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5 days alone in Paris - walks / neighborhood recs?

  • m

I'm visiting friends in Avignon and then headed up to Paris by myself from 1/1 - 1/6. I've never traveled alone, have only been to France as an 8 year old, and rarely eat alone! What a wuss!

I'll be staying in Montparnasse, and feel okay about that area, since I'll be returning to it every day and will have time to get to know it... but am looking for neighborhoods that are particularly chow-friendly for traipsing around. I'm sure there is no way I'll be able to pull my act together enough to keep track of specific restaurants. But any food-heavy (budget friendly a plus!) blocks or walks would be appreciated.

Secondly, and please don't poo-poo this, but my French is so-so and I might like to spend one evening in an expat-heavy area in case I get lonely or find that I haven't spoken aloud to anyone in a few days. If you happen to know of a resto or bar w/ an English speaking proprietor etc. I would appreciate it.

PS: did see the great post on 5th arr. and am greedily looking for similar

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  1. Le Marais is probably the best neighborhood for you. I spent a few weeks there several years ago and became a semi-regular at a lot of expat bars in the neighborhood. Most are probably gone but the Lizard Lounge, which was the biggest expat destination back then, is still around.

    There's a street near the Bastille end that has a bunch of places to eat, including the famous Bofinger brasserie. It's also a fairly easy walk to the Ile St Louis and Left Bank.

    1. I spend about six months in Paris every year, three in the spring, three in the fall. And I travel alone, which is entirely comfortable and quite easy. You'll be there in game season, and you shouldn't miss some game meals--wild duck, pheasant, roe deer, red deer, wild boar (both young--marcassin, and mature--sanglier), wood pigeon, and so on. Chez l'Ami Jean (rue Malar in the 7th) is a worthy destination for game.

      A neighborhood bistrot in the 12th, À la Biche au Bois (the doe in the woods, avenue Ledru-Rollin at the corner of rue de Lyon), is run by owner-chef Bertrand Marchesseau and his gorgeous wife Celine. M. Marchesseau speaks perfect English and really knows his way around game. Four courses (entree, plat principal, fromage--big selection--, and dessert) for about 24€ without wine. The tables are jammed in, but the non-tourist crowd is charming and the atmosphere is about as "vrai Paris" as you can find.

      An afternoon exploring the old streets between the place d'Odeon and the river is rewarding, as are walks in the parc de Belleville, the strongly North-African area north of metro Barbés-Rochechouart, the Marais (where I live when I'm here), and, of course, Montmartre. You'll also find plenty of interesting little eateries. Menus are posted out front, but don't speak to quality. If you're not using a restaurant guide, you just take your chance. And sometimes you'll score well. But what the hell, the discoveries you make on your own will retain their bright colors in your memory long after the Eiffel tower and the Louvre have faded to sepia. Paris is, geographically speaking, a small city, and you can get to these places, some far from Montparnasse, very quickly by metro.

      The latin quarter, in the 5th arrondissement, is full of tourists. Those who don't speak Japanese speak English, if you're longing to hear and use your native tongue. But there are damned few of it's myriad restaurants worth going to. It's a "must see" in all the guide books, of course, but seems so not-parisian because of the tourists and the schlock shops.

      The key to a memorable sojourn in Paris is walking, discovering the city for yourself, and not wasting time on what you've already seen in 287 movies.

      (Just 20 yards from my apartment--more than 300 years old, by the way--on the rue du Petit Musc in the Marais is the ancient bistrot Les Temps des Cerises, at the corner of rue Cerisaie. Lunch only, weekdays only. But it's very "old Paris," and the fricassée of frogs legs is a treat. You don't easily find frog's legs in Paris, by the way, and nowhere else this cheap (13 €) and this good.)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Maurice Naughton

        I have used http://maps.google.co.uk/ (you can move around the streets to see each shop using the 'person' icon on the scale) to view the shops and surroundings from your suggestions, simply because it's 2009 now, and they're still very good. Thank you.

      2. I like to hang out in the 5th. not because there are lots of English speakers... I find them all over Paris! I like the atmosphere, and there aree always people on the streets, since the Sorbonne is the heart of the area. Yummy eats at La Fontaine on the rue Soufflot. It looks like a bar, but the food is excellent and moderately priced. My favorite market street is the rue Mouffetard, and the best breakfast in Paris, imo is at the Cafe Mouffetard.. they make the best brioche I've ever eaten... like silk.

