What defines a “bistro?” It’s generally a comfortable, neighborhood eatery that serves serves unfussy food that is moderately priced. Although bistros are most known for ladling French home-style cooking (such as roasted chicken, steak frites, coq au vin, cassoulet and other stewy dishes), the label now encompasses much of the Mediterranean. Chicago has a number of standouts from which to choose.
112 S. Washington St.
Hinsdale, IL 60521
Chef Paul Virant unveiled a sweet bistro called Vistro in Hinsdale during the summer of 2014. The restaurant features his signature farm-to-table cuisine but in a more casual atmosphere than his other restaurants, Vie or Perennial Virant. The menu is divided into bites portions that emerge from the kitchen quickly for famished adults or fussy kids. Enjoy shareable salads and appetizers, family-style entrees (think lasagna) and wood-fired pizzas. Most items on the menu rotate according to what edible gifts the season is giving. The space offers a relaxed atmosphere reminiscent of an Old World bistro. What separates Vistro from other bistros are the kid-friendly options, shareable options and wonderful little surprises like signature home-made pickles and preserves.
2075 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
Gemini Bistro presents a menu with French and Mediterranean influences in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Executive Chef Jon Keeley serves contemporary American cuisine in an intimate bistro set in an historic flatiron building. Expect a seasonally influenced menu with courses in small, medium and large portions (as well as extra-small plates for kids). Winners include the Gemini Bistro Salad comprised of frisée lettuce, lardons which are little knobs of bacon goodness, an egg Milanese-style and a perky vinaigrette enlivened with mustard; a medium-sized plate of short rib ravioli, tomato marmalade, Parmesan, natural reduction; and the luscious large Chitarra Vongole, fresh guitar string pasta, Manila clams, guanciale, leeks and crispy garlic. Sundays at the restaurant include a hearty brunch menu and there are gluten-free options as well.
3908 N. Sheridan Road
Chicago, IL 60613
Who said a great bistro has to have the word “bistro” in its name? Even though bistros originated in France, other countries and cuisines qualify. Take Pizza Rustica for example. Located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, it’s a rustic northern Italian eatery serving delicious, authentic cuisine. While the word “pizza” is in its name, the restaurant offers much more, including made-to-order standouts from seafood and steaks to pork, chicken, veal and pasta dishes from simple to complex. Pizza Rustica’s bar does not disappoint either, imbibers are treated to a diverse selection of craft beers, boutique wines and housemade craft cocktails. The restaurant’s warm neighborhood vibe complements the authentic fare and is as perfect for date night as it is for a comfortable family dinner.
1131 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Expect delicious, classic bistro fare nestled a sweet spot on the Gold Coast when visiting Bistrot Zinc. The winning menu includes classic roast chicken that you could swear emerged from your granny’s oven; pan-fried trout lounging on sautéed spinach and made livelier with the addition of tomato-caper vinaigrette; and the elegant Steak au Poivre, which is simply peppercorn crusted New York strip steak but accompanied by rich crème fraîche mashed potatoes. Just try to choose among dessert standouts which include espresso “pot of cream,” small bite profiteroles and a perfectly sugar-crusted creme brûlée, all priced at $7.50. Don’t forget brunch – it’s magnifique!
840 N. Wabash Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611
Bistronomic’s Executive Chef/Owner Martial Noguier could rest on his laurels but the modern Gold Coast bistro continues evolving its menu with the seaons and holidays. There’s the Beaujolais Nouveau menu each autumn; a gracious Thanksgiving feast; a monthly evening called “Two,” which celebrates delicious French food and wine at a reasonable cost; and new menu addiitons that Noguier and Head Chef Jerome Bacle spring on diners such as a robust braised Wisconsin lamb shank. You can always count on earthy house-made charcuterie and pate, briny mussels and rich escargots, Moulard duck breast and the perfect steak frites – New York Strip in red wine reduction and thin, heavenly fries tossed with black truffle salt and Parmesan shavings.
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.