À L'Épi d'Or
Just steps away from the imposing Bourse de Commerce, À L'Épi d'Or sits nestled away among the bustling streets—you might miss it if you’re not looking for it. But behind the weathered doors, you’re transported into what feels like 1920s Paris, with dark wooden tables, eclectic and unassuming decor and soft, cinematic lighting. It’s the type of place you can’t help but wonder what notable names have dined at these tables. Expect unpretentious but delicious classic French bistro cuisine. A perfect spot for lunch after a busy morning among the hustle and bustle of Paris; you’ll feel like a local here.
The two narrow dining rooms at this old-fashioned bistro in St.-Germain des Près look like a Robert Doisneau photograph of prewar Paris. The menu follows suit, with heaping portions of delicious, unapologetically cholesterol-rich Gallic grub.
At this beloved institution, generations of families have come for sweets and countless grandmothers have tested their descendants’ table manners in its dining room (which was completely overhauled in 2009 and has rediscovered its former grandeur). It’s Paris’ most famous tea salon and a great place for a light lunch or indulgent snack; some consider it to have the best hot chocolate in the world. There are three additional outposts:
For a casual bite after a morning of shopping at Le Bon Marché, and some of the best people-watching in Paris, make your way to Au Sauvignon, an unassuming brasserie just off Rue de Sèvres. The wine bar, which has been owned and operated by the same family since 1954 (full disclosure: this writer has been paying an annual visit for the last 25 years), serves simple Poilâne open-faced sandwiches with regional cheeses, saucisson d’Auvergne, goose rillettes and other artery-clogging delights. Topping out at about 15 options, the excellent wine list is short and to-the-point — much like the service, which can be a tad austere (but don’t take it personally). The decor stems back to the 1950s with an original zinc bar, antique ceramic tiles and faded postcards sent from friends abroad; as a whole, the experience utterly charming and authentic, which is why you’ll find yourself squeezed in among a primarily local crowd. Order up a tartine and a crisp glass of Quincy, sit back on the covered terrace and watch the beau monde stroll by.
Alain Ducasse took over this century-old Art Nouveau bistro near the old Bourse (stock market) in 2002 and shrewdly updated the menu, which runs to modernized versions of traditional Lyonnaise dishes. Try the brochet aux écrevisses (airy pike perch dumplings in crayfish sauce), frogs’ legs and Grand Marnier soufflé. Great value prix-fixe lunch. Closed Monday, Tuesday and Sunday dinner.
Alain Ducasse deserves the gratitude of all bistro lovers not only for saving one of the most-loved bistros in Paris—Benoit, founded in 1912—but for making it even better. Don’t miss such hard-to-find cuisine bourgeoise classics as langue Lucullus (layered mousse of foie gras and smoked tongue) and sole à la Dieppoise in a velvety sauce made with fish fumet, butter, mussels and tiny gray shrimp from the North Sea. Best of all, it's open daily.
The fabled Parisian ice cream shop still lives up to its reputation for making the city’s most delicious sweet treats. The flavorful ice cream (and sorbet), ranging from classics like pistachio to more adventurous concoctions, like licorice and salted caramel, is sold at other venues on the Ile St.-Louis and around town, but it’s worth making the pilgrimage to the original branch.
With its zinc bar, heated terrace, exposed brick walls and cozy leather booths, Le Valois is a great place to relax and refuel after a morning spent touring the Louvre or shopping along Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. The menu emphasizes hearty traditional French fare like house-made terrine, andouillette sausage, boeuf Bourguignon, and plenty of foie gras.
Café de Flore
Café de Flore is a terrific spot for a coffee or a Cognac after dinner, because despite its popularity with tourists, this historic St.-Germain café still attracts an intriguing crowd of locals, including French celebrities. Open daily.
This brasserie and bar, conceived by Alain Ducasse and Parisian restaurateur Olivier Maurey, opened its doors in Spring 2016 as part of the new Les Halles Food Market. The vision was “a brasserie for the 21st century” that would revitalize its historic neighborhood, and the restaurant has achieved exactly that. Designed by groovy-cool firm Ciguë, with an elegant open space and sleek, industrial design, the dining room evokes the grandeur of an old-fashioned railway station. Large bay windows, white marble surfaces and exposed-beam ceilings give way to the restaurant’s centerpiece, an old-fashioned ticker-board that announces daily specials—additions both to the menu and wine list. Despite its minimalist design, however, the all-day eatery maintains the spirit of a 1920’s Parisian brasserie, with a cozy, buzzing atmosphere that is effortlessly chic.
The menu, complete with signature soufflés and other French staples, adds an innovative twist to classic bistro fare. Chef Bruno Brangeo (formally of Alain Ducasse’s École de Cuisine) marries brasserie favorites with new flavors and lighter ingredients, creating mouthwatering dishes such as salmon with passion fruit and duck parmentier.
