Perfectly Parisian: Where to Eat in the Capital of France

Discover the best spots for fluffy souffles, buttery crepes, steak frites, croque monsieur and other enchanting eats in the City of Love.

By: Catherine Down
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Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger for Champeaux

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: HEIDINGER Jean-Marie

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Jean-Marie Heidinger

Photo By: Erin Hartigan

Photo By: Catherine Down

Captivating Classics

Paris’ nickname, The City of Light, does not refer to its cuisine. But croque monsieur, escargots and steak frites — the hearty classic dishes that travelers dream of trying on native soil — can often be quite challenging to find done well in Paris. Classic French food has fallen out of favor with younger Parisians, who relish the novelty of foreign foods like bagels and barbecue. Thankfully, there's a crop of young chefs (and veterans) that continues to revive old-fashioned dishes for a modern audience. If you’re craving the kind of cooking that your imaginary French grandmother would make, this guide has you covered.

Vegetarian

Fresh vegetables are used as decor at the Parisian branch of Israeli fast-casual restaurant Miznon: tomatoes in the window, cauliflower stacked above the stove and crates of broccoli next to your feet. Although the menu is not specifically vegetarian — it features spicy lamb meatballs, baked potatoes stuffed with chicken salad, and a boeuf bourguignon pita, among other carnivorous dishes — there are plenty of excellent options for vegetarians and vegans. Popular items include the whole roasted head of caramelized cauliflower with tahini and the ratatouille-stuffed pita topped with chopped green chiles and a hard-boiled egg. Lines are long, but these sandwiches are worth the wait.

Go to: Miznon

Outdoor Dining

Tucked off Rue du Temple is a beautiful cobbled courtyard that houses both a dance studio and the lovely Grand Coeur restaurant. Be sure to sit outside on the large terrace, where diners hear strains of music and see the dancers in action; there are heat lamps in inclement weather. Grand Coeur, meaning “Big Heart,” is fine dining without any pretension but with, yes, plenty of heart. The seasonally driven menu, designed by Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco of the Michelin-starred restaurant Mirazur in Menton, is a well-executed mix of classic dishes and more unusual pairings like seared foie gras served with a corn pancake and candied citrus, or a classic cod gratin enlivened by the unlikely addition of chayote.

Go to: Grand Coeur

Bakery

Baker Benjamin Turquier wins prizes both for his pastries (first place in the Best Butter Croissant competition in 2015) and for his baguettes, which have landed in the top 10 in the Best Baguette in Paris competition three times. He owns two locations of Tout Autour du Pain just around the corner from one another, so if one happens to be closed, head down the street to the other. You’d be remiss not to get one of his award-winning croissants, but all the classic French offerings are superlative, including the chocolate eclairs and caramelized white chocolate bread. The sandwiches and salads also make for an easy and ideal picnic lunch.

Go to: Tout Autour du Pain

Pizza

Just down the street from leafy Père Lachaise cemetery, the eternal resting spot for Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Marcel Proust, lies Popine, a new pizzeria from Neapolitan pizzaiolo extraordinaire Gennaro Nasti. The wood-burning oven takes center stage indoors, but the lovely terrace is the best place to be on a sunny day. Topped with Slow Food-approved ingredients and legally protected D.O.P cheeses, the bubbling crust is superlative. Nasti offers many creative, seasonally specific options like zucchini cream with flowers, or even foie gras, but the basics are best here, namely one of the many variations on a margherita.

Go to: Popine

Ice Cream

Berthillon, on the Ile Saint-Louis, is legendary for a reason. You won’t find many wacky flavors here, but few wacky combinations can top Berthillon for the purity and intensity of flavor in each scoop. The tart cassis (blackcurrant) and salted caramel with dark, crunchy bits are two popular choices. Lines often stretch around the block, but the reward is well worth the wait. The adjacent tea salon serves elegant ice cream sundaes and a rich hot chocolate affogato. Summer visitors, be forewarned: Yes, it is peak ice cream season, but the shop often shuts for long holidays in July and August.

Go to: Berthillon

A Place to Make Friends

Chef Yves Camdeborde owns and operates two shoebox-size bars right next to each other, L’Avant Comptoir and L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer, and either one is an excellent choice for a spot in Paris that’s ideal for making friends. Locals and tourists alike flock to L'Avant Comptoir for cheese, charcuterie and ham croquettes, while those who prefer oyster platters and seafood head next door to L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer. Crane your neck up to the ceiling, where the tapas menu hangs, then be prepared to elbow your way to the counter to order and stock up on communal bread, butter and cornichons. The small space makes it easy to cozy up and start conversations, and you could end up sharing a bottle with a stranger before the night is through. There’s also a brand-new and slightly expanded version of the original pig-product-focused L’Avant Comptoir in the covered market of Saint-Germain, at the corner of Rue Mabillon and Rue Lobineau.

