Sometime over the past couple of years, French food began changing—for the better. Our favorite spots in the city (and Evanston) serve perfectly executed classics, sans pretension, along with some of Chicago's best desserts and best macarons. It's not all sweet though—you'll find wonderful versions of cassoulet, steak frites and more. Use this list to find the best French restaurant Chicago has to offer.
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Best French restaurants in Chicago
French cuisine feels fresh at this elegant-yet-unstuffy Lincoln Park restaurant. Chef Jason Paskewitz’s menu is packed with traditional dishes like Dover sole, but he makes genius twists, encasing foie gras in a black-truffle crust, for example. Sommelier Anthony Mathieu and bartender Arunas Bruzas pour excellent French wines and classic cocktails, and pastry chef Marjorie Easley ends the meal perfectly with a selection of deserts.
With a name that translates as “countryside bistro,” this restaurant is so warm and inviting we could stay all night. Ingredients are fresh 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 hanger steak flanked by amazing frites. Oh, and all of the day’s ice creams.
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.
Martial Noguier (one sixtyblue and Café des Architectes) opened this more casual French venture, but his food is still refined. He focuses on classics, like a notably smooth country pâté, textbook ravioli, tender steak frites and juicy chicken, while the vibe is bustling French bistro. Grab a seat on the patio for prime Gold Coast people-watching.
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; and the simple profiteroles.
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.
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.
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.