There is nothing like eating in Paris, and never has there been a better time to indulge. Often remembered as the birthplace of classical cuisine, Paris has also proven itself an unlikely home base for the world’s most innovative chefs. But for a city with more restaurants than New York and Los Angeles combined, Paris presents a unique challenge to the visiting foodie. How do you get a true taste of Paris in only a few days? I’ve been traveling to Paris for the last 20 years and believe I’ve finally cracked the code. So come along as I lay out exactly when, what, and where to eat in Paris!
If you’re like me, you think eating fabulous food is an essential component of any great vacation. This post is all about tackling Paris’s culinary abundance in a relatively short time frame, but before we dig in, there’s a few things you need to know:
- I’ll be using terms like boulangerie and brasserie in this post. If you aren’t sure what the difference is, go ahead and refer to this Easy Guide to French Food Terms.
- Obviously, this guide does not take into account food restrictions or preferences (other than my own). If you need personal assistance, reach out to me and I will offer a few suggestions. Paris is very accommodating of gluten-free eaters, vegetarians, and those following a Kosher diet.
- There is one fatal flaw in this Paris dining guide. If you are visiting Paris, you probably are doing more than going from one meal to the next, which might make eating at these locations pretty unfeasible. Feel free to use this guide as the backbone for creating your own Paris itinerary, or just pick and choose what works for you. Or, you can reach out to me directly about planning your customized Paris itinerary.
- With the exception of Las Vegas, I rarely spend much time eating (drinking is another story altogether) in the super-touristy parts of town. You’ll find most of my favorites are naturally going to be in the Marais/Bastille/Republique/Canal St. Martin areas because they are my favorite places to spend time in Paris. I have good suggestions for every arrondisement in Paris, but I am only including my favorites in this post.
Okay, so let’s get down to it, shall we?
Can’t Miss Components of Parisian Dining
Obviously, there’s no way you can scratch the surface of the Paris food scene in a year, let alone a week. But if you want to have an idea of what makes eating in Paris so delightful, you will want to savor each of the following (suggestions later in this post):
- Food Sellers: These are your market vendors, boulangeries, fromageries, patisseries, traiteurs, and—of course—chocolateries! These independent tradesmen have no place in our western world of big-box shopping, but they are the backbone of French culture in any part of the country. They are also what I miss most the minute I leave France.
- Classical French: Though the culinary arts continue to evolve, every foodie’s heart should have a soft spot for good, Classic French cuisine. To ignore the abundance of authentic Classical French fare in Paris in favor of only modern selections would be like going to Gruene Hall and asking them to play some of that auto-tuned country-rap stuff. You can appreciate new techniques, but a true artisan can work wonders with only a few basic tools.
- A Blow-Out Dinner: You should treat yourself to at least one big, blow-out meal. You’ve got lots of Michelin stars in this city to choose from—and plenty of fine establishments without the famed acknowledgement.
- Hidden Gems: Look, anyone can figure out that Le Meurice is kind of a big deal and make a reservation for the sake of bragging rights. But allow me this one point on a topic I’m rather passionate about: there is a difference between being a foodie and being a food snob. I believe that dining is a traveler’s secret weapon for digging into a foreign culture. The extent to which you are willing to wander side-streets and visit tiny hole-in-the-stone-wall taverns where nobody speaks English says an awful lot about what kind of experience you hope to have.
- Ethnic Cuisine: Yes, eat French food in Paris. Then eat something else. Paris is the adopted home of immigrants from around the globe—and they’ve brought their culinary heritage with them. You wouldn’t go to New York and only eat steaks and pizza, right?
My best suggestions for where, when, and what to eat in Paris
When to Eat in Paris
Many Parisian restaurants and brasseries prefer that you make reservations, especially for dinner. If you show up at a nice place and don’t have a reservation, be prepared to wait—even if it doesn’t look busy.
