Once upon a time, SoHo quieted down after the end of the working day, and the only destination that could lure the types who now rent the neighborhood's lofts was Raoul's. Alsatian brothers Serge and Guy Raoul opened the bistro in 1975 to gushing reviews and big crowds, who appreciated the eatery for its bonhomie and authentic French-casual food.
Many years later, that pioneer is now a classic. The place is always bustling--even on a blustery night, after 11 p.m., and during a recession (or all three). Once you're packed into one of the banquettes (upstairs if possible), you'll see why: The restaurant's dimly lit, art-filled dining rooms and hearty dishes are perfectly suited for winter meals.
That meal should start with the pleasantly garlicky frisée and lardon salad ($12), topped with a runny, poached duck egg. Of all the entrées--all written in French on your table's individual chalkboard--the most satisfying is the generously portioned (and peppered) steak au poivre ($37), accompanied by crisp fries, a refreshing tangle of watercress and a puddle of savory gravy; ask for an extra serving for your fries. The silken crème brûlée ($8) will remind you of every great bistro you've ever been to, and why shouldn't it? You didn't come here for a groundbreaking experience, but a comfortably familiar one.
Raoul's, 180 Prince St. (between Thompson and Sullivan sts.); 212-966-3518 or raouls.com