I recently asked Greg what he loves most about living in Paris. "The food," he replied, without hesitation. No big surprise there. Because he also lived here as a child, he's especially fond of places that recall the Paris of his youth -- aging bistros, the ancient cobbler's shop with a wall of French celeb photos from the 70's, the knife sharpener who still plies his trade from an old cart he wheels through the streets. (He rings a bell to bring neighbors out bearing their dull knives).
Most of our favorite Paris bistros have also been around for a while. (Or at least feel like they have.) These are frequented more by locals than Michelin star-seekers (of course we love those, too), and won't let you down next time you're seeking classic French food in Paris. So, in no particular order, here goes...
Le Taxi Jaune, 3ème: When Greg and I lived in the Marais, Le Taxi Jaune was our neighborhood go-to. With its vintage bar and cracked tile floors, it still feels slightly under the radar despite its location in the ever popular 3ème. The food is authentic French with a twist that keeps it fresh; the vibe is Paris bourgeois-boheme. Reserve ahead.
La Laiterie Saint Clotilde, 7ème: This is our new neighborhood favorite (new to us, that is). Run by a mother and son duo, the menu is happily limited and everything is delicious. At a recent dinner with friends, I had a memorable curried veg soup and way-better-than-average magret de canard. (Can you tell I like duck?) Greg devoured his meal so fast, I didn't even get to sample it. Always a good sign.
Au Pied de Fouet, 7ème: The perfect neighborhood spot for lunch where the welcome is convivial (the owner treats everyone like his personal guest) and the food has a home-cooked appeal. It's not refined cuisine but a great, budget-friendly choice between visits to bigger name restos. The confit de canard is solid and there's usually a nice fresh fish option. Take your post-meal coffee (or digestif) at the bar and enjoy the bustle of this lively spot. Sitting cheek to jowl with neighboring diners keeps things toasty. Go for fun, not romance.
Le Casse Noix (15ème): When a foodie friend came to town for a night, he delivered strict instructions for our meal: "Think great food and he's paying."(I replied that this is always how I think... ;). After remembering it was fashion week and discovering all the "it" tables were impossible (Le Frenchie, Septime, Chateaubriand), we decided on Le Casse Noix for a meal that put food way ahead of fashion. Greg swears it's the best boudin noir he's ever had (On principle alone, I can't eat the stuff but my fresh cèpes in butter thing-y was to die). Fans of the creamy, whipped egg white dessert, ile flottante, will also be rewarded. A good choice for lunch if you're visiting the Eiffel Tower. Book ahead.
L'Ourcine (13ème): You can read my full review of this terrific bistro on the HiP Paris blog. It's off the beaten path in the 13eme and well worth the trip for a fab meal and to wander the village-like streets of les Buttes aux Cailles neighborhood.
Cafe des Musees (3ème): Always well-reviewed and popular for its reliably good food and great Marais location. I love this one for an unhurried lunch when visiting the boutiques and museums in the neighborhood. It's open daily and filled with locals and a smattering of visitors. Fun and yummy, a good combination.
Le Chemise (11ème): I loved this bistro because it brings together two favorite things: updated classic French cooking in a sleekly designed but cozy space. The service was attentive and cool crowd was what you'd expect for the location between Oberkampf and Republique. Helmed by a young chef who trained at La Tour d'Argent, this is a fun find that's on my "must return" list. (And yes, it's Le Chemise, not "La...", my French grammarian friends.)
Josephine "Chez Dumonet" (6ème): A favorite haunt of French icon Gerard Depardieu, this classic Parisian bistro offers superb service and an excellent meal in a timelessly lovely, art-nouveau setting. I went recently to celebrate a friend's birthday and we were treated to complimentary glasses of wine and a gateau (to share) large enough for a group twice our size. We ate like queens (and were treated like them, too). All this loveliness comes at a price so plan to splurge. Located on one of my favorite Left Bank shopping streets, rue Cherche-Midi.
Le Bistro Paul Bert (11ème): Everyone knows that the Paris food scene is focused in the 11ème. Drawn by affordable rents, a central location and hip vibe, young chefs are opening new restos here seemingly daily. Bistro Paul Bert isn't new (the new Le 6 Paul Bert is just down the street) but it's truly a classic (and not in a stuffy, un-fun way). We had a late dinner there recently and were pleased to find it bustling with a cool clientele of all ages. The food was delicious and the service attentive but unhurried. Go, you'll be happy you did.
Le Comptoir du Relais (6ème): And last but not least, my still-reigning favorite. The beloved outpost of star chef Yves Camdeborde has never failed me. We go (early) for dinner with the kids, bring visiting friends, and enjoy lunches a deux. The key is to go right as they open (12 noon for lunch or before 7pm for dinner) to avoid the inevitable queue out front. The people watching and the food are both consistently superb.
As I wrap up this list, I realize I could go on and on. Any favorites you'd care to share? Stay tuned for more recommendations to come. A bientot!