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The 21 best French restaurants in America

After a mind-blowing French restaurant? We’ve got the best French restaurants in America, for haute cuisine and beyond.

Written by
Time Out editors
&
Ruth Tobias
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You've been through the best burgers in America. And the best pizza in America, too. (And, yes, we think you’ve probably downed a few tacos at the best Mexican restaurants in America as well.) Now it’s time to get fancy with French. But French stateside is a little different than it used to be. What’s the difference between your average upscale French restaurant and its New American counterpart today? Judging by their repertoires these days, the answer is not much other than “whatever the chef says it is”—which is fair enough. First, fine dining was and is built on the foundations of haute cuisine, perfected at fine French restaurants. Second, several decades ago, haute cuisine itself underwent a shift, bringing local ingredients and global influences to bear on classical technique. Whether preaching tradition or moving the conversation forward, these 21 restaurants speak with passion and authority to the idea that French cooking is our universal heritage. They are the best French restaurants in America, and you want to be eating in them.

Time Out Market United States

Time Out’s expansive food-and-culture destinations are what happens when your go-to guide to the city’s best restaurants, bars and things to do becomes an actual place. These are the spots we’ve curated with the same fuss, care and curiosity we bring to our editorial—and there’s probably one near you right now.

Best French restaurants in America

Le Bernardin, New York City
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Midtown West

New York dining mores have experienced a seismic paradigm shift in the past decade, toppling Old World restaurant titans and making conquering heroes of chefs that champion accessible food served in casual environments. But Le Bernardin—the city’s original temple of haute French seafood—survived the shake-up unscathed. Siblings Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze brought their Parisian eatery to Gotham in 1986, and the restaurant has maintained its reputation in the decades since. Le Bernardin is still a formal place, with white tablecloths, decorous service and a jackets-required policy in the main dining room. But a recent overhaul modernized the room with leather banquettes and a 24-foot mural of a tempestuous sea by Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner. Guests who find the $190 tasting menu or $120 four-course prix fixe out of reach can still experience the kitchen’s finesse in the lounge area, via stunning bar snacks.

The French Laundry, Yountville, CA
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Yountville
  • price 4 of 4

Since 1994, the old stone cottage deep in wine country that houses the French Laundry has stood among the holiest of holy grails—not only for destination diners, but for aspiring industry pros around the world. Thomas Keller’s influence is inestimable; without him, there’d be no Noma, Alinea, Benu or Frasca Food and Wine, to name just a few whose elaborate prix-fixe tasting menus bear testament to his mentorship. Signatures, like his legendary “oysters and pearls,” are copied endlessly. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have had Keller’s original amid a grand procession of dishes that celebrate the rarified and earthy alike—be it grilled veal tongue with peaches and cornichon relish or earshell clam tartare in finger-lime aigre-doux—you know that he’s set the standard for immaculate service as well. Yes, you’ll be astutely aware of what you paid for the privilege, right down to the last cigar-paired glass of rare Cognac. But it’s a rare grouch who doesn’t walk away feeling like every penny went to a once-in-a-lifetime cause.

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Bouley, New York City
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Tribeca

The eponymous Bouley—the airy flagship of David Bouley’s growing empire—exists in its own fantastical bubble: a place where the Dow still surges and expense-account spending never dried up. The original Bouley, once one of the city's great haute cuisine destinations, had over the years become increasingly marginal—the chef's dated devotion to an opulent late-’80s aesthetic is as unwavering today as it was when the restaurant first opened 29 years ago. The newer locale is a tricked-out version of the old one. The aromatic apples that greeted diners as they walked through the door are still at the entrance—but now there are more of them, a whole wall on wooden shelves. The vaulted ceilings have also returned—constructed from scratch and given an over-the-top coat of golden paint.

Mélisse, Los Angeles
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Santa Monica

Nothing signifies fine dining more than crisp white tablecloths and servers in suits. Mélisse has both. Hidden in plain sight in Santa Monica, this French gem offers tasting menus only (starting at $135 per person), highlighting quality seasonal ingredients selected by chef Josiah Citrin. Featured dishes include Maine diver scallops with black truffle coulis, Millbrook Farms venison with foie gras and porcini mushrooms, and sticky toffee date pudding. The beautifully plated fare is enhanced by the warm ambience of a purple-hued dining room, giving visitors an entirely elegant dining experience. Don’t miss Citrin’s “Egg Caviar” ($25 supplement), a soft poached egg served in an egg shell with lemon crème fraîche and topped with American Osetra caviar. “Fine” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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  • Restaurants

The namesake master was Spanish and so is executive chef Julian Serrano. Nevertheless, one of the most astonishing monuments to modern French cuisine in the country rests on their combined artistry. As you’d expect from a VIP destination in the Bellagio, the setting is palatial from the jaw-dropping 11 framed Picasso canvases dotting the walls to the view of the fountains beyond the lavishly draped windows. The seasonally changing multicourse menus are equally extravagant with caviar, truffles and signatures like the medallions of fallow deer in green apple-Zinfandel sauce. And of course—speaking of wine—the cellar is superlative, with an emphasis on world-class French reds as well as the crème de la crème of Spain and a crackerjack floor staff, led by Master Sommelier Robert Smith, to walk you through it.

