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May 6, 2013 05:08 PM

Any pleasant surprises in Paris that you found by chance?

We see so many of our old favorites here on the board. Any pleasant surprises, not necessarily the newest place or the 'in'ist place, just a good meal, decent prices, capable and likeable staff, and a good time that you found, by chance, in Paris?

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  1. Last year, my husband and I went on our 1st trip to paris and did the ultimate faux pas of not having any prior reservations (don't ask me how it happened, but it did, and won't ever again). We did pretty ok despite the fact. For example, we went to Spring to try to score a table and failed, but had a wonderful lunch at Chez La Vielle just 1 minute away. We also got lucky at Huiterie Regis which doesn't take reservations and had the loveliest wine with oysters. Le Grand Pan in the 15th was out of the way and not usually discussed, but boy, the place was packed and we sat at the counter, but had a blast.

    1. Humm, surprises, that's hard here where every opening and changement of chefs is reported.
      Yes, I was surprised that Les Tablettes de JL Nomico was so good after lying in the culinary water for a while; that La Verre Moutarde, Flamboire and La Gagnage remain "undiscovered"; and that no one will go out beyond the PC for places like Masa in B/B..

      1. There is such depth and breadth to the Paris food scene that delightful serendipitous discoveries are inevitable. Of course not many rise to the level of Septime or Rino excellence but most are good enough in the quality of the cuisine, sense of fun and/ or well-being, warm service, and buzz to qualify as a delight. I'm a local, not a tourist so I have a certain "flâneur" DNA and an instinct about which quartiers are more fertile than others. For example (among many), the Faubourg Saint-Antoine (which includes the Aligre quartier) is a goldmine... some streets like the rue Cotte are magic and it's just very bad luck if you end up with a dismal experience at any of its many restos... the same for the rue Paul Bert. Word of mouth is also a powerful intelligence... where and what to eat is the #1 topic for casual chat at the office and has resulted in some great eating experiences (Caius, Roseval, Clandestino, le Taxi Jaune, Ober-Salé) before they were reviewed or blogged about... but I also got turned on to Cornichon the day after it opened by a caviste on the rue Daguerre and to Lilane within a week of its opening by a vendeur at the Marché Monge. Some finds are, like love, quite accidental... desperately looking for a place to lunch before the cinema in the sterile redeveloped Bibliothèque quartier in the 13th, I stumbled on a cantine in Les Frigos artists' collective and was blown away by the quality of the food... unfortunately not a repeated experience because the place was either closed (very whimiscal hours) or someone else was doing the cooking... but, in trying to find a substitute for Les Frigos, we ended up having a memorable and totally surprisingly good lunch on the deck of Le Batofar (a boat moored in the Seine and better known as an ultra-hip club venue).

        Unfortunately, the tourist zones are pretty risky. Except for the Palais Royal periphery (rue Richelieu and rue des Petits Champs) where there's a big cluster of good to great restos) and St Germain-des-Près on a weekday, I rarely venture into the tourist areas without a reservation or two. For me, the Marais/ 4th is the most irksome...swarming with tourists and suburbanites and loads of mediocre restaurants... I tend to rely on the less touristized patch south of the rue Rivoli/ rue St Antoine (Pamela Popo, Métropolitain, Bistrot des Compères, Cru and, if in need of a trad fix, Au Bourguignon du Marais) and the very trendy Haut-Marais in the 3rd.

        The problem with foodie sites like Chowhound is that by recommending a few places again and again and again it creates a very narrow trail for visitors. I know the nervous nellies, compulsive planners, and fear-of-missing-out types must have validation for their choices but, believe me, there's a much larger universe in Paris. For those that need validation, I think John Talbott does a magnificent job in widening the trail. But I suspect most Chowhounders don't have the sense of adventure to explore outside the very narrow and very deep Chowhounder rut.

        11 Replies
        1. re: Parnassien

          "most Chowhounders don't have the sense of adventure to explore outside the very narrow and very deep Chowhounder rut."

