Dorothy Parker always said Paris was resigned. She said this while professing her love for New York, calling it a city eternally filled with hope, as opposed to Paris, which seems to have given up on much. Paris is in fact resigned, but it’s built for relaxation, and given the state of the world, I am built for resignation. Both the city and the people who reside here are dedicated to sitting back and taking it easy, having another glass of wine, and should anyone feel peckish; a plate of charcuterie as well.
How New Yorkers have a reputation to be rude, Parisians have a reputation to be… set in their ways. Both stereotypes can ring true, but only under the most specific of circumstances. New Yorkers are kind, but they don’t have time for you to waste asking directions towards numbered streets. Parisians, on the other hand have all the time to waste in the world, but choose to use it sitting in that bistro chair and refusing to move until all the world’s problems have been solved. If you find yourself at the intersection of loving food and conversation, then as those famous words profess:
“Paris is always a good idea.”
When I close my eyes and drift back to Paris, it’s always the same thing I see first. It’s late at night in Montmartre, maybe three or four in the morning, and we’re sitting on the bottom of any number of towering staircases that connect the winding side streets, or sprawled out along the benches in the center of Place Emile-Goudeau, where artists like Modigliani, Matisse and Picasso used to spend their time and find their inspiration. It’s no wonder they made art so creative that it hadn’t previously existed until their moment. I remember late one night, standing over by their old front door and a man I’d just met from Senegal told me, “art is a part of madness.” Those words had a way of relieving free thinkers and the creative types of their ‘sins to society’, and that felt good to me.
These late night gatherings generally included around ten or fifteen people, depending on who walked by. It was like a trip back in time because while we knew some names here and there, we never knew phone numbers or made a plan. It all started one night, we were walking home and we happened upon the sounds of an acoustic guitar, which you may know, is my favorite. I can’t resist the soulful sounds of Spanish guitar late at night, in fact it’s something worth living for.
So, these late nights continued, for as long as I was in Paris, every couple of weeks we’d show up with some wine, and people would be there. Some we’ve seen before, some we’ve never met, and we’d talk and some would sing and I would always dance until the sun came up and it was time to go home. I’ve never felt so free or so far away from everything. These moments were without planning, without technology, without formality or obligation, and those were my favorite memories in Paris, and perhaps even in my life. I like to imagine that that’s how Paris used to be, so relaxed and simple and filled with idle chatter and simple music.
So if you’re headed to Paris, don’t forget to do nothing sometimes. Don’t fill your schedule so much that you forget that this is a city which, unlike New York, the streets are not there for simply heading to your next destination. The City of Lights really comes alive after dark, and the nothingness of it all is quite poetic. Especially when the streets are quiet and the buildings feel extra old, wine feels extra good and the sound of music fills your soul and frees your mind. You never know who or what you’ll find.
Oh, hey there, thanks for taking that trip down memory lane with me. I haven’t forgotten that you’ve come here for restaurant recommendations. You’ve come to the right place, because I spent two years eating my way through Paris, so I’ve got a great list of affordable favorites here for you. Another difference between Paris and a city like New York, is that the tourist traps are sprinkled throughout the city, like cookie dough in your ice cream, except worse. It’s not like Times Square, which you can just avoid entirely. So it’s good to have an idea of where you want to eat, especially if you don’t speak French or know the cuisine particularly well. If there’s an English menu, you probably don’t want to eat there.
The best thing about food in Paris is the quality, which is a known standard as opposed to a luxury for which to charge a premium. It’s possible to eat an amazing meal here and not spend a fortune. There is also no tipping, and wine is about three or four dollars a glass as opposed to twelve or fourteen, so don’t assume a glitzy city like Paris is going to be expensive, because it simply isn’t. The euro is also very affordable right now, and other cities in Europe are even cheaper than Paris (I feel compelled to note), so now is definitely the time to plan that European getaway, and you might be in a better position to do that than you think.
Please enjoy this list, and feel free to leave a comment or question. I’ll be here in the mean time, planning my move back to Europe. Now for the food!
“C’est la classe!” – Upscale Parisian bars + restaurants that won’t break the bank.
Frenchie Wine Bar – Head to Frenchie, and you’ll hear as much English as you will French, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of my favorite meals in Paris. I would argue that Chef/Owner Gregory Marchand is one of the most skilled modern chefs in the city, and his wine bar provides accessible fine dining, with amazing flavor, at a reasonable price. It’s great for anything from a group dinner to a romantic date. He’s got a more formal dining room across the street, but I’ve always liked the feel of the Wine Bar. Favorite dishes include foie gras royale, and their burrata, though their menu changes frequently. Dishes are always exquisitely, beautifully prepared.
