Here are some of my favorite places in Paris. The list is frequently updated as I discover new places and revisit others. You’ll find classic French bistros, cafés, places offering up contemporary French cooking, as well as some places that are good spots of enjoying the cuisine of other cultures, which are part of the multicultural mix of Paris.
In Paris, it’s usually wise to call ahead to make sure they’re open and make a reservation. Restaurants in France like to know who’s coming to dine and some offer online reservations. If you call, it’s best to do so not during service hours as restaurants in Paris don’t have dedicated reservation people; you’ll be speaking with a waiter or host. If you can’t make it, canceling your reservation is very much appreciated. Places that don’t take reservations can be quite busy at prime mealtimes so considering going off hours. Most Parisians lunch from 12:30-2pm, and have dinner from 8 or 8:30 to 10:30pm.
I like dining in wine bars, and you can find more of them listed here. Due to licensing laws, at most you have to order food along with your drinks. So don’t be surprised when they ask that you order something to eat with your wine, although it can just be a plate of charcuterie or cheeses.
Some of the places I’ve written up on the site and I’ve added links at the end of each listing where I’ve written more about them. You can also browse my Paris Restaurant archives to read through all the listings and discover more places. Lastly, restaurants can change, even from one night to the next but I recommend these restaurants because I’ve had consistently good experiences at them, and hope that you do, too.
A La Biche au Bois
45 Av Ledru Rollin, 12th, tel: 01 43 43 34 38, (M: Gare de Lyon). Two blocks from the Gare de Lyon train station. Not fancy but a lot of fun, and great food. Order one of the fixed menus and save room for the cheese course. For starters, try to get through a gargantuan salade Perigordine, topped with a big chunk of foie gras. Many game dishes depending on the season. Closed weekends. (A La Biche au Bois.)
1 bis Passage Saint-Sébastian, 11th, tel: 01 73 20 23 23, (M: Saint-Sébastian – Froissart) This youthful restaurant and wine bar is located in a passage, which you might need a map to find. It’s gone through a few incarnations of chefs, but the food is always fresh, interesting, and available in small plates (and a few larger ones), meant for sharing. There’s a focus on quality ingredients and the wine list has some affordable treasures on there. The staff is earnest and friendly if you have questions, in spite of how busy the dining room is. I like the interesting salads which may combine cheeses, smoked fish, and crisp greens. For those who are hungry, the roasted lamb shoulder is enough to feed an entire table. (Au Passage website.)
Aux Bons Crus
54 rue Godefroy Cavaignac, 11th, tel: 01 45 67 21 13, (M: Voltaire) An ode to “les Routiers,” French truck stops, known for their hearty cooking, this cosmopolitan version does very respectable versions of French classics at modest prices. Steak frites with Béarnaise sauce, Tête de veau, Stuffed cabbage Œufs mayonnaise, Endive salad with bacon and poached egg, as well as massive desserts, are devoured by locals along with pitchers (or bottles) of wine. Very friendly service. (Aux Bons Crus website.)
18 rue Jean-Nicot, 7th, tel: 01 53 59 96 96, (M: Invalides, or La Tour-Maubourg) Enjoyable tapas-style bar, more upscale than anything in Spain, with fabulous hams from wild acorn-fed pigs. For dessert, stop down the street at Secco bakery for an almond-scented financier. (Bellota-Bellota website.)
Bistrot Paul Bert
18 rue Paul Bert, 11th, tel: 01 43 72 24 01, (M: Faidberbe-Chaligny) Although you won’t be the only one in the dining room who’s discovered this gem, it still gets high marks for its sensible wine list and spot-on versions of French bistro food. The famed steak-frites can only be ordered rare, and the desserts rank right up there with the best pâtissieres in Paris. Reasonable three-course menus are scribbled on a blackboard. (Bistrot Paul Bert.)
Bouillon Pigalle & Bouillon Republique
22 Boulevard de Clichy, 18th (M: Pigalle) and 39 rue du Temple, 3rd (M: République) No reservations. This egalitarian “bouillon” (slang for a restaurant serving “food for the masses”) fulfills its promise with classic French fare with prices from yesteryear. Few main courses go over €10 and you can dine on pot-au-feu (boiled beef dinner), slow-cooked lamb and beans, Blanquette de veau, or steak-frites, with a big plate of fries arriving at your table by a sharp waiter in a long black apron. All food is made in-house, including the gigantic Profiterole, ice cream puff, and chocolate éclair. Bouillon Pigalle doesn’t take reservations and can get crowded (expect to wait in line in the evening), but the place is huge; they can seat 300 diners at a time. Lunch starts at noon and the place closes at midnight. (Bouillon Le Site website.)
