto an elevated patio overlooking the Little Sugar Creek Greenway as it winds away from the city center. Start your meal with an appetizer, like Benfield’s favorite, the charcuterie board: a selection of artisanal cheeses and meats, house-made marmalade, organic honey, and toast points.

The Special Tea Negroni cocktail made with Blue Coat gin, black tea-infused Cocchi vermouth, and Cappelletti, is the perfect choice for a toast to the glittering Charlotte skyline rising above the trees.

Some evenings, this family-owned-and-operated Midtown gem treats its open-air diners to sweet harmonies and jangling guitars by live musicians. And every night, Dressler’s serves steaks like Delmonico ribeye and entrees like NC Shrimp & Clam Linguini, served with fried garlic, spinach, tomatoes, and roasted garlic Parmesan crema.


Choose from more than 400 beers on draft at the Charlotte Beer Garden, then sip on the street-level patio. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Charlotte Beer Garden

The three-story Charlotte Beer Garden — with its retractable walls, open-air rooftop seating, and a large patio — is a unique indoor-outdoor hang-out spot. The bottom two floors center around a huge walnut tree, pieced together to give the appearance that it grew up through the space. Planters with smaller trees, shrubs, and vines spilling overfill the space, further connecting the indoors and outdoors.

With four bars, this South End establishment holds the unofficial record for most draft beers, with more than 400 on tap. You can order tasty bites here, too. Benfield is partial to the fried shrimp: “I particularly like the salt, pepper, and lemon platter,” he says.

At the street-level patio, sip the light and refreshing Yellow Blazer Kolsch from Blue Blaze Brewing with your dog at your side, and bask in a sunny city day. On the rooftop, under the open sky, take in the view of the Uptown skyline. There’s also an oversize rooftop picnic shelter with a bar for easy refills and a clear roof that allows sunlight to shine through.


RH Rooftop Restaurant

Arrive before your reservation time at RH Rooftop Restaurant and take a glass of chardonnay to the elevated park-like space surrounding this elegant dining spot. Couches and chairs create intimate nooks for you and your friends to reconnect over drinks among the topiary and fountains. The refined outdoor space, located in SouthPark, makes for a romantic setting to share a bottle of wine under the dusky sky.

Even inside, with the dining room’s greenhouse-like environment and indoor “landscaping” with small trees, hedges, and splashing fountains, you get the feeling of eating outside.

Come for brunch and enjoy the RH Scramble, which features eggs, crème fraîche, avocado, and chives. For lunch or dinner, Benfield recommends the shaved ribeye on charred garlic bread, an open-faced sandwich with Emmentaler Swiss and cherry peppers.


Pair a glass of wine with a charcuterie board at Foxcroft Wine Company. Photography courtesy of Foxcroft Wine Company

Foxcroft Wine Company

At Foxcroft Wine Company, choose a bottle of wine from the shop before you take a seat and order a meal. If you feel overwhelmed by the extensive selection of wines that line the shelves, the knowledgeable staff will guide you toward one that suits your palate.

At a table on the patio out front, immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of historic Dilworth, the city’s first streetcar suburb. Rows of market lights illuminate the patio and crape myrtle trees define the comfortable outdoor space. “It has a cozy neighborhood feel to it,” Benfield says. He adds that the locally-owned restaurant serves up tasty house-ground cheeseburgers and truffle fries.


Dig into slow-cooked brisket, barbecue, and classic sides at Noble Smoke. Photography courtesy of Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority

Noble Smoke

The smoky aroma of pork, beef, and poultry cooking over hickory coals fills the air surrounding Noble Smoke in the FreeMoreWest neighborhood. Settle at a picnic table on the patio for slow-cooked goodness from the barbecue joint’s smokehouse.

If Benfield has his druthers, he’ll have the Creekstone Beef Brisket, but when he must choose from the many mouthwatering sides, it’s a toss-up. “I like all the sides, but the onion rings are to die for.”

Pallets stacked with firewood form the perimeter of the patio, which wraps around the side of the restaurant. During warmer months, the restaurant hosts musicians outside. When the weather is fine, the garage doors roll open, allowing the tunes to drift inside. Ready for a refill of Island Time lager from Charlotte’s Resident Culture Brewing — or another glass of Pinot Gris? The bar at the outdoor Beer Shack is a few steps away.


Sample a variety of tasty tacos at RuRu’s. Photography courtesy of RuRu’s Tacos + Tequila

RuRu’s Tacos + Tequila

At RuRu’s Tacos + Tequila, outbursts of laughter erupt above the murmur of conversations on the large patio. Located in Myers Park within a historic Tuscan-Revival home complete with a tiled terra-cotta roof and pillared archways, this popular Mexican-inspired restaurant is as lively as it is beautiful.

An outdoor bar and part of the villa on either side of the patio create an enclosure of sorts, with a cozy, courtyard feel.

The restaurant’s large selection of fine tequilas begs you to begin the meal with a cocktail, like a citrusy Paloma. For the main course, Benfield suggests the Stage Five Clinger — a soft-shell taco with fresh jalapeño, crispy chicken, spicy corn relish, and chipotle aioli. “I love hot stuff,” he admits. “That’s why it’s my favorite.”


The River’s Edge

For something a bit different, venture to The River’s Edge at the Whitewater Center, a 20-minute drive from Uptown. The restaurant’s outdoor dining overlooks all the action at this 1,300-acre outdoor recreation destination. Rafts splash through rapids in the man-made river, climbers scale towering rock walls, people glide across zip lines from dizzying heights, and bands like Bakalao Stars jam the night away on the outdoor stage.

The craft beer selection includes local brews like Carolina Cobbler, a mixed berry sour from Divine Barrel Brewing. On the menu, you’ll find sandwiches and burgers, pasta, vegetarian options, and more.

Here, Benfield orders the ahi tuna salad, a bed of mixed greens with shaved almonds, edamame, cucumber, radish, and wonton crisps, all drizzled with a sesame vinaigrette. “It’s a refreshing entrée, especially in the warmer months.”

After indulging in fried cheesecake topped with strawberry lemonade coulis and vanilla bean ice cream, you can wander over to the Catawba River and watch the moon rise over the water — a fitting end to your al fresco evening.

This story was published on Apr 26, 2023

Lara Ivanitch

Lara Ivanitch is a freelance writer who resides in Raleigh.