Add a little French to your diet. While bistros often offer moderately priced French food in a casual setting, there’s nothing moderate about the flavors you’ll find at the best of the best bistros in Chicago. In these intimate spaces, pull up a chair, order a glass of wine and prepare to people watch while enjoying some delicious slow-cooked foods that will make you think you’re halfway across the globe.
840 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
A newcomer to the Chicago dining scene, Bistronomic is already making its mark on the city for being a modern, intimate bistro with reasonable prices. The bistro is largely successful due to French Chef, and part owner, Martial Noguier, who promises gastronomic nirvana. You will find this nirvana with dishes touting classically inspired flavors and range from the very small to the very large, portion wise. While the food is decidedly French – what with caviar, pâté, pan-roasted duck magret, just to name a few – the ingredients are all sourced locally. The wine list is also reasonably priced and offers an assortment of both French and California wines.
226 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60610
Favored by expatriates, the Bistro Voltaire has seen its chef change a few times — but the food continues to be consistent. The intimate space doesn’t feel overly crowded, and people watching can be easily done while dining on the sidewalk cafe. While Bistro Voltaire is quite classic in food — from croquettes to the bisques to the coq au vin — it has a more modern vibe, what with the portraits of famous authors from both Chicago and grand ol’ Paris. One plate that can’t be skimmed over is the galette de crabe – seared lump crab cakes with herbs and a grainy-mustard sauce. You’ve never had crab cakes this good.
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1131 N State St
Chicago, IL 60611
You’ll feel like you’re stepping into Paris when you visit this Gold Coast restaurant, Bistro Zinc. Its tin ceilings and tile floors, as well as a bright and beautiful zinc bar, set the mood in this cozy spot. The food doesn’t take away from the feeling of being transported to France. Offering both traditional and modern French food, this bistro specializes in “neighborhood” fare, including a savory stew du jour in puff pastry as well as roasted chicken “grandmother style.” And the ratatouille found at Bistro Zinc is a presentation of decadence rather than a hodgepodge of vegetables.
Maude’s Liquor Bar
840 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
While it may not have bistro in its name, this West Loop hot spot offers an authentic bistro experience in an intimate and beautiful space on the Randolph restaurant corridor. The cocktails are unique and delicious, such as the popular Smokey Violet Smash, but so too is the amazing French food, from an enormous seafood tower to a traditional cassoulet. If French food isn’t completely your thing, Maude’s also offers ‘almost French’ dishes, which include options such as blackened Brussel sprouts and market fish — simple but no less delicious.
900 N Franklin St
Chicago, IL 60610
As a native of Eastern France, proprietor Kiki has created a truly French experience both at this bistro as well as at his numerous other restaurants throughout the Windy City. At his bistro, expect traditional French food in a setting reminiscent of both the Left Bank, with its lofted ceilings, and a country home – the perfect mix. The bistro favorites provide quite the display with poulet roti (roasted chicken in olive oil, garlic, herbs and served with mashed potatoes and vegetables), the steak pommes frites (grilled steak served with string potatoes and beurre maitre d’hotel) and foie de veau (sautéed calf’s liver with pearl onions and braised red cabbage in a red wine vinegar sauce). If you needed any more reason to come to Kiki’s, valet parking is free.
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Elizabeth SanFilippo is a freelance writer, who enjoys trying new foods from all over the world. But her favorite city for culinary treats will always be Chicago. When not writing about food, she’s scribbling novels, and TV show reviews and recaps. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.