From the bistro terraces to the ubiquitous boulangeries, Parisian life is quite literally arranged around food. Eating out is more than mere nutrition, it’s a daily opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of great food and drink, and the wonderful products that French terroir has to offer. Those looking for traditional French fare will find plenty of options, from glitzy Michelin-starred restaurants set in grand hotels, to hearty local bistros serving up all the classics. But it’s also an increasingly diverse restaurant scene, offering more light and even vegetarian options and cuisine from other cultures.
Below our expert gives the low-down on the finest Paris restaurants, while for further inspiration, see our guides to the city's best hotels, bars, nightlife, attractions, free things to do and shopping, plus how to spend a weekend in Paris.
Champs Elysées and the Golden Triangle
If you choose to indulge in a meal at this three-Michelin-starred restaurant located in the elegant garden-facing dining hall of Le Bristol hotel, it is best not to think of it as a ‘meal’ as such, because if you do, the 400-euro price tag per head will seem frankly absurd. However, if you choose to think of it as a culinary experience to remember, almost a whole holiday in itself, then you are unlikely to be disappointed. The seasonal French menu comes from Légion d'honneur-decorated chef Eric Frechon and features elaborate dishes such as stuffed macaroni with black truffle and young pigeon with orange honey and caramelised onion. Wine pairings are available. Across the lobby you’ll find the less formal Le 114 Faubourg, which nonetheless has its own Michelin star to boast.
This refined but relaxed restaurant is located on the top floor of a building at number 39 on the prestigious Avenue George V, right in the heart of the high-end area known as the “Golden Triangle”, and is accessible by its own private elevator. Suppliers for the carnivorous French menu are chosen by the talented but affable chef Frédéric Vardon, who is passionate about showcasing French “terroir”. In the indulgent dinner menu you’ll find options from the light (braised seasonal vegetables) to full-on meat feasts such as steak or roast pigeon. You can watch the busy team of chefs at work from the glass-walled dining room which overlooks the kitchen on the other side of an interior courtyard — the sides are separated by a roof garden featuring an olive tree, seemingly suspended in space six floors up.
Café de la Paix
Occupying a whole city block in the shadow of the Palais Garnier opera house, Café de la Paix offers grand old-school Parisian dining par excellence. The restaurant opened in the 1860s and is one of the French capital’s most iconic dining spots, and was once frequented by the likes of Emile Zola, Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway. The menu offers French gourmet classics — think luxurious seafood platters piled high with oysters and prawns, or steak served with green beans and puréed potatoes. There’s décor to match with the opulent restored Second Empire décor.
Bar Vendome, the Ritz
This restaurant located inside the Ritz Paris calls itself a ‘brasserie’, but this is no neighbourhood affair. Seasonal French classics are served up in the beautiful glass-roofed summer house with a view out onto the ornate hotel gardens. Expect top-notch versions of roast chicken, sole meunière with creamy mashed potato or Normandy beef with roast potato. For dessert, you can choose from a selection of pastries by the hotel’s celebrated pastry chef Francois Perrer: try his signature chesnut madeleine for your very own Proustian experience. By the way, these desserts are on offer along with gourmet sandwiches at Ritz Le Comptoir, a sott of ‘street food’ offering located just behind the hotel on Rue Cambon.
La Belle Epoque
When former king of Parisian nightlife Franck Maillot bought this brasserie on Rue des Petits Champs, he had a pleasant surprise during the renovation when the team discovered original features from the Belle Epoque era to which this lively address owes its name. The original mosaic floors, Deco columns and wall-mounted mirrors provide the ambiance for this sophisticated and buzzy brasserie and bar located on a quieter side street near the Louvre and Palais Royal. Young chef Mathieu Poirier works with regional suppliers to offer a seasonal upscale French brasserie fare, with a lighter twist on classics like poulet fermier. There’s a great selection of French wines. The crowd varies hugely from work lunches on weekdays to a real fashion crowd during Fashion Weeks.
Reservations: Recommended for the restaurant
Sentier and Grands Boulevards
This fabulous Art Nouveau cantine may be a legendary Parisian institution, but it’s anything but snooty. The popular eatery started life as a workers’ café at the turn of the 20th century, offering hearty fare from the regions of France, like snails, eggs mayonnaise, roast chicken and profiteroles. The menu has changed little over the years and it is still one of the most affordable meals in Paris. Hurried waiters dressed in traditional black waistcoats and white aprons zip around the dining tables, dispensing menu advice and banter and scribbling the customers’ orders on the paper tablecloths. You can’t reserve a table, instead diners are asked to queue, head early in the evening to avoid a longer wait.
