photo: Courtesy of Nick Flandro
With a mural coating the entire south wall and red, yellow, blue and green paint covering the restaurant's facade, it's difficult to miss Cafe Bernard when walking down Halsted. It's strikingly tacky considering the surrounding area's polished look, but don't let that scare you away from the refined gem of a restaurant waiting inside.
Owner Bernard LeCoq opened Cafe Bernard in 1972, when Lincoln Park was dilapidated and light-years away from its current gussied-up feel. It was the first French bistro in Chicago, and LeCoq consciously tried giving it a cozy atmosphere rather than the stereotypically stuffy tone that permeates some French establishments. He overwhelmingly succeeded, with pictures hand-drawn on the walls, a barely lit dining room, classic French music and free-flowing, abstract panels gracing the ceiling.
LeCoq also aspired to serve classic, savory French fare at reasonable prices. Cafe Bernard is slightly more expensive than the adjacent Red Rooster Cafe & Wine Bar (also owned by LeCoq), but it also has a more upscale feel. The roast duck a l'orange is one of the most popular dishes, and the bouillabaisse, with little neck clams, shrimp, mussels, salmon and a saffron lobster broth, is the best this side of the Eiffel Tower.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Laura Brown