Lunch at Semilla – Excluding the uber-stiff Michelin starred restaurants of old Paris, Semilla is the best restaurant in town for anyone looking for a more modern experience. The space is gorgeous, but it’s the food that is truly stellar. If you go at dinner, be prepared to drop a few bucks, but head there for lunch, and you can get the multi-course prix fixe, which changes daily and always offers a meat, a fish, and a vegetable. The cost is 24 euros, and you’re sure to leave satisfied, even enthralled. Last time I was there, I had a lamb served with celery root puree, cracked black pepper and fennel seed, along with a mushroom soup that I can still taste.
FRENCHIE WINE BAR
Les Justes Cocktail Bar – If you’re looking for a great cocktail here in the city, Les Justes is your spot. Paris’ craft cocktail scene has seriously paled in comparison to New York City’s, but Pigalle’s LJ is here to fix that. The cocktails are fresh, yet utilize outside the box ingredients like burnt rosemary, artichoke, maple syrup, and even tobasco. They are ten bucks, but they’re strong, and they’re good. Head here on Wednesdays, and you can take advantage of the free apertivo they spread out all along the bar, filled with meats, cheeses, interesting breads, salads, and more. Grab a cocktail or two, then head nextdoor directly to the right to the bar with the blue-velvet interior to share some wine and save a few bucks. I love it there too.
Lulu White – Total cocktail nerds, pay attention. While perhaps a little outside the range of ‘accessible,’ Lulu White is a craft cocktail bar that takes their drinks to the next level. You won’t find any mojitos here, but what you will find is highly skilled, and very friendly bartenders that are creating nothing short of artwork in a vintage glass, and they’re happy to talk it over with you while they’re at it, in French or in English. Head to this Pigalle spot on the right day of the week, and you can catch live jazz and even Jumbalaya. As an American in Paris, it was hard not to feel at home here.
Lone Palm Cocktail Bar – Lone Palm is the every man (or woman)’s cocktail bar. Like a scene out of Pulp Fiction or Miami Vice, Lone Palm has a retro, california tiki vibe, and they’re drinks are incredible. Located next to Bastille, it’s in prime going-out territory, and a great way to start or end the night. Like Les Justes, cocktails are a little more expensive, but I’d rather pay 10 euros for this exquisite, strong, quality cocktail than 8 euros for the next sugary mojito on the block.
Moonshiner – Find a pizzeria on a tiny Bastille side street, find the walk-in fridge, walk through there and out the other end, and you’ll be at Moonshiner, Paris’ ‘speakeasy.’ The only thing is, everyone knows about it. Moonshiner is another cocktail bar that has excellent cocktails, but it does get crowded. I hardly mind because the old-time gramophone music just warms my heart. Well, maybe it’s the tequila. Either way, you’re sure to see a ton of friendly locals and visitors. If you’re a smoker, there’s a smoking room so you don’t have to walk outside; the true mark of a real Parisian bar. By the way, the pizza outside is alright. If you’re hungry, it’ll do the trick.
There’s no bar like a dive bar
Les Caves Populaires – I have a special affection for this bar because it was my local watering hole for two years, and I love it. To call it cheap is an understatement, but be prepared to drink beer or wine only. Bottles of their house wine are 11 euros, and you can buy by the glass or carafe for just a couple bucks. The interior is your average roughed-up dive, but the music is always good and the service is friendly. They have good charcuterie and cheese platters too, and it’s the perfect place to waste the night away with friends. The street it’s on, Rue des Dames, is worth exploring too, it’s one of my favorites in Paris. You can also head here for coffee (or a drink) and to work on your computer during the day.
La Bascule – Finding a good place to grab a drink in Montmartre can be tricky at times. La Bascule has never, ever failed me. Whether you’re hungry for a meal, a couple appetizers, or just to have some drinks, this bar is always here for you. Their happy hour has food, beer and wine deals, otherwise a glass of wine will run you about four bucks. The food is good, I particularly like the appetizers and their selection of charcuterie, however I always see people indulging in the burgers there as well. The service is very friendly and the ambiance is nice, a good crowd collects there as well, and it’s right near many other places to drink, including my beloved late-night piazza I mentioned above.