          The problem is not that chowhounds lack a sense of adventure. The problem is that the visiting hounds, regardless of their budget, do not have one luxury: time.
          That is why sometimes they seem to over-plan to a transcendental degree, wanting to know as of today which restaurant will be open August and will take resa right now.
          Having a sense of adventure when eating out means accepting that quite possibly one meal out of two will not work out (based on the highly personal and non-scientific stats of my dining experience with dear JT, trying out restos largely unknown to this board). When I imagine a visitor who just walks into a nice-looking eatery, one that has plenty of seats and does not require reservation, I can't help but think that this one-meal-out-of-two guess is insanely optimistic.
          Asking a local to accept the possibility of eating badly one meal out of two is already a tall order. I dare this "adventure" with dear JT only because he keeps me in stitches during the entire meal.
          In conclusion it is too much to ask an epicurean visitor to make fortune cookies out of their restaurant selection planning.

          1. re: Parigi

            "one meal out of two will not work out (based on the highly personal and non-scientific stats of my dining experience with dear JT, trying out restos largely unknown to this board"
            Since I know JT fairly well, I'd say 1 out of 3 is more like it, but since baseball fans think .333 is a fabulous hitting average, who's to complain. But I and I think he, understand if someone wants a 1.000 trip. What I and I think he as well as what Parnassian was pointing out is that this board concentrates on 10-15 "hot places" and there are many more worthy of our custom.

            1. re: Parigi

              I agree with Parigi, when one considers food to be as important to the discovery of a country/city as art, architecture, local life... it is hard to accept the fact that half your meals may be bad because you didn't plan ahead.

              When I went to Japan, I slowly realized I could have eaten just as good without any planning done. The quality of the restaurants there, any restaurant, is amazing... but unfortunately Japan is unique. In France, if you go to "most" bistrots, it will be bad. I recently went to Madrid, same thing, didn't plan ahead as I was meeting a friend there... And I would say that the "one out of two" statistic was spot on. One amazing tapas place for lunch, one horrible portuguese taverna for dinner... Overall this 50% bad meals didn't satisfy me, and I came back to Paris feeling I really should have made dinner plans in advance.

              I have a feeling a few years ago, the dining scene in Paris was more spontaneous, and today everybody has got to get into the "reservation in advance bus", which is a bit of a shame.

              1. re: Parigi

                I'm not advocating restaurant roulette, just a broader sample of considered restaurants. Recommendation after recommendation and report after report of the same small group of restaurants does seem to suggest a deep rut and an impression that Paris only has a dozen or two of worthy restaurants. Reality is quite different. We seem to limit the epicurean experience rather than expand it

                1. re: Parnassien

                  "I'm not advocating restaurant roulette, just a broader sample of considered restaurants."
                  Exactly. What I find annoying is when folks whine about not getting into Frenchie or Septime or Spring or whatever is the flavor of the month and think their life is over.
                  So how do we broaden horizons? Induce people to venture out of the 6th or 7th or wherever? Try the new guys and gals?

                  1. re: John Talbott

                    What I have found most helpful is going to your blog and checking out some less revered arrondissements such as the 15th, 12th for example, then using your numerical rating system to find anything with a 6 or higher value that is unknown to me. In my experience this is more dependable than say Pudlo's Coup de Coeur which previously was my vade mecum.

                    1. re: Laidback

                      The problem with this approach, and I just got back from Paris last night after hitting all the greatest hits restaurants listed above, is that when you are a tourist and are only there for one week, you are likely going to see all the tourist attractions where these restaurants are also located. It's difficult to venture out of these areas when your time is so limited and getting around Paris is time consuming. I wish I was that person who could come to Paris once a year!! Or maybe, if I ever get to retire, I could spend a couple of months in Paris.