Go to: L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer

Crepes

Avoid the mediocre crepe carts you’ll find strewn about the city in favor of a reservation at Breizh Café, where the buttery buckwheat galettes are far superior. You’ll find classics like the Complèt, with ham, cheese and a runny egg, or smoked herring with potatoes and tangy raw cream. The savory galettes are hearty, but if you haven’t overeaten, you should order a dessert of salted caramel crepes topped with caramelized apples, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. Wash it all down with a traditional bowl of hard cider — Breizh boasts one of the best cider lists in the city.

Go to: Breizh Café

Basque

It’s hard to define A. Noste — there’s a fine-dining restaurant upstairs, a tapas restaurant with a bustling bar scene downstairs and an indoor food truck serving taloas (savory corn pancakes stuffed with cheese, pork belly, duck confit and more) at lunch. What unites all these concepts under one roof is Julien Duboué’s commitment to excellent Basque cuisine at any price point. You’ll find Spanish-influenced French fare served creatively, like fried calamari curiously served inside a giant wooden shoe. Duboué doesn’t take himself too seriously, but the food is seriously good.

Go to: A. Noste

Date Spot

Owner Daniel Rose has been in New York opening hot spot Le Coucou, but Chef Andres Fernandez keeps the home fires burning bright in the kitchen at La Bourse et La Vie. Both the menu and the historic location received a modern makeover when Rose took over in 2015, making the bistro a perfect spot for a pricey but intimate date night. Service is warm and attentive, from the giant cheese gougeres offered upon your arrival to the last drop of digestif. On the menu, you’ll find refined versions of country classics like leeks vinaigrette with crushed hazelnuts or a pot-au-feu enlivened by the unusual addition of lime zest and fresh herbs. The beautifully presented dishes are what you wish your French grandmother’s cooking tasted like and are served in surroundings that are slightly sexier and sleeker than your typical bistro.

Go to: La Bourse et La Vie

Cocktail Bar

Copper Bay is an airy, vaguely maritime-themed bar that’s perfect for a comfortable cocktail and a light snack. There’s no pretension here — just great service and a nice selection of quirky seasonal cocktails and well-executed classics. The cocktail menu is a deck of cards featuring drinks that are unusual both for the complex combinations of flavors and for their creative presentations; hot drinks are often served with sweaters, for example. If you want to feel like a local or try something particularly wacky, ask for the secret cocktail menu of limited-edition drinks.

Go to: Copper Bay

New Spot

In the center of the city, at Les Halles, Alain Ducasse has opened Champeaux, a new spot for classic food served efficiently and professionally. Modeled after its surroundings, the dining room feels a bit like a train station, right down to a menu board that flips and announces the arrival of fresh souffles as if they’re incoming trains. The kitchen prepares a selection of souffles that are savory (classic Comté cheese, tomato, lobster) and sweet (pistachio with salted caramel, or dark chocolate, using chocolate from Ducasse’s own manufactory). The restaurant caters to travelers with an easy all-day menu, USB ports throughout the space, and plenty of room in the spacious dining room for those traveling with luggage. The lemony chicken crapaudine should not be missed.

Go to: Champeaux

Iconic Dish

Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest ones to get right, and that certainly proves true when it comes to a croque monsieur. The toasted cheese, ham and bechamel sandwich is rightfully famous yet increasingly difficult to find done well. You’ll find a premade version crusting over in the case at just about every patisserie, but don’t fall for it. That’s where La Fontaine de Belleville comes in. The brand-new cafe from the team behind local coffee roastery Belleville Brûlerie is picturesque, and its buttery croque monsieur, served with a green side salad, is the fluffy, gooey standard-bearer for the French classic.

Go to: La Fontaine de Belleville

Wine Bar

There’s no phone and no reservations — and no tables, for that matter — at Freddy's. Grab a stool and slide up to the counter for small plates and excellent biodynamic wines at the newest spot from restaurateurs Juan Sanchez and Drew Harré. It’s a casual place to sip and snack at leisure, with more creative offerings than your standard wine-bar fare, with dishes like addictive soy-soaked mushrooms, garlicky escargot risotto balls and even duck hearts. It’s a tiny sliver of a space, so come in a small group or, even better, alone.

Go to: Freddy’s

All-Day Cafe

Le Nemrod is the Parisian cafe that you’ve always imagined: sassy waiters, sunny terrace, zinc bar and simple food. Salads are the specialty here, though health nuts should note that “salad” should be interpreted loosely. Most of the salads are heaping plates of meat, cheese and potatoes with a leaf or two of lettuce. The menu also offers hard-to-find regional dishes from the Auvergne region like aligot, a stretchy, cheesy mashed potato dish. Le Nemrod is open all day, so come for pastries and coffee in the morning, a croque monsieur on a slab of Poilâne bread at lunch or a casual aperitif before dinner.

