It’s not easy to stand out on Vanderbilt Avenue just north of Prospect Park - a stretch that includes places like Olmsted, Maison Yaki, Faun, and Chuko - but LaLou does, thanks to one of the best natural wine programs in the city. The wine list at this narrow, white-walled spot includes some Eastern European varietals your wine store clerk has probably never heard of, as well as plenty of familiar options from famous regions in France and Italy. Whether you’re looking for Grand Cru Champagne, or you have a higher tolerance for barnyard aromas than Babe the pig, the very friendly staff will help you find something you’ll like. There’s also a straightforward food menu, and while the cheese plate and peppery saucisson are enjoyable snacks, there’s no need to go out of your way for the entrees, like a small portion of steak for $32, or roast chicken served in what tastes like caper juice. Instead, get drinks in the backyard or at the long bar with a date, and if you like each other (or the wine temporarily makes it seem that way), head to one of the many great spots up the street for dinner.

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Ruffian review image

Ruffian is a tiny East Village bar with a huge natural wine list and a short menu of really good Mediterranean food.

The Ten Bells review image
The Ten Bells

The Ten Bells is a natural wine bar on the Lower East Side that serves some good small plates and $1 Happy Hour oysters every day.

Maison Yaki review image
Maison Yaki

Maison Yaki in Prospect Heights is where you go to sit on a red leather barstool and eat classic French cooking-inspired yakitori.

City Vineyard review image
City Vineyard

City Vineyard is a restaurant and wine bar on the Hudson River in Tribeca, and it’s a great spot to drink wine outside with a group.