French cuisine can get a bad rap for being stuffy, but these Bib Gourmand and MICHELIN Plate French restaurants are anything but. Warm, welcoming, affordable: these bistros and brasseries serve classics like steak frites and mussels in aromatic broth alongside well-priced wines by the glass. Dinner for two for $60? It can be done.
Los Angeles, CA
A Palo Alto sparkler, Zola charms its way into diners’ hearts via a seductive French bistro menu with Californian flair. Whether you’re spreading smoky salmon rillettes on toasted artisan levain, twirling pillowy caramelized ricotta gnocchi into the yolk of a soft-cooked egg in brown butter, or tucking into tender filet de boeuf with creamy sauce béarnaise and golden-brown fingerling potatoes, you’re sure to fall hard for the food. The stylish space updates a few classics (wood tables, bistro chairs, pressed ceilings) with a dark teal color scheme and enticingly low lighting, and the well-chosen wine list is equal parts Gallic and Golden State. Crème caramel for dessert may be traditional, but it’s also perfectly executed and decadently rich.
New York, NY
From the French chefs, staff, and owners, to that nation’s culinary favorites (moules, but of course!), Amelie is the embodiment of that winsome neighborhood bistro of your dreams. The postage stamp-sized restaurant radiates with warmth, so settle in with a glass of wine before perusing the menu. A perfect sphere of goat cheese rolled in crushed pistachios and drizzled with honey starts things off right. Then move on to the delicate, Southern France-inspired ravioli filled with comté and a blend of cheeses in a heady vegetable-based broth. Since prices are as palatable as the dishes, throw in truffle slices for a luxe accompaniment and you have a signature-in-the-making.
Convivial scores major points for its location, anchoring the base of City Market at O in the hip Shaw neighborhood; ranks high on style with its clean, rustic-modern aesthetic; and boasts warm service—Chef and co-owner Cedric Maupillier is often seen chatting with customers. Of course, the real reason diners keep coming back to this energetic hot spot is most certainly for the food: bold and playful takes on the tried-and-true that are made for sharing. Popular with young professionals, families and academics from nearby Howard University, this whimsical new-meets-old menu marries French and American cuisine. Think cured herring over smashed potato salad or pear mousse with caramelized, sliced almonds.
There's just something about this neighborhood favorite that feels good. Even the servers seem as happy to be here as the couples on dates, colleagues on business meals, and parents with their kids. Primrose has a bistro-meets-Belle Epoque look, with ostrich-feathered chandeliers, weathered teal walls, and a patterned ceiling. And then there's the patio, where a nicely curated wine list is an elegant chaser to breezy evenings. As for the menu, you'll find the usual suspects—French onion soup, duck liver mousse, and a whole roast chicken for two—but keep an eye out for the more creative plates such as Japanese eggplant served with a homey egg yolk purée and buttery brioche croutons or ricotta gnocchi with arugula purée and creamed spinach.
This gilded French palace boasts some serious Great Gatsby vibes—down to the classic coupes filled with sparkling Grüner Veltliner and the glowing green lights above the restrooms. Textbook-perfect roast chicken arrives in a piping-hot cast-iron dish, accompanied by crisped potatoes and a tiny pitcher of chicken jus. An orange-inflected hazelnut torte, with a crunchy feuilletine base, is another must-try. In warmer months, the garden party-esque patio makes for a pretty perch.
Los Angeles, CA
Open non-stop from noon until late night, this bijou is the casual sibling of Trois Mec next door. The narrow room is always full and the counter cramped, as four chefs display their skills before you, assembling such lovely dishes as pâté de campagne. And while the setting may not sound overly comfortable, there is a focus on service, which makes every meal here a pleasant experience from start to finish. The French hip-hop in the background eschews tradition, but the cooking does the exact opposite. This menu is a canon of bistro favorites, like garlicky escargots in melting butter, steak au poivre, and what may be the city’s best omelet. Save room to indulge in desserts like chocolate mousse or rice pudding with salted caramel sauce.
Hero image: Zola, Palo Alto. Photo courtesy of Zola