109 rue Vieille du Temple, 4th, tel: 01 42 72 13 77, (M: St. Paul or St. Sébastian Froissart), 1 rue de l’Odéon, tel: 01 42 49 34 73 (M; Odéon), 5th, and at14 rue des Petits Carreaux (2nd), and other locations. Terrific crêpes and buckwheat galettes, right in the middle of the bustling Marais. Using organic buckwheat and Bordier butter, wash your meal down with sparkling apple cider or lait ribot – Breton buttermilk. I start with an amuse-bouche buckwheat galette, rolled up with seaweed butter. Then end with a buckwheat galette with buckwheat ice cream and buckwheat honey, which is one of my favorite desserts in Paris. The restaurants now offers online reservations via their website. (Breizh Café.)
Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie
19-21 rue des Fossés-Saint-Jacques, tel: 01 44 07 04 41 (M: Métro: Cardinal Lemoine or Place Monge) If you’re looking for a local bistro (or café) that serves very fresh, well-sourced food, in authentic surroundings, at reasonable prices, with a friendly staff, and an approachable (natural) wine list by the glass, this is your restaurant. The place is jammed with locals, especially at lunchtime, who come for the good food and a bit of sunshine. (The restaurant overlooks a nice little patch of green in Paris.) Seafood is always a good choice, as are the roasted or grilled meats. I especially like the housemade sausages which go well with a dollop of mustard, and a cool glass of vin blanc. Another upside: The café is open from 8 am to 12:30 am Monday through Friday. (Café de la Nouvelle Mairie.)
57 rue Saint-Maur, 11th, tel: 01 81 69 67 05, (M: St. Maur) This all-day café features well-sourced, very fresh food, in a casual setting. Cheffe Farah Laacher and her partner Thomas Lehoux (who founded the Belleville Brûlerie, a coffee-roasting company in Paris) feature salads, homemade terrines and pâtés, sandwiches, marinated cheeses, and more on their daily-changing menu. The homemade brioche topped with roasted squash, fresh herbs, and whatever ingredients are in season is a favorite. Because the café also is an épicerie, selling homemade jams, condiments, and even cheese made on the farm of Thomas’ father, you can even grab a few things to go, including a bottle of natural wine, specially selected by Thomas. The restaurant also has one of the best brunches in town, on weekends. (Chanceux.)
5 Rue Prouvaires, 1st, tel: 01 42 36 21 82, (M: Les Halles or Châtelet) For those looking for a taste of “old Paris,” it’s hard to get any closer to the experience than at Chez Denise, also known as La Tour de Montlhéry. Open until 5am (but closed on Saturday and Sunday), you can eat at all hours in the manner of the long-gone marketplace, where butchers and others would pull up for dinner in the early morning hours, enjoying a glass of wine with their steak-frites. Large portions are a feature, as are close tables covered with red-checkered tablecloths, and no-nonsense (but friendly) service. Long-braised French classics are on offer, foie gras, escargots, and casks of house red wine, resting on the bar – which are a good bet by the carafe.
117 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th, tel: 01 45 48 52 40, (M: Duroc or Falguière) Reliably good French bistro food, a genre that is increasingly difficult to find in Paris. Friendly service and enormous portions (some of the dishes are available in half-sizes), the Grand Marnier dessert soufflé is a must, and the duck confit is among the best in Paris. Not a “budget” bistro, but the quality of the food merits the prices. (Chez Dumonet.)
47 rue de Bretagne, 3rd, tel: 01 42 72 36 26, (M: Filles du Calvaire) People are divided on Chez Omar, but the place has a lot going for it. It’s open every day but doesn’t take reservations, so you don’t need to decide to go weeks in advance (although the disorganized line is rather taxing), and you can have North African couscous or a pretty fine steak-frites. Service can be chaotic, and you’ll be surrounded by a big mix of people, from locals to out-of-towners. I stay away from the less-interesting first courses.
13 rue de Charonne, 11th, tel: 01 47 00 34 57, (M: Ledru-Rollin) One of the good, true remaining bistros in Paris that serves well-made French food. I like their giant Côte de Boeuf (for 2) as well as the dandelion salad with crisp bacon and a poached egg on top. Duck confit, steak-frites, and a few seafood selections are offered, as well as entrées like œufs mayonnaise and plates of good charcuterie. The food is rustic, as is the atmosphere, but it’s a popular place with French diners, especially on Sundays when many other places are closed. (Chez Paul website.)
17 rue de la Fontaine, 16th, (M: Jasmin) This tiny, classic French café in what’s not necessarily a “destination” neighborhood will surprise you with fresh foods and excellent cocktails. While Cravan originally served food and bar snacks, it’s evolved to focus on very well-made cocktails, which focus on French ingredients. No reservations. (Cravan Facebook page.)