Reservations: No reservations
Aux crus de Bourgogne
You can’t go far wrong with this long established bistro close by to Les Halles, the home of Paris's main food market until the 1960s. Today Rue Bachaumont is in the heart of a now trendy district neighbouring chic independent shops and boutique hotels. The result is a mix of a hearty Parisian bistro feel thanks to the lovingly restored 1930s décor and a cool clientele and buzzy feel. The menu is still à l’ancienne — there’s a signature pâté en croûte, beef tartare served with chips, followed up by something like the traditional rum baba. All of this is washed down with, as the name would suggest, a fine selection of Burgundy wines. On weekdays, the set menu for lunch offers great value.
Get a taste of authentic Parisian nightlife at the vast restaurant of the trendy Hotel Bachaumont in the Sentier district. You can warm up with an excellent cocktail at the bar, before getting comfortable in one of the banquette booths that line the dining room. On the menu: outstandingly good beef steak served with mashed potatoes for carnivores or a citrus- and coconut-flavoured dahl curry for vegetarians. Desserts courtesy of Sophie Coulombel is a highlight. Expect a warm welcome and a buzzy, fashionable atmosphere. It’s a great spot for a date night.
Reservations: Recommended in the evening
The Left Bank
Café du Commerce
Located on rue de commerce in the distinctly un-touristy 15th arrondissement, the elegant Café du Commerce is a favourite with Parisians. The plant-decked 1920s dining room, set across three levels, is understated yet one of the most attractive and elegant in the city, crowned in glory by a retractable glass roof. Marie and Etienne Guerraud have been at the helm since 2003 and have a rich network of French suppliers. On the menu you’ll find French classics with a lighter, modern twist: think house-smoked salmon served with cream and chives to start, followed by Magret de canard and traditional brasserie desserts. Prices are very reasonable in relation to the quality of the food and the space.
The wildly popular Le Comptoir gastronomic restaurant by Yves Camdeborde is just next door and is almost always booked months in advance. But you can get a great taste of the produce-first offering at the dinky bars next door: the Avant Comptoir de la Terre (more meat specialties) and the Avant Comptoir de la mer (more seafood). Prop yourself up at the lively bar and enjoy reasonably priced French small plates, like mackerel with grapefruit and horseradish and the pork trotter terrine. There’s a great selection of French wines on offer to accompany, from €3 to €20 per glass.
Reservations: No reservations
Au Pere Louis
Duck behind the large boulevards that enclose the Luxembourg Gardens to find Au Pere Louis, a wine bar and restaurant offering a convivial and tasty helping of traditional French hospitality. In the cosy space full of nooks and crannies, you’ll find more than 60 varieties of wine available by the glass and a very good quality selection of regional brasserie classics like French onion soup, Auvergne sausage or Toulouse cassoulet. There’s a great selection of desserts and digestifs too, like Armagnacs and Cognacs. Service is warm and reliable.
The Marais and Les Halles
Champeaux Les Halles
If you want a modern reboot of your soupe à l'oignon, Alain Ducasse's Champeaux Les Halles puts a stylish contemporary twist on the French bistro. Expect a large, light space where stylish contemporary furniture blends with industrial touches such as exposed pipes and a charming, old school, railway-style display board that changes throughout the day. Try out the flavoursome and surprisingly light cheese soufflé and the delicious cocktails. Desserts – think rum savarin with Chantilly – don’t disappoint either. Lunch menus are available.
The jovial Xavier Denamur is at the helm of a clutch of much loved bistros on Rue Vielle du Temple, a lively strip in the buzzy Marais district. The chef is passionate about using local and seasonal ingredients to create quality dishes. Les Philosophes is a neighbourhood staple and serves an impressive selection of French dishes for lunch and dinner, from traditional meaty fare like boeuf bourgignon to lighter vegetarian options. It’s a lively spot in the evening with friendly service. Xavier Denamur also owns brasseries Au Petit Fer à Cheval just nextdoor with its horseshoe-shaped bar, La Chaise au Plafond and the wine bar meets bookshop La Belle Hortense, just across the street.
