Dear Foodies,

Ahh! la bon vie, the great outdoors … outdoor dining, I mean. The outdoor dining and drinking scene in the Valley has exploded in the past few years, and most patios are packed late in the evening (of course when there is a nice breeze). As some of you may already know, Europeans have elevated al fresco dining to an art form, with their oh-so-chic side walk cafes, but if you really take a close look at this style of dining, we are not too far behind. So grab your sunglasses and get some vitamin D while enjoying a glass of sangria!

If you’re looking for a little dining al fresco (better known as “out in the fresh air”), these are the venues I recommend visiting during these summer months.

The Patio on Guerra in Historic Downtown has that laid-back elegance that sets it apart from what would traditionally be expected from other restaurants downtown. Owned and founded by Becky and Che Guerra, this well-respected family who has worked very hard in promoting the arts through their amazing art gallery “Nuevo Santander” while serving tantalizing dishes.

Here are some of my picks. The Portobello mushroom and the lump crab cakes (both $14.00) are exquisite. The Ahi-tuna $26.00 is my favorite and will make you a convert if you’ve never had it before. Their USDA Prime steaks are an excellent choice, and always cooked to perfection.

The ambience of this restaurant attracts a devoted clientele. Their “regulars” tend to be sophisticated and perfectly happy sharing communal meals. Eating outside in their beautiful and romantic setting is a real treat especially because you can enjoy listening to some of the best musicians in town while drinking a fabulous glass of wine. I highly recommend this place for tourists who want to go to a place that’s very representative of this area. Their staff is professional and the dishes are superb!

The Patio on Guerra: 116 S. 17th Street, McAllen, 956-661-9100.

Bistro M owned by seasoned gourmand and European Chef Marcel Fortuin is inevitably one of the best! Chef Marcel is unabashedly passionate about food and presentation. If you want to taste food and experience an environment that exudes “Europe”, enjoying this patio is a must!

Bistro M, an intimate and romantic restaurant, serves French comfort food with flair such as French Onion soup topped with cheese crouton ($7.00). Imagine “Ravioli” of puff pastry, stuffed with escargots served with a divine red wine sauce ($12.00). Close your eyes and savor the flavors of France while sipping your vino and eating some osso buco or decadent foie gras. Few eateries possess the inviting, warm pull that this Provencal bistro exerts. Prepare yourself for a glorious evening.

Bistro M: 2900 N. 10th Street, McAllen, 956-683-0027.

Barcelona Restaurant Bar and Tapas is managed by Mimi Gonzales who pays close attention to every detail. This swank Spanish-style restaurant creates an atmosphere that is sure to impress even the most discerning of eyes. They offer an untouchable list of bold wines as well as authentic Spanish tapas.

The restaurant’s menu is simple but inventive, serving delicacies highlighting regional ingredients such as lamb chops, gambas al ajillo, Spanish cheese platters accompanied by olives and chorizo to name a few.

There’s a variety of live entertainment and music (boleros, bossa nova and even flamenco dancers) that will make you shout “Ole!” at the end of the night. For those hopeless romantics who would like private dining there’s the “The Terrace” (2nd floor) which allows you to dine and gaze into each others eyes during these summer nights.

Barcelona: 10 S. 11th Street, McAllen, 956-618-1265.

The mantro at the “Riverside Club” in Mission is: “There’s no place like it on the river!” I must agree, my friends! This restaurant is perfectly perched along the river and its large outdoor patio with covered umbrellas creates the ideal setting for a memorable experience. It’s definitely a hotspot during the Valley summer evenings — especially when you want to admire a stunning sunset.

While the juicy cheese burgers ($6.99) and deluxe nachos ($8.99) are outstanding, I would have to highly encourage you to try their pork tenderloin sandwich. For only $6.99, you get a very generous portion of a lightly battered and tenderized pork loin. It comes with lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. I personally add extra mayo and jalapenos for an extra kick. Why not go all the way and order some beer battered onion rings for $5.99? There’s even live music and river boat tours to add for an enjoyable evening along the Rio Grande. This is a wonderful casual restaurant that will make you feel at home.

Riverside Club: 214 E. Chimney Road 8, Mission, 956-581-1033.

Amberjack’s Seafood Company is another party on the patio! Consider going after a long day at work for a cocktail and delicious appetizers. Some of their mouth watering “Happy Hour” specials include $2.50 crab stuffed jalapenos (each), $4.99 ceviche and how about a half dozen oysters for $5.99 to put you in the mood. Unwind with icy margaritas ($2.00) and house wine ($2.00) — now that’s a deal! Make no fish bones about it, the fresh seafood at this fine establishment is worth the trip! I recently wrote a column about Amberjacks, which you can read about on your computer if you Google the Valley Town Crier’s Amberjack’s article. See you there (I’ll be wearing a hat).

Love is in the Air,

Madame Gourmand