62 rue de Seine, 6th, tel: 01 40 51 00 09, (M: Mabillon or Odeon) and 7, rue Rouget d l’Île (1st) An agreeable place to sit and have a lunch or dinner, grazing Spanish hams, simple salads, and olives and wines from France, Italy, and Spain. Be sure to pick up a bag of Pimandes and chocolate-covered Sauternes-soaked raisins, too. (Da Rosa website.)
34 rue de Richelieu, 1st, tel: 01 42 60 59 66, (M: Palais-Royal, Pyramides) Excellent contemporary cooking with well-sourced and market-based ingredients appear on their always-changing, small-plate/sharing menu. From the team that created the popular Verjus restaurant, reserve in advance at this popular restaurant. The casual, friendly vibe makes it a great place for lunch or dinner. (Ellsworth website.)
Frenchie Wine Bar
5-6 rue de Nil, 2nd, tel: 01 40 39 96 19, (M: Sentier) The wine bar of the famed (and hard to get into) Frenchie restaurant, the food here is excellent, served in small-plate style, meant to share. It’s very popular with visitors, who line up before the 7pm opening time to snag a seat (no reservations!), and locals, who come later. (Frenchie Wine Bar website.)
5 and 19 rue Lucien Sampaix, 10th, No telephone (M: Jacques Bonsergent) This super-friendly café and restaurant is run by Nico and Sarah, who use the freshest ingredients and locally-roasted coffee beans. The restaurant has grown in popularity and now has two locations. A great place for breakfast or lunch. Breakfasts range from eggs and pancakes, to toast and granola. Lunch spans the globe, although every plate has a French sensibility. Very popular and no reservations are taken, so expect a wait on weekends and during mealtimes. (Holybelly website.)
9 rue Mulhouse, 2nd, (M: Sentier) While you may be scratching your head over a restaurant specializing in Romanian food, in Paris, Ibrik pulls it off brilliantly. Forget heavy sauces and root vegetables, dishes here are a revelation. The smoked pastrama (brined beef that comes in a smoke-filled dome) was a bit on a salty side, but everything else was as close to perfect as one could imagine, including a dish of outstanding (and non-greasy) polenta dumplings filled with fresh cheese and slices of rare duck breast (magret de canard) with honey-roasted kuri squash and orzotto, a barley-based risotto that was so good that I didn’t want to share a forkful of it with my tablemates. (Ibrik website.)
47 rue de Richelieu, 1st, tel: 01 42 97 46 49, (M: Pyramides) This intimate wine bar has been a Paris fixture for decades, and one of the city’s best-kept secrets. The menu changes daily so chef Romain Roudeau can use the freshest ingredients, and dishes include a mix of French classics; terrines, blanquette de veau, braised pork, accompanied by a well-selected wine list, many available by the glass, chosen by Margaux, his wife, who expertly runs the dining room. (Juveniles.)
67 rue Saint-Maur, 11th, (M: Voltaire) This small, personal bar à manger is a wine bar presided over by Camille Fourmont. It’s casual, small, and lively, especially on weekends. The walls are lined with wine bottles, but for drinking by the glass, ask the barperson (or Camille) for recommendations and they’ll steer you in the right direction. Due to licensing laws, you need to order something with your drink. Fortunately it’s not a problem and everything from the famous “giant beans” to the housemade terrine, is terrific. And, of course, goes well with wine. (La Buvette.)
L’As du Fallafel
34 rue des Rosiers, 4th, (M: St. Paul) closed Friday pm and Saturday. Join the crowd clamoring at the window while they prepare your falafel with lightning-fast speed. Certainly a dive, and definitely popular. (I wish they would cook the fries more, though. Who wants soggy frites?) Fallafel fans might want to cross the river and hit Maoz, which makes a worthy (and dare I say better?) adversary with a selection of hot sauces and a help-yourself selection of pickles and salads. Near L’As du Fallafel is Miznon, which has very good sandwiches, using fresh ingredients, and is a pretty authentic Middle East experience.
L’Avant Comptoir de la Mer
3 Carrefour de l’Odeon. 6th, (M: Odeon) If you like seafood, this is the place for you. The seafood outpost of chef Yves Cambeborde’s mini-empire of restaurants (he owns Le Comptoir du Relais, a sit-down restaurant, and L’Avant Comptoir, another stand-up wine bar tucked behind a crêpe stand with terrific food – as well as L’Avant Comptoir de la Marché, a similar wine bar, just a few blocks away), this stand-up place has a few stools and tables, but is a place where Parisians line up at the zinc counter for excellent oysters, raw seafood ceviche, and gently cooked seafood, under various guises. Like his other places, there’s the trademark giant mount of salted butter at the bar, ready to spread, along with an appealing list of wines by the glass and bottle, to wash it all down. Open daily, noon to 11pm. The place draws a crowd in the evening, so I tend to go at lunch.
