No visit to Paris is complete without dining in an authentic bistro.
Just ask the Parisians who want to see these bistros awarded with UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status! And we’ve got to agree: with traditional dishes, a convivial atmosphere and often affordable prices, they are a great way to sample French food and culture.
Here we round up our selection of the best in the city, from classic addresses serving up hearty fare, to the neo-bistros offering their take on modern bistro dining.
1. Les Philosophes
Renowned restaurateur Xavier Denamur is the man behind some of the most popular spots in Le Marais, with three of his four bistros all found together on rue Veille du Temple, and the fourth just a minute’s walk around the corner. He is known for serving up classic French food with an emphasis on organic, local ingredients, and is refreshingly honest about what goes—and what doesn’t—into his dishes, even posting the odd recipe on his website.
The menu is similar at all four bistros, however the largest of the group is Les Philosophes, meaning it’s not only the easiest to get a table at, but it also boasts the biggest terrace. You can’t really go wrong with any of the dishes, although the French onion soup is the ultimate comfort food in winter, and the humble flan pâtissier, a vanilla flan created by Benjamin Turquier of renowned bakery Tout Autour du Pain, is (as the menu describes) unmissable.
2. Café des Anges
With its worn wooden furniture and checked tablecloths, Café des Anges offers guests a traditional bistrot setting, but with a varied neo-bistro menu, from French classics to Asian-inspired dishes, and with a good selection of vegetarian and vegan options.
Down-to-earth with well-priced, good food, it’s a popular spot with the Parisian bobos in the area (the term used to describe Paris’ fashionable young creatives), who are even honored at the bistro with their own, very tasty Bobo Salad. It’s not unusual to spot the odd French celebrity here!
Unlike some other addresses in Paris, it’s open seven days a week, and serves food until 1 a.m. You can also reserve but it’s usually pretty easy to walk in and grab a table, even if you just want to pop by for a glass of wine or two.
3. Chez Georges
Open since 1964, Chez Georges is now in the hands of the third generation of the Brouillet family.
A good one for groups, the long line of tables on each side of the room allows you to reserve as many as you need. If you’re eating as a couple though, expect to be sitting snugly next to your neighbors, in true Paris bistro style.
You’ll have to decipher the handwritten menu before you order, but dishes to look out for include the classic bistro starter, oeuf mayonnaise, made at Chez Georges with organic eggs and homemade mayo, and the simple but beautifully tender lamb and entrecôte steak.
Don’t leave without trying a dessert—the Baba au Rhum might be one of the best you’ll find in a bistro in Paris, and the tarte Tatin is just delicious. Although at €12 each they aren’t cheap, the portions are huge and can be easily shared among two, if not three.
4. Aux Bons Cru
Aux Bons Cru might be a new addition to Paris’ bistro scene, but it still offers traditional decor and a cozy setting for an authentic bistro experience.
In fact, it is one of only four routiers left in Paris: restaurants traditionally used by truck drivers on the motorway which have to meet a certain set of requirements to receive the routier status. This includes seasonal dishes and fair prices for both food and the wine, which can only be marked up by a set amount, unlike in other restaurants where the owners set the prices. When on the highway, routiers also offer amenities such as a shower to freshen up.
Though you won’t find showers in Paris routiers, you can still expect the good food and good prices. The menu at Aux Bons Crus changes every month, although there are always classics available, such as entrecôte steak, served with a real béarnaise sauce, and pot-au-feu (French stew), as well as veggie options. Again the desserts are big enough to share, and the flaming crêpe Suzette makes a tasty—and boozy—end to dinner.
5. Au Pied de Fouet
Although you can dine well in many Paris bistros at a reasonable price, at Au Pied du Fouet you can dine downright cheaply, with starters and desserts from just €3, wine by the glass from €3.50, and mains dishes around the €10 mark.
The menu is small, but still offers a good selection of traditional bistro dishes—think homemade confit de canard (duck confit), tarte Tatin, and a selection of French cheeses—with everything made from fresh, local and seasonal produce.
Along with the simple but hearty food, the bistro is also known for its authentic setting and warm atmosphere, so it’s no surprise that there is often a queue to get in. The space is small and doesn’t accept reservations, but there are also two sister addresses around a 20-minute walk away, as well as La Brasserie du Pied de Fouet around 35 minutes by foot, although the prices here are not quite as impressive.
Ready to experience an authentic Parisian bistro like a true local? Our Paris by Night: Gourmet Food & Wine Experience is calling your name. You’ll feel like a born-and-bred Parisian yourself as you step into one of our favorite bistros in the city—and that’s just one stop on a whole evening full of foodie fun.
Nicola Leigh Stewart is a travel writer who, after living in London and Madrid, finally settled in Paris. Always thinking about her next meal, her favorite thing about France is the food, and she spends most of her weekends in search of the flakiest pain au chocolat in Paris, the best fromagerie, and more importantly, the best cocktail happy hour.