        If you want to speak English and eat and drink well, head over to Willi's Wine Bar in the 1st... 13 rue des Petit Champs Everyone there is bilingual, and the owner, Mark williamson, is a Brit. He has a fine dining place next door called Macéo, that is a don't miss.

        In the 14th, I love La Cagouille. don't miss the burn-yiur fingers cockles! Chef Allemandou has maybe the best stock of Cognacs in Paris. also, Le Petit Marguery is in your neighborood... very old Paris, and good food and good welcome.

        I would not go to Paris without taking my most recent edition of Patricia Wells' Foodlovers Guide to Paris. I have never gotten a bad rec from her books!

        5 Replies
        1. re: ChefJune

          I heartily endorse chefjune's recommendation of La Cagouille. It's an excellent seafood specialist in the place Constantin-Brancusi. Directly opposite it across the square is one of the bakeries of Max Poilane, brother of the late, much lamented Lionel. His breads are unlike Lionel's but top class.

          And around the corner from him is a Spanish tienda, Bierza, with excellent Manchego cheese and jamon de serrano and de pata negra, the best dry cured ham in the universe. Also great Spanish sausages, chorizo, lomo, and so on.

          And Le Petit Marguery is also wonderful. There's almost always game on the carte in winter, and sometimes Lievre a la royale, wild hare stuffed with foie gras, a great and hard-to-find recipe.

          Mark Williamson's Willi's and Maceo are friendly and excellent, but I rarely go to either because they're always full of Americans and Brits. I am, I suppose, a reverse snob.

          1. re: Maurice Naughton

            <Mark Williamson's Willi's and Maceo are friendly and excellent, but I rarely go to either because they're always full of Americans and Brits. I am, I suppose, a reverse snob.> I think Willi's is a particularly great place to as a solo diner... there are always friendly folks to meet, and I've made some friends that I now hand out with in New York! not bad... in fact, great fun.

            1. re: ChefJune

              As I said, Willi's and Maceo are friendly and excellent. And I'm pretty sure they're doin' fine without me.

          2. re: ChefJune

            Vegetarian friend have invited us to Maceo tommorrow night -- we are not vegetarians. What would you suggest for dishes at Maceo?

            1. re: orangewasabi

              Altho Macéo does have a Vegetarian tasting menu, it is FAR from a vegetarian restaurant!@ One of my very favorite places in Paris. You'll have a delicious meal and a great evening. The ambiance is wonderful!

          3. This may go against chow etiquette, but just wanted to say thanks! My heart is leaping!

            1 Reply
            1. re: melon

              Au contraire, thank you's are always appreciated, and thank YOU for triggering such a great, informative thread.

            2. I'd agree with the Marais suggestion-don't miss the bakery Le Levain (32 r De Turenne)-you can buy something and eat it in nearby Pl Vosges. Also Pain de Sucre (14 r Rambuteau)-amazing treats.
              If you head out towards Pere Lachaise r. Oberkampf is an interesting walk, with a detour to La Bague de Kenza, an Algerian bakery (106 r Saint-Maur)-if you don't believe me, take a look:


              That's also near the Canal St Martin area, where you could stop in at Chez Prune (71 Quai de Valmy) and even head up to Belleville...more of a working class/hipster area.
              And for eating alone, refer to the Le Partage thread-you will not feel funny or alone eating here, I guarantee.


              1 Reply
              1. re: David W

                Since someone revived this old thread-I'm sorry to say that Le Partage is no more (or has become another restaurant...but not the same one I mentioned above, or in the link.)

              2. No one has mentioned L'As au Fallafel on rue rossiers. It is delicious. I like the deluxe with a drink of lemonade. Take lots of napkins as it will drip down your arms as you walk along the street.

                1. Visit the 7th, and in particular a street called Rue Cler. It's a pedestrian street with tons of great food shops and restaurants. There is a large expat community here. The Rick Steves book has lots of info on this area, and his restaurant recommendations are quite good-they are generally the same places that my French friends have recommended. Rue Cler itself a foodies' dream, with wonderful charcuterie (La Maison du Jambon-probably the best in the city), cheese (Anne Marie Cantin, again, maybe the best in the city) bakeries, an Olivers and Co., take out places, cafes (Cafe du Marche is a local favorite, but many english speakers eat there too), etc. There's a Lenotre nearby by the Ecole Militare metro stop and what many consider the best patisserie in the city (Jean Millet) is neaby on Rue St Dominique. Gregory Renaud (for chocolate and Parisian macarons) is also on Rue St. D and Michel Chaudun is nearby (on rue de l'universite) for chocolates-both of these places are very highly regarded.

