The Best Restaurants For First-Timers In Paris
photo credit: Yann Deret
Paris. City of steak frites, flaky croissants, and all the cloudy, unfiltered wine. You’ve probably also heard a thing or two about all the butter, the cranky waiters, and multi-course tasting menus. Maybe you haven’t sampled any of it yourself yet. Or maybe you did, but it was while studying abroad and you spent most of your time enjoying Europe’s lower legal drinking age.
Either way, the time has finally come for you to properly taste Paris and its 20 diverse arrondissements. If you want to see and eat it all, planning ahead is necessary. Restaurants are small and tend to have very short windows of operation: lunch is from noon to 2:30pm and dinner is from 7pm to 10:30pm, with the exception of all-day brasseries and cafes. And since most places only offer one or two seatings for dinner, reservations are key.
Use this guide to make some decisions. Some of the spots are standbys, and therefore may already be on your planning spreadsheet courtesy of your friend’s sister’s brother’s recommendations. But we’ve also included some more modern spots and places serving non-French cuisine, for those nights when you might burst from eating another saucisson.
CLASSIC BISTROS & CAFES
This steak frites joint near Galeries Lafayette department store, and just below the hip part of Pigalle, ticks all the design boxes of a bygone-era bistro despite being relatively newish (it opened in 2013). There’s a menu on the mirror or chalkboard, wooden chairs, and wine bottles on display throughout.
Beef is the big draw—ideally ordered saignant (rare) or à point (medium rare)—but expect other classically French dishes like asparagus in the spring and truffle-topped fish in the fall. Wine and cheese are also a focus, so save room for a nutty beaufort or a stanky bleu d’Auvergne for the in-between fromage course. They’re open every day for lunch and dinner, which is especially convenient if you’re visiting on a Sunday or Monday when many popular restaurants are closed.
Ancient cash register? Check. Brass wall sconces? Check. Coat hooks hung so low they could’ve been installed for Napoleon? Those are here, too. You’ll find it all at this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it neighborhood bistro around the corner from the Bastille monument that’s perfect for an introductory (or farewell) traditional French meal.
Expect simple starters like crispy fried mushrooms and artichoke hearts doused in butter and plated with zero flair, practically-just-plucked sucrine lettuce served with a creamy mustard dressing, and mains like a fist-sized chicken cordon bleu. All dishes come with either thin and crispy frites, a whipped potato purée, or simple spinach. And while you’re the boss, waiters won’t hesitate to steer you towards what they recommend. (Fries for the hanger steak, purée for the Provencal beef stew.)
If getting a close-up of the Eiffel Tower is on your agenda, then booking a spot at the nearby L’Ami Jean should be too. It’s a lively, rickety bistro with mismatched furniture and crooked artwork where the food is excellent and hearty—think roasted veal cheek and beef bourguignon. The tasting menu includes smaller portions of the greatest hits, plus seasonal standouts like stuffed butternut squash in the winter and a foie gras-stuffed tuna belly “sandwich” topped with marinated melon in late summer.
No matter what, don’t leave without trying their famous rice pudding, which comes in a wooden bowl with a big serving spoon that you’ll be tempted to use as your own personal utensil. Go for lunch so you have the rest of the day to pleasantly digest, and make sure to book a few days, if not weeks, in advance.
Parcelles is another newcomer located in a space that dates back decades. You’ll get both charm and sophistication from the menu of French classics with clever contemporary touches, like the when-its-in-season chou farci, or stuffed cabbage, whose minced pork is injected with foie gras and flecks of pistachios. And if the starter of slightly-seared, escargot-style scallops topped with thin, salty slices of guanciale is on the menu, get it.
Run by a young couple who’s obsessed with hearty, homestyle French cooking, this is white tablecloth territory, but a bit more fun and fresh, courtesy of the occasional Michael Jackson playing overhead. In other words, it’s a great place to bring your parents, but you can still show up in sneakers and jeans without them telling you to beat it.
