Six great French bistros
French destinations, from popular classics to holes-in-the-wall.
With a name that translates as countryside bistro, this restaurant is so warm and inviting we could stay all night. Ingredients are organic across the board and meld into French bistro classics with unforgettable flavors. There isn’t a bad thing on the menu, but if we had to limit ourselves, we’d go with onion soup, mussels steamed in Belgian ale, roasted chicken and pan-seared flatiron steak flanked by amazing frites. Oh, and all of the day’s ice creams. 4518 N Lincoln Ave (773-271-6100). El: Brown to Western. Bus: 11, 49, 78, 81. Brunch (Sun), dinner. Average main course: $23.
Bistrot Margot The only way this bistro could get more French is if Gérard Depardieu were tap dancing on a table. Until then, Francophiles will have to make do with a menu of French onion soup brimming with soft, sweet onions; grilled salmon; and the poulet roti, a straight-from-the-oven crock of roasted lemon-garlic chicken. Lest anybody think the French too serious, the dining room features photos of the chef-owner’s young daughter, Margot, posing as a painter, dancer and, of course, a chef. 1437 N Wells St (312-587-3660). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Sedgwick. Bus: 72. Brunch (Sat, Sun), lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner. Average main course: $21.
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 an 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). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 73. Lunch, dinner (closed Sun). Average main course: $19.
Even those who know the local food scene might not have heard of Le Petit Paris. That’s too bad for them…but it means you may have this excellent French bistro all to yourself. The seasonally changing menu is full of French classics, such as the mushroom-laden beef bourguignonne and luscious veal “Marengo.” The food doesn’t disappoint. Neither do the half-price bottles of wine on Thursdays. 260 E Chestnut St (312-787-8260). El: Red to Chicago. Bus: 10, 125, 157. Dinner. Average main course: $20.
They say practice makes perfect, and the pitch-perfect bistro dishes here show years of rehearsal. The Epcot Center feel of some other Lettuce Entertain You restaurants is missing. Instead you get a cozy and bustling bistro serving everything from steamed mussels in a white ale broth to a mega caramelized apple tarte Tatin. Nightly plats du jour like duck à l’orange and steak tartare are as consistently delicious as menu stalwarts such as seared skate wing in lemony caper butter and the awesome steak frites. 2300 N Lincoln Park West (773-348-8886). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Fullerton. Bus: 22, 36, 134, 143, 151, 156. Dinner. Average main course: $21.
Chilly weather signals the best time to duck into this tiny, cozy bistro, whose side-street entrance is tough to spot. Sure, this Café Bernard sibling is open year-round, but there’s nothing like warming up with tender beef bourguignonne on a bed of egg noodles or duck confit ladled with berry sauce when it’s extremity-numbing cold outside. Candles provide nearly all the light, but you don’t need to see the meaty snails in bubbling garlic butter to know they’re incredible. However, you will wish you had a flashlight for the shockingly inexpensive wine list—many bottles are $29 or less. 2100 N Halsted St (773-929-7660). El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs) to Armitage. Bus: 8, 73, 74. Dinner. Average main course: $16.