Contact: 00 33 1 48 87 49 64; open 12pm to 1am
Transport yourself to a summer’s day in Brittany in one of the restaurants of this small chain of gourmet creperies. Breizh (pronounced ‘brez’ with the raspy French r) is the Breton word for the Brittany region and on the menu you will find traditional Breton buckwheat galettes in classic varieties like the “complète” (ham, cheese and egg) or more experimental gourmet choices using seasonal cheeses and meats. Accompany your main course with a Breizh Cola, a less succarine cola produced in Brittany, or a delicious brut cider. For dessert, it would be rude not to order a sweet crepe filled with apple compote and salted caramel and topped with vanilla ice cream.
Chez Omar is nothing short of a local institution on Rue de Bretagne in the lively Upper Marais district. It’s known for its friendly waiters, traditional vintage bistro décor (think banquette, bevelled mirrors and grand central counter) and generous servings of North African couscous. The atmosphere is invariably relaxed (and also family-friendly) and the service charming. Vegetarians can take the vegetable stew, which can be spiced up with the harissa; meat-eaters love the North African merguez sausage made from lamb meat. There are also some French classics on offer like steak and chips. Do like the locals and get chips on the side of your couscous! Wine is inexpensive and available by the glass. For afters there are North African pastries and mint tea.
Reservations: No reservations
L’As du Fallafel
Rue des rosiers, the charming cobbled seam of the historic Jewish quarter, the Pletzl, is dotted with fashion boutiques, vintage shops and charming Kosher bakeries, as well as glorious-smelling street falafel joints, of which L’As was the first and is still by far the most popular. On any given day (apart from Friday evening and Saturday morning when it is closed) you will see throngs of locals and visitors alike queuing up to get the signature tubby pita, stuffed with falafels, roasted aubergine and cabbage and some of the best spicy harissa you’ve ever had – it’s well worth the wait.
Contact: 00 33 1 48 87 63 60
Reservations: No reservations
The east of the city
Le Grand Bain
This laid-back neo-bistro address, serving gorgeous seasonal small plates, is well worth the trip out to the artistic Belleville quartier in the 20th arrondissement. The culinary lovechild of Brit Edward Delling-Williams and Frenchman Edouard Lax - formerly chef and front-of-house respectively at the popular Au Passage - Le Grand Bain offers an ever-changing roster of inventive delights, such as scamorza fondue with chicory, or pigeon with pointed cabbage, washed down with a selection of natural wines, served at the central bar.
L’Euorpéen is just a great address for a traditional Parisian brasserie experience. The décor is gorgeous, harking back to the restaurant’s Belle Epoque beginnings - it’s all mirrors, chandeliers and Chesterfield-style banquette. The food on offer is just as delightful. As well as great brasserie fare (snails, beef tartare, crème brûlée etc.), it is known for its fabulous seafood platters, served on extravagant multi-level platters. Slurp on Normandy oysters and savour the subtle flavours of welks served with aioli. The location right by Gare de Lyon makes this a great pitstop if you are taking a train down to the south of France.
Bistrot Paul Bert
This laid-back neo-bistro address, serving gorgeous seasonal small plates, is well worth the trip out to the artistic Belleville quartier in the 20th arrondissement. The culinary lovechild of Brit Edward Delling-Williams and Frenchman Edouard Lax - formerly chef and front-of-house respectively at the popular Au Passage – Le Grand Bain offers an ever-changing roster of inventive delights, such as scamorza fondue with chicory, or pigeon with pointed cabbage, washed down with a selection of natural wines, served at the central bar.
Reservations: Essential in the evening
Near Gare du Nord
If you find yourself with a rumbling stomach and time to spare near Gare du Nord (waiting for your train, for example), you would be wise to avoid the rather underwhelming bistros that line the streets around the front of the station and head instead to Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis along the side of the station where you’ll find yourself on the edge of Paris’s Indian and Pakistani area. Among many great vegetarian canteen-style restaurants, Saravanan Bhavan is an extra popular favourite thanks to its delicious selection of South Indian cuisine, including excellent dosa. The perfect light lunch before or after your train.
Contact: 00 33 1 40 05 01 01; open 10am to 11pm 7 days a week
Reservations: No reservations needed