So says the BBC in a 2016 report. For me, that's about 39,950 chances to go wrong when eating out in Paris. I've been visiting Paris for decades and have made my fair share of mistakes. In fact, I made a poor choice just a few days ago, and when I was relying on someone else to plan my "Eating Out in Paris" experiences, it was simply just terrible (see my post titled: I Always Came Home Hungry). However, my mistakes are your gain! I'll not steer you wrong here!
When looking for a place to eat, try to go where the locals hang out. If you see a big menu posted in several languages outside a restaurant, chances are it is a place designed for tourist. A tourist restaurant does not care too much about their food or service because they know the diner will most likely be there only one night in their life. They are not looking for repeat customers!
We all plan to encounter big cultural differences when we travel, but the little things are often a surprise. Here are a few little quirks to be aware of when dining in Paris.
When ordering drinks keep in mind there are no free refills. When you order soda, it will come in a can or a bottle. Drinks do not come with ice. If you ask for ice, you’ll likely only get a few cubes. Water is free in France if you ask for un carafe d’eau (uhn-kah-rahf doh). You can also order (and pay for) still or sparkling water. Ask for de l’eau plate (duh loh plaht - still) or de l’eau gazeuse (duh loh gah zuhzz - sparkling).
Be aware of local dining customs. In Europe, eating is a social event, and a 30-minute lunch is unheard of. Don’t expect your waiter to come by every five minutes to see if you are done. This would be considered extremely rude. If you want something, chances are you’ll have to flag him down. He isn’t being lazy or bad at his job; he’s giving you privacy to enjoy your meal in peace. This is great if you want to spend three hours people-watching at a sidewalk cafe but can be frustrating when you are pressed for time.
If you don’t have much time to eat, consider ordering from the “take away” counter (order your food à emporter – ah om-por-tay). In fact, many restaurants and cafes near busy tourist sites offer the same menu to go. Just pick up your lunch and take it to a nearby park. This is a great option when the weather is nice. Don’t forget to grab a few napkins!
In Paris, you’ll find many restaurants that offer meals at a set price for a specific number of courses. This is known as a “menu formule”. The choices will be limited, but it often consists of selections from the restaurant’s normal menu. A three-course meal would include an appetizer (une entrée), the main course (un plat), and a dessert (un dessert). Four courses often include soup (une soupe) at the beginning or cheese (du fromage) at the end of your meal. If the regular menu looks daunting, the formule is an easy-to-order alternative.
Reward your waiter for good service. Unlike in the United States, French waiters must be paid at least the minimum wage, so a service charge is usually already included in the bill. A tip is appreciated but not always expected and tipping customs vary by situation. If you stop for drinks, it is customary to leave the change, especially if the service was good. For example, if your bill is 3.50, you can leave .50 on the change tray. However, this is not required. If you are paying with a credit card, there probably won’t be a line on the receipt to leave a tip, so just leave some change on the table. For dinner, a tip of 5-10% is sufficient for all but the fanciest restaurants.
Dessert - I am not a fan of dessert, so I'll leave that up to you. But if I come across a tasty sweet and I like it, I'll give it my recommendation and I bet you'll like it too.
All of my recommendations are linked to TRIP ADVISOR where you can find the address, telephone number and ratings/comments by TripAdvisor contributors. Read my recommendation first, then click through to Trip Advisor for details.
There are many poor places to eat on this hilltop, especially in and around Place du Tertre. Most offer tourist menus, formula menu and drinks a mussels menus. Big groups, especially student groups, come here to eat cheap and poorly-prepared menus. Here is where I Eat Out in Montmartre.
At first glance, this place has the look of any other restaurant on Place du Tertre, but delve farther inside (or outside) for ambiance and good food. They offer street-side tables, suitable for people-watching and a drink or snack. Inside, there are many quiet tables; sit near the piano and bar, not in the back. Also, there is a nice, quiet garden area out back that is far removed from the hub-bub of the square out front. Finally, they offer seating out front, along with all the other restaurants, which still provides the flavor/ambiance of Place du Tertre without feeling as if you are falling off the sidewalk into the street.
Ok, what to eat? I go for traditional French fare. Start with six or twelve escargots served out of the shell with a wonderful blend of butter and herbs. Sop up the remains with the tasty baguette that comes in a basket just for this purpose. Moving on to the main course (les plats) why not go for the confit de canard? This is a very tasty leg and thigh of a duck fried in its own fat. Here at La Crémaillère, it is moist, fall-off-the-bone and crispy good!
Walk through Place du Tertre, on the east side, down the hill beyond the artists. Follow signs to the Salvador Dali Museum. It is just around the corner, to the right from Place du Tertre. This is out of the limelight and commotion of Place du Tertre, and you'll immediately notice that this is a "locals" hangout. The menu is a bit more expensive than others in the area, but worth it. Try the filet de boeuf; cooked rare (saignant) is the way to go! Add a little butter sauce and roasted potatoes or frites (french fries) and you've got a tasty meal.
