Paris by Bistro
When I started to think about what I would write for my first feature, the first thing that came to mind was my love affair for french traditional food. Food glorious food. That’s it, I will start by writing about the good old fashioned Parisian bistros. But there are so many, where to start? I couldn’t write about one and one alone. It would be unfair to the others. Then it hit me, what a better way to start the new year than with a top 20 of Paris’ best bistros ? Yes, eating your way through Paris, is as fun as it is appetising.
So to start, what makes Parisian bistros so special ? Well lets see. They are historical, inspirational, full of life. A writer’s heaven…teeming with people squeezed one against another, it’s hard for one to resist a good eavesdrop! I often hide there to work over a bitter cup of coffee or a tasty hot meal. Plus, you never know what the waiters will be dressed like. With a Gavroche cap or a black and white penguin-looking outfit ? Quel surprise, non?
And why a top 20? Well, I thought it would be convenient, to suggest a top 20, when as you know, Paris boasts precisely 20 arrondissements!
Alors, on y va ..let’s proceed district after district and eat our way through Paris…
1st arrd : Named after a meal King Henry IV wished his courtiers to be served on Sundays, La Poule au Pot opens everyday, except on Mondays, from 7pm to 5am. So, if you are craving for a dozen garlic-soaked snails in the middle of the night, this is the place to go. LBB: La Poule au Pot, 9 rue Vauvilliers, 75001.
2nd arrd : With its tiled floor, velvet-clad couches and large wooden counter, Le Gallopin conveys the memory of a typically French brasserie. Brasserie, as in former brewery ? Yes, though today the term shares its meaning with the word bistro. LBB : Le Gallopin, 40 rue Notre-Dame des Victoires, 75002.
3rd arr : In the heart of the Marais, Chez Camille features a rather expansive menu, written in white chalk on a black slate board. A funny contrast to the tradition of naming the venue after someone. It makes it more welcoming. LBB : Chez Camille, 24 rue des Francs Bourgeois, 75003.
4th arrd : Founded in 1864, the Brasserie Bofinger specializes in Alsatian recipes. Due to its Belle Epoque setting, the Parisian institution is considered one of the most beautiful brasseries in the capital. LBB : Brasserie Bofinger, 5-7 rue de la Bastille, 75004.
5th arrd : Not to be confused with the Café de la Marie, Pl. St Sulpice (6th), the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, is a sheer gem. The owners, Benjamin and Corentin, are so keen on serving good wine that people happen to visit them to drink rather than eat. What a shame, given the quality of their cooking. LBB : Le Café de la Nouvelle Mairie, 19 rue des Fossés Saint-Jacques, 75005
6th arrd: Located at a crossroads, opposite the Théâtre de l’Odéon, the Comptoir du Relais has become so famous that people hurry there 30 minutes early to get a table. Impossible to make a reservation, except for the evening but, then again, there is no trying if not months in advance. LBB : Le Comptoir du Relais, 9 carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006.
7th ard : “Roast capon with black truffle”, “white truffled sausage with celery mousseline scallops on the plancha”, “endives braised with oranges”. As mouthwatering as they may be, these courses change on a daily basis according to fresh market goods. Isn’t it ironic for a place called Café Constant ! LBB : Café Constant, 139 Rue Saint Dominique, Paris 75007.
8th arrd : Bastion of musicians who would gather there to extend concerts into jam sessions, the Bœuf sur le Toit, literally the Beef on the roof, is an institution of the Right Bank. Very popular in the 1920s, it has strengthened its reputation over the years by preserving the secrets of fine cuisine. All will be revealed over dinner…Le Bœuf sur le Toit, 34 rue du Colisée, 75008.
9th arrd : The idea was simple : offer an outstanding meal for a reasonable price. It was implemented 100 years ago, and has prevailed ever since. By respecting this principle, the Bouillon Chartier became legend. Go for it ! LBB : Bouillon Chartier, 7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009.
10th arrd : What sounds like a cry for loyalty is in fact a geographic echo. Bearing the name of the street it thrives on, La Fidélité is a wine cellar, a trendy-decorated apartment and an authentic dining room rolled into one. How practical ! La Fidélité, 12 rue de la Fidélité, 75010.
11th arrd : So, wait ! How do you spell bistro, again ? With or without a “t” ? Both. Either way, the point is getting more bang for the buck. Which applies to the rather quaint Bistro Morand. Maybe the fewer letters, the better ? LBB : Bistro Morand, 5 rue Morand, 75011.
12th arrd : At Dingues a beautiful antique clock appeals to the eyes, yet you might want to keep it out of your sight for times flies and once arrived it becomes harder and harder to leave. LBB : Dingues, 17 rue de Rambouillet, 75012.
13th arrd : Located near the Seine, Chez Lili et Marcel revisits the classics in generous portions and in a sophisticated, old-fashion décor. Simple recipes, performed with expertise. Try them, please ! LBB : Chez Lili et Marcel, 1 Quai Austerlitz, 75013.
14th arrd : Throwback to the 1900s. Les Petits Plats seems to abide by the law of conviviality.Tables stick together to bring the customers closer. Plus, there is nothing like enjoying a terrine on a wooden board. Les Petits Plats, 39 rue des Plantes, 75014.
15th arrd : Au Dernier Métro is a brilliant – as exceptional as shiny -, Parisian bistro. Run by a charming young couple, it initiates curious palates to southeastern specialties. The zinc counter and advertising enamels all around have a knack of catching the eye. LBB : Au Dernier Métro, 70 boulevard de Grenelle, 75015.
16th arrd : Rustic and sophisticated at the same time. This is what Le Petit Retro looks like. Rural are the meals ; posh is the neighborhood. In this balance lies the appeal. Tourists and French come in droves to try this charming bistro. LBB: Le Petit Retro, 5 rue Mesnil, 75016.
17th arrd : Let’s keep traveling back in time. Back to the 1970s, this time.Waiters at Le Franc Tireur are dressed like penguins. The bar is where to sip exceptional cocktails and wines while others savor copious meals in a separated dining room. Le Franc Tireur, 34 rue d’Armaillé, 75017.
18th arrd : Elegant. Le Miroir‘s red façade matches the scarlet leather couches inside.Yet, the decoration is not the only reason why one should go there. The chef previously worked at the Eiffel Tower’s gastronomic restaurant. A reference which makes it worth climbing all the way up to the rue des Martyrs. Le Miroir, 94 rue des Martyrs.
19th arrd : Aux Petits Joueurs is not only a bistro, but also a concert hall. Depending on the agenda, you may get to be eating along with the music. Harmony in the ears as much as in the plate. Great ! Aux Petits Joueurs, 59 rue de Mouzaïa, 75019.
20th arrd : Some qualify it as “the best bistro in the world”. And yet it is not 100% French. As a matter of fact, Le Baratin owes its success to an Argentine cook, who literally fell in love with Paris and decided to blend into the city. Isn’t this romantic affair a guarantee for quality ? Le Baratin, 3 rue Jouye-Rouve, 75020.
There you go. All you have to do now is run to one of those wonderful places and repeat the experience until you’ve gone through all the list.
Words & illustration by Sarah Belmont, city guide contributor/TrésorParisien. Graphic by Aisling Greally, editing director /TrésorParisien.