Chez Fernand Rue Guisarde
At Chez Georges, you’ll find everything you would expect at a traditional Parisian bistro: the menus are printed on a single oversized page, the floors are adorned by mosaics and large mirrors decorate the walls (plus, the place is shuttered for all of August). Opened in 1964 in this location near Paris’ stock exchange, Chez Georges serves unapologetic rich French cuisine. At lunchtime, the restaurant is packed with locals who work in the area; at dinner, the second arrondissement location assures a more quiet vibe. It’s a great place for an early dinner before catching a performance at the Opéra Garnier; Chez Georges is about a fifteen-minute walk from the 19th-century marvel. Closed Saturday and Sunday.
Located on a quiet street in the Marais, this casual Provençal corner bistro is popular with both travelers and locals. The menu is full of classic Provençal dishes (think moules gratinées and ratatouille) and a chalkboard denoting the day’s specials is propped on each table. There can be a long wait, so it is best to go on the earlier side. During Fashion Week, this is a popular hangout for runway models and fashion world dignitaries.
Chez L’Ami Louis
With only twelve tables, this small restaurant has a reputation that precedes it. People either love it or hate it: prices are outrageous, portions are huge and the waiters are old-fashioned French (read rude). However, it regularly delivers with excellent food and a wine list that spoils diners. On a recent visit, the duck confit was perfect, as were the escargots. I have never tasted such succulent chicken nor seen a larger Chateaubriand. For those looking for an authentically—and unforgettable—Parisian culinary experience, dinner at L’Ami Louis is a must.
Fleur de Pavé
The legendary oak-paneled bar at the Ritz Paris is named after Ernest Hemingway, but it was also a favorite haunt of F. Scott Fitzgerald (who published “A Diamond as big as the Ritz” in 1922). The hotel reopened after a lengthy renovation in 2016, but the iconic bar remains virtually unchanged from how it was when it opened in 1987. Tip: The no-reservations bar can be hard to get into. Arrive right when the doors open at 6:00 p.m. for the best chance of securing one of the tiny bar's highly coveted seats.
Though the atmosphere is a bit rough-and-tumble, brave it for the marvelous southwestern-French cooking of chef Stéphane Jego. Jego worked for ten years with Yves Camdeborde at La Régalade, and the master’s touch shows in dishes like baby scallops in their shells with tiny croutons and flat parsley, sautéed baby squid served with white beans from Tarbes, and axoa, a Basque veal stew. For dessert, the rice pudding is legendary. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Though Paris first-timers won’t find the trek to this upscale residential neighborhood worthwhile, repeat visitors must add L’Assiette to their dining list. The far-flung restaurant in Montparnasse is helmed by chef David Rathgeber and serves the kind of cuisine you wish was more prevalent throughout the city (and France as a whole) — rustic classics executed with uncharacteristic finesse and fresh ingredients. A recent visit revealed a refreshing blue-prawn tartare, expertly prepared escargots dusted with toasted bread crumbs, and a reinvented house cassoulet, the restaurant’s pièce de résistance. For dessert, try the crème caramel with salted butter, served in a warm pot and sinfully delicious — especially when paired with one of L’Assiette’s terroir-driven dessert wines (poured out of a vial, natch).
La Bourse et La Vie
This upscale bistro—featuring a brocante décor that mixes 19th-century mirrors with 1960s-style globe light fixtures—was taken over by French-trained American chef Daniel Rose (of Spring) in the fall of 2015. Complementing the dining room’s classic charm, Rose’s menu features French staples like pot-au-feu and oysters gratinée. Though the ambiance and cuisine are about as authentic as you’ll find in any Paris bistro these days, don’t expect stereotypically rude waiters here. Rose’s American-style hospitality translates to service with a smile.
La Fontaine de Mars
This old-time St. Germain bistro, on a quiet corner of the Rue de Seine, still draws a wonderful mix of locals and visitors for lunch or afternoon coffee, which is when you should go. The menu is simple but well prepared, with croque Monsieur and Madame sandwiches, large green salads, quiches and heaping plates of charcuterie and cheeses. The waiters are amusingly disgruntled, the diners expectedly stylish (the neighborhood is full of galleries and chic boutiques, so many owners come here for a quick bite), and in the warm months, sitting on the terrace and watching the La Palette scene unfold makes you feel like you are in a movie about Paris.
La Poule Au Pot
This classic tea salon—the original on the Rue Royale opened in 1862—has expanded with newer outposts around the world, but even if this branch is a bit faded, I find something particularly appealing about its original spot. Their macaroons, which have crunchy outer disks and meltingly soft interiors, are known as among the best around the world, but they also serve very good omelets and frites.
Le Bistrot Paul Bert
It’s a bit off the beaten track, in a quiet corner of the 11th arrondissement, yet this bistro gets rave reviews from Parisian food critics. The wine list at this winning little place, decorated with found-at-the-flea-market bric-à-brac, is outstanding. The chalkboard menu changes daily but features such dishes as a first-rate steak with homemade frites, veal sweetbreads and open rhubarb tart. One of those unapologetically, richly caloric French bistros that are—sadly—becoming harder and harder to find in Paris. Closed Sunday and Monday.