70 rue Baudricourt, 13th, tel: 01 45 70 91 75, (M: Tolbiac or Maison Blanche) A very good, bustling spot for Vietnamese food. Inexpensive and authentic, expect to find yourself jammed elbow-to-elbow with fellow diners. Closed Monday.
Le Bon Georges
45 rue Saint-Georges, 9th, tel: 01 48 78 40 30, (M: Saint-Georges) The classic bistro has been updated with well-sourced meats and vegetables and this now-popular neighborhood restaurant. Good steak tartare and steak frites are on the blackboard menu (note that they will only cook steaks rare and medium-rare, as they feel that the quality of their meat is too good to cook it any further), but there are good-quality fish dishes. (Le Bon Georges.)
Le Garde Robe
41 rue de l’Arbre Sec, 1st, tel: 01 49 26 90 60, (M: Louvre-Rivoli) This wine bar serves ‘natural’ wines and the friendly staff is happy to help you with suggestions. Although it gets crowded at peak hours, if you snag a table, you can order a board of charcuterie and cheeses to make a nice meal. I haven’t been back in a while, but will update here when I do. (Le Garde Robe.)
Le Grand Bain
14 rue Dénoyez, 20th, tel: 09 83 02 72 02 (M: Belleville) Look to the chalkboard for the daily specials, which change as ingredients come into season. Plenty of tasty small plates meant for sharing to choose from. A good list of natural wines and craft beers ensures a young crowd will be filling the tables. The still-scruffy Belleville neighborhood has welcomed Le Grand Bain, located on a small side street, that features bread from their own bakery just across the street. (Le Grand Bain website.)
Le Petit Vendome
8, rue des Capucines (2nd), Tél: 01 42 61 05 88. Closed weekends. Yes, this is a restaurant, but a majority of the crowd comes here for one thing: Sandwiches. And these aren’t just any sandwiches, they’re arguably the best sandwiches in Paris (CheZadine at 85 rue du Roquette in the 11th, closed weekends, has excellent sandwiches as well). Every weekday locals line up at this old-fashioned restaurant, just steps away from the swanky Place Vendôme, and order freshly-made sandwiches from the blackboard by the counter, which you can’t miss; it’s surrounded by sausages, cheeses, and a big mound of butter for slathering on the sandwiches. The selection changes but you can’t go wrong with a classic jambon-beurre, although none of the other sandwiches has steered me wrong either. Note that sandwiches are take-away only, although you can enjoy them at the counter with a glass of wine. (Le Petit Vendôme.)
Le Relais d’Entrecote
20 rue Saint-Benoît, 6th, tel: 01 45 49 16 00, (M: St. Germain des Pres), and other addresses. This busy restaurant just serves one thing: Entrecôte and French fries. There are no choices except how you want your meat cooked, which is sauced and served tableside. I’ve never had a bad time (or a bad meal) here and the place runs like an efficient clock. House red wine is always a good choice and the dessert lists features picture-perfect versions of some of the French classics. No reservations can mean a wait at busy times. If you don’t mind dining early, arrive for the first seating, which is at 7pm. (Le Relais d’Entrecote website.)
10, rue du Grand-Prieuré, 11th, tel: 01 71 24 58 44, (M: Oberkampf) When French ingredients get handled with a Japanese touch, the result is superb at Le Rigmarole. My meal started with assorted pickled vegetables, obtained from the nearby market, then I was presented with a stunning pile of ribbons of butternut squash tempura. Much of the menu focuses on grilled yakitori-style meats, but I had a lovely oyster that tasted like it just came from the sea, as well as a delicate sea scallop marinated with bits of candied lemon. My take is to go with the chef’s menu, and sit back and see what the chef dreams up. They’re happy to work around food aversions or allergies, but slightly adventurous eaters will be rewarded with delicacies made from overlooked parts of beef and chicken. A wonderful experience. (Le Rigmarole website)
10 rue du Marche Saint-Honoré, 1st, (M: Tuilleries. Authentic Parisian wine bar and a great place for a rustic lunch or simple sandwich at the zinc counter, washed down with a glass (or two) of wine. I like to stop in for a late afternoon for a sip or two, accompanied by a most generous plate of their good charcuterie. (Le Rubis.)
Modern, carefully-crafted French cooking, Le Saint Sébastien, whose menu changes with the seasons. Sparsely decorated, the creativity of the kitchen shines through. We started with delicate skewers of marinated turnips (served like ruffled ribbons on sticks), and I greatly enjoyed my duck with caramelized beets and red Belgian endive. The wine list is particularly excellent, and beers are provided by Deck & Donahue brewery, which are spearheading the French artisan beer movement. (Le Saint-Sébastien website.)