You could skip visiting Versailles or a performance at the Opera Garnier and still get your fill of over-the-top aristocratic decor by having lunch or dinner at Le Chardenoux. The hundred-year-old marble bar is just one of the remarkable relics inside this restaurant in Paris’ popular gourmand quartier, Village Faidherbe. There’s also the hand-painted leaf motif ceiling, etched glass windows, and ornate crown moldings.
The fish-focused menu changes seasonally, but regular standouts include the crunchy crab galette with avocado and curry and the citrus salmon crispy rice topped with jalapeños. Service is surprisingly attentive and almost downright friendly, and while the vanilla millefeuille will be tempting, if you’re there during the day, consider a detour across the street to the chef’s bakery or the chocolate shop. (Alternatively, do both.)
You’ll typically find these types of classic corner cafes near metro stations or at big intersections, with large terraces that spill out onto the sidewalk and chalkboards promising prix-fixe deals. The food can be iffy, but this spot in Montmartre is solid and has everything you want from a place like this: rattan chairs, leather banquettes, and classic French dishes like oeufs mayonnaise, tartare de boeuf, and a fantastic foie gras.
Stop by for lunch or dinner and order a fresh salad (a recent one came with squash and goji berries) or the duck fat burger that’s served with not-quite-skinny, not-quite-thick fries. (If it’s not on the menu, ask for it.) Cafe de Luce is a great destination to rest and refuel before or after hiking up and down the neighborhood’s many staircases or hidden cobblestoned passageways that lead to the Sacré Coeur cathedral or the Moulin Rouge cabaret, especially since it’s open for continuous service on the weekend.
NON-TRADITIONAL & TRENDY
Owned and operated by the same people behind Septime (which is notoriously hard to get into, hence its absence from this list), Clamato is a superb alternative, though it’s a wholly different experience. The menu is à la carte, for one, and almost entirely made up of seafood—think raw cuttlefish with sesame and chili, ceviche with squash and coriander, and plenty of oysters. It’s open every day for walk-ins only, and we like it for both lunch and dinner. Order a bottle of something sparkling, a dozen oysters, and see where the day or night takes you.
Tekès, which means ceremonial in Hebrew, is from the same Israeli team behind Shabour, Shosh, the now-closed Balagan, and the new Boubalé. This is their vegetarian-only restaurant that serves creative dishes like yellow and purple beetroot kabobs, fried gnocchi drenched in curry, and mushroom and egg “foie de volaille” that lacks both foie and volaille.
Sop up every last schmear with their fantastic bread, along with a celebratory shot of Arak with your server. This multi-room restaurant, with its desert-meets-souk vibe, is big for Paris standards, so while we always recommend booking in advance, you could swing by and take a chance if you’re in the area.
This studio-sized restaurant with a mint green facade has become so popular that it books up weeks in advance (you can join the waitlist, but there are no guarantees). Generally filled with English-speakers and run by a French-Lebanese and Japanese-American couple, the sweet and savory dishes they make in their tiny open kitchen are filled with flavor and near-perfect in execution.
Expect mains like line-caught fish or chicken that’s flavored with Middle Eastern spices, and desserts like satsuma mandarin almond cake and sesame halva cookies. While their lunch is most popular (they’re not open for dinner, or on weekends), we suggest breakfast between 9am and 10:30am. They don’t take reservations, but you’ll find the same superb quality in their whole wheat waffles or the granola with fruit, mint, and a dollop of homemade confiture.
Palaces aside, the food inside most Paris hotels is not often worth sampling outside breakfast. (And even that meal can be questionable—you’re better off hitting up a local boulangerie instead.) But Les Parisiens, the spacious restaurant with velour banquettes and brass-edge mirrors inside the Pavillon Faubourg Saint-Germain Hotel, is an exception.