On a small little lane to the east of Place du Tertre, you could easily miss this restaurant. Not many tables inside or out, but if you get one, you are in for a treat. Some years ago I discovered Le Poulbot when it was the nearest place to pop into during a thunderstorm. Some friends joined me, and we had a wonderful dinner that lasted hours! In the years since I've missed chances to dine here because I did not book a table in advance, so be sure to call and ask for a table! The menu is French and I've had nothing that was not perfect, even the crème brûlée!
PONT NEUF-NOTRE DAME
I put my group on the Seine river cruise here at Port Neuf. The one-hour cruise takes them upriver to the Cathedral Notre Dame and then down to the Tour Eiffel and back. After the cruise, if my group is not too large, we usually dine at Ma Salle à Manger. Another very small place with a few tables outside on Place Dauphine and a few more inside. The kitchen is through a "manhole" into the cellar. Given the size, I don't know how they put out the food they do, but they do! This is another place you would do well to call and book in advance.
They offer a very nice formule menu that varies with the season. Count on the French classics done up exceptionally well! In the winter, try their bœuf à la bourguignonne and soupe à l'oignon. The fois gras is pretty good too.
The owners and staff are very friendly. The restaurant is located in a small triangular-shaped "square" covered in sand. Ask to use their boules set if you want to play a bit in the park.
This place is located on Place Dauphine as well. It is more swanky and upscale than Ma Salle à Manger, but has very good food. Plenty of tables inside and a few outside available on nice evenings. The fish, veal shank and confit de canard are good choices.
CAMBRONNE (Near the Eiffel Tower)
Years ago, I used to stay in this neighborhood with my groups and, consequently, found some very good places to Eat Out. Place Cambronne is conveniently located on the Métro 6 line and is just a 10-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. La Place Café has been around for decades. I popped in yesterday for lunch and was not disappointed. My filet de boeuf, cooked rare (saignant), was served with roasted potatoes and a small salad. The steak was smothered in a fresh wine and mushroom gravy, ah so good! Others in my group had farfalle and penne pasta dishes, which, while not French, satisfied them just as well.
Just across the street from La Place Café, with a very similar menu and ambiance. In June 2018, the street and cafe are under renovation and totally shut down. I'll let you know when I find it open again.
MONTPARNASSE & JARDIN DU LUXEMBOURG AREA
Wow, this was a good find several years ago. Last night (June 2018), four of us stopped in without a reservation. The owner helped us out by asking a couple to move to a two-top and sat us down for dinner. It's a small place with the boss and two servers on the floor, and I think there is one chef in the tiny kitchen down in the basement. The service, food and wine were wonderful. Steak seems to be a theme with me in Paris, so I went with the chateaubriand (special cut filet steak) and pommes frites. Snails for a starter, of course. Superb menu and everything prepared correctly. They also had an assorted menu. I took a photo and am including it here. Others in my group had homemade pasta, hanger steak, ice cream and the pomme au four, sablé Breton. If you are ever on this side of Paris, go here! Be sure to make a reservation!
Located just around the corner from the Montparnasse Cemetery, Restaurant/Bar Le Smoke is a good find. Sometimes they have live jazz or piped-in music. It seems like a local hangout and the menu is only in French. Don't let that stop you. Go here, have a drink and get some good food. The waitstaff is friendly and will help you with translations.
Located near St. Sulpice, Chez Julien has been a stop for me for 10 years. Early on the restaurant was billed as "Lou Pescadou, Chez Julien." I think the young chef Julien took it over a few years back. Regardless, it is worth a visit. Like all of my other recommendations, this place is small, and you should book in advance. I've taken several groups of 12 or so people here and we fill up at least half of the tables. The staff is friendly, and the chef is in the kitchen in the back cooking away. I had lamb chops on a recent visit along with escargot as a starter. You know by now, I like my meat rare, but they will prepare your meat to your liking. Give it a try!
Located just across the street from Luxembourg Gardens, near the Palace and main gate. The Trip Advisor reviews are mixed, but I find this to be a very worthy place to eat. Typical French menu with everything from beef, to duck, to fish and more. It is a cut above the other restaurants in the area.
Want a change from French food? Give Tavola di Gio some serious consideration. I've dined here a few times, but my meal here last night was fantastic. The burrata with cherry tomatoes, basil and oil was loaded with flavor (not the bland mozzarella we get at home). I then enjoyed the perfectly prepared spaghetti con polpette (meatballs). The pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, dressed with a light but flavorful tomato sauce, blending perfectly with the tender and tasty mini-meatballs. Other menu items include lasagna, other pasta dishes, fresh fish and a few classics such as saltimbocca di Roma.
That's it for now. I hope you enjoy your dining experience in Paris!