136 rue du Faubourg Poissonière, 9th, tel: 01 42 82 92 01, (Métro Gare du Nord) An unpretentious spot doesn’t seat a lot of people but is brimming with friendliness, charm, and good food and wine. The best ingredients are used here on the menu that changes daily, which may include a fish tartare with horseradish or a house-made terrine with pickles (which is excellent). The chef uses dry-aged beef, and the entrecôte is one of the best in Paris, although many patrons go for the hearty sausage and mashed potatoes (which won Le Fooding’s award for the best saucisse-purée in town) or fresh fish dishes. Choose your wine from a bottle on the wall and pay a supplement to drink it there. The young sommelier will help steer you in the direction of something you’ll like. Les Arlots recently opened a cave à manger (wine bar with food), Billili, just next door, that doesn’t take reservations. (Les Arlots Facebook page.)
16, rue Jean Mermoz, 8th, tel: 01 45 63 65 26, (M: Franklin D. Roosevelt) Extremely competent market-fresh cooking, this standard-looking bistro surprises with well-made dishes. The menu changes daily, for lunch and dinner, with the staff happy to suggest wines by the glass (or bottle) from their terrific wine list.
84 quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, 4th, tel: 01 42 77 63 98, (M: Hôtel de Ville or Pont Marie) This hole-in-the-wall bistro serves well-made French classics without the fuss (or price) of other places. Classic French without any pretense. In season, you’ll find game dishes. Open seven days a week. (Le Trumilou.)
11 Rue Gregoire de Tours, 6th, tel: 01 43 54 60 74, (M: Mabillion or Odéon) This sweet crêperie makes great buckwheat galettes (crêpes), in a neighborhood where reasonable restaurants that use fresh ingredients are hard to come by. I stick with the classic complète with ham, cheese, and a sunny-side-up in the center, then end with a dessert galette, with a scribble of bittersweet chocolate sauce or house-made salted butter caramel. Note that buckwheat crêpes are called “galettes” in French, and if you want your dessert to include a buckwheat crêpe, do like I do, and ask for a galette instead of a standard flour crêpe. (Little Breizh Facebook page.)
19 place des Vosges, 4th, tel: 01 42 78 44 64, (M: Bastille) Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, this is a well-placed spot to sit under the arches of the gorgeous Place des Vosges. Standard French fare (the fixed menu is your best bet), generous salads, and Berthillon ice cream. Some people note that the service can be brusque and the food isn’t all that outstanding. Still, it’s a beautiful place to sit on a nice day and enjoy the scenery. No reservations or credit cards. (Ma Bourgogne website.)
60 rue St-Maur, 11th, (M: Parmentier) and 58 rue de Marguerite de Rochechouart, M: Anvers) 9th. For a true slice of French life (the French are some of the top pizza eaters in the world) Oxymore is a Pizzeria Française offering up pizzas with decidedly French toppings. My favorite is the Pascaline, a spicy pie with fresh tomme (cheese), piment d’Espelette sausage, and pickled chiles. Extra-friendly staff makes dining here fun. Reasonably priced wine is available by the glass, bottle, or carafe and desserts are good, too. I recently had a rosemary panna cotta with honey and almonds that I didn’t want to share. Note: In France, people eat pizza with a knife and fork, and spice-infused oil is always brought to the table to liven up your pie. (Oxymore website.)
3 rue Étienne Marcel, 1st, tel: 09 53 62 89 17, (M: Étienne Marcel) This beautifully restored turn-of-the-century restaurant is notable for the beautiful tile work, but the friendly staff serves cuisine maison (home cooking) using fresh foods, respecting the seasons. A recent lunch started off with their version of œufs mayo (hard-cooked eggs with mayonnaise) followed up by a delicious steak-frites. We also enjoyed tiny quail roasted in white wine with fingerling potatoes. If you’re not craving wine, or one of their very good cocktails, there’s a bounty of fresh vegetables behind the bar, and a juicer, with fresh juices on offer. (Poulette website.)
4 rue de l’Exposition, 7th, tel 01 45 51 88 38, (M: Ecole Militaire) This compact restaurant serves excellent, contemporary Basque food, which may be spiced with pimente d’Espelette, or paired with some of the wonderful charcuterie and cheeses from the region. Everything is well-prepared, and quite filling…so save room for dessert, especially the outstanding Gâteau Basque. (Pottoka)
170 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 10th, tel: 01 40 05 01 01, (M: Gare du Nord) This Indian restaurant is completely vegetarian, making it a good choice for folks avoiding meat, or who want a change from having to be content with a salad at a bistro. The food is very good and the place is spotless. Very casual, no reservations. (Saravanaa Bhavan website.)
80 rue de Charonne, 11th, tel: 01 43 67 38 29, (M: Charonne) By now, everyone has heard about the excellent, vaguely Nordic-inspired cuisine of Bertrand Grébaut and reservations are tough to come by. (Lunch is easier to get into.) Sparkling fresh ingredients presented with imagination, but with the focus on flavor. Excellent food. Note: Septime has a wine bar and seafood bar, Clamato, nearby as well. Neither takes reservations. Clamato is excellent but is crowded at night and weekday lunch is a less hectic time to eat there. (Septime.)