Prohibido – To say anything besides ‘satisfying neighborhood dive’ would be an overstatement, but sometimes that’s all you need. I like to go to Prohibido when I’m feeling extra local and I just want to drink. I like the people that gather there, and the drinks are good. Don’t choose anything more complicated than beer, wine, or a vodka soda. You can find Paris’ all-time favorite cocktail, the mojito, there as well. Another popular drink in Paris, which I haven’t seen people drink here in New York, is the vodka pomme, which is vodka and apple juice, and it’s really good.
LES CAVES POPULAIRES
note: yelp says it’s closed, but it’s not | 5-8€ for a drink | google maps
Grab happy hour mojitos at Yono Bar in the Marais
Le Marais is definitely one of the priciest areas of Paris, but if you are in need of a drink after getting your fill of shopping or art, you can find a quality happy-hour mojito in Yono Bar for five bucks. Typically, mojitos are so sugary and sweet, but here they’re really good, and made exclusively with Cafe Havana rum.
Do it like the locals, and head to the markets
It’s slightly harder to do in the winter of course, but the main method for seeing Paris on a budget is to hit the markets and have an apero as frequently as possible. Chain grocery stores such as Carrefour and Franprix sell everything you need for a picnic, including wine. You can even head to the local bakery, butcher shop, and cheese shop and get all the fillings for a sandwich, and you can find fresh fruit in the street markets or the primeurs, and it will be less expensive than in the grocery stores. Just note that most butcher shops are Muslim, so don’t sell pork products, and therefore charcuterie. You can get that at a French boucherie, or in the grocery stores. As soon as, and for as long as weather permits, you’ll see Parisian locals posted up along the Seine and the Canal Saint-Martin, on the park in front of Sacre Coeur or the Louvre Garden, or on the sloping Parc Butte Chaumont. If you want to spend five dollars for an evening of food and drink, this is how to do it.
Don’t forget about Paris’ day markets either; my favorites are Marché des Enfants Rouges, Marché Bastille, Marché Mouffetard, and Marcheé Montorgueil. Here’s a Time Out Paris breakdown of each of them and their dates / times.
Le Burger Fermier – Speaking of Le Marché des Enfants Rouges, I need to discuss the burger situation here in Paris with you. Burgers are something of an icon there, suspiciously popular. I would say that 80% of Parisians get burgers whenever they’re listed on the menu. Why? I don’t know, but think about this: France is known for excellent beef, excellent cheese, and excellent bread. So it sort of makes sense that the burgers here would be out of this world. My favorite place to get one is tucked in the back of this tiny market, at a stand called Le Burger Fermier. It’s my favorite burger I’ve had, and the fries are also just downright delicious. If you’re not sure what cantal cheese is by the way, now would be your time to find out.
Ferdi – I have to tell you, that I’ve never eaten here, because I’ve never been able to get a walk-in or a reservation. It is possible if your dates are flexible, I’ve just only tried with large groups on a Friday night. Apparently, this is the best burger of peoples’ lives. Everyone who I talk to about this agrees, and it’s not uncommon to see Kim and Kanye, or any other number of celebrities dining there as well. Not that I care, but I assume Kanye can eat whatever burger he likes, so if he’s choosing this one, it must be something special.
LE BURGER FERMIER, MARCHÉ DES ENFANTS ROUGES
Feeling French? Parisians love their charcuterie and cheese, tartare, and lots of wine
Le Puces des Batignolles – Les Puces des Batignolles is another neighborhood favorite. It was just near to here that I was living in Paris. But besides the fact that it was it was close to chez moi, I loved it because the food was so good, and the service was friendly, and I liked the ambiance. In the winter, they hang Christmas lights all around and it’s so wonderfully cozy in there, something that many restaurants in Paris lack with their bright lights and lack of decor or music. The salads here are incredibly fresh and hearty, and I say that as “not a salad person.” The burger and the tartare are also favorites, and the charcuterie and cheese platters are quite beautiful. They have cheap house wines and an extensive list of wines by the bottle as well. Overall, if you’re looking for a solid French meal to accomodate anything from a casual group lunch or dinner with friends or parents, to a romantic date, this is a place you can trust. There are two across the street from one another, but I prefer the smaller one, closer to Avenue de Clichy as opposed to Batignolles.