Go to: Le Nemrod

Steakhouse

Le Relais de L’Entrecôte is a small chain with occasionally surly service, but if you’re looking for steak frites, this is the place for it. There’s only one starter (a green salad with walnuts), one main course (steak frites) and only one question: “How do you want it cooked?” Go early, as lines can be long, and arrive hungry, as the waiters will bring you multiple servings of steak, fries and their highly guarded (and sought-after) sauce. Finish off your gut-busting meal with profiteroles or a vacherin, a heaping tower of sorbet, meringue and whipped cream.

Go to: Le Relais de L’Entrecôte

Cheap Eats

The lines for L’As du Fallafel stretch down the block, but don’t be daunted. The team is efficient and keeps things moving along rapidly. There are a few spots inside, although most people get the freshly fried falafel sandwich to go and chow down somewhere on the street. Grab plenty of napkins to control the fully loaded falafel, which is filled with chunks of fried eggplant, hummus, harissa (if you like), cabbage slaw and salted cucumber. It’s enormous, it’s going to drip all over you, and it’ll cost only 6 euros (to go).

Go to: L’As du Fallafel

Escargots

Craving escargots? Go, go to L’Assiette for garlic-drenched snails served on a pool of tomato compote and topped with tiny toasts. They’re destination-worthy gastropods for gastronomes. There are other French classics, too, like a dreamy salted-caramel creme caramel and a whopping ceramic bowl of cassoulet that could feed a crowd. Chef David Rathgeber consistently turns out some of the most-interesting bistro food in the city in his sparsely furnished dining room near Montparnasse.

Go to: L’Assiette

Chinese

The decor is simple at La Taverne de Zhao, a hidden gem near the Canal Saint-Martin, but the food is anything but. Chef Zhao, who hails from Xi’an, turns out fresh, filling food with bright flavors at a reasonable price. Flatbread sandwiches stuffed with spicy shredded pork and sesame-slicked homemade noodles give a taste of the Shaanxi province and are a nice antidote for those sick of classic French cuisine.

Go to: La Taverne de Zhao

Iconic Restaurant

Chez L’Ami Jean is an iconic restaurant, to be sure. Chef Stéphane Jégo is a well-loved legend who serves some of the city’s best wild-game dishes (in season) and Basque-inspired cuisine at his tiny restaurant. The dining room would feel cramped were it not for the cheeky, good-natured staff keeping everyone in good spirits. It’s hard to imagine eating even more after consuming some of Jégo’s heartier dishes, but few diners manage to leave without ordering the famed rice pudding, which is served in a giant mixing bowl complete with whipped salted caramel and caramelized nuts.

Go to: Chez L’Ami Jean

Rock-Star Chef

A reservation at Septime, the Michelin-starred restaurant from Bertrand Grébaut, is virtually impossible to get, but you can always stroll down the street to his no-reservations seafood spot, Clamato, which serves similarly excellent food in a more casual setting without a tasting menu. Grébaut made a name for himself at L’Arpège and L’Agapé before opening up his own restaurants in the artistic 11th arrondissement. His restaurants have become fine-dining destinations for those who want excellent modern French food in a slightly more informal but still stylish setting. The service, like the food on his seasonally focused, product-driven menus, is sophisticated and polished but also relaxed.

Go to: Septime

Tasting Menu

Picky eaters, beware: This cozy cave à manger serves a no-choice menu. Those seeking simple, well-executed bistro fare in a convivial environment won’t be disappointed. Les Papilles simply requires that diners arrive with an empty stomach and an open mind. The classic dishes are reliably excellent, and the menu is a bargain for the price, so it’s worth giving up a little control. The restaurant is crammed inside a working wine shop, so be prepared to get friendly with your neighbors and other patrons; plus, on your way out you can pick up a bottle to bring home.

Go to: Les Papilles

Splurge Spot

Set inside the luxurious George V hotel along the Champs-Élysées, Le Cinq is one fine-dining restaurant that manages to feel special and elegant without being pretentious. The restaurant, from Christian Le Squer, recently garnered its third Michelin star, and it’s easy to understand why. The extensive tasting menus are thoughtful, creative and challenging. Unusual flavor combinations aren’t just there to provoke — they actually work. This is modern French cuisine at its best, with a few nods to classic Gallic gastronomy here and there. Instead of onion soup, you’ll find a deconstructed onion tart that’s deeply sweet and concentrated,in flavor, for example. Pace yourself and save room for the dessert — you wouldn’t want to miss out on the old-fashioned trolley of sweets at the end.

Go to: Le Cinq

Hamburger

Brave the crowds inside the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the city’s oldest covered market, for a French cheeseburger that just might put its American counterparts to shame. Le Burger Fermier is part butcher shop, part burger restaurant. The meat comes from small farms in Picardy, the buns are made in-house, and there is an excellent selection of cheeses, including a tomme washed in hard cider that’s just slightly stinky, to perk up the beef. A cheeseburger with fresh-cut fries will set you back only 12 euros, but it’s available only Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., so plan accordingly!

Go to: Le Burger Fermier

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