                      1. re: tlubow

                        not sure if i agree with "getting around Paris is time consuming"... Paris taxis are some of the cheapest in Europe... and in the evening when traffic is lighter you can get to lots of less touristy and more foodie-fab quartiers in just 10 mins

                        1. re: Parnassien

                          You are correct that the taxis seemed less expensive than I thought they would be. We took the Metro a lot thinking we were avoiding traffic, but it probably would have been quicker to take a taxi. Also, we had most of our big meals at lunchtime - so we were in the touristy areas. If we had planned our big meals at night, we could have ventured further afield. Oh well, hopefully we'll be back again soon and can plan differently. In the meantime, though, despite the tourist rut mentioned above, we had a wonderful trip and ate very well.

                    2. re: John Talbott

                      I totally understand why people want to go to the few 'usual' places. If it is my 1st trip, I would want to have something to benchmark against. Just to know how good it can get.

                      That said, it is not necessary to have the entire list read like the 'who's who' of Paris. As i found in my 1st trip, the experience to try something out of the usual was highly rewarding. I would totally do it again. Besides, these places tend to have more locals dining there and offer more value

                      I'd say mix it up. I know i'll be doing that in my next trip.

                2. re: Parnassien

                  My wife and I are about to take off for our second ever visit to Paris in about a week. We have reservations for our 1st 4 dinners, all courtesy of CH -- all places I wouldn't have heard of. Our 1st trip, 3 years ago, was kind of hit and miss - - - a great lunch at Hier et Aujourd'hui in the 17th, followed by some forgettable meals. The one thing I have tried to keep in mind is that Paris is more than just the food -- the architecture, the walking, we're going to spend a day at Stade Rolland Garros for the tennis . . . . . I've looked at some peoples' itineraries, and I get full just reading the proposed schedule! [And trust me, I love to eat!] And while we will be having dinner @ some of the familiar places [Galopin, Metropolitaine] there is some comfort in knowing that many CHers have eaten at these places and really enjoyed them. Frankly, while I appreciate the notion of a "Chowhounder rut," I have to say that people on this board have been entirely helpful and patient as I've planned our upcoming trip, and I'm thankful to everyone who gave suggestions. FWIW, we are also going on to Alsace [courtesy of a CH recommendation,] and haven't planned any meals for there, so I guess we are sort of balancing the Paris-hyper dedication to detail with a certain Alsatian sense of total spontaneity! We'll see how it works out.

                3. We always stay in the Marais these days, and about 4 trips ago we discovered this unassuming little casual place that flies off most radar, not on any tourist guides, or any resto guides.

                  Robert & Louise
                  64 rue Vielle du Temple

                  It's a convivial place, mostly Parisians, shared tables, and a really really GREAT Cote de Boeuf. They have other food as well, but steak is the way to go here. A wonderful experience, we go every trip to Paris! It's been in the same family for 60 years, Robert's son a & daughter run the place these days. A great surprise!


                  Note: the tiny roasted potatoes are fantastic, served with the steak!

                  1 Reply
                  1. Just returned from Paris w/ my partner (my first trip to France!) 2 days ago. We had no reservations and used the Tripadvisor app (sorry) to see what was nearby when we were hungry. And sometimes we just stopped at whatever boulangerie was nearby and looked like it had tasty treats. We didn't plan ahead, and we had no reservations at any point (even for the Eiffel Tower.... Only had to wait in line for about 40 min for a ticket).

                    Pain et Chocolat, La Florimand, Pasco (all in the 7th arr), and 2 boulangeries (one on Rue Cler, the other near the Rodin Museum) were my favorites (and the last one really was a totally random find).

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: ilysla

                      I agree with Parigi (I would disagree if I could but I can't) - I think that Paris is unique in that there are SO many restaurants, so for someone who really cares about food who is there for just a week, it would be a damn shame to have a bad meal as a result of bad or no planning! The best advice I could give would be to research as many sources as possible (my list includes CH of coursse as well as JT's blog, Le Fooding, Pais By Mouth, Anthony Lobrano, etc) and I pick one meal, either lunch or dinner, from there. I always try to include a place I've never tried before as well as old favorites. That way, if we have a fabulous lunch at a CH fave. we feel free to "experiment" at an unknown bistro for dinner, and vice versa...

