Best French food: Best French restaurants in Chicago
Say oui oui to Chicago's best French food—from snails to crepes to steak frites—at these favorite French restaurants.
French restaurants used to get a bad rap: snooty service, expensive entrees, not nearly enough food. Like day-old baguettes, those stereotypes are tossed in the trash. These days, some of the best French food in Chicago features more approachable, comfort-food dishes like cassoulet at casual bistros such as Bistro Bordeaux, Le Bouchon and Pierrot Gourmet, or slick takes on French fare at hot spots like Maude's. Of course, you can still find fancy French fare at Les Nomades and Henri—sans le attitude.
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Bistro Bordeaux The idea of sauntering into your neighborhood bistro and claiming your regular spot is up there with romantic ideas like pedaling home with a bike basket overflowing with market produce. Bistro Bordeaux fulfills that wish for Evanston locals with hidden-gem hospitality and a cozy bistro look. A hard-boiled-egg stand perched upon the bar offers traditional sustenance for drinkers, but really, everyone is here for the ideal French onion soup, the damn fine croque-madame and the juicy seared flatiron steak served with truly addictive frites. 618 Church St, Evanston (847-424-1483, lebistrobordeaux.com). Brunch (Sun), dinner. Average main course: $22.
Henri The second restaurant from the Gage team is as opulent as we’ve seen in some time, a place where everything, from the huge crystal chandeliers to the gracious service, has been polished to perfection. Ditto for the classic (and classically rich) dishes like rabbit consommé with rabbit-filled agnolotti, smoked steak tartare with potato chips and decadent housemade pappardelle topped with perfectly sweet morsels of lobster. All is in fine French form—especially the bill. 18 S Michigan Ave (312-578-0763, henrichicago.com). Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner. Average main course: $28.
Le Bouchon Yes, it’s small and crowded, and you’ll have to wait at the bar for a bit even with a reservation. But it’s the closest thing Chicago has to that adorable little bistro in Paris. Regulars have their never-fail favorites: the flaky, caramelly onion tart; the robust onion soup with a gluttonous amount of Gruyère; the butter-topped steak flanked by perfectly crisp frites; the hard-to-find seared veal kidneys with mustard sauce; the feeds-two duck à l’orange; and the simple profiteroles. Only snootier waiters could make for a more French experience. 1958 N Damen Ave (773-862-6600, lebouchonofchicago.com). Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $19.
Les Nomades After more than 30 years in business, this is still one of the most regal restaurants in town. Owner Mary Beth Liccioni keeps the grounds (a townhouse built in 1895) decked out like something out of Dynasty: lush fabrics, ornate carpeting, giant arrangements of flowers. But the ever-changing French-American menu, featuring items such as rack of lamb and slow-roasted veal tenderloin with seasonal accompaniments, keeps the food current (if still pretty rich). Guys, make sure you’re wearing a jacket—this is one place where rules actually mean something. 222 E Ontario St (312-649-9010, lesnomades.net). Dinner (closed Sun, Mon). Average degustation: $115.
Maude’s Liquor Bar Cocktailers hit Maude’s around midnight, but we make a point to get there earlier, when the kitchen is still open. That way we can nosh on butter-smooth chicken-liver mousse slathered on toast with shallot marmalade, smoky slabs of pork belly, fanned over a pitch-perfect salad Lyonnaise and roasted chicken paillard. At dessert, only crème brûlée or fancy chocolate squares are offered, a display of brass that would be maddening—if only this hot spot wasn’t so dead-on. 840 W Randolph St (312-243-9712, maudesliquorbar.com). Dinner. Average small plate: $12.
Pierrot Gourmet In the morning, these communal dining tables are packed with folks fueling up on cappuccinos and buttery croissants. In the evening, however, you’re likely to have the place to yourself. Which is curious, because we love the simple, French fare: flambé and crunchy Alsatian tarts resembling thin-crust pizzas. Regardless of the time of day, the pride of Pierrot is the pastry. 108 E Superior St (312-573-6749, chicago.peninsula.com). Breakfast, lunch, dinner (Mon–Sat). Average main course: $16.