Travel + Leisure: Best French Restaurants in the U.S.

Whether for a special-occasion prix fixe meal or casual bistro dinner with friends, French food, like thick cream, still rises to the top.

At Le Pigeon in Portland, OR, the profiteroles come with foie gras and the duck is served “moo shoo” style, with plum chutney and mushrooms. These once-unthinkable deviations from French tradition are the creations of chef Gabriel Rucker, who has won over critics and diners alike.

Le Pigeon is part of a national shift in the definition of what makes a great French restaurant. Yes, thick sauces still exist (thank goodness), as do venerated haute cuisine kitchens like those of chef Joël Robuchon. But French cuisine has also become more accessible, and increased access to exceptional local product means that brasseries like Niche in St. Louis dish out high-quality French fare in more down-to-earth environs.

Le Pigeon

738 E Burnside St, Portland, OR 97214

Carnivores and adventurous eaters will appreciate chef Gabriel Rucker’s creations, which add whimsy and decadence to traditional French recipes. Beef-cheek bourguignonne, rabbit-in-a-pig-blanket, and foie gras profiteroles are among the quirky edibles. The chef’s counter puts diners ringside in the busy kitchen, and the brick-wall dining room’s three communal tables are often filled with both locals and international clientele. Le Pigeon’s first cookbook comes out in September 2013—for you try-it-at-home types.

Les Nomades

222 E Ontario St, Chicago, IL 60611

Linger at this romantic brownstone in Streeterville for a memorable Parisian-style tête-à-tête. The restaurant’s motto declares, “A fresh expression of French cuisine,” and the menu heeds the claim with clever twists on classics such as the sautéed Hudson Valley foie gras, banana water, and Granny Smith apple purée appetizer. The wine list includes an excellent champagne selection, worth a toast whether you’re celebrating or not.

Brasserie by Niche

4580 Laclede Ave, Saint Louis, MO 63108-2104

A pressed-tin ceiling, checkered tablecloths covered with butcher paper, and a buzzing outdoor terrace are the perfect backdrop for James Beard–nominated chef Gerard Craft’s French bistro lineup of onion soup, country pâté, cassoulet, and duck confit—all with ingredients sourced from nearby farms. Romantics take note: this brasserie was formerly Chez Leon, a neighborhood bistro where Craft courted his wife.

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L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - MGM Grand

3799 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89109

Las Vegas has become a serious food town, and no small credit goes to chef Joël Robuchon, who opened two restaurants at the MGM Grand in 2005. His eponymous three-Michelin-star nirvana of refined French food—such as truffled langoustine ravioli or French hen with foie gras—envelops diners in a lush purple dining room with velvet banquettes and dripping chandeliers. Head to the more relaxed L’Atelier next door for steak tartare with fries or Maine lobster salad.

La Folie

2316 Polk St, San Francisco, CA 94109

If presentation is an indicator, classically trained chef Roland Passot is still having a blast whipping up French-California dishes that live up to the restaurant’s name (meaning “folly” or “madness”). Prix fixe menus feature duck breast and sautéed Burgundy snails as well as more contemporary dishes like Dungeness crab salad on English pea panna cotta, served with a passion that has made this a Bay Area favorite for 25 years.

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60 E. 65th St., New York City, NY 10065

Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-three-star restaurant has enchanted diners since opening in 1993 and got a 2008 refresh from celebrated designer Adam D. Tihany, who paired Neoclassical archways and high ceilings with custom-made chandeliers with Limoges porcelain tiles and paintings by Spanish artist Manolo Valdés. The equally eye-catching dishes change seasonally and are offered à la carte or via tasting menus. A wine list 2,000 bottles deep ranges from the legendary Château d’Yquem to a huge Burgundy selection to sweet Hungarian dessert wines.

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Mockingbird Bistro -- CLOSED

1985 Welch St, Houston, TX 77019-6121

Chef John Sheely puts a Lone Star twist on French bistro classics—and the giddyup in the gourmet—with dishes like grilled half chicken with smoked sausage, summer succotash, and mango barbecue sauce. Mussels come with roasted tomato, Spanish chorizo, and white wine and are served with—what else?—garlic toast, a Texas favorite.

Bistro Vendome

1420 Larimer St, Denver, CO 80202

Since 2003 this convivial bistro with outdoor seating has lured diners off bustling Larimer Square downtown into a setting worthy of Paris, where fresh French dishes show off local ingredients—the smoked trout omelette and a beet salad in a kale-hazelnut vinaigrette, to name two. More than 65 French wines are available amid the mustard-tinted walls and tables so packed in that a rendez-vous des amis might soon include the neighbors.

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Millesime -- CLOSED

92 Madison Avenue, Carlton Hotel, New York City, NY 10016

Substitute the Seine for the Hudson, and you could be in a Left Bank brasserie; Millesime’s ornate crown moldings and red banquettes hearken back to those 1920s Hemingway haunts. Even the cocktail menu is a trip through French history, with appearances from Coco Chanel, Honoré de Balzac, and Napoleon (listed under Short and Potent). Michelin-starred chef Laurent Manrique oversees this high-energy establishment, where guests return for the enormous shareable seafood platters as well as staples like steak frites and hearty brasserie food.

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Bis On Main

10213 Main St, Bellevue, WA 98004-6121

Just 15 minutes from Seattle, Bis on Main serves French-American cuisine in a dining room filled with a rotating selection of modern Northwest art—and without stratospheric price or pretense. To experience how fine French food can be made approachable, try the pork tenderloin wrapped in crispy speck ham and served with a Dijon rosemary sauce and a side of brussels sprouts topped in truffle honey, walnuts, and bacon.

Last updated at Jan 07, 2015