52 rue Richelieu, 1st, tel: 01 42 97 54 40, (M: Bourse, Quartre-Septembre, or Pyramides) Inventive and outstanding cuisine by Braden Perkins that changes daily, and seasonally. Fixed menus feature a range of ingredients, techniques, and cultures, which all come together in multi-course menus that will surprise and delight. There is a casual wine bar downstairs (no reservations) that serves light fare and an intriguing selection of wines by the glass. (Verjus Wine Bar.)
You can find more suggestions and recommendations in my Paris Restaurant archives.
For information and listings of my top places for pastries and chocolates in Paris, you can find a list of those here.
Dining Tips in Paris
In the past few years, Paris restaurants have become considerably more relaxed and casual. A younger generation has swept through and pumped some new vitality into the dining scene, so you won’t find as many stiff waiters as you would have in the past. However, you should still consider dining out in Paris as if you are eating in someone’s home and act like a guest, rather than just a customer. The cooks and servers are there to make sure you have a good time and eat well, and you are there to be an appreciative diner.
If you have food preferences or allergies, let them know when you reserve the table or when you arrive, not when the food is brought to the table. Most places are accommodating although unlike restaurants in the U.S., and elsewhere, restaurants in France don’t have a large staff or keep a variety of foods in the kitchen, so they may not be as nimble as making changes.
Here are some tips and answers to commonly asked questions:
Water and Wine
It’s never required that you order a pricey bottle of water in France and every restaurant and café will give you a carafe d’eau (tap water) upon request if you’re dining. If you’re having a drink at a café, they may not offer a carafe, but it’s typical to have a small glass of water served with coffee if you’re having a café express. The tap water in Paris is of high quality and good to drink. If you want to order a bottle of water, ask for gazeuse (with gas) or plat (flat, without gas). Ice is rarely given as the French believe iced drinks are bad for your health. In a café, you can ask your waiter for extra ice, although they may not have it on hand.
Wine by the carafe is inexpensive in Paris and you should not be embarrassed to order it. The house wine sold by the carafe or glass is usually of drinkable quality, which is why many French people order it. You should never feel pressured to order a bottle. (Don’t worry, the waiter won’t think you’re being cheap. If they were dining out, they’d probably order the same thing!) If it’s a café, you’ll likely see carafes of wine on most of the other tables, rather than bottles. At dinner in restaurants, many diners order bottles but some have carafes. Often restaurants have a blackboard so diners can see what the wine of the moment is, which is usually a good value. If you need wine guidance, ask the server, and if you have a budget, ask them to suggest something in your price range. Note that “natural wines” have become popular in Paris, which sometimes have a pronounced less-finished taste, which isn’t for everyone. So if you order one, it may taste fizzy or more acidic than you’re used to.
If you order two appetizers or a bowl of soup as a main course, the waiter may be taken aback. Don’t take it as an insult; it’s just not done in restaurants. Proper dining in France is taken seriously, but if you’d rather eat lightly, you could eat in a café and have a salad or soup for dinner, along with bread and wine. Wine bars are excellent places to graze on small plates.
Pro tips: Never call a waiter garçon, which means “boy” and would be considered somewhat insulting. The proper word is serveur for a man, or serveuse for a woman. If you want a menu, ask for la carte. Le menu refers to a fixed several course menu that may be on offer.
Meat and Fish
Ordering meat rare, or bleu, means that you will get raw meat, hardly cooked, which is how many French people eat beef. Saignante is rare, à point (to the point) is medium-rare, and bien cuit or semelle (shoe leather) is well-done. If you like your steak well-done, due to the high quality of the beef, some restaurants that specialize in beef may not allow you to order it that way, so don’t be surprised if they refuse to cook it well-done and steer you toward another item on the menu.
Cuts of meat in France don’t correspond to most cuts of meat in America (and elsewhere) due to different methods of butchering. And the varieties of fish available often aren’t available in other countries and are called by their French name, of course. Waiters sometimes know the translation – but not always – so if you’re very concerned about which cut of meat is which (or which fish is which) when you dine out, you may want to get a French Menu Translation Guide.
Salad versus Salade
The French word salade can either refer to a salad (usually a mix of greens and other items, sometimes served on a bed of greens) or just a piece of lettuce, as the French word for lettuce is salade. So a burger being offered with a “salad” may mean you’re just going to get a leaf or two of lettuce. A salade verte is a mixed green salad and while it’s not common to offer or serve a green salad with a meal in a restaurant, the French often serve a green salad at home after a meal with some cheese. One exception is crêperies, which offer the option of ordering a green salad on the side, but don’t automatically expect a café or restaurant to have one on the menu.
