Trends and whims are forever shaping the New York City culinary landscape. What’s on the plate and what’s in the room are both in a forever state of flux. Out with Brussels sprouts, in with cauliflower. Farewell to old-timey Americana, hello to clean California chic. But there’s one constant, a format that will never lose its appeal: the French bistro. Its white tablecloths, its arched wooden chairs, its beautiful but simply prepared food: the bistro possesses a no-muss, no-fuss kind of elegance capable of withstanding the test of time. New York City is home to countless of these restaurants. Below, you’ll find six of our favorites.
We’re kicking off this list with perhaps the most obvious of choices. Keith McNally’s Balthazar is practically synonymous with the New York City bistro. Its location in the center of Soho–an early arriver to the neighborhood in 1997–places it in the center of the action. Inside, a den of yellow and red and brown are reflected over and over again in large antique mirrors. Outside, the world passes hurriedly by. Here, classics like duck confit and steak frites reign supreme, and the scene itself is always worth a visit.
80 Spring St, New York, NY 10012
Speaking of scenes. Lucien is a narrow slip of a space that packs the beautiful people of lower Manhattan in like sardines grillées á la Tropézienne. While one could say the food here is besides the point, the food here also happens to be good. Order the escargots de Bourgogne and go from there. And don’t forget to look around. The views here are notoriously delicious.
14 1st Avenue #1, New York, NY 10009
You will be hard-pressed to find a restaurant more charming than Buvette. Chef Jody Williams has created a low-key West Village institution with her all-day cafe. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all equally scrumptious affairs, though we have to say there is no better place to have a mid-week breakfast. Tuck into a fluffy omelette with ham and gruyère, or (while not technically French) get the bowl of granola, which is crunchy perfection.
42 Grove St, New York, NY 10014
If you happen to be staying at 6 Columbus, a SIXTY Hotel, put La Mirabelle on your list. The restaurant, which opened in 1984, is a family-run Upper West Side staple–not only for its food, but for its hospitality. The Le Douarons, who hail from Brittany, serve authentic bistro fare in a welcoming atmosphere. Locals, mostly of the 50+ set, have been filling their tables for decades for dishes like duckling with mirabelle plums.
102 West 86th Street, New York, NY 10024
Benoit New York
Also uptown, Alain Ducasse’s Benoit New York is a more updated option in all regards. (Following a 2016 renovation, Benoit looks particularly perky.) Ducasse continues the century-old tradition of excellence established by the original Michelin-starred Benoit, in Paris. His menu offers modern spins on bistro classics, like his cookpot of bayaldi with linseeds and garlic crackers or roasted cod with mango and passionfruit rougaille sauce.
60 W 55th St, New York, NY 10019
John McDonald, the restaurateur behind Manhattan mainstay Lure and other notable establishments, brings French flavor to Thompson Street with Bistrot Leo, located in SIXTY SoHo. Chef Brian Loiacono, previously of Bar Boulud, turns out outstanding takes on classics like filet au poivre and a very dramatic eight-bone lamb crown en feu.
60 Thompson St, New York, NY 10012
Photo courtesy of Margo Brodowicz