Addison, San Diego
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Carmel Valley

Named for the architect who inspired the magnificent Mediterranean Revival resort that houses it, Addison represents the ne plus ultra of destination dining. Sumptuous fabrics and jewel hues, marblework, glowing views of the Grand Del Mar grounds and the canyons beyond: it all sets the stage for the royal treatment you’ll receive throughout your personalized 12-course tasting, from chef William Bradley’s first amuse bouche to the parting gift bag of cookies, from bouillabaisse and sweetbreads with porcini marmalade to turbot à la grenobloise and coconut-passionfruit parfait—every last bite to be paired, of course, with champagne, German riesling, and grand cru Burgundy from the 3,000-bottle cellar. Or you could just stop by the lounge, Le Salon, for a quick drink and a bite. The same way you could go to Paris and eat nothing but burgers.

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  • Restaurants
  • American creative
  • Seaport District

Menton the town is a gem of the French Riviera. Menton the restaurant is in Boston’s rather-less-glamorous Fort Point neighborhood. Yet given a choice between a night in either, we’d be hard-pressed to turn down the trip to Beantown. This exemplar of European refinement is where local-girl-done-remarkable Barbara Lynch proves she’s at the top of her game. (Or so we say, knowing full well we’ve said so before only to watch her surpass it.) At the heart of the Menton experience are two eight-course tasting menus, one composed of recurring favorites like the by-now-legendary butter soup, the other of seasonal creations such as sturgeon caviar-topped blini in cucumber velouté. Their presentation is as disarming on the plate as it is gracefully served by the ultra-professional staff—who are equally adept at explaining longtime Lynch cohort Cat Silirie’s wine program, a jaw-dropper for Old World aficionados. All that said, if you did nothing but belly up to the Gold Bar for the cult-worshipped foie gras dog and a cocktail to remind you that Lynch pioneered the local craft-bartending movement 20 years ago at her flagship No. 9 Park, you’d be making a trip to France’s worth of memories.

August, New Orleans
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • CBD

There may be no bolder, more commanding interpreter of the French legacy in New Orleans than visionary chef-restaurateur John Besh, whose own legacy begins with the aptly named August. Occupying a historic (and, some say, haunted) former tobacco warehouse in the Central Business District, his celebrated, elegantly appointed flagship stresses the Gallic accent on Louisiana Creole cookery—and vice-versa—with a regularly changing menu that ranges from smoked local redfish rillettes to Sauternes-poached pear with fried cornmeal pudding (though the blue crab-and-black truffle gnocchi has graced the menu since opening day back in 2001). The superb wine list displays its own brand of Creole as a mixture of Old and New World bottles, but Burgundy’s a (very) strong suit.

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Le Pigeon, Portland, OR
  • Restaurants
  • French

Tiny though it may be, Le Pigeon isn’t easy to le pigeonhole, and that’s just the way chef-owner Gabriel Rucker likes it. Even to say that his menu rests on an unmistakably French foundation is a bit misleading, because it hardly rests at all; it’s forever taking flights of fancy in the form of rabbit-cheddar pie with mustard ice cream and smoked-mackerel spaghetti in clam butter one day, a foie gras hot brown or chicken-fried foie with biscuits and duck-sausage gravy the next (“we’re a multi-foie restaurant,” Rucker explains). The beverage list follows suit. By all means pair buffalo sweetbreads with Coors Banquet and the signature boeuf bourguignon with second-growth Bordeaux or vice-versa. Such eclecticism is reflected in the diversity of the clientele: in the much-sought-after seats along the chef’s counter, says Rucker, “You can have someone enjoying a tailored seven-course tasting next to someone who’s eating a burger and drinking cheap beer. Both will receive the exact same service.” Talk about le meilleur des deux mondes.

  • Restaurants
  • Californian
  • Hayes Valley

This beautiful, whimsically designed restaurant (it’s meant to resemble an overturned champagne glass) is one of the best high-dollar special-occasion establishments in the city. Located a short walk from Davies Symphony Hall and the Opera House, Jardinière delivers a menu as opulent as the decor. Chef Traci Des Jardins continues to seek out the best local ingredients for a menu that features caviar, oysters, black truffles, duck breast confit, diver scallops and bacon-wrapped rabbit. For an extra-special occasion, spring for the prix-fixe menu with wine pairings—and the cheese course. The wine list includes an extensive selection of champagne and sparkling wines.