Lunch at Ma Cocotte – You simply can’t leave Paris without exploring the Saint-Ouen flea market just north of the peripherique. The otherwise quaint, yet rundown (and also fairly criminal) town of Saint Ouen houses one of the largest flea markets in Paris, and it’s gorgeous. There you’ll find everything from antique furniture, jewelry and art to exceptionally crafted illegal Nike sneaker copies, to fun clothing if you’re the young, hip type. Just watch your wallet, and if you’ve reached the area of the market where diamonds have disappeared and it’s makeshift stands of people selling half an old fax machine and a single shoe, turn around immediately. Back in the nice end of the sprawling market, you’ll find an upscale restaurant called Ma Cocotte. Similar to Semilla (mentioned above), it’s expensive to go to dinner but they offer an incredibly well-priced prix fixe lunch menu that may be the best lunch in Paris. While I enjoyed my main course at Semilla better, this is in a beautiful environment, including a garden, and the courses are much larger and the wine is much better. Their house Bordeaux was 5€ for a glass, and was probably the best glass of wine I’ve been served outside of Bordeaux. Whatever you order, ask for some mayonnaise, because they make it in house and it’s truly phenominal. If you have the option to order ouefs en cocotte au champignon for your appetizer, you won’t be disappointed. I really loved this place and recommend it highly.
LES PUCES DES BATIGNOLLES
MA COCOTTE, SAINT-OUEN FLEA MARKET
La Peniche Antipode – This run-down, grungy little boat holds a special place in my heart. This was one of the first meals I had in Paris, when I didn’t know the city at all, or speak any French. It’s a docked barge on the Canal Saint-Martin, and besides being a really fun restaurant perched on top of a boat, and a great place to hang out with friends and waste the night away, it’s also a great place to get a delicious meal on the cheap. The raclette for one (seen above), is 10€, and easily feeds two people. Double-size cocktails are 9 euros, beers are five, wine is between two and five, with bottles as cheap as 15€. Many appetizers are also five bucks. The boat is divey, and may be slowly sinking, but I’ve never had a bad meal or time here. Cash only I think.
La Refuge de Fondu – Oh, where do I begin. The service is brusque, actually the guy terrifies me. But for 22€, you can have a full fondu fiesta (meat and broth and potatoes, bread and cheese, plus a large baby bottle filled with red or white wine, plus an appetizer platter, plus an aperitif. Additional baby bottles of wine are 3€50. They serve the wine in baby bottles because it allows them to avoid a bottle tax, but I love to squeeze into that place and pig out on as much melted cheese and red wine as my stomach can handle. This restaurant is like a hug for your soul. Afterwards, you can cross the street and continue your local dive experience at a bar called L’Arsouille, where you’ll find French language and music in abundance, and shots for days. Man, I would actually go here right now if I could.
LA PENICHE ANTIPODE
LA REFUGE DE FONDU
Travel the World without leaving Paris
El Nopal – El Nopal saved me, that’s the only way to put it. As an American, I have a full-blown addiction to Mexican food, and without El Nopal, I would have had to return to the States after 20 minutes, or as long as I could make it without Googling the words carne asada. El Nopal has two locations, one in Pigalle, and one along the Canal Saint Martin, and both are good. Both are good good, not just Mexican food in Paris good, but I would eat here in Brooklyn good. Enjoy. And you’re welcome.
EL NOPAL TAQUERIA
Paris is something of a Mecca for Vietnamese cuisine. A large Asian population and two Chinatowns here in the city mean that Asian food has spread like Cersei Lannister’s wildfire, but you know, in a good way. With Mexican cuisine noticeably absent (except for my saving grace above), phô became the go-to quick bite, and damn is it delicious. From traditional phô right in the heart of Chinatown, to a six-euro, eccentric version served in an dark, old book and newspaper-filled room run by an equally eccentric old Vietnamese philosophy professor (Drapeau de Fidelite), you’re sure to find something you’ll love. Here are my favorite places for phô in the city, but honestly, there’s one on every corner, and they’re a great cost-conscious alternative to yet another French meal.
PHÔ BAHN ÇUON 14
10€ for a meal, the pork bobun is also very good | google maps
DRAPEAU DE FIDELITE
6€, 5€ for students, beer 1€50 | google maps
Trois Fois Plus de Piment – Besides Vietnamese, there’s a ton of other Asian cuisine to love. My favorite place to go in all of Paris is Trois Fois Plus de Piment, a Szechuan spicy noodle house which is so good, it hurts to write about it from 3,500 miles away. My favorite are the dan dan noodles, and you can choose what level of spiciness you want for everything. It’s simply a really nice restaurant with a nice ambiance and great food and cold beer. PLEASE order the pork dumpling appetizer (ravioli sichuanese). Expect a 15-30 minute wait. Don’t go to their sister restaurant, Deux Fois, the food is different and it is not good.