Most places serve food on a specific schedule. This usually means 12-2:30 for lunch and 7/7:30-11 for dinner. Some places do not begin serving dinner until 8pm. If you see “service continu” – that means they serve food throughout the day. If you haven’t eaten lunch by 2pm, you might look for this sign. Alternatively, lots of cafes and bistros have a happy hour starting around 4pm. If an establishment is open, they will serve you wine.
For more help on getting a table, click here.
Another important tip is to check the days that your preferred restaurant is open. Most cafés are open daily, but other than that, prepare to see many dining establishments closed 1-2 days a week. In the Marais, quite a few restaurants and businesses close on Saturday due to the high Jewish population in this neighborhood. Elsewhere, MANY places are closed on Sunday and/or Monday, so eating well on these days involves a lot of strategizing.
What + Where to Eat in Paris
Breakfast: Your Daily Bread
This might make me sound like a crazy person, but I will not stay in a Parisian neighborhood if I haven’t already vetted a couple of boulangeries. Don’t get me wrong, there are boulangeries on every single block in Paris, all of which serve far better baguettes than you can find in the States. But here’s my thing: food is your first “in” to the local culture when you travel. For me, this looks like buying my fresh, hot croissant at the same boulangerie every morning…which means that boulangerie better be (1) Amazing (2) Close (3) The same place actual Parisians are buying their bread.
By the way, if you are rigidly sticking to your low-carb diet, Paris is not for you. Bread is life in France, and Parisian bakers have truly perfected it.
For breakfast, I recommend a croissant or pain chocolate (usually fresh at about 7:30 and again around 4-5pm when kids get out of school). This is all you need for breakfast! There isn’t (in my opinion) a good reason to eat a big American-style breakfast in Paris. There are, however, loads of other sweet goodies to be sampled, so may the force be with you.
EXPERT TIP: In need of a quick bite? Stop in at a boulangerie for pain lardon. This delicious bread is filled with cheese and bacon and it is literally one of my (and my daughter’s) favorite things to eat in Paris.
The price of baguette is regulated ~ roughly $1.50 each ~ but don’t expect a boulangerie to take U.S. dollars (or credit cards, for that matter). Baguettes and croissants are made fresh twice per day, so don’t overbuy either. Do butter your baguette–fresh butter is abundant; if your croissant needs butter, you’re in the wrong place.
Every item has a small chalkboard in front of it with the name and the price. Nothing is expensive, so if you can’t figure out the name, just point. Don’t forget to say “s’il vous plaît” and “merci”.
Outstanding Parisian Boulangeries, Markets, & Food Sellers
*Boulangerie: Tout Autour du Pain, 134 Rue de Terrene, 3rd arr. This is—hands down—the best boulangerie I’ve ever visited (and that is quite a long list). Don’t miss: the croissants, bien sur!
*Traiteur: Maison Ramella, 38 rue de Bretagne, 3rd arr. Rumor has it this sweet couple may retire in the next few years. With no one to take over their shop, a light will surely go out in the Marais. Don’t miss: the duck riclettes and pâté de poulet
Elsewhere, look for signs that say “Traiteur”. They are in every neighborhood. Some will designate a heritage such as “Turkish Traiteur” or “Traiteur Allemagne”. Go with it…and don’t expect English to be spoken. Your best bet is to point and use your fingers to designate how many people you’ll be serving.
Specialty Wines: Le Bouquet des Vins, 91 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 3rd arr. Christophe, the owner, is very generous with his wine knowledge and fair in his prices. Don’t miss: his selection of Bourgogne wines that you cannot find in the U.S.
Street Markets: Rue Cler is iconic and should be experienced at least once. I’m personally very fond of Marché de la Bastille on Blvd Richard Lenoir (Thursday & Sunday mornings). Ask for samples of anything that catches your eye. Most vendors here speak at least a little English.
Is Sunday Brunch a Thing in Paris?