                  Definitely eat at one of Christian Constants' restaurants nearby on Rue St. Dominique-for a solo diner, maybe his Cafe Constant, which does not take reservations and has quite a casual feel though Constant is a Michelin starred chef. Les Fables de la Fontaine is his amazing seafood place-make a reservation for that one.

                  Although the area gets a fair number of english speaking tourists (in my experience, most waiters will speak at least a little english) it doesn't feel touristy at all-the shops cater to locals. I actually had a hard time finding even postcards for sale in the area on my last visit.

                  1. I completely agree with Le Marais! This area is packed with restaurants and I'd feel totally comfortable there by myself. If you happen to go to the Picasso Museum make sure you stop by L'apparemment on 18 rue des Coutures Saint-Gervais (it's right across the street) - It's a really cool cafe with great coffee and food. The best part is they have a whole collection of board games and you can get a deck of cards and play solitare if you just want to relax for a bit.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Hungryfina

                      Le Marais, bien sur. A must. By the way, since this is CHOWHOUND, you MUST go to open air markets (marche). There is a good one in the Marias, Les Enfants Rouge, and surrounding that market area are all types of formageries, boulangeries, charcuteries, etc. The fromagerie adjacent to Enfant Rouge is great and they pack for airplanes.

                      Also, while they can be touristy, I adore going to the big Brasserie, like Boffinger or Balzar. One of my favorites is Chez Jenny, not far from Marais, where the speciality is Choucroute Garni. Great place to go on your first night -- its always lively, the Alsatian Wine is great, as are the oysters and the Choucroute. The waiters heat up the choucroute next to your table. Its not too expensive and it feels like Paris.

                      1. re: rayhnyc

                        ooo la la! Chez Jenny! and it's a fine place to go solo! I went on a Sunday, and my waiter was great.. He kept stopping by my table for conversation! The choucroute and Riesling are SO good there! Definitely go!

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          J'adore aussie. Chez J is a good Sunday option --as many restaurants are closed.

                          I always go there my first night; with jetlag, I dont need the added brain damage of trying to find that "perfect" "hot" "new" bistro, or dealing with all the tension of 3 Michellin Stars. Chez J, is relaxed, yet lively, gives me that real feel of Paris, and I am always game for first class oysters and choucroute.

                    2. The old grand brasseries of Paris--Flo, Jenny, Lipp, Balzer, Bofinger, Julien, Pied de Cochon, l'Alsace, Vaudeville, Terminus Nord, et al.--have all been bought up by consortiums, either Group Flo or Les Freres Blanc. They now have the same sources for ingredients, the same production methods, closely the same cartes. They've been homogenized. Their buildings may have retained the breathtaking old-Paris-beer-hall look, but their cooking has fallen off considerably, into mediocrity, to my palate.

                      But I'm an old crock, who learned brasserie dining almost fifty years ago, when Jenny's choucroute garnie was better than Balzer's, Lipp still had backofe on the menu, no onion soup was better than Pied du Cochon's, Terminus Nord had the best selection of oysters, and Le Train Bleu had a Michelin star and a lobster, langoustine, crab, and crawdad platter you'd kill for.

                      So nowadays it doesn't much matter which of those old joints you choose. If Alastian beer-hall cuisine is new to you, it'll all be perfectly ok, and the atmosphere'll be non pariel.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Maurice Naughton

                        Vous avez raison. We see the same thing here in NY, except rather than Group Flo, they have names like Batalli and Meyer. That's why I only go to Jenny first night, for Choucroute, which is pretty hard to screw up (and I can barely get one here in NY).

                        Day Two, when the foodie snob reappears and the sophistication factor kicks in, I'll head to Apicius, or to that little place in the Marais where the chef grills the Andouilette in a fireplace, or better yet, shop at the local Marche and and Boucherie, and bring it back to the apartment and cook something with the local ingredients. My cooking always tastes better in Europe and thats why the very best thing to do is to rent a small apartment, rather than a hotel. The price is usually about the same.

