One thing you should know about me is that I take my food seriously. I love a good home-cooked meal, but going out to eat at quality restaurants with good people is another kind of pleasure. So when I travel, one of the first things I do is scope out the dining options and make a list of places to try. Paris was no different.
Food can be pricey in Europe, but I’d honestly rather skip the shopping trips and fancy hotels so I can eat better. Still, we tried to keep things affordable when possible — on our first day in Paris, we had French McDonald’s at Alex’s insistence (my verdict: not that great, but that’s to be expected) and ate breakfast everyday from the little boulangeries and cafes in our neighborhood. We even bought food at a little shop on our block and made ourselves some scrambled eggs and ham one morning.
But at least once a day, we’d try to venture out a little more. Here’s a round-up of the 5 best meals we had in Paris. Even if you’re traveling on a budget, I’d recommend trying at least one of them while you’re there.
We arrived at this cozy bistro on a warm evening, when the vibe was energetic and the buzz of dinner conversation and never-ending cigarette smoke filled the air below the twinkling lights. A ton of local guests were seated outside, so we knew we were in for a good night.
To be honest, there are some details of this dinner that I can’t remember due to the fact that I was in a wine stupor for much of it. What I can’t forget though is the amazingly rich and creamy foie gras (the best I’ve ever had!) and the meat and cheese board we had to start. For entrees, the men had steak and I had the sautéed chicken in coconut milk and curry. The three of us split a bottle of wine, which somehow turned into three, which I might have regretted just a tiny bit the next morning.
Hangover notwithstanding, I still remember this place fondly as the restaurant where our friend, who is a die-hard London fan, finally fell in love with Paris.
This might have been Alex’s favorite part of Paris since he had what must have been the world’s largest and most tender steak. We started with a fried goat cheese salad, and for mains, I ordered the beef bourguignon, which this place is known for, and based on a recommendation from a local we met named Harvey, Alex got the steak. Both were very good, although I had a little bit of food envy for the steak after trying a bite. For a Parisian place, the portions here are surprisingly huge and we left feeling beyond satisfied.
The prices here were actually quite reasonable: there’s an option to get an appetizer, entree and dessert for 32 euros or skip the appetizer for 24 euros, though I think we just ended up ordering à la carte.
While it has terrific reviews and tourists do seek it out, Le Volant Basque felt like a true local hangout. The night we went there, a bunch of other men from the neighborhood were gathered near the bar watching a basketball game, which seemed like a regular after-work activity for them. The tables are a little tight (that’s how we met Harvey!) and the staff is extremely laid-back, but it all adds to the authentic feel of the place.
We stopped in here for appetizers one afternoon, which means we only tried a few small things from the menu, so my review isn’t exhaustive. But this is where I tried escargot and camembert for the first time — the cheese was delicious and the escargot was much better than I expected. We also rounded out our order with some grilled vegetables that I have been talking about ever since — just ask Alex.
The restaurant was obviously geared toward tourists and the atmosphere was a bit blah (we were the only people younger than 30 here), but it was worth it for those vegetables and the customer service was amazing.
La Cabane à Huîtres
This was by far the most interesting food experience we had in Paris. It came highly reviewed for its fresh oysters grown in the Arcachon region of France, and being a newly-converted oyster fan I thought we had to try it. The place itself was tiny and quaint, with only a few tables and a super sweet hostess. When we actually stopped by for lunch, it was closed so we came back in a few hours and most of the tables were already full.
I’m guessing the owners didn’t speak English because miraculously our entire exchange was conducted in French, thanks to Alex. My contribution was to nod, smile and say “Oui” to everything, which landed me with an extra serving of canele cake that I personally am not a fan of.
The menu is no-fuss: we just got some oysters and a bottle of wine. The oysters which were fresh — I’m talking pure salty, oceany flavor with nothing but some lemon for accompaniment. Alex ended up asking for some vinegar because he couldn’t deal with it, but the worst (or best) part came when he lifted one of the shells to find a tiny, pink worm floating around in the plate. I’ll never forget the horrified expression on his pale face, but at the very least I have to thank La Cabane for the laughs. According to the lady this was a normal occurrence, but it’s safe to say we were both a little skeeved out.
That said, I’d still recommend this place for the adventurous eater who wants an interesting dining experience in Paris.
This was one of the few actual sit-down restaurants that we went to for brunch. It’s actually kind of a hipster coffee-shop that treats its coffee selection like fine wine and just happens to serve food. We both had Eggs Benedict, but the coffee was the highlight of the trip. Alex tried some weird coffee drink served with a plum in the bottom of the glass, which was a little too fancy for me. The cappuccinos and flat whites, on the other hand, were smooth and delicious, just like I like them.
While it’s far from a traditionally French cafe, I liked the atmosphere of the place, with water served in beakers and plants everywhere. One thing to note is that while it can get busy, the service isn’t rushed – people camp out with their laptops and waiters take their own sweet time to come over to the tables with your bill.
I’ve often heard visitors to Paris say the food was disappointing, which I found hard to believe since I’ve never once had bad French food, even here in the United States. We finally cleared up any doubts on this visit. There’s great food all around — you just have to know where to look.
Have you been to Paris? What did you think of the food?
FOR MORE PARIS | Check out my Paris travel diary for photos and highlights from our trip.