Supposedly, more than 12,000 restaurants in the Paris area are listed in the Paris yellow pages. On its website, ViaMichelin has a review of more than 1,300 restaurants in Paris proper. No matter if you slice these numbers in half, this is a LOT of restaurants.
Many restaurants serving French food fall into several historical categories. Some restaurants stick to their category exclusively. While others, mix and match their food and styles. Paris is home to some of the oldest restaurants in the world, La Tour d’Argent is from the 1500s and A la Petite Chaise, from 1680. The French having been mastering their craft for centuries. It is no wonder Parisian restaurants garner world acclaim. They really know how to cook!
French cuisine is rightly the most popular in Paris. But, there are lots of non-French restaurants which feed visitors from all over the world. You may have heard the tale about Italians – they only eat Italian food wherever they travel. That is probably true about people from a lot of countries! Ex-pats from countries around the world call Paris home. And those ex-pats open restaurants, for their fellow countrymen and for Parisians and for visitors to Paris.
What does all of that mean? A lot of restaurants to try to get a handle on for your short visit to Paris. Is that bad? No, not at all. It just means you should focus on what you like, find restaurants that will satisfy you and then go eat. But, to find what you are looking for, you may need some basic information. The following should give you an idea of what to expect street side. You will find general information about the kinds of restaurants in Paris. Plus, I have added in some examples of each type of restaurant so you can look them up and see photos of the establishment and probably the food.
Once you have the basics down, you will be ready for the many websites and books that review restaurants and their food. That will be valuable information once you know the ground rules and honestly determine what will make you happy.
Cafés or coffee houses dot the landscape of Paris. Obviously, cafés serve coffee. But also tea and other hot drinks, cold drinks, wine and beer. And for food, you can find a selection of eggs, salads, cheese plates, sandwiches and open-faced sandwiches. Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots are two famous cafés you may have heard of. No matter what season, chairs and tables line the sidewalks outside the café inviting visitors to enjoy a coffee and a conversation. You will note that the chairs face the street for plenty of people watching. Many cafés serve meals all day. But, some only serve drinks all day and food at the standard meal times.
In cafés, you’ll feel better if you choose the right table. Not planning to eat? Don’t sit where it’s set for a meal. Use sign language to show the waiter you only want a drink. He will move you. If you’re squeezed for time, but simply have to have a coffee? Order it standing at the bar. You can easily pay and leave, plus you’ll save some money.
A long time ago, brasseries were kind of beer halls with food. Now, some large brasseries have bustling wait staff who serve hundreds on white tablecloths. A typical brasserie menu includes choucroute – pickled cabbage, sausages, pork and maybe potatoes. And, along with other things, platters of boiled and raw seafood chilling on ice. The name in French, “plateau de fruits de mer,” sounds much more appealing…. Lobster halves, cold-water oysters, varieties of clams and plump shrimp. They all can be piled high in a multi-tiered presentation that is breathtaking! They are delicious to devour, but just as delicious to admire through the window of a lively brasserie. Many brasseries serve food throughout the day. So, you can chalk this up to an exception of the hard and fast dining time rule.
Bistro or Bistrot
Bistros are typically family-run restaurants serving grandmother’s cuisine. The cook finds what is fresh at the markets and prepares mouthwatering and hearty fare. Full-flavored stews, roasted meats, soul-satisfying cassoulet, in-season game, fresh fish, terrines of paté, vegetable and potato dishes. Intimate dining rooms in the good bistros are generally filled with food lovers. The bar will likely feature short lists of good wines from around France.
Although the food and experience can be sublime, the number of authentic bistros was on the decline. However, that has changed in recent years as young chefs have begun opening more and varied bistros. A long held dining tradition is popular again!! LUCKY FOR US!!! It is no shock that Bistros serve meals at the standard lunch and dinner service times.
Any restaurant that does not fit neatly into the other described categories falls into “other restaurants.” Not because they do not deserve a category, but rather because the historical category may not be useful in describing them. These restaurants range from fine dining to simple establishments. They may serve a regional style of food, nouvelle cuisine or haute cuisine. Michelin starred restaurants also fall in this category. These establishments will serve food only during the appropriate lunch and dinner service times.
Ethiopian, Vietnamese, North African, Indian, Middle Eastern – it is all here. And that is really not even a list of all the foods you can find. Did you want to try the food of Tunisia? You will be able to find it in Paris. Spin the globe, place your finger randomly on a spot, and most likely you can find food from that country in Paris. Service times? As varied as the home countries.
Consult Multiple Sources
When choosing a restaurant to reserve a table for a meal, consult multiple sources. Along with your guidebooks, read restaurant reviews from well-known authors and newspaper reviews. And, take a look at the restaurant’s website to read the menus.
Individual’s posting reviews on review websites are not very helpful to me. One of the frustrating things about reading personal reviews is that you have no idea what that person expected when they went to the restaurant. Someone who wrote in may have thought they were getting Michelin starred cuisine and have been served a stale sandwich. Who knows? (Take a look at Scott’s Perspective to see where this site is coming from.)
Do your homework when selecting restaurants. Find out for yourself about the restaurant and its food. Know what you are getting into so you will not be surprised. Also, avoid restaurants with hawkers outside trying to get customers in with specials. These are generally not good restaurants and could definitely be a rip off. Waiters may stand near the entrance to the seating area or by the door, but they will not approach you first – unless they are hawkers. Beware.
These are the websites I consult and cross reference when searching for a restaurant:
Paris by Mouth
Succinct reviews on the website providing the nitty-gritty on the restaurants. Easy to tell if the place you are reading about is one that you want to try. Also, it provides restaurants by arrondissement, which ones are open Sunday, etc….
Along with awarding coveted stars, Michelin reviews restaurants at all levels of service. Look for the “bib gourmand” on ViaMichelin. That means good food at a reasonable price!
From her website: “Paris has been home to food critic, cookbook author, and cooking school teacher Patricia Wells for more than 35 years, and no one knows Paris’s culinary scene better.”
She has an app you can get at her website with so many restaurants reviewed that you can’t make it through all of the descriptions!
Get to it.