Croissants and Pastries
Although it’s tempting just to sit down and dive in, ask before bringing pastries to a café. Many cafés sell croissants at the bar in the morning, and may (or may not) be amenable to bringing your own goodies. So ask nicely if it’s okay before spreading out your treats across a table. Most places understand if you’re from out-of-town. (And if you want to get on their good side right away, offer them a taste!)
Oh-la-la! Everyone wants a buttery croissant in Paris – and why not? Just be sure when you do go to a pastry shop, to ask for a croissant au beurre, which is made with pure butter, rather than a croissant ordinaire, made with margarine. Pure butter croissants are normally long and straight, whereas the ones made with other fats are usually very curved. Note that some bakeries do not actually make their croissants on the premises (mon dieu!) – butter or otherwise; they buy the pre-formed croissants and bake them in their ovens. A very good bakery will make them from scratch. And, of course, those are always worth seeking out.
Lunch and Dinner Hours
Many folks want to dine in non-touristed restaurants, surrounded by “locals.” If you want to eat amongst Parisians, opt for the later seating. Very few Parisians eat dinner before 8 pm and most will reserve a table for later than that, especially on weekends. Some of the more popular restaurants in Paris now have early seatings (at 7 pm) to accommodate those who don’t mind eating earlier, and it’s easier to obtain reservations for the earlier seatings. (But expect to be with other out-of-towners.) If you get seated in what some refer to as the “English section,” don’t be miffed and assume that they are putting you in Siberia. Sometimes restaurants have one waiter who speaks English, so they will group non-French speaking diners there. If you prefer to be seated at a certain table when you go to a restaurant, you can certainly request that one.
Lunch starts in most restaurants at noon or 12:30, and places start filling up at 1 pm. Tip: If you go to a café and just want coffee or a glass of wine, don’t sit at tables set up with silverware and glasses, especially at mealtime or right before. Those tables are for diners.
Don’t assume your waiter is rude just because he or she doesn’t introduce themselves by name and rush over to refill your water after each sip. Unlike American restaurants with large staffs, due to high labor costs, restaurants in Paris often only have one or two people serving an entire dining room with no busboys or hosts. They are busy! When they have to deal with English speakers, or people figuring out menus, that slows down their entire process. Don’t think they’re necessarily impolite but they are doing their best to take care of as many diners as possible. Realize that dining in France is important so relax and enjoy your experience, which may be at a more leisurely pace than you are used to.
As mentioned, you are considered a guest in France when you go to a restaurant, not just a customer. So you should act like you’re in someone’s home, and being demanding or bossy won’t get you very far. If you have a special request, asking nicely and apologizing is your best bet. Special requests and food allergies aren’t as well-known in France and some places aren’t used to adjusting menus for special dietary preferences or serving sauces on the side. (Although it’s certainly not out of line to ask.)
There is a perception the French are rude which is probably because you never come across anyone rude anywhere else. Paris is a hectic city (like most cities) and Parisians are often in a hurry or under stress. The French are more helpful than people give them credit for although, like any city, there are always people that aren’t.
In Paris, it’s imperative to say “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur” when entering a shop or restaurant, and “Merci Madame/Monsieur” when leaving. There is an equally incorrect perception that Americans are impolite since we don’t have a habit of acknowledging salesclerks in shops in the States, as they do in France. When in Paris, think of it as being invited into someone’s home and stepping inside without saying hello. In Paris, always err on the side of being extra polite. (That said, many shopkeepers tell me they like Americans, so keep it up, folks!)
Bread and Butter
Only in fine dining rooms will you be given a bread plate. Normally you place your bread directly on the table in a café or restaurant, not on your plate. Butter is rarely served with bread, but it’s usually okay to ask for it. This may answer your question, “How do the French stay so thin?”
Once you place your order in a restaurant, I advise not making any changes, which disrupts the flow of things. For some reason, once that ticket is submitted to the kitchen, you’re pretty much committed to what you’ve ordered. If you have food allergies or intolerances, make that known when you are ordering and ask the waiter for suggestions.
At least once during your stay, you will order some fish that might require a degree in marine biology to eat, or an unimaginable organ, by mistake. When it happens to me I think of it as an instant French lesson. You will also probably get served a steak that’s not cooked exactly the way you expect it, and fish will be served with the head on and bones in. (Taking them out before cooking dries the fish out, they rightly say.) If something is obviously wrong, for example, you ordered a rare steak and it comes to the table gray inside, or the soup or cheese is ice-cold, you should bring it to the attention of the waiter. In lower-priced restaurants and cafés, you should keep your expectations equally modest, though.
