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Food with a view

Summer is almost here, and when the hot weather arrives, people often make their restaurant choices based on outdoor comfort as much as for the food.

Dining al fresco isn't a tall order in the Rogue Valley. Harder to come by are outdoor tables with as much atmosphere as a fine dinnerhouse and air as fresh as locally farmed fare.

When even air-conditioning can't beat the heat, many locals look no farther than the restaurants lining Ashland's namesake creek.

Several eateries with facades on Ashland Plaza overlook gurgling Ashland Creek to the rear.

Deck seating and sidewalk tables at Mix Sweet Shop, Greenleaf Restaurant, Salame, Louie's Restaurant & Bar and Umi Sushi are some of the hottest tickets on summer's hottest days.

On the southern tip of Calle Guanajuato, running along Ashland Creek behind the Plaza, Loft's second-story perch above the stream lives up to the restaurant's name. The wrought iron-railed terrace evokes the elegance of Paris, echoed on the menu of "brasserie"-inspired dishes.

New cobblestones slated for the Calle will cement the spot's European esthetic, says Loft co-owner Jacqueline Vidalo, calling it a "little oasis." An expanded deck will offer more outdoor seating around a firepit adjacent to Loft's new bar by mid-June.

Yet the best seats on Ashland Creek are across North Main Street from the Plaza at Thai Pepper. Shaded under a lush canopy of trees, Thai Pepper's concrete patio is situated nearly at creek level, keeping customers cool even in the most sweltering temperatures.

Thai Pepper's chef-owner Billy Harto capitalized on the creek at his second, nearby venture, Kobe. Sushi and other Japanese-inspired cuisine get a boost from Kobe's private deck, screened from view like a Zen garden overhanging Ashland's signature water feature.

Sandwiched next door to Kobe is Creekside Pizza Bistro, with a tiny patio that doubles as its front entrance. A stone's throw across the creek, Caldera Tap House boasts Ashland's largest outdoor deck in a casual setting. With its own expansive deck three stories above the creek, the aptly named Beasy's on the Creek also features prime views of Grizzly Peak in the distance.

Light breezes sweeping downstream from the Ashland watershed keep bothersome bugs at bay. But creekside spots quickly grow chilly on cooler evenings, in which case a sweater may come in handy.

In the event that creekside tables are booked up, numerous Ashland restaurants have outdoor seating that fill the bill. Casual eateries include The Beanery, Bloomsbury Coffee House, Breadboard, Café Nomyen, Morning Glory and Standing Stone Brewing Co. Some fine-dining establishments with secluded gardens are Amuse Restaurant, Coquina, Dragonfly Café and Gardens, The Peerless Hotel & Restaurant and The Winchester Inn.

Although not nearly as numerous as on Ashland Creek, restaurants on the Rogue River greet diners with a roar of rushing water. Its menu typical of most local Mexican restaurants, Miguel's in Shady Cove has a decidedly atypical location almost atop the Rogue. A full bar with happy hour specials make Miguel's riverfront deck a popular spot with whitewater rafters and day-trippers to Crater Lake.

A short drive up Highway 62 through Shady Cove, The Rogue River Lodge has been a riverside waystation since 1937. Upscale comfort food is served in two dining rooms indoors, as well as outdoors during warm weather on the lodge's deck or large, flagstone patio.

On the Applegate River, Applegate River Ranch House's multi-tiered wooden decks overlook the waterway. Also in the heart of Applegate Country, Peace of Pizza cooks up wood-fired pies to relish among a riot of rose bushes in an English-style garden screened from the highway by stately, old trees.

Between Applegate and Medford, a plethora of patios await in tiny, historical Jacksonville. Lush foliage encloses Bella Union's back deck. A "biergarten" beckons at Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus. Diners can people-watch from the balcony at La Fiesta. Las Palmas' patio with a fenced-in fountain is reminiscent of town squares in old Mexico. Lights twinkling throughout the vine-covered nook behind The Jacksonville Inn heighten its reputation as one of Southern Oregon's most romantic restaurants.

And amid Medford's vast expanses of concrete and asphalt, several establishments with shaded patios make the mercury more tolerable. Favorites are Bambu, Habaneros, Porters, Havana Republic and Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub, where misters moisten customers, along with an homage to the Grateful Dead fashioned from smudge pots.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Food with a view