Many top Dordogne and Lot restaurants open only between April and October, but even though we visited southwest France outside those months, we dined exceedingly well. The cooking here has soul, in informal bistros and Michelin-starred restaurants alike. The most famous local specialties include black truffles, foie gras and walnuts, but as you’ll discover in the farmers markets, the region’s produce is generally superb. And don’t hesitate to pair your meals with excellent wines from Bergerac and Cahors, where winemakers nowadays produce bottlings of real character.
In between touring prehistoric caves and troglodytic castles, I recommend lunching at this contemporary restaurant on the outskirts of Les Eyzies, within walking distance of the National Museum of Prehistory. Rather than eating in the main restaurant, we opted for a delicious lunch in the bistro: rosy confit of foie gras with sweet and spicy cubes of apple gelée, and flaky (but underseasoned) cod with walnuts and carrots, accompanied by a minerally glass of Bergerac Sec.
Le Bistro des Glycines
4 Avenue de Laugerie, Les Eyzies. Tel. (33) 5-53-06-97-07
Tucked into a quiet courtyard in the heart of old Sarlat, this restaurant stylishly contrasts its ancient stone walls with pink wicker-backed dining chairs. I started with a decadent and creamy root-vegetable velouté, followed by an indulgent muffin-shaped pie containing foie gras, shrimp, scallops and mushrooms. Even better was my tender saddle of lamb with a crunchy, crackling-like layer on top. The walnut cake in vanilla cream was heart-stoppingly rich — and I loved every bite.
Les Jardins d’Harmonie
Place André Malraux, Sarlat. Tel. (33) 5-53-31-06-69
Because we visited out of season, we had the popular hamlet of Rocamadour almost to ourselves. This restaurant is likely the best option in this touristy medieval town, with floor-to-ceiling windows affording views of the valley and competent if unexciting cuisine: langoustine ravioli in poultry consommé, fresh and clean-tasting hake fillets in sauce vierge with a root-vegetable tarte tatin, and an airy soufflé flambéed with Grand Marnier.
Jehan de Valon
Cité Médiévale, Rocamadour. Tel. (33) 5-65-33-63-08
On a broad square just outside the medieval center of Cahors, friendly and chic L’O à la Bouche has a playful décor, with an occasional Baroque-style painting set into the panel molding of its gray and dusty-purple walls. I loved my appetizer of caramelized sweetbreads with savory escargots and slightly bitter rapini in a rich vinaigrette, as well as my main course of gorgeous veal with a delectable crust topped with batons of root vegetables. A glass of hefty, plummy Château du Cèdre Cahors paired well with both dishes.
L’O à la Bouche
56 Allée Fénelon, Cahors. Tel. (33) 5-65-35-65-69
Resolutely modern, the multiroomed O’ Plaisir des Sens stands near the heart of the most touristy stretch of the Dordogne River, just a few minutes east of La Roque-Gageac. Nevertheless, it remains as popular with locals as tourists, and during our lunch in the gourmet half, we heard only French (the other half is a more casual bistro). I opted for upscale renditions of classic dishes, such as little cups of escargots and cep mushrooms in garlic-parsley sauce topped with crouton discs, and a pastry-wrapped tournedos of duck in truffle-studded sauce Périgueux. A molten chocolate-filled parcel of chocolate pastry, paired with a glass of Famille Laplace Maydie fortified Tannat, was a most satisfying dessert.
O’ Plaisir des Sens
Sous la Grande Vigne, La Roque-Gageac. Tel. (33) 5-53-29-58-53
From this Michelin-starred restaurant under the same ownership as Le Vieux Logis, you can see a wide swath of Monbazillac vineyards and the whole of the distant city of Bergerac. The lunch tasting menu included a refreshing, Russian-inspired amuse bouche of beet ice cream atop duck tartare, a lobe of foie gras with corn purée and morels, and tender, meaty pigeon with bitter orange-glazed endive. A honeyed Monbazillac paired beautifully with some local cheeses as well as a melt-in-your-mouth dessert of amaretto cream-filled pastry accompanied by square apple slices stacked like little reams of paper.
La Tour des Vents
Le Moulin de Malfourat, Monbazillac. Tel. (33) 5-53-58-30-10
After we settled in at this casual, contemporary restaurant near the Château de Mercuès, the waiter asked if we preferred to speak French or English. We requested English, to which he replied, “But I don’t speak English!” The food, including foie gras with gingerbread, and lamb with carrots and a crock of chickpeas, was simple but satisfying. Still, I couldn’t help wishing that Le Gindreau, a Michelin two-star restaurant nearby, hadn’t been closed.
Le Bourg, Caillac. Tel. (33) 5-65-30-53-60