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Petit Trois, Los Angeles, CA
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Hollywood

To watch an omelette being made at Petit Trois is a thing of beauty. First there is the butter, a massive pad that swirls around the pan before being flooded with whipped eggs over low heat. The mixture sits, briefly, then is taken off the stove and gently poked and prodded for minutes until it is finally folded into one uniform, buttercup-hued omelette. Oh, and did we mention that Boursin cheese is piped through the middle? Perceived simplicity is what Chef Lefebvre aims to perfect at Petit Trois, which sits right next to his first brick-and-mortar success, Trois Mec. The menu is a sparse list of classic French dishes—steak frites, mussels marinières, chicken leg—and the playlist is ’90s hip hop and classic rock, an unusual mix but one that furthers Lefebvre’s ethos of this being a casual French spot, a place to indulge in simple, good food without pretense. If the Hollywood strip mall exterior doesn’t sell you on this idea, the fantastic food certainly will.

Townsend, Philadelphia
  • Restaurants
  • French

When you name your flagship after yourself, you’d better be sure your word is bond. Since opening his doors in spring 2014, Townsend Wentz has more than warranted the hype he generated for, yes, Townsend (a tad more patrician than Wentz, after all). The crisp yet cozy townhouse surroundings serve as an unobtrusive backdrop for an engrossing menu that, though à la carte, encourages multicourse marathons—starting, perhaps, with a signature like the exquisite hamachi tartare, followed by escargots and Brussels sprouts in bacon-enriched, sherried crème fraîche; pot au feu-inspired rabbit three ways; and a good old spiced baked apple with amaretto cream and candied walnuts. Sommelier Lauren Harris tightly curates her list to showcase the food-friendly finds of lesser-known terroirs—from the Canary Islands to Long Island—and her dessert-wine offerings are a special treat, as is the staff’s comfort level with regard to pairings. But you’d be wise to kick off the whole adventure with a cocktail at the bar Wentz himself built from reclaimed cherrywood.

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  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Coral Gables

In the monument to bygone opulence that is the Biltmore Hotel, this low-lit, country-clubby haven of prestige pampers at every turn. The much-ballyhooed bread service and cheese cart, amuses bouches and gourmandises bookend a feast offered in four, six or eight courses by the highly pedigreed chef, whose menus are a study in extravagance. But to the groundswell of edible objets d’art in which foie gras, truffles, langoustines and Kobe beef luxuriate amid foams and dots and sprigs, there’s a charmingly rustic undercurrent: lobster reimagined as cassoulet with duck-gizzard confit here, suckling pig with mustard greens and black garlic there. Meanwhile, service flows like the trophy wines dominating Palme d’Or’s 370-bottle list all the way to the bar, where a weekend pianist sets the mood for one final indulgence in the form of a nightcap.

The Blanchard, Chicago
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Lincoln Park

French cuisine feels fresh at this elegant-yet-unstuffy Lincoln Park restaurant. Chef Jason Paskewitz’s menu is packed with traditional dishes—and you’ll find staples like escargot, rillettes and a whole section devoted to foie gras—but he makes genius twists, encasing foie gras in a black-truffle crust, for example. Simpler dishes are also well-done, like Dover sole bathed in brown butter and studded with capers and tender blanquette de veau with crispy sweetbread nuggets; pastry chef Marjorie Easley draws the meal to a close with graceful desserts, including a pistachio mousse bombe paired with raspberry accents, and a coconut financier with passionfruit curd and roasted fruit, a tropical riot of flavors. The Blanchard’s 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 pistachio bombe.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Back Bay

Boston’s dining scene would simply look a whole lot different without L’Espalier. Opening nearly four decades ago, it won instant fame for dislodging the town from the stuffy surf-and-turf rut it was stuck in—paving the way for an embarrassment of contemporary French riches today embodied by Craigie on Main, Deuxave, Lumière and Café ArtScience, to name but a few notables. And now that it’s an icon, this special-occasion bastion of the Back Bay continues to push the envelope it stamps with New England flourishes (a mission not even a move from the townhouse it occupied for years into less historic, if even more posh, digs could derail). While chef-owner Frank McClelland’s prix-fixe menus change near-daily, his audacious yet painterly imprint remains unmistakable: think warm Wellfleet oysters in a seaweed- and hazelnut-oil accented bath of emulsified bone marrow or seared scallops atop parsnip-white chocolate potage scented with lemon pith and mushroom powder. Or don’t think: the butter-poached lobster’s an all-time no-brainer paired with with grower champagne by the glass.