Talking vs. Shouting
It’s so notable that restaurant reviews in the United States now include ‘sound’ ratings to denote the volume in restaurants. Out of respect for other diners, it’s considered polite in France to modulate voices so as not to disturb other diners. An unfortunate change in the Paris dining scene, however, is loud locals, too, especially twenty-somethings. I’ve seen older people shush tables of younger folks who are speaking very loudly.
Except during the morning hours, each time you order café, you will be served a small cup of dark, espresso-like coffee – a café express or café noir. If you want coffee with milk when ordering ask for a café crème, not after they bring it. You may get a funny look if you ask for a café au lait, which is coffee with milk served in a bowl, at home, for breakfast. Café noisette is an espresso with a touch of milk.
Waiters will not automatically bring milk with coffee. If you don’t understand why assume it’s the same reason that McDonald’s in the United States doesn’t serve red wine. If you want milk with your coffee, you need to specify each time to each waiter in each restaurant. There’s no master file on how each visitor to France takes their coffee. (Although come to think of it, with the famous French bureaucracy and staggering paperwork, perhaps they’d be willing to take that on.)
A new wave of coffee places has swept through Paris, offering coffee made with locally roasted beans and prepared with care. Here’s a list of my recommended places for drinking coffee in Paris.
After dining, you’ll need to ask for the check when you want it, called l’addition—it’s considered impolite to give a guest the check before they’ve asked for it. If you’re pressed for time or having trouble getting the server’s attention, in casual places, it’s acceptable to go to the bar to pay. Otherwise, if you want to check, you can also make the international gesture with your raised hands of scribbling something on an imaginary notepad, and they’ll understand.
Tips are always included in the amount shown on the check. In Paris, if the service is good, diners round up the check in restaurants, such as if the check is 19€, it’s normal to leave 1€ or a few euros extra for the pourboire (the tip, which translates to “for something to drink”) if you get very good service – but it’s never required. In general, it’s acceptable and more and more common to leave approximately 5% extra for attentive service. When in doubt, see what others (locals) are leaving.
If I could tell visitors to Paris one thing that’ll improve their dining experience, it’s to relax. Yes, you might get some odd sausage instead of the soup you were expecting, or the steak may be cooked a bit more than you’re used to. (And the tables will be too close together, the service may be pokey, and you’ll have to ask at least twice for water.) But dining in France is not meant to be rushed and you don’t travel to experience things to be like back home, do you? So take advantage of the leisurely service, inexpensive wine, and multiple courses and relax and enjoy yourself.
As of January 1, 2008, all restaurants, bars, and cafés in France are non-smoking. Smoking is allowed only outdoors. Unfortunately, a large number of Parisians smoke so if you go to a café or restaurant and dine outside on a terrace, there will be smokers at nearby tables. If you have an aversion to smoke you might want to eat inside.
Restaurants and cafés are often not well-ventilated, which locals generally prefer. Air-conditioning is still a rarity as well: Even if advertised, don’t expect the full-on blast of cold air you’d get elsewhere. If you are the type of person to get warm in unventilated places, dress in layers so you can remove a sweater or overshirt if a restaurant or café gets too stuffy for you.
A Few Final (and Important) Travel Notes
One favorite travel tip is to scan your passport and store it in a secure place online, such as on a secure cloud service. That way if you lose your passport, you can access a copy in case it’s lost or stolen. A number of passports get lost or stolen each week so it’s a good idea to have that information handy in case yours goes missing.
While Paris is a relatively safe city, there is a certain amount of petty crime. When dining out, avoid putting handbags on seats or in booths next to you (some folks get their wallets lifted by diners who come in, sit down, then abruptly leave), and don’t them unattended on the floor or hanging off the back of your chair. Pickpockets often work on crowded métro cars, taking advantage of being close together to slide their hands in pockets and purses, and I know seasoned travelers who’ve been hit. Keep wallets and valuables close to you, zippered up inside, and if someone gets too close to you and you feel uncomfortable, move away.
ATM or cash machines are also targets. The ruse is when you go to the machine, just as you’re about the press the button for the amount of money you want, someone comes along (often two teenagers working together), and hit the button for the maximum withdrawal, then grab the cash. One will often distract you while the other works the buttons quickly. It happens very fast. Even in areas that you think are safe (like the Marais, where it happened to me), be wary. If you use an outside ATM and there’s no guard, have someone with you to keep watch. Even better, plan to use ATMs when banks are open and go inside to make your withdrawal.
If dining in an unfamiliar area at night, have the restaurant call you a taxi to bring you home, or use a service like Uber. Avoid using your smartphone or other devices on public transit as they sometimes get swiped from users, and when in train stations and other busy places (especially those frequented by tourists), keep a close eye on your personal belongings.
The city of Paris offers additional safety tips. If you are pickpocketed on the métro, you can report it in the métro station.
More of My Tips for Paris Travel:
Helpful websites about Paris, most in English: