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Outdoor dining for summer days (and nights)

Now is the time for Rogue Valley diners to step outside for a bite. Between a wet, gray spring and the often oppressive heat of late summer, which some years brings a chance of wildfire smoke, this is the peak period for patio dining.

Ashland offers the crown jewels of outdoor eateries, with the Calle Guanajuato and Ashland Creek in the heart of downtown providing the perfect convergence of creekside seating and restaurant variety. Jacksonville, too, is home to perennial favorites: La Fiesta, Bella Union and Frau Kemmling’s Schoolhaus Brewhaus. For seating right on the Rogue River, head to Shady Cove or Grants Pass.

But don’t overlook Medford, which is home to some terrific outdoor seating at restaurants serving up a range of cuisines.

I particularly like Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub, 3084 Crater Lake Highway, where the covered patio sports solar panels that help generate electricity for the restaurant while providing ample shade for the tables. The lazy twirl of ceiling fans helps keep things cool, while heaters and roll-down panels added several years ago help extend patio season when things turn chilly. Quirky smudge pot statues of the Grateful Dead rock on amidst the trees and shrubs that ring the seating area.

Although Kaleidoscope offers a lineup of pizzas both gourmet and classic to tempt every taste, I love their salads. Sweet and Savory, Buffalo Bleu Chicken, a top-notch Caesar with the option of adding smoked salmon, the raspberry vinaigrette spinach salad — I can’t pick a favorite, but I know whichever I order will be fresh and delicious. And I can always find an ideal summer sipper on Kaleidoscope’s extensive and well-curated list of regional beers or its wine list featuring lots of local options.

Downtown, Porters, at 147 N. Front St., provides outdoor seating on a patio encircled by wisteria that blooms in spring and provides shade all summer. Strings of lights add a charming ambiance as evening falls. The restaurant, bar and patio all open at 4 p.m. daily. Check out the happy hour deals from 4 to 6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. to close, or all day on Sunday.

If you need a little fresh air at lunchtime, try Downtown Market Co., 231 E. Main St. Tucked back in Middleford Alley, the cozy patio roughly doubles the seating available at this popular place for a midday meal and provides herbs and vegetables that might end up on your plate. You can’t beat that for local flavor.

Across town at Bambu, 970 N. Phoenix Road, plenty of plants create a lush oasis that feels miles from the strip mall parking lot. Look for local wines to pair with the Asian fusion spices that are a specialty here. Sharing a bamboo steamer of dim sum dumplings and dipping sauces is always fun. Bambu is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch Monday through Friday. It opens at 5 p.m. daily for dinner, closing at 9 p.m. most days, but a half an hour later on Friday and Saturday and that much earlier on Sunday.

For grabbing a drink and catching up with friends, check out Rogue Growler, which has carved out a hip beer garden in the alley between the commercial strip and the historic IOOF Eastwood Cemetery. With 51 taps, fans of beer, cider, wine, kombucha and even coffee will find a reason to raise a glass this summer.

Here’s to eating outside!

Diners enjoy a meal at Kaleidoscope Pizza's screened outdoor seating area. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]