Classic plates like veal tartare and sole meuniere are tremendous (and priced as such). Take a date, your parents, or anyone you want to impress. If that person happens to be Irish or an English major, you can brag about how you booked a table at the address where James Joyce finished Ulysses over an €18 cocktail and the millefeuille.
Yes, you’ll hear quite a lot of English speakers at Le Mary Celeste, but we still enjoy this spot in The Marais for its laid-back vibe, great small plates, and funky natural wine. Expect dishes like creamy deviled eggs, bulots with wasabi mayo, duck tartare with tamarind and smoked beets, and plenty of oysters. Everything is meant to be shared, but if the plum tarte is on the menu, order one for yourself. This is a great, convenient spot for an early dinner during the week, or a mid-day meal on the weekends when they’re open for continuous service.
WINE BARS & SMALL PLATES
This is the most recent (and biggest) addition to the L’Avant Comptoir snack-and-sip family. While the two other locations near Odeon are known for standing-room-only crowds where you might end up elbowed in the face as someone reaches for the giant slab of butter on the bar, this one has plenty of space and even some actual chairs.
But there’s still some edge in the form of a grumpy and impatient bartender who won’t pour tasting after tasting (even if you speak French), so come feeling decisive. Luckily, the small bowl of whipped tarama sprinkled with chives and basil pesto gets served with a semi-smile. Paired with a dense corn and wheat flour bread filled with flecks of sunflower seeds, it’s the perfect late afternoon snack when you’re hungry after wandering around St.-Germain-des-Prés.
Rive Gauche is generally known for being pretty touristy and old-school, but Chez Nous is anything but. The long, narrow space with exposed stone walls, sharp steel counters, and a wooden bar makes for a great place to go on a date or with a group of a few friends. Prepare to be educated, but without the usual wine snobbery: the owners know their stuff and are happy to talk about the French-focused list that includes lots of by-the-glass options and a deep bottle selection. If you’re hungry, this is an excellent bar à vins for top-notch cheese or charcuterie, like thinly-shaved slices of truffle-inflected gouda or a plate of creamy goat cheese drizzled in honey.
Everything about this place screams classic wine bar: an oval-shaped, open-kitchen bar, wine glasses hanging upside down from a rack above, and bottles-as-decoration along shelves in the back. You should make a reservation, and while they won’t turn you away if there’s an open seat between bookings, you probably won’t be able to linger. Plan ahead to enjoy a crisp crément from the Loire, plus plates like fresh tuna tartare with a kick (thanks to some jalapeños) and a creamy lasagna you won’t want to share. This is a great spot for a date or a meal with a friend or two, but it’s not the best for groups, since seating is side-by-side only.
Warning: This mainstay along popular Oberkampf might cause you to make a major life decision. It’s the kind of Parisian hangout where you’ll refill your verre so much that before calling it a night, you’ll declare on your socials that you’re moving to Paris. (True story.) It’s loud, busy, and just the right amount of chaotic, though it’s a bit more chill during lunch when they serve an inexpensive prix fixe meal. But mementos in the form of wine stains on the yellow formica tables remain (and proliferate!), as do overflowing ashtrays on the tables outside.
BOULANGERIES & QUICK BITES
While bakeries deserve their own list (and we’re getting to it!), we had to include at least a few here. This women-run boulangerie with locations in the 9th and 10th arrondissements is newer, and while it may not provide the Art Deco atmosphere you want for your grid, their bread and pastries are some of the best in town—especially the babka and cinnamon bun, which other, more traditional institutions don’t often make.
Go after breakfast but before lunch (around 10:30am is good) and grab a turkey sandwich on a brioche bun and at least one of the €1 cream-stuffed chou before heading to the canal to chow down. And yes, the line is worth it.
Listen, you’re not going to find a croissant in this town without gluten. But you will find dense, delicious bread made with nuts and figs, seasonal tartlets oozing with lemon, apple, or pear creams, and