Finally, spring has arrived, and so has the seasonal—and sometimes nightly—hunt for the best outdoor dining spots in Denver. In the last two weeks, I've enjoyed al fresco meals at Tables on Kearney, Sherpa's in Boulder, and Kachina Southwestern Grill, the expansive patio of which (plus the Westin Hotel setting) makes you feel like you're on vacation.
But if you're looking for something a bit more casual, something a bit more family-friendly, someplace where baby strollers and retired couples feel equally at home, your best open-air option may be Shells and Sauce in Congress Park. The neighborhood Italian eatery offers two outdoor dining choices: one, a cozy patio at street level; the second, a roof-top deck. Even the main indoor dining space invites the outside in via garage-door style windows that roll up into the ceiling.
Pasta is the big draw here, and one of my favorite choices—even on a warm summer night—is the shrimp fra diavolo (which, translated from Italian, means "devil brother"). In the dish, cracked pepper fettucine is folded with tail-on shrimp, small cylinders of asparagus, sautéed spinach, sweet tomatoes, and spicy red pepper that lends a nice, but not overwhelming, kick. If you can't finish the meal (portions are generous), the dish reheats well and can be enjoyed on your own patio the next day.
2600 E. 12th Ave., 303-377-2091