The urge is strong, my friend.

Although it’s only mid-March, the dogwoods are blooming and it’s time to open up the outdoor dining areas. This warm weather has us thinking about our favorite outdoor dining spots. After all, there’s really nothing better than taking a long, leisurely lunch, or sitting back with a pint and people watching while taking the in the cool spring air. One of our goals for 2012 is to dine outside more often, and here’s our favorite locations to dine al fresco.

Located in the heart of West Chester, at the bustling intersection of Gay and High Streets, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant of West Chester is excellent for people watching. Though the passing delivery trucks and blasting hip hop occasionally pauses the conversation, the joys of watching the sidewalk foot traffic offsets the noise pollution. Anyone and everyone passes by on a weekday around lunch time. Lawyers, jurors, college kids, hipsters, and even occasional celebrities. Iron Hill’s food and beer is top notch and service is consistent. Our secret tip? Arrive a few minutes before noon since outdoor seating is limited.

Based in Marshallton, a short drive out Route 162 from West Chester, Four Dogs Tavern is a delightfully quiet place to dine outdoors. They host a large backyard seating area so outdoor seating on a weekday is not a problem, though there can be a wait at dinner time. Fondues, flatbreads and sandwiches are all worth tasting. Though the tap list is not extensive, they offer a few good craft beers.

For many, The Whip Tavern requires taking a half-day off from work. This authentic British Pub sits out in the countryside, just down the road from the famous corner known by locals as “blowhorn.” It’s a breathtaking ride through horse country and the destination is as quaint as a British Village. They also serve welsh Rarebit, Scotch Egg, and a daily quiche. Why go for a weekday lunch? The Whip has a small parking lot, but on a weekday you can find a spot. Important tip – they are closed on Tuesdays.

Excellent outdoor seating and a great tap menu has made Side Bar and Restaurant a popular spot in downtown West Chester. They offer quesadillas, burgers, and a variety of sandwiches for lunch. They also offer excellent Sunday Brunch specials. Side Bar is best known for the best selection of craft beer in town, so plan this for a day when you don’t have to go back into the office.

The rooftop dining area at Half Moon Restaurant and Saloon is divine on a spring day. Though it has a roof, the cool air floats around through the open sides and diners look out over the rooftops of downtown Kennett Square. Here’s the downside: A few menu items are not available on the rooftop. Also – the rooftop only offers seven beers on tap, while downstairs twenty tapped beers are available. That being said, we prefer the rooftop dining every time.

From looking at the storefront, you wouldn’t know Avalon Restaurant has one of the most stellar al fresco spots in the county. Their back garden, with it’s overhang and intimate seating, is truly an enjoyable experience, whether you are having a romantic dinner for two or meeting with your neighborhood friends. John Brandt Lee’s dishes are  excellent, and the wait staff is truly attentive. Also – it’s a BYOB, which we love.

Teca is where the beautiful people are seen. This spot is a bit more formal than the other al fresco experiences on Gay Street. They have a nice wine selection, making it a popular retreat for women to meet up for lunch of Friday afternoon drinks. They serve excellent food such as paninis, salads, rigatoni and risotto. It’s common to find the outdoor seating packed.

Appetites on Main is a casual eatery with an excellent draft beer list and quality sandwiches. They also have a wide variety of appetizers, burgers, hoagies and wraps. Nestled alongside the restaurant, the seating is fairly quiet and service is friendly. The place to stop after running your errands and shopping in Exton.

Chester County has many other al fresco opportunities. Additional options we highly suggest you try are as follows:

Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant of Phoenixville, situated along Bridge Street, is great for sipping during warm weathered months. Bistro on Bridge may be downtown Phoenixville’s most comfortable, outdoor seating option, offering cushion-lined, wicker seats with matching tables. The upper floor of Molly Maguire’s Irish Pub & Restaurant opens up onto a covered back deck with a nice view of the hills.

Along West Chester’s Gay Street, most restaurants now have at least a few outdoor tables. Mas Mexicali Cantina, located one block south of Gay Street, has a very interesting rooftop bar and restaurant.

In Downingtown, Avalon Pasta Bistro, only open for dinner, is an incredible BYOB with a small amount of outdoor seating. Also in Downingtown, Firecreek Restaurant and Bar has outdoor seating and new extensive tap list. PJ Whelihan’s just opened their covered outdoor patio last July that’s equipped with flat screens, a full bar and many extensive seating.

Down outside of Kennett Square, The Gables at Chadds Ford  offers upscale outdoor dining. McKenzie Brew House along Route 202 also has an outdoor patio worth exploring. As of last year, Kennett Square allows restaurants to apply for permits to serve diners outside, so this spring will be interesting in the borough.

Where are your favorite outside dining experiences in Chester County?  Let us know!

Photographs credited to Nina Lea Photography.