Chicago: La Sardine
It's hard to beat La Sardine for authentic French food in Chicago. Choose from a wide selection of comforting French dishes, including escargots, moules au vin blanc, steak au poivre, bouillabaisse, and seared duck breast. And don't miss the crème brûlée or warm apple tart for dessert. The atmosphere is just as authentic and elegant as the food, with tightly packed tables, white tablecloths, dark wood trim, and big windows. La Sardine is a perfect romantic date spot and the ultimate place to swap stories and share bites with a table of friends.
Milwaukee: Le Rêve Patisserie & Café
Immediately upon entering Le Rêve, you are drawn to the bakery case, which is filled with artistic homemade desserts, but that is just the start. My perennial favorites are the classic croque monsieur and the wild mushroom crêpes. I love to start my meal with the salade de betteraves, a mix of roasted beets with warm chèvre, toasted walnuts, and watercress. Although limited in number, the vegetarian options are exquisite, including the current pâtes aux légumes saisonniers (pasta with seasonal vegetables), which stars homemade ravioli with Gruyère, young carrots and peas, and asparagus tossed in tarragon pesto.
New York City: L'Ecole
Although New York is home to countless high-priced French restaurants, if you want quality French food without breaking the bank, look no further than L'Ecole, the teaching restaurant of the nearby International Culinary Center. L'Ecole offers a seasonal prix fixe menu with your choice of two outstanding dinners: one made by professional chefs and another made by students. The current student menu includes pan-seared duck breast with a veal stock reduction flavored with sour cherries. And don't skip dessert! The passion fruit baked Alaska is not to be missed.
Northampton, Massachusetts: Bistro les Gras
Bistro les Gras is a rare gem among more traditionally stuffy French options in the Pioneer Valley. Chef Daniel Martinez's menu is filled with French bistro classics that rotate on a monthly basis, yet he gives as much attention and care to the famous Burger les Gras (dry-aged beef, pecorino, and caramelized onions on a house-made brioche bun) as he does to any one of his famed dinner entrées, including a range of creative tapas and classics such as steak-frites. Whatever you order, make sure to leave room for the salted chocolate crème Chantilly dessert.
Park City, Utah: Chez Betty
Chez Betty has been a hidden gem and local favorite in Park City for the past 20 years, and I guarantee you won't find better service or a finer wine list anywhere in town. The French-inspired menu changes seasonally; the chef's tasting menu, every two weeks, with current dishes including sweet corn–crusted Maryland softshell crabs and grilled flatiron steak with mushroom and Brie crostini. Whatever you choose, no meal at Chez Betty would be complete without a taste of the perfectly puffed chocolate soufflé.
Portland, Maine: Petite Jacqueline
Petite Jacqueline presents a French paradox: As you stand in the narrow entryway, you will desperately wish you were more slender, yet you will soon stuff yourself silly on all the best things in life. Your tiny table will quickly fill up with Pellegrino and a carafe of flat water, a wine of your choice, and a loaf of crusty bread in a paper bag accompanied by a ramekin of creamy butter. This quaint eatery—from the team behind Portland's acclaimed Five Fifty-Five—serves traditional bistro fare executed to perfection, including French onion soup, haricots verts, escargots, charcuterie, rabbit, steak-frites, salade niçoise, cheese, and crème caramel.
San Diego: Cafe Chloe
Not only is Cafe Chloe San Diego's best French restaurant, but it also happens to be my favorite restaurant in the entire city. The ambience is relaxed, intimate, and inviting, making you to feel as though you've stepped into the living room of a dear friend (who also is an amazing cook!). The menu changes daily, but the two mainstays I order every time are the pommes frites with a trio of dips to start, and, for a sweet finale, the seasonal fruit tart with crème fraîche ice cream.
San Francisco: Chez Maman
Chez Maman is a tiny little spot tucked away in San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood that serves up French fare without the fuss. The narrow restaurant has only a handful of tables, but grabbing a spot at the counter in front of the grill feels like what I imagine it would be like to dine at a neighborhood bistro in France. Sample traditionally inspired dishes, like baked Camembert with roasted garlic and toast points, French onion soup, and stuffed crêpes, or go big with the house burger topped with Brie and a fried egg. Best of all, nothing on the menu will break the bank.
South Pasadena, California: Nicole's Gourmet Foods
Hidden away on a quiet street in South Pasadena is Nicole's Gourmet Foods, a family-run café and shop that sells French and European fare, including creamy cheeses, truffle oils, exotic salts, escargots, and even duck fat. The café's menu offers a wide range of hot and cold options, including the croque Nicole—a panini made with Selles-sur-Cher (aged goat cheese), ham, and tomatoes on ciabatta bread—and a ham and cheese sandwich starring jambon Madrange (cooked French ham), Gruyère, and Dijon mustard.
Walla Walla, Washington: Brasserie Four
The growth of the wine industry in this small, rural Washington town has brought with it a handful of talented chefs and an unexpected profusion of fine restaurants. The best of these is undoubtedly Brasserie Four, a classic French bistro helmed by Hannah MacDonald. The atmosphere is airy and informal, and the wine list is approachable, but most important, the food is outstanding. Everything you expect from a bistro is here, from a fresh salade niçoise and just-right oeufs mayonnaise to tarte flambée, bouillabaisse, and perfect steak-frites.