Well, yes and no. Goodness knows they’re trying. There are a few good Sunday brunches, but their biggest merit is that so many restaurants are closed on Sundays. The appeal of an American “boozy brunch” is sort of a novelty that is completely lost on French people, for drinking wine at lunch is a daily affair. That combined with the fact that most Europeans simply cannot master the diner breakfast—or, more importantly, fried chicken & waffles—leaves me feeling pretty meh on the whole thing. But if you’re just determined…
Les Enfants Perdus, 9 rue des Récollets, 10th arr. Eat here for brunch. Eat here for lunch. Eat here for dinner. If they are open and you can get a table…eat here.
Mama Shelter (rooftop), 109 rue de Bagnolet, 20th arr. I am wincing as I write this because, I mean, cliché/chain/American. But they have entrusted their kitchen to Guy Savoy, and it doesn’t get much more French than that.
Small Bites + Happy Hour
Though you may be thinking you’ll never go hungry with all the heavy meals in Paris, all that walking can sure work up an appetite. Sidewalk carts are plentiful in Paris, and they happily provide crêpes, churros, and ice cream—each with decadent, warm Nutella—or even savory picks like sandwiches, ramen, and falafel.
Because Parisians tend to eat dinner on the late side, I love to stop in at a bistro or wine bar during happy hour. Not only can you get a great deal on a glass of wine or a craft cocktail, you can probably get your hands on some yummy snacks too! I’ve had everything from oysters to tapas, korean chicken wings to pizza. When all the sightseeing becomes too much, a casual terrace happy hour might just be your favorite part of the day. Here are a few of my faves:
La Cave à Michel, 36 rue Sainte-Marthe, 10th arr. Excellent small plates on the cheap.
Pássarito, 10 rue des Goncourt, 11th arr. Portuguese deliciousness!
Clown Bar, 114 rue Amelot, 11th arr. #1 way to enjoy eating in Paris: don’t ask what’s in the food.
Lunch: The Most Important Meal of the Parisian Day
Across Europe, but especially in Paris, I’ve found that lunch is a much more splendid affair than dinner. For one, I’d rather not have my heaviest meal of the day so close to bedtime. For another, you can enjoy a fabulous, multi-course meal at lunch time less expensively than at dinner (at the same restaurant). Also, if you’ve only had a croissant for breakfast, you are plenty ready (just like the Parisians) for a filling lunch.
Ring that Dinner Bell
Conversely, dinner usually happens one of three ways for me:
- The fancy way: we get dressed up and go to an immaculate restaurant where we linger over wine, starters, heavy salads or a split main, and maybe a dessert. Otherwise, we MUST go easy on lunch!
- The take-out way: after happy hour drinks and snacks, we wander by a local traiteur—a deli-style hole in the wall serving specialty foods of just about any ethnicity you can imagine by weight. Traiteurs make apartment living divine.
- The local way: having had a heavy lunch and an afternoon snack, we venture after dark to the way-out-of-the-way places the natives are eating. Warning: requires lots of walking, humility, getting way outside your comfort zone, and not dressing like an American.
Each of the following make a lovely lunch or dinner option:
Au Petit Sud Ouest, 46 Ave. de la Bourdonnais, 7th arr. A short walk from the Tower, and boy will you need it. After years of eating in Paris, this home to all things duck remains one of my top 3 Paris eats. Note: if your tummy can’t handle the fat, stay out of this particular kitchen. It is a new kind of heavy for the American palate. Don’t miss: The foie gras sampler. And the warm goat cheese salad…which is the only thing you’ll want after the foie gras.
Au Bourgignon du Marais, 52 rue François Miron, 4th arr. There is French food and there is Burgundian food, which may be why Bourgogne natives pledge their allegiance first to Burgundy and second to France. Frankly, cuisine de Bourgogne is some of the best on the planet. This Parisian transplant will fit the bill if you can’t make it down to Dijon or Beaune. Don’t miss: les escargots and boeuf bourgignon (obviously!)