The French Room, Dallas
  • Restaurants
  • French

The forthright name says it all: here is a temple to and template of haute cuisine. Its setting in the Adolphus Hotel is every inch worthy of a century-old landmark, from the be-muraled cathedral ceilings hung with imported crystal chandeliers down to the elaborate floral arrangements and candlelit, linen-covered tables seating patrons dressed as smartly as the floor staff. And so, naturellement, is the food, with seasonal dishes such as Dover sole in lemon-verbena beurre blanc supplementing signatures like jumbo lump crab cakes with lemongrass-lobster sauce and Grand Marnier soufflé. As for the French Room’s wine collection—if you’ve got the means, might we suggest a 1983 Château Latour, followed by a 1986 Château d’Yquem Sauternes (and might we join you)?

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Patois, New Orleans
  • Restaurants
  • French
  • West Riverside

There’s something timeless about this intimate white-cloth bistro uptown—a certain patina to Patois—that carries over to the menu as it reflects chef-partner Aaron Burgau’s immersion in the French roots of Creole cuisine. True, that reflection somehow flashes forward as often as back. For every dish of gulf fish almondine in citrus meunière, there’s another of Vietnamese caramel frog’s legs; for every sampler of boudin and rillettes, there’s a sweet-tea-brined and smoked pork chop with peach hot sauce and purple hull-pea hoppin’ john. Likewise, the savvy, super-cool wine selection’s bound to jazz the most jaded of grape geeks. Yet in the end, it all comes back to consummate Southern hospitality—say in the form of the wild-game sausages that Burgau, a hunter and fisherman, sometimes makes as a parting gift for special guests.

  • Restaurants

In 2013, celebrity restaurateur Stephen Starr lived up to his surname once again when he opened this instant Logan Circle magnet for modern-day magnificos, flâneurs and Francophiles. Perhaps the cheeriest facsimile of vintage Paris on this list—in-house boulangerie, check; flowerbox-lined patio, check; fans and ferns and zinc bar, check—Le Diplomate nails every detail of the quintessential sidewalk café. Those details are there in the textbook baguette in the bread basket, the bubbling blanket of fromage atop the soupe à la oignon gratinée, the dollop of maître d’hotel butter on the steak frites or the chocolate sauce pooled around the towering profiteroles. The bar operates with equal panache, pouring beaucoup glasses of café au lait and pastis, cocktails in coupes and carafes of house wine while maintaining a comme-il-faut carte des vins that spans the regions of France at all price points. So you can kick back over an everyday Muscadet with oysters one visit, splurge on the stuff of Bordelais legend the next—and revel in joie de vivre at every turn.

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Meritage, St. Paul, MN
Photograph: Courtesy Meritage

19. Meritage, St. Paul, MN

With the breezy, buoyant vibe of a brasserie classique, this downtown staple has charm to spare, all the more when you know its backstory: chef-owner Russell Klein and his wife-partner Desta held their wedding reception in the restaurant that preceded it. And it proves a labor of love in more than one way: “When we opened, French food was on the outs, and many people told us we were crazy to do it. But it was our passion,” says Klein, who upped the ante with the local anomaly of an oyster bar. Fast-forward eight years, and Meritage is such a smash that it can book up for weeks on end during theater season. Its magnetism starts with pitch-perfect renditions of such classics as chicken ballotine and billi bi, but it deepens with au courant whimsies like trotter cromesquis, duck-heart pastrami, escargot popovers and roast duck breast with fruitcake in walnut sauce. And wine director Nicolas Giraud’s lovingly compiled, very fine bottle list seals the deal.

  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Golden Triangle

Fifteen years may be a millisecond in the history of some cities’ dining scenes, but in that of one as young as Denver’s, it’s an aeon, which makes Frank Bonanno something of an elder statesman who—after launching, on average, nearly a concept a year since 2001—could be forgiven for coasting a spell. Instead, he just keeps pushing himself and the talents he nurtures further, and his contemporary French flagship on Capitol Hill is the ultimate proof. With low-key decor that belies its high-energy atmosphere, Mizuna presents a monthly changing menu that’s as full of surprises now as it was when it opened. Think ostrich strip with confit chanterelles over Idiazabal fondue; slow-braised octopus with chorizo-poached mussels, green-cabbage marmalade and pine-nut butter. The beverage program, meanwhile, may be the best it’s ever been, thanks to the combined efforts of wine director Kelly Wooldridge and bar manager Austin Carson, both gentlemen and brilliant scholars of their craft.

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  • Restaurants
  • French
  • Bucktown

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.

See the best French restaurants in American cities

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