13 Rue des Bouchers
Tel: 32 2 511 5550
Right in the heart of the city by the Grand'Place, on a street of "authentic" buildings that may look good from the outside, but aren't, this ideal restaurant-brasserie has been going strong since 1921. Notice how many locals eat here? You can tell immediately you're onto a winner, whether you've been seated in the neo-Gothic Rotonde, with its stained-glass crests; the long, thin Bodega; or the Art Nouveau Brasserie. Service is brisk, efficient, and as traditional as the food. Waterzooi (fish or chicken stew), carbonnade (beef stew), moules-frites, anguilles (eels), steak tartare… it's all good.
32 Rue Fossé aux Loups
Tel: 32 2 217 2187
A Belle Époque bank converted by restaurateur-designer extraordinaire Antoine Pinto, this huge brasserie is all buzz, from the bars (oyster, beer, and cigar) to the grand 187-cover restaurant under a stained-glass cupola supported by rows of pink marble columns. It's not all period, though: Bathroom stalls are built of that trendy glass that goes opaque when the locks are engaged, and the food—its every ingredient of Belgian origin—is fun and modern. Many dishes incorporate that most famous of Belgian clichés, beer—for instance, scallops with Ardennes butter and a Duvel reduction, or duck foie gras with a conserve of berries and Kriek Boon, or that same cherry beer worked into a sauce for roasted Malines cuckoo with honey, pine nuts, and cilantro. This is a great place to do some beer exploration, with many varieties in aperitif sizes and a beer bar that stays open all afternoon and evening. At night, relax in the Lounge Club, a cigar bar with leather armchairs in the former bank vault; cocktails and liqueurs are served (open Wednesday through Saturday). Go to the Lounge on a Saturday, when it hosts live jazz sessions.
55 Rue des Capucins
Tel: 32 2 503 5918
Near the two Sablon squares and the flea market, this gallery-restaurant has young Brussels showing her best profile. Installed in a mercantile building from the 18th century, the eaterywith its whitewashed brick walls, basket-weave- or steel-backed chairs, and beamed ceilingsforms the backdrop for bimonthly art events, live dinnertime jazz (or Cuban) on weekends, and just plain dinner. The food is Med-French, featuring an array of carpaccios (turbot with pink peppercorn, lime, and honey; duck in balsamic-maple; beef with basil, Parmesan, and extra-virgin olive oil) as well as roast rack of lamb with thyme jus, and turkey kofte with dill and cucumber.
Closed Mondays, Saturday lunch, and Sunday nights (open for Sunday brunch, 114).
45 Rue du Page
Tel: 32 2 533 9833
It doesn't matter that it has long lost its status as the trendy restaurant in the city: Dining at La Quincaillerie is still a genuinely unique Bruxellois experience. It's a brasserie installed inside an early-20th-century hardware store—a fantastical, multilevel space divided by cast-iron walkways and beams, its walls lined with little wooden drawers. You might end up at a banquette cached in a cozy corner or perched on a balcony with a panoramic view. Stunning ambience aside, the food remains estimable and uncontroversial: Featured dishes include roast lobster, duck confit with garlic-sautéed potatoes, sole meunière, and plateaux de fruits de mer.
16 Avenue Antoine Dansaert
Tel: 32 2 502 2361
Yes, this is the founding branch of the wildly popular anti-Atkins boîtes, of which there are 10 in Brussels (plus 13 in New York City and nine in the Los Angeles area). Located in the edgy-cool fashionista district, "Everyday Bread" is all about fresh sandwiches made on the house peasant bread, pots of jam, soup, pastries, and communal tables that make for a farmhouse-kitchen atmosphere. It's a useful outpost and, if your euros are exhausted, also quite a relief.
20 Rue Jean Stasstraat
Tel: 537 9700
Though it sounds like an unreleased Russ Meyer movie, this is, in fact, that ubiquitous scene-setter Antoine Pinto's newly launched answer to the Pain Quotidien chain of bread-and-things. Handily off the shopping strip of Avenue Louise, it's less like a country idyll and more like a Stanley Kubrick set with its black marble tables and its stylized figures inset into blue walls. Breads are multifarious—light, dark, multigrain, malted, gluten-free, spiced, olive, brioche—and all baked in-house. Call it Pain Quotidien for Marni-wearers.
47 Rue du Fossé aux Loups
Tel: 32 2 227 3120
Sea Grill has chilly, corporate-looking hotel dining rooms, with etched-glass tableaus of Norwegian fjords. But enough of the downside. This is widely held to be the best seafood restaurant in Belgium—even, some claim, in all of Europe. Yves Mattagne's dishes are classic preparations made just postmodern enough to fascinate: He'll underline sweet Dublin Bay prawns with crisped sweetbreads and a carrot emulsion, or he'll prepare the crustaceans in a half-carpaccio, half-tempura style with an avocado-citrus salad and punctuate the dish with exclamation points of ginger gelée. Roasted lobster has its richness doubled with marrowbone risotto; tuna is brilliant paired with sautéed goose liver; truffled mascarpone chicken jus acts as a sauce for the king crab. You'll forget to notice the terrible lighting. Men must wear long-sleeved shirts.
Closed Saturdays and Sundays.