Nalas Appakaadai – This is simply the best Indian food in Paris. Walk down the La Chapelle neighborhood, and you’ll feel like you’ve left France completely. The area is flooded with restaurants from India and Sri Lanka, but this one is the best. It’s also very, very affordable. Service can be slow on a Friday or Saturday night, but any other night or lunch is a good time to go. I love the butter chicken, the palak paneer, and the beef samosas. My only complaint is that they don’t take my request for spiciness seriously, my guess is because I am a small, blonde human.
A Hot Pot Restaurant – This is another favorite. Have you had hot pot before? I hadn’t, and now I’m addicted. It’s so fun and so delicious and such a great place to spend an evening with friends. It’s 21€ per person, and it’s all you can eat. They have so many ingredients to choose from and a huge sauce and condiment bar. Rosé is also very cheap there. I went here for my birthday dinner (in an August heatwave), and recommend it to everybody.
TROIS FOIS PLUS DE PIMENT
A HOT POT RESTAURANT
yelp, with maps | 21€ +
And by the way, sushi is all you can eat
Most sushi restaurants in Paris are all you can eat. Do some research to find one in your area that has good ratings. Average price is 11€ for lunch and 17€ for nights and weekends. Honestly, ordering sushi back stateside has been hard for me, because I’m used to eating pounds of fish and yakitori every time I go. Below is my neighborhood favorite that was close to my house.
11€ lunch, 17€ nights and Sundays | google maps
La Méditerranée à Paris
Casa Pepe – France shares a border with Spain, and because of the Basque and Catalan regions, the two are closely entwined. It would be foolish to leave Paris without taking in some Spanish culture as well. Casa Pepe, located in a wonderful area worth exploring for an afternoon, is a really fun Spanish restaurant with gambas, paella, live music and dancing. It’s affordable, and the food is good, though not amazing. You head here for the ambiance, which is a relaxed, festive party not unlike something you’d see at home, and it goes late into the night.
The Paella Stand in Bastille Market – Located towards the southern end of the Bastille market is a paella stand, I think it’s called Bill’s or Bob’s or Pierre’s. Alright, I don’t know what it’s called, but you’ll surely recognize it. The food there is really good. Don’t leave Bastille market without trying some.
Bodega Poxtolo – This is an uber-local Basque region food where you can head for a nice dinner of seafood, chorizo flambee and sangria. If you come on the right night, there’s some live music in the form of one very old, very intoxicated man who will not hesitate to fall in love with you, and then serenade you right in front of the rest of your party. The service there is great, we love the man who owns it, and it’s just a great escape. It’s also located in a great area for going out afterwards.
PAELLA STAND, BASTILLE MARKET
very cheap, per kilo | google maps
L’As du Falafel – Working our way east, you’ll find perhaps the most popular street food stall in Paris, and with good reason. Actually, you can sit or take food to go. That line down the block? It moves fast, expect to wait about 30 minutes. It’s very, very worth it. Falafel is ruined for me now, because none compare. Everything is really good, but you must try the falafel if it’s your first time there. It’s filled with roasted eggplants, delicious housemade sauces, and the falafels themselves are really good. Also, they sell Israeli beer there, which I liked a lot!
Casa Frascati – If you’re on the east side of Paris, Casa Frascati is the most perfect little Italian market. Their sandwiches are about six or eight bucks, and they’re very, very good. I like the chorizo and mascarpone on a baguette.
Pizza at Caldo Freddo – Pizza in Paris is not good, I’m just going to tell you that now. Luckily, there’s an exception. Also luckily, Caldo Freddo is situated right in Chatalet, which is tourist-trap central, so it’s nice to know this exists. The truffle pizza, prosciutto and arugula, and grilled vegetable pizzas are my favorite. We always sneak in deli beers and eat upstairs. I’m not sure how legal that is.
L’AS DU FALAFEL
PIZZA AT CALDO FREDDO
Brunch away a Cozy Sunday Morning
Something about Paris just seems like it’s made for brunch. Coffee houses here are cookie cut-outs of coffee shops in Brooklyn, so you probably know what to expect. Here are some favorite places for brunch:
some final notes…
Rue Mouffetard and the Latin Quarters are my favorite area to stay and hang out, in addition to Montmartre. Do not tip in Paris, Uber is cheaper than cabs, do not go in August (you will be the only person in the city), skip the Eifel Tower, and head to the top of Sacre Coeur instead. Lastly, if you’re in the market for macaroons, Pierre Herme is much better than Ladurée.
I hope you enjoyed this Paris city guide. My goal is to continue these projects as I travel in the future as well. Please let me know what you thought. Xo. Have you been to Paris already? Drop a comment if you’ve got another favorite worth a visit (or five)!