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Best bistros in Paris? Please help!

My husband, who has never been to France (but has otherwise traveled widely in Europe), and I are heading to Paris on Sunday. I've been to Paris and other parts of France many times and really appreciate fine French food. My husband really likes good bistro food (Bouchon and the like), but he's a casual guy who doesn't like stuffy restaurants or haute cuisine. I want him to love Paris and return with me often (we are newlyweds) in the years to come, so it's important for me to get this right. He loves Italy, but seems skeptical of France.

We're only in Paris for 2 1/2 days before heading off to Normandy, and this is my plan, as of now: Day 1 lunch at Cafe de Flore (since it's his first trip to Paris, I thought this might be a good intro for a croque monsieur or omelet?), dinner at La Fontaine de Mars. Day 2, lunch at Le Florimond and dinner picnic of market goodies on Champs de Mars at sunset. Day 3, lunch at Cafe Constant and dinner at Chez Janou.

We're on a budget, so the real gems of Paris are off limits to us on this trip. But next time.... if he falls in love with Paris as I have. I would be grateful for advice on where to dine on this quick, yet important, trip to Paris! Merci!

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  1. I should add that the following are on my list of options: Josephine Chez Dumonet (concerned about getting a reservation since no website), Chez l'Ami Jean, Au Bon Accueil, Au Petit Tonneau, La Varangue, Le Comptoir and Rotisserie d'en Face. But obviously open to other suggestions, as well! Thanks again!

    1 Reply
    1. re: MDWest

      Much depends on how your new mate feels about "space" and being hurried. The French are less sensitive about "space" than we former mid-westerners are. I didn't mind sitting shoulder to shoulder with an elegant black terrier at Cafe Constant, but he might. We also like the casual atmosphere of the French brasseries, so Les Fines Gueules, which occupies the site of the former brasserie Les Tourelle, could be a excellent choice.

    2. MDWest nailed it, also try Les Fines Gueules near the Louvre, which collects the best menu items from across Paris and France. So the butter they serve is really famous butter, their bread comes from a really famous bakery, their charcuterie and foie gras, well, you get the idea.

      It's a great way to sample restaurant quality ingredients at bistro prices and relaxed atmosphere. Plus it's a nice central part of town and their wine list is great.

      Other than that, I'd suggest skipping Cafe de Flore, it's ultra touristy, decades past its prime and insultingly expensive. There are a bunch of nice bistro's on St G d P, for the most part just wander around and stumble in to one, you'll enjoy it way more than stressing over some one else's directions and recommendations.

      1. With only 2.5 days and a budget to think of, Cafe de Flore would not be on my list. I have been and it was a huge disappointment. AgentRed comments pretty much describe the problems.

        Chez L'Ami Jean - unpretentious, great value, wonderful food.

        6 Replies
        1. re: shopwinedinefine

          So Cafe de Flore is off of the list! What would you rec'd for first meal in Paris? We are staying in the 7th, and would like something in that area.

          1. re: MDWest

            I wouldn't avoid Flore or Deux Magots totally, simply grab a seat outside, order a drink and watch the beautiful people, but don't stay too long as it is very expensive.

            Close by is a small Bistro called "Fish" good food, very relaxed and staffed by good English speakers. It is a safe way to enter Paris dining.

            1. re: PhilD

              "Best Bistros in Paris" is a question that says "Ask 100 people this question, and you will get 100 different replies!"

              Cafe de Flore and Deux Magots are the ultimate Tourist-trap un-bistro. If you want to feel like Hemingway or Sartre, I suppose you could have a 7 Euro coffee and sit there awhile. But definitely not an authentic bistro experience.

              The pre-eminent guide to bistros in english is John Whiting's bistro index. Lots of pithy reviews, gives you lots of info for making your choice. Here's the link:


              1. re: menton1

                I agree "best" is very subjective, and John's reviews are good, it is also sometimes useful to compare/contrast them with John Talbot's and Alexander Lobrano's blogs to get a spectrum of views.

                I was attempting to answer the question in the context of the OP. I agree Flore/Magots are not authentic Bistro but they are good fun for early evening people watching, but be warned avoid the food, it is dire.

                1. re: PhilD

                  Can you please post the blog addresses you reference? Thanks so much for your help!

        2. I would suggest you try Le Comptoir at the carrefour de l'Odeon for lunch. They don't take reservations but if you get there at noon you'll get in. It's a wonderful bistro and the food is great.

          1. sunset on the Champ de Mars is going to be very late this time of the year -- 10pm.

            I agree with everyone else that Flore is not a good idea, especially if you're on a budget. All your other ideas are excellent. Then indeed there is a question of personal taste and luck. But Joséphine is one of the common answers to the best bistrot question, as is Chez l'Ami Jean. Given your description of your husband, La Fontaine also sounds very appropriate.

            1. I second souphie (the man is a one-stop Paris-resto bureau, check his posts as well as his blog) but I would add La Regalade to the authentic-bistro experience. It's a bit off the beaten track, down near Porte D'Italie, but well worth it.

              8 Replies
              1. re: barksducks

                What about Chez Georges on Rue du Mail? Has anyone tried it lately? Any last minute tips from the experts? Thanks, all! I'll report back upon my return!

                1. re: MDWest

                  F. Simon (http://francoissimon.typepad.fr/) reports that it's about to close and one should go asap.

                  1. re: John Talbott

                    Dr. Talbott, as we both know well, your command of French is far superior to mine, but in reading Simon's blog it seems to me he is referring to the chef retiring, not the closing of the restaurant. It is good to see you on Chowhound with your knowledge of all things culinary in regard to Paris.

                    1. re: Laidback

                      Of course, you're correct; but the bottom line remains, go now if you want his food.

                2. re: barksducks

                  A minor correction on Le Regalade. It is no where near Porte D'Italie which is in the 13th. It is in the 14th and the closest metro is Alessi. The nearest porte is probably Chatillon.

                    1. re: PBSF

                      I love La Régalade but I would not call it a traditional bistrot -- it's a bistronomique, i.e. a place that uses fine dining ingredients and techniques in a casual setting and atmosphere.