                      2. I second the earlier recommendation for L'Ami Jean. Extremeley inventive and delicious but casual enough to dine alone at lunch time. I've been twice in the last week. Its basque-french. When alone in Paris I love popping into creperies for a quick bite in between long walks. Poillane has amazing bread and bags of butter cookies. L'As du Falafel is unlike any falafel you have tried at home.

                        La Crepe Dentelle, 10 Rue Leopold Bellan, 2nd
                        La Sarrasin et le Foment Creperie, 84 Rue St. Louis, 4th
                        L'Ami Jean, 27 Rue Malar, 7th
                        L'As du Falafel, 34 Rue de Rossiers, 4th
                        Poillane Bakery, 8 Cherchi-Midi, 6th

                        If you like to cook don't miss the wonderful chef's warehouse near Les Halles ... Dehillerin, 18 Rue de Coquillere, in the 1st. It is walking distance from La Crepe Dentelle.

                        And while near St. Germain visit Le Gran Epicurie which puts Whole Foods to shame - its next door to Le Bon Marche on Rue de Sevres.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Jer

                          <If you like to cook don't miss the wonderful chef's warehouse near Les Halles ... Dehillerin, 18 Rue de Coquillere, in the 1st. It is walking distance from La Crepe Dentelle. > it's also very close to Au Pied de Cochon, where a bowl of Onion Soup is de rigeur for me after Dehillerin on a wintry day! Makes me smile just thinking about that!

                        2. My first post.
                          but, of course, I have a need. this is very exciting reading, so let me ask:
                          we are going to meet our daughter who is studying in Paris; actually, arriving on xmas day.
                          how about a good recommendation for that day--somewhere between the 1e and the 11e on the right bank?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: peterboy

                            Senderens has Christmas and New Year's Menus. Check out the web site. It is a gorgeious place, however despite the menu I am not sure if they or anywhere will be open that day. I would check.

                            1. re: faijay

                              Good suggestion, although I must say I was underwhelmed with Senderens. He should have kept it the Lucas Carton. Try Apicius instead, although not sure about Holidays

                          2. Since you'll be staying in Montparnasse, you have lots of wonderful small bistrots in the Vavin area (edge 6th/14th arr.). Here are just a few:

                            Le Camélélon, Rue Chevreuse, 6th
                            Le Timbre, Rue Sainte-Beuve, 6th (the chef Chris Wright is British!)
                            Le Parc aux Cerfs, Rue Vavin (open on Sunday!), 6th
                            La Cerisaie, 14th
                            L'Opportun, 14th
                            Natacha, 14th
                            Brasserie Fernand, 6th
                            Café Vavin, 6th (nice sidewalk café, cheaper than the famous cafés on Blvd. Montparnasse)

                            All reasonably priced. Le Timbre is likely to be the most expensive.
                            For pizza, I recommend La Mamma, next to Le Parc aux Cerfs, Rue Vavin.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Dodo

                              I promptly second Le Parc aux Cerfs ... fantastic. And equal attention is given to the desserts.

                            2. Thank you Faijay. Alas, Senderens has dinners those nights but it is 360 Euros per person on December 31. Tres Cher.

                              1. What fun! I most always travel in France by myself because I am more inclined to meet people and rely on my own communication skills. You will find people to be willing to help you and engage in conversation more readily. Not knowing your gender, just be aware of pickpockets, gypsies and others who may take advantage of a visitor. Some may seem well intentioned; just remember it is a big city like others around the world.

                                That being said, I have also found that even marginal French (and in my case Spanish and Italian) go a long way. I've always received kind assistance in English and help with my French when requested.

                                For the much needed mental translation break (you may even feel your brain 'physically' relax upon conversing in English)Willi's Wine Bar is fun, particularly as a solo diner, as another poster mentioned. Very friendly staff and patrons.

                                For a culinary experience, check le Cordon Bleu to see if there are any day classes (demo/lecture only) available to attend. They are delivered in French, but you will most likely be able to understand the techniques and general message.

                                Don't forget Guide Michelin. I used it for my first forets into parts unknown (Dijon and Burgundy)and had some marvelous solo dining experiences. I lunched at a Michelin restaurant in Dijon and at the conclusion a couple addressed me and inquired if I was a restaurant critic (they noticed how much attention I paid to the environment, service and cuisine). We spoke at length after lunch and became friends from that day (they were visitng from Sydney). The little red book will point you to some of the food-heavy areas you seek.

                                Have a fun and happy start to the new year!