You don’t have to travel all the way to France to get an amazing French dining experience. Instead, skip the air fare and book a reservation at one these Northern Virginia restaurants. Whether you’re craving a meal that is inspired by the countryside or city, these restaurants are serving up authentic French cuisine.
Restaurants were reviewed by Olga Boikess, Ashley Davidson, Dawn Klavon, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew.
Woodbridge / French / $$$$
Not every restaurant needs to charm with its modern innovations. At Bistro L’Hermitage, it’s traditional French cuisine, like decadent lobster bisque; indulgent, garlicky escargots with puff pastry; and expertly prepared filet mignon that delights guests over and over.
Fresh-cut flowers and eclectic decor transport diners to the French countryside, as if visiting grand-mère in Normandy. Order on the safe side with conventional French fare, or consider more creative options. Poached shrimp with watermelon cocktail sauce, roasted duck breast with cherry-thyme sauce, and crêpes du jour are all inspired choices.
Staff is welcoming, quick to share the menu’s hidden gems, and attentive enough to make all feel like regular guests. Pleasant chatter erupts between waiters and patrons; clearly repeat visitors show up in numbers for yet another lovely visit to France just outside downtown Occoquan. Arriving diners are greeted warmly and presented with fresh, crunchy bread and a dangerously inviting tureen of beurre.
The brunch menu presents substantial dilemmas: Should onglet de boeuf et oeuf (steak and eggs) be the order of the day? Or oeuf Benedict a la Norvégienne (eggs Benedict with sautéed spinach and smoked salmon)? Plentiful options make decisions très difficile.
See this: Mismatched knickknacks fill walls, tabletops, and even the exterior, making for a cozy European-antique-shop feel.
Eat this: Lobster bisque, poulet rôti, crème brûlée à la vanille de Tahiti
When to dine here: Special occasions fit the bill for the above-average experience and expense.
Arlington / French / $$$
The congenial team at Arlington’s Café Colline rightfully takes great pride in every dish served at its charming restaurant. Staff members, one after the next, exuberantly describe executive chef Brendan L’Etoile’s regional French cuisine with breathless detail. The cozy bistro came on Arlington’s restaurant scene in 2020 but found its footing once eat-in dining resumed at its lovely Langston Boulevard location. Masterfully prepared traditional French offerings are presented in an inviting setting with warm leather seating, a myriad of mirrors, and a stunning herringbone-patterned wood floor.
The crunchy (yet succulent) confit canard undergoes a meticulous three-step cooking process for the duck to reach perfection, accompanied by a medley of braised chard, wild rice, carrot purée, and sauce à l’orange. Moules-frites deliver dynamic flavor from steamed mussels adorned with a soothing, fennel-dominated broth. You wouldn’t be wrong to dip your crispy frites in the potent potion. Classic steak frites with béarnaise sauce may summon nostalgic memories of romantic Latin Quarter dinners.
Don’t skip dessert: Try pots de crème, skillfully created with Nutella and crushed chocolate cookies. It is, as they say, the crème de la crème. No wonder the amicable staff can’t say enough about how special this café is. After a visit, diners won’t be able to, either.
See this: Multicolored French bovine awards above the kitchen
Eat this: Soupe à l’oignon, confit canard, steak frites, pots de crème
When to dine here: A special lunch may be a prelude to a future private group dinner in the cozy wine cellar.
L’Auberge Chez François
Great Falls / French / $$$$
In bucolic surroundings that look like the setting for a fairy tale sits a legendary French country restaurant that attracts a steady stream of guests celebrating special occasions and romantic afternoons.
After 47 prosperous years, chef Jacques Haeringer and front-of-the-house manager Paul Haeringer continue to serve classic French country food with an authentically European flair. Dishes like trout amandine and beef bourguignon are what their customers demand, and they do them well. The Haeringer family comes from the Alsace region, where heavier preparations of German-influenced food suit the cooler climate.
The high-value prix fixe menu allows diners to sample mushroom crêpes, bouillabaisse, and a decadent soufflé all in one dining experience. The meals are accompanied by the chef’s daily amuse-bouche — perhaps a demitasse of cream of pea soup — along with a basket of fresh breads and a pot of Bibeleskaes, a housemade cottage cheese with herbs.
Impeccable, seamless service by dedicated staff, along with a soothing ambiance, are key factors in L’Auberge’s longevity. And while many restaurants tout farm-to-table sourcing, the Haeringers grow their own herbs and vegetables right on the six-acre property. Vintage crockery enhances the presentation at this lovely landmark, which never really seems to age.
