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Eating outside

Summer is the season for outdoor eating — backyard barbecues, camp cookouts and picnics in the park.

Plenty of Rogue Valley restaurants offer options for dining al fresco, too, though, and I think there's nothing better than an afternoon under someone else's deck umbrella or whiling away a summer evening with attentive table-side service.

Alex's Plaza Restaurant, 35 N. Main St., Ashland, rebuilt the back deck for outdoor dining this summer.

Overlooking Ashland Creek and Calle Guanajuato, the deck gives diners a bird's eye view of the bustle below. On weekends when Lithia Artisans' Market is in full swing, it's the perfect place to perch to hear the music and watch the shoppers, while avoiding the crowds. (Seriously, most of those people never look up; they don't even know you're there.)

The space is perfect for enjoying the small plates that Alex's owners Charles Tobey and his wife, Quinn, brought from their previous endeavor, Quinz, which was just down the Plaza. I loved the meze plate with hummus and olives and other good stuff, as well as the crostini, but some new offerings, such as risotto cakes and grilled smoked pork skewers with chipotle aioli and warm pita bread, sound tasty, too.

The creekside tables of other Plaza restaurants, including Greenleaf Restaurant, Grill A Bites, Munchies Restaurant & Bakery, and Louie's Bar & Grill, are quintessentially Ashland and not to be missed. Of course, that also means they're usually packed with tourists.

I find there's always room for me on the patio at Standing Stone Brewing Co., 101 Oak St., Ashland. The nifty louvered awning always keeps the sun and shade in balance, and music fills the air several times during the week. Sunday afternoon brings jazz, and guitarist Tim Church plays on Saturday evenings. On the first Friday of the month, listen for flamenco music from Duo Flamenco.

The beer is fresh and the kitchen serves up lots of appetizers ideal for sharing over drinks. This is the perfect season for Szechwan green beans or a house salad with delicious savory walnuts.

All the best patios aren't in Ashland, however.

Dedicated outdoor diners can't miss the spacious patio at Kaleidescope Pizzeria & Pub, 3084 Crater Lake Highway, Medford

A mix of comfortable patio furniture and classic picnic tables provides plenty of seating for all among plants, a fountain and an incarnation of the Grateful Dead fashioned from smudge pots, while arbors, umbrellas and mist sprayers keep things cool.

An extensive pizza menu has toppings to suit every taste. Really, where else are you going to get a halibut pizza? The list of microbrews is just as long, as is the wine list, which features many locally produced wines at good prices.

A big patio near Bear Creek is the heart of the Shenanigan's empire — Shenanigans on Main, 410 E. Main St.; Shenanigans Bar and Grill, 404 E. Main St.; and Shenanigans Irish Pub, 17 S. Riverside Ave. It's garnering good reviews as a fine spot for drinks and fried things, a classic summer combination.

And that doesn't even touch on options in Jacksonville — La Fiesta and Bella Union are summer classics — and Shady Cove, where Miguel's has a deck overlooking the Rogue River.

With plenty of decks and patios to choose from, going out to eat in Southern Oregon easily can come with a side of fresh air.

— Anita Burke