You would think that decent classic French bistros would be easy to find in Paris of all places, but as a tourist, you would probably want to know that this is not the case. While there are hordes of establishments offering inexpensive dining, most of them fail to stand out in terms of food and ambiance. The average café serves cheerless fare that is bound to leave you questioning why so many people go on and on about French food. As your Paris tour guide would no doubt tell you, only a few right places still give that old-world atmosphere, affordability, and deliciousness.
Josephine Chez Dumonet
A quaint bistro that first opened well before World War I, this place is decidedly fancy with its white tablecloths and black-tied waiters. They are not trying to impress, as much as maintain the same style they have always had. At this eatery, you get Beef Bourguignon that beats any beef stew you have ever had, period. Another crowd favorite is the duck leg confit, served crisp on the outer surface and filled with scrumptious mush on the inside, sided by fat-fried potatoes. Many critics have dubbed this the best duck confit in the whole city. For dessert, you have the famous Grand Marnier soufflé, which this bistro is known for.
Bistrot Paul Bert
Known mostly for its wonderful steak au poivre, Bistrot Paul Bert really ups the ante on taste. The steak au poivre is made out of heavy cream, cognac, butter, and peppercorns. They leave enough sauce for you to dip fries in, and then lick off at the end the way countless patrons do. The steak is gets served rare, blue or badly cooked. Other than that, you get the 3-course “formule” for €36.
This is a classic French dish every tourist needs to try at least once, not the least because it was what conclusively drew Julia Child to French cooking. This item consists of a whole sole cooked in sauce mixing lemon, brown butter, and parsley. They make it better than any other place we have seen, which is why Sole Meunière is even on this list. You get the whole shebang of French service here, which amusingly requires significant effort to get your server to look at you. However, the food more than makes up for any snobbishness; you just need to remember what you are there for.
Café Des Musées
A traditional Marais bistro that has been around since 1924, Café Des Musées is famous for their slow-cooked beef Bourguignon, which was once voted best in Paris. The ambience is relaxed French, making it a place you could go to at any time for a peaceful meal. A-la-carte items here include splendid escargot-stuffed mushrooms; or, you could go for one of the formules that they offer based on season.
This is an endearing Provençal restaurant, which although it does not promise you will sing about their food from the rooftops, offers a quintessentially French ambience that you will remember enjoying. Walking in, you see a wide range of pastis from South France. Then comes a variety of Provence specialties, followed by the delectable desserts such as the chocolate mousse.
This is one of those places, which you will definitely want to try out before wrapping up your Paris tours. Lunch on the terrace overlooking Marais is an appealing prospect, but then it gets even better when you read the menu options. You have everything classic French here: Escargots, French onion soup, Beef Bourguignon, duck leg confit, and classic desserts. If you want to keep the meal light, get a salad with duck gizzards or cured ham, and pair it with some rosé. The servers here are dressed in strictly classic attire – long-sleeve white shirt, black pants, tie, and black apron. Expect a bit of aloofness, but count on the food and setting being remarkable.
This classic institution is famous for having been one of the Julia Child’s haunts back in the day. You would imagine it as having a respectably worn interior, which still exudes significant old-world charm, and on that count, you would be right. The tables are set close enough together that you will almost be rubbing elbows with the neighboring patrons. The candlelit setting deepens the feel of a bygone era.
The food here covers all the classics: foie gras, marrow, escargots, bone steak au poivre. Frisée aux lardons is the perfect starter even if it is your first time with it. The bitter lettuce goes exceptionally well with the salty egg and bacon, and the mutedly acidic dressing. It is so tasty you have to wonder whether they pour bacon fat on top of it all. For dessert, you should probably try either the millefeuille pastryor the tarte tartin.