See this: The brick fireplace warms the dining room, while outdoors, diners are serenaded by a bubbling fountain and fragrant garden under a tented patio.
Eat this: Crêpe à la ciboulette, trout amandine, chocolate soufflé
When to dine here: You’re celebrating a milestone, or are looking to feel pampered.
La Côte d’Or Café
Arlington / French / $$$
Tucked away in West Arlington lies this quaint restaurant reminiscent of the French countryside. For many, it is a welcome escape from the bustle of the city just a few miles away. It’s a place to pause, where a warm croissant or bowl of bouillabaisse can cure all ailments. Chef Jacques Imperato’s culinary repertoire aims to transport diners across the sea without going far from home.
Sumptuous Burgundy-style escargots are served sans shell, each topped with a buttery puff pastry for a delightfully light, bite-sized treat. The beef bourguignon is equally delectable with tender bits of beef, velvety soft potato gnocchi, pearl onions, and mushrooms bathed in the rich sauce that makes the dish beloved by so many. Even rainbow trout boasts French flair. I’’s prepared in amandine style, referring to the toasted slivered almonds atop the flaky fish. And at brunch, both the croque madame and open-faced crêpes showcase ham and cheese in a way that only the French can.
Imperato never fails to prepare an exquisite meal worth remembering. And the best part is, you can leave La Côte d’Or Café knowing you don’t have to travel far to return to this small slice of France any time you like.
See this: For a sidewalk café ambiance, request a table in the yellow patio located off the main dining room.
Eat this: Croissant, warm brie, beef bourguignon, croque madame
When to dine here: Head here when you want to up your brunch game.
Alexandria / French / $$$
Food lovers on the left bank of the Potomac find a delightful corner of France tucked away in historic Alexandria. This cozy, brick-walled dining room, serving exceptionally well-made stalwart fare, has transported diners for decades. Its hideaway atmosphere, warm hospitality, and steady kitchen stand the test of time.
Starters on the menu range from the traditional escargots, pâté, and foie gras mousse to well-composed salads like one with tender beets, goat cheese, and a delightful puréed beet dressing. Still, the exemplary onion soup is hard to pass up. A deeply flavored broth and velvety onions lurk beneath a cap of melted, cheesy indulgence.
A fan of pink-centered duck breast, judiciously sauced with a rich, savory-and-sweet raspberry purée, is plated with a garlicky potato gratin, puréed carrots, and sautéed cabbage. Like the salmon served with a creamy béarnaise or veal scallops simply sautéed with butter and lemon, it’s proof of why such dishes are classics.
Desserts — chocolate mousse, fresh fruit Melba, and crème brûlée — also hew to proven provisions, and their deep flavors surprise and delight. It’s all edible evidence of Gallic cuisine’s enduring appeal.
See this: Vintage posters and memorabilia crowding the walls evoke an atmosphere of Gallic intimacy.
Eat this: Soupe à l’oignon gratinée, canard avec sauce aux framboises, le filet de saumon béarnaise
When to dine here: Reserve ahead to relive (or conjure up) a romantic dinner in the French countryside.
Parc de Ville
Fairfax / French / $$$
French classics sport a modern sensibility at this stylish brasserie, nestled in Merrifield’s shopping mecca. The airy space evokes the late 19th century on the Champs-Élysées, with its long central bar, marble-topped tables, and bentwood chairs, in a contemporary way.
Classic starters are prepared delicately. Take the clever remake of an escargot appetizer: Snail meat is taken out of its shell and mixed with same-size mushroom morsels in a creamy sauce, judiciously perfumed with garlic and herbs. A surprisingly light onion soup offers deeply burnished alliums in a beefy broth capped by a savory, melted cheese crouton. There’s also a very contemporary pickled beet, goat cheese, and lentil salad. Its sharp and sweet flavors are enhanced by its lovely, foamy pink vinaigrette.
Order the classic moules-frites, and a steaming pot filled with plump bivalves awash in an aromatic light and creamy broth comes to the table. Fennel fronds add texture and a subtle flavor to the dish. A succulent salmon entrée, another classic, sports a light potato crust and subtly lemony cream saucing.
Meat lovers can dig into a hefty pork chop served with a seductive potato purée or opt for steak frites, duck, or a rustic beef stew. Classic desserts like rice pudding and crème brûlée are delectable models of their kind. It’s all a delightful update on the French fare we all crave.
See this: A copperplate-like city park mural covers the back wall of a room sporting an understated elegance and an unmistakably Gallic feel.
Eat this: Escargots, moules-frites, pork chop
When to dine here: Date-night couples, girlfriends having a night out, and groups of friends can all enjoy this convivial setting.
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