Restaurant Champeaux, Forum des Halles, Porte Rambuteau, 1st arr. Alain Ducasse’s experiment in modern brasseries is a spot I rather enjoy after a few days in town. The swanky restaurant-meets-lounge in the Les Halles shopping area is a fine example of Modern French that’s supremely edible. The environment is urban and expansive—not charming or Parisian—but that also registers a bit refreshing when you’ve done the elbow-to-elbow bistro thing all week. Daily. Don’t miss: the cheese soufflé, raw sea bream, & craft cocktails
Beyond my tips, I strongly suggest you wander into some sidewalk bistros. Your secret to success is entirely dependent on getting off the main drag, so take about four left turns on side streets before settling. The closer you are to an alley, the more authentic the food. Feel free to reach out to me directly for more specific suggestions.
Blow-Out Meals: I suggest leaving these to a dressy dinner, but you can save a lot of cash by dining here at lunch instead (when available). It goes without saying that reservations should be made weeks or even months in advance.
One should appreciate that dining at any of the 616 Michelin-starred restaurants (2017) in Paris is an extraordinary event. Of course, I haven’t eaten at all of them—not by a long shot—and I feel it would be unfair to the chefs to rate this exceptional canon of restaurants as if I had. For many, a meal of this caliber is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so the decision should be a very personal one. I advise you to research with care at viamichelin.com. Diner reviews can be found at lefooding.com, parisbymouth.com, timeout.com and eater.com among many others.
Hidden Gems & Ethnic Cuisine:
I saved my favorite category for last, so thanks for sticking with me. The following are some of the best meals—and experiences—you can have in Paris.
Candlearia, 52 rue de Saintonge, 3rd arr. Not for the faint of heart, this taqueria is both immensely popular and the size of a child’s shoebox. Expect to be greeted in Spanish (if at all) and to lean against a wall and wait your turn for a seat at the bar. The tacos, chalupas, and margaritas are some of the best I’ve ever had, anywhere. That’s saying a lot for this Texas girl. Chips and salsa are completely weird and insanely addictive–you’ve been warned. Go open-minded or don’t go at all.
Note: The door next to the stove leads to a speakeasy bar that couldn’t be more different from the restaurant, but you cannot take drinks from one to the other. The restrooom is located in the speakeasy. Open daily.
Mokonuts, 5 rue Saint-Bernard, 11th arr. Great lunch (and breakfast, if you’re into that sort of thing) café & bakery with a decidedly Lebanese by way of Japan twist. To some, that may sound weird…but to foodies, it’s intrigue. Changing menu based on fresh ingredients. Closed weekends and whenever the owners take a vacay.
Le Petit Blue, 23 rue Muller, 18th arr. This tiny Moroccan eatery in Montmartre epitomizes exactly what I’m referring to when I say “hidden gem” and “ethnic cuisine”. It is perfect and delightfully inexpensive. Don’t miss the couscous and don’t over-order. The servings are ample. You can get your food to-go and watch the sunset from the Sacre-Coeur if the timing is right. Daily 6pm-1am.
The Beast, 27 rue Meslay, 3rd arr. Y’all. A French guy came to Texas and learned to smoke meat from some of our best pitmasters. The rest is history. There are a couple of misses here, but the protein is excellent, the biscuits and desserts formidable, and you won’t find a better selection of bourbon in Paris. Don’t think you can trust a Frenchie with your briskie? Texas Monthly BBQ does. Closed Mondays.
Of course, there’s so much ground left to cover here. We haven’t yet discussed Paris’s emerging food truck scene or the hallowed ground of sweets shops. More fodder for another post!
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Ciao Chow (and chow some more!),
*Special thanks to American ex-pat Jennifer Greco [ http://chezlouloufrance.blogspot.fr ] who generously shared her vast knowledge of specialty food finds in the Marais with me the last time I visited Paris. Jennifer introduced me to a couple of very special places on this list which proved to be utterly mind-blowing, and confirmed my feelings about a few others (which always makes ya feel good!).