Eating out is a part of the French way of life. Don’t have a holiday in France without having a meal in a French restaurant. Although there are many unusual French foods (frogs legs, snails, tête de veau etc.) you will find many foods that are a true delight! And Paris boasts some of the best restaurants to choose from (as well as some awful ones aimed squarely at tourists which are worth avoiding!).
Which restaurant? Try to find a restaurant that is targeted at French diners (French menus are a good clue!). Don’t expect to find a fantastic restaurant adjacent to the major tourist attractions – here we would recommend something safe and straightforward such as pizza, crêpes etc..
Which time? It’s often cheaper to eat at lunchtime and during the week. Sunday lunch is always busy and it pays to book ahead. In the evenings, don’t arrive too early – 7.30pm is often the earliest you can get served.
Which menu? Don’t go for à la carte options. Usually they have the same options as the menu prix fixe and they cost a lot more! Avoid Menu Touristique like the plague!
Which wine? Wine can be quite expensive if you go for named bottles. But carafes of house white or red wine have usually been exquisitely selected by the restauranteur and are excellent value. Refer to our wine section for more advice on wines in France.
The café scene is very much a part of Paris and can be enjoyed year round, even sipping coffee outside in winter, thanks to the sophisticated heating systems in many of the awnings outside the cafés.
The waiters who race back and forth, balancing trays while keeping tabs on everyone are great fun to watch.
But it is observing Parisian life that is the best sport of all. Once, a very elderly, very chic, very Parisian lady (dripping with jewellery) along with her white lap dog sat next to us at Les Deux Magots (that famous literary haunt on the Boulevard St Germain) and sipped coffee while reading the stocks and shares page of her newspaper. Who was she……..we will never know, but it was fun imagining!
Do take time out to ……..just sit. And if you want to find the best cafés that Paris has to offer get your hands on a little book called ‘Café Life Paris’ by Christine and Dennis Graf.
Our favourite Paris restaurants:
The Bistro Romain are Italian themed restaurants with antipasti, pastas, meats and risottos, but not pizza. There is a quickie lunch for €11.90, any 2 courses from the ‘carte’ for €19.80* and a €12* children’s menu). There are 24 restaurants in the Paris area of which about 13 are in central Paris and accessible if you are sightseeing.
Chez Clément operates 13 restaurants around Paris. No two restaurants are the same – they are all individually themed which is a novel approach. We have eaten at three of them. The one off the Avenue Georges V (a very nice part of Paris south of the Champs-Elysées) had spoons and hats as the theme – they were everywhere with even the handles on the toilet doors being fashioned out of desert spoons! The one on Montparnasse had a nautical theme and that in the 6th arrondisement near Pont St.Michel had a huge glass topped billiard table available for larger parties. There are different menus and menu combinations to chose from. The style is French bistro food and there is an excellent value menu enfant of €8.50* for a main course, desert and a drink. Children are also given puzzle booklets (in French, but they are fairly self-explanatory) and a packet of colouring pencils to keep them entertained. Adults are catered for with menus starting at €15.90* for 2 courses to include a drink of water/wine/beer/coke. Staff are friendly and efficient and the clientèle seems to cover the full range from businessmen to families. These open 7/7 and all day without a break.
Les Cocottes de Constant
135 rue Saint Dominique, 75007 Paris
The not so frequented 7th arrondissement (Eiffel Tower aside) is home to this fairly recently opened restaurant in quite literally a string of restaurants. Christian Constant owns four in a row along the rue Saint Dominique of which Les Cocottes is possibly the most informal. Reservations are not taken so, depending on your timing, be prepared to wait for a table/counter space. However the wait is worth it for first class food at (for Paris) affordable prices. Starters and mains are served in cast iron ‘Staub’ cocottes (from which the restaurant derives its name). Prices average €6* for soups, €10* for a caesar salad starter and €15* for mains. All food is of the highest quality – well worth a visit.
Hippopotamus is a French style steak house with lots of different menu options as well as a children’s menu. It is a much larger chain than Chez Clement with restaurants all over France and about a dozen in central Paris. They are open continuously from mid-day. Check out their website for special offers.
35 rue de Saint-Louis-en Ile, 75004 Paris
You are spoilt for choice for good restaurants on the Ile Saint Louis. This is just one of many. It occupies a corner plot about half way down the central thoroughfare and, as its name suggests, here the ‘cow’ reigns supreme as the restaurant is full of ‘bovine’ memorabilia – china cows, tin cows, paintings of cows etc…..etc….. The Ile Saint Louis was once 2 separate islands, one of which was the Ile aux Vaches, after which the restaurant is named. Not only is the décor fascinating but the food is great as well in true French style. It is pricey at €37* for a prix fixe menu. However this is not somewhere to come if you want any degree of privacy as the tables are closely packed together, which somehow adds to its ambience.
13 rue de l’Ancienne Comédie, 75006 Paris
The oldest restaurant in Paris (or so the guidebooks tell you!). This is an upmarket place with overpriced food, but then you don’t really go for the food – its all about the ambience and this place certainly oozes that. With 2 entrances (very much posh front and exceedingly quirky tradesman’s (down an incredibly old cobbled passageway).
Auberge de la Reine Blanche
Rue Saint Louis-en-Ile, 75004 Paris
This small, intimate restaurant is situated about half way down the main street on the ‘Ile’. Try and book in advance so you get one of the 2 window tables (they only seat 2 and are fairly tight) so you can people watch the world outside. We thoroughly enjoyed what was a fairly reasonably priced meal given that this is Paris after all and is in one of the most expensive areas of the city. Food was bistro style with among other choices -duck and steaks on the main menu and foie gras, pates, soup as starters. Staff were friendly and we weren’t rushed at all. We’d go back!
Le Relais de l’Entrecote
3 restaurants in Paris – just off Boulevard St Germain, just off Champs Elyseés area and Montparnasse.
As the restaurant name suggests the only food on offer here is a steak. In fact this small restaurant group goes a step further and has only one set menu: steak (and its famous sauce) with pommes allumettes (very thin chips) and a walnut salad with a selection of desserts. Surprisingly queues form before the restaurant opens, such is its popularity (and because no reservations are taken). The restaurant prides itself on the premise that you only have to make 3 decisions when eating there – how you’d like your steak; what wine and which dessert?
For a light snack, early breakfast or even brunch you could try out the ‘Paul’ group of bakers/patisseries which boasts over 300 boulangeries/patisseries throughout France. Most are simply shops but there are a growing number where it is possible to eat a light meal. Of the 34 shops in Paris twelve are sit down eateries. Everything is made on the premises and can be bought in the Paul shops. Breakfasts need no introduction – they are typical French fare of crusty bread, freshly squeezed orange juice, croissants (or a choice of patisserie/viennoiserie) and coffee/hot chocolate and we can vouch for their excellence. The light lunches include quiches, tartlets, omelettes, salads and sandwiches. The quality is first class.
In addition there are 20 ‘Pauls’ in London, so if you live in the south east you could have a pre-sample before heading off to France. Having visited some of the London ones it is a bit like stepping inside a corner of France – great when you are feeling a bit nostalgic for l’hexagon.
* please note that all prices are subject to change, so check the providers’ official website for latest details
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to Paris:
- Attractions in Paris:
- Paris Chateaux:
- Museums and Monuments in Paris:
- Best Restaurants in Paris
- Shopping in Paris