Bon Appetit

19 Charming French Spots to Seek Out

How to live—or at least eat—like a Parisian within the confines of Seattle.

By Nosh Pit Staff March 20, 2019

Adding the finishing touches at L'Oursin.

Bar Melusine

Seattle seafood legend Renee Erickson has reprised her Ballard oyster bar, the Walrus and the Carpenter, in this breezy Capitol Hill bar splashed with sprays of seafoam green and constructed as homage to the shores of Normandy and Brittany. Thus a bowl of manila clams may arrive with tarragon and rings of shallot, halibut crudo might be brightened with pickled cucumber and fresh rhubarb, brined and smoked leg of lamb may be served with the French egg sauce known as sauce gribiche—all in addition to the half dozen fresh oysters daily. If Melusine’s innovations are tamer than Walrus’s, they are no less satisfying—and they also include more meat. (Little surprise, here alongside Erickson’s French steak house, Bateau.)

Bastille Cafe and Bar

With its French subway tile and vintage fixtures, Bastille delivers a lively shot of Paris to Ballard Ave. Few restaurants have mastered ambience like this one­—from the speakeasylike Back Bar (anchored with a crystal chandelier as big as Marie Antoinette’s hair) to the breezy patio. The menu, Sunday brunches, through daily happy hours and suppers, surveys French bistro classics through a carefully sourced Northwest lens: Taylor Shellfish moules frites and burnished salads from the rooftop garden. 


Much in this white-on-white French farmhouse of a room will be instantly recognizable to fans of superchef Renee Erickson’s original masterpiece, Boat Street Cafe, including the dog art and the slate tables. But most familiar will be Erickson’s winsome turn with, say, a plate of sliced celeriac, rounded with walnuts and cream and pomegranate and plenty of Meyer lemon; or veal sweetbreads piqued with capers and pickled elderflowers. Such elegant refinement turns out to make the perfect foil for the house-butchered, dry-aged steaks Erickson raises herself—tempered beautifully and cooked medium rare in hot steel pans with plenty of butter. Choose your cut off the wall-size blackboard, choose your sides (frites and mashed potatoes are equally wicked)—and settle into your meal in the capable hands of your server. Order what you will for dessert, but woe if it isn’t the bread pudding.

Boat Street Kitchen

Just like its late sister restaurant, Boat Street Cafe, there’s whimsy and loveliness to every little thing about the Kitchen: its whitewashed walls, its flickering votives, its wintry floral arrangements, and weekend brunches so inventive and extraordinary you may never settle for pancakes again.

Cafe Campagne

The quintessential French bistro, tucked in Pike Place Market’s beguiling Post Alley. Perched at one of the amber-lit tables beneath a vintage French poster—savoring steak frites or crackling duck confit, tippling a Kir Royale—you may find yourself seized by the urge to stand and belt the Marseillaise or tragically break someone’s heart. Not to worry. The urge will pass, and you will soon be content merely to become a regular along with the rest of the Francophiles in town, coming perhaps on a quiet early weeknight for a solo nosh (a particularly lovely place for that), or on a summer evening for a cafe table on the alley, or on a weekend morning for a sensational breakfast, when the sunbeams slant in to spotlight your brioche.

Cafe Presse

It’s the most come-as-you-are French cafe in town, suffused with a casual dailiness that makes it dangerously easy to become a regular. And by the looks of it, half the students at the neighboring Seattle U are—popping in to the front room for a quick croque monsieur and some televised European football, a linger in the hidden back room over dazzling roast chicken, or a glass of Ricard at the busy bar, perhaps with a little something off the charcuterie list. That deja vu you’re having right now is courtesy Le Pichet, Presse’s downtown cousin, which has been stylishly mining similar territoire for years. Think of Presse as the more quotidian of the two, with its international newspapers and magazines for patrons’ purchase, its all-day casse croûte menu, its way-low prices, and its informal joie de vivre. But don’t let the informality fool you: This food defines unfussy elegance, from the classy bibb lettuce and hazelnut salad to steak frites in a Madeira sauce so exquisite you’ll want to slurp it through a straw.


Between the old brick, the big windows, and the strings of white lights, this just might be the most charming cafe in Lower Queen Anne—and we haven’t even mentioned the patio yet. The loftlike atmosphere makes for a great conversation spot, but the real reason to check out Citizen is the crepes. Take your pick between savory (like apple-smoked bacon, sharp cheddar cheese, and basil drizzled in maple syrup) or sweet (strawberries, ricotta cheese, and honey powdered in sugar).


A legit hit of Paris in the Central District, L’Oursin glows with pendant lights and Parisian signs, in an unfussy room whose populated bar and open kitchen crook an alluring finger from the street. Chef and co-owner J. J. Proville grew up mostly in France and knows its subtleties, in dishes like a fathomless bouillabaisse with Northwest shellfish under a pastry crust or a tartine of house-smoked bacon with greens on charred brioche. Northwest seafood is his thing; natural wines a close second. If it all seems rather more about pleasing their own sensibilities rather than their diners’ (this is not a steak frites kind of bistro)…it’s art! And at least on Mondays, L'Oursin does cater to the masses by offering a secret French-toned burger at the bar. Cocktails are not to be missed.

Le Coin

The Fremont space once home to Roux (and before that the Buckaroo Tavern) is now an amiable French bistro where the menu hits frequent high notes unexpected in a chill neighborhood spot. Here croissant brittle might top a late-summer tomato salad and sablefish arrives with perfectly crisped skin atop a carrot soubise, vivid as the paintings on the walls.

Le Pichet

One step inside the slender First Ave bistro with the little black awning transports you directly to the Right Bank of Paris—with all the buzz of lively conversation, the pulse of an all-day crowd, and the petit ceramic pitchers of wine it’s named for. Just like in Paris, the menu is full of terrines, pates, charcuterie, and entrees like moules frites, that perfect combination of shellfish and fries that passes as fast food in France; or succulent roast chicken for two, wholly worth the hour wait. Francophiles idle away a morning with cafe au lait and a baguette, or lunch on country pate with greens. Evenings, the place fills up and gets noisy, but this is one spot that understands that more tables packed closely together is more intimate than tables spaced too far apart. Expect things to get even more intimate—Le Pichet recently joined the happy hour crowd, with bottles starting at $15 Monday through Thursday from 3 to 5.

Loulay's airy dining room.


One of the most cosmopolitan lunch and dinner stops in Seattle, its packed bar and plummy fixtures and soaring sight lines making it feel like a great party in a gloriously unaffordable home. The huge room has plenty of seating options, romantic (the corner table in the bar should have a room number) to solo to life of the party, from which to sample the classic food of seasoned chef Thierry Rautureau (and his staff from the former Rover’s). Look for careful execution on short, well-chosen menus of both French classics (terrific fish dishes, seared foie gras) and accessible everyman food, like the killer 16-buck rib-eye burger, at prices below what you might expect amid this much style.


Thierry Rautureau’s bistro serves up French classics—velvet chicken liver mousse, a stunning boeuf bourguignon—served with more savoir-faire than their prices would suggest. (The souffle potato crisps, a labor-intensive appetizer yielding a crop of puffy fries with almost creamy interiors and impossibly crispy crusts, may be the best appetizer in the city.) Thus the two-room place, low-lit with Moroccan lamps, is perpetually packed and fizzy as a sexy cocktail party in full roar; the unofficial Third Place for the well-heeled neighborhoods surrounding the Madison Valley.


The longtime Pike Place Market French bistro brings off all the warhorses adeptly, and is on a lot of people’s short list for its happy hour booze on the great deck, its terrific view of the bay, and its destination weekend brunches.


From prolific Continental classicist Vuong Loc comes a sleek, modern, and crisp-edged room that looks like Fremont but cooks like France. Off a wood-fired grill come highly composed plates of unapologetically traditional fare—glistening short ribs over cauliflower puree with shallot confit, slices of lamb leg on an anise-fennel-carrot braise, moist pan-roasted chicken in a lush sherry sauce—executed with a seasoned hand and near-perfect consistency. Desserts are busy, busy, busy—but delectable.

Red Cow

A French bistro menu, a fleet of crisp white-shirted waiters, and a bubbling crowd greet diners in this iteration of the minimalist cement-walled space on the Madrona strip—the best iteration yet. The reason? The steak frites lineup, offering six cuts of meat up the ladder of price points with a choice of four sauces—a swell match to how the Madrona mix of families and young professionals want to eat. (No need to venture beyond the $30 hanger steak, by the way; it’s plenty tender and flavorful.) Beyond that, the Ethan Stowell quality control in the kitchen is amply evident across bistro classics; if it’s available don’t miss the lush goat cheese–mushroom tartine. The bar is great, but the small patio a few steps from the restaurant is almost bucolic. 

Saint Helens Cafe

The restraint one might see in a French bistro is replaced here with a broad streak of wanton excess (see burger with Beecher’s palate-lacquering white cheddar, see over-buttered grilled Columbia City Bakery bread). The long narrow room—bar on one side, dining tables on the other—is awkwardly cramped, making summer, when the partially covered patio off the Burke-Gilman Trail is roaring morning to night, this restaurant’s prime time. 

The Virginia Inn

Up there with Seattle’s timeless treasures—perpetually crowed Pike Place Market, Mount Rainier on a clear day—stands the inimitable Virginia Inn, which for over a century has held down the corner of First and Virginia on the sheer, soul-satisfying strength of consistently great food and terrific beer—and marbled bistro tables with woven chairs that evoke trips to Paris. The former owners expanded the bar into the neighboring space, upgrading from a galley to a full kitchen and extending the classy brick-walled, wood-boothed, lavishly windowed space into an area twice its original size, but no less intimate. And now that kitchen is turning out food worth eating: flawlessly done duck leg confit, moules frites, and other Frenchified items. 

The Whale Wins

Another white restaurant from the extraordinary Renee Erickson wears all the buoyancy and cheer of a country cottage. Add in the menu of French- and English-inspired noshes, many of which are served room-temperature at whatever time they come out of the wood oven (smoked herring butter on toast with pickled fennel, sliced and salt-roasted filet mignon with potatoes and horseradish cream)—and what you’ve got is a very good picnic, right in the heart of the Fremont Collective. Don’t miss the smoky roast chicken or the butter-roasted zucchini bread for dessert. 

Voilà! Bistrot

From the arches of its windowpanes to its fir-plank floors, from the embrace of its diminutive dark-wood bar to the creamy unsalted butter on its bare-wood dining tables, Voilà! whispers all its sweet nothings in Gallic dialects. The menu sketches a portrait of the quintessential French bistro—coq au vin, French onion soup, boeuf bourguignonne—and then the kitchen colors it in, with solid renditions that don’t go messing with expectations. A fine salad mingled mild, firm cubes of Tomme de Savoie cheese with apples, walnuts, and the soft caress of butter lettuce; a dish of trout in a lemony butter-almond sauce was quietly right. Voilà! is less a big night out than a gentle night in; the perfect sort of come-as-you-are Sunday night neighborhood haunt.

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