                      1. re: sistereurope

                        I agree. I split my time between Paris and New York, so I have plenty of "eating time" in each. Nevertheless, I still hate to "waste" a dinner (I don't do lunch) in either city. I obsessively research, always, because it's in my nature and I like to do it. Although I'm typically a creature of habit, I do like the "new". I have the time to experiment, and I do, occasionally, with thorough vetting. I tend to like modern cooking, so that my rotation is a series of this type of venue, but it's a personal preference. However, I'm also a fan of the local, and frequent places like West Country Girl in Paris and Motorino in New York, for example, where it's relaxing, cheap and fun (as well as tasty enough).

                        1. re: sistereurope

                          The good thing about my "surprise" that I posted about above is that is is NOT on any of the above mentioned blogs or resto guides, sistereurope. Been in biz over 60 years. Packed with locals. That's why one needs to eschew the guides sometimes and just stroll around and gaze at the Cartes in the window and the ambience inside.

                          1. re: lemarais

                            I used to leave a lot more to chance when I first started going to Paris and while we did have some good luck we also some really bad. And when you only have 6 nights in a city like Paris, one bad meal is a true bummer. I do agree that it's fun to stroll and look at cartes and I've discovered some gems, but I still plan at lease one meal per day when I find myself lucky enough to be in Paris.
                            I'm glad that you found Robert and Louise and enjoyed it with the locals, but it is pretty well known in the English speaking guides including Zagat, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, etc...not that it makes it unworthy, just pointing out that it isn't unknown.

                            1. re: sistereurope

                              I did say "sometimes". I've planned to the extreme and been disappointed too. I think a combination works best, a couple of nights with a plan, a couple of nights to explore.

                              Trip Advisor a "guide"? Lol.

                              1. re: lemarais

                                Robert et Louise was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show No Reservations in 2005 and promptly became very well known to many tourists visiting Paris. Doesn't mean it's not good (we've eaten there and enjoyed our cote de boeuf a 2), but it's certainly not off the beaten track or an unknown find, lol

                                I agree with SE and Parigi ~ if I only have 7, 10 or 14 nights in Paris, I can't (or don't want to) waste even one meal by taking a chance. I love doing the research and making my list (which keeps growing, meaning I have to keep coming back). I find that anytime we just walk around trying to find somewhere that "looks" good, we end up wandering around aimlessly and finally settling for a place because we are now tired and hungry. It's so easy to make reservations, even the same day, and it avoids disappointment and choices made for the wrong reasons.

                                CH, PbM, John's wonderful blog and Not Drinking Poison in Paris are daily reads for me ~ reading and discovering and planning are all part of the fun and anticipation before my trip. We've also made some great discoveries by talking to locals who have suggested some of their favourites.

                                1. re: parisjo

                                  <I agree with SE and Parigi ~ if I only have 7, 10 or 14 nights in Paris, I can't (or don't want to) waste even one meal by taking a chance.> I certainly agree here... Another big plus for renting an apartment, because if you want to conserve on costs, cooking your own delicious meals for a few can be lots of fun -- especially with the beautiful markets we all love to peruse. My bf and I agreed our favorite Paris meal was the veal chop we bought from the butcher in the covered market near the Marche d'Aligre. I can only imagine what that chop would have gone for au restaurant!

                            2. re: lemarais

                              Robert et Louise is not exactly a hidden gem. Even when I discovered it about four or five years ago, American English was nearly the only language I could hear there. I would not describe it as packed with locals. Notwithstanding (because it is a good place indeed), I put it in the Gallimard Paris guide and I am pretty sure it is in the Lebey Bistrots guide, among others. It is mentioned by the Pudlo blog, Le Fooding, Télérama, Le Figaro, Cityvox, Yelp, Zagat, Restoaparis...

                              1. re: Ptipois

                                It's also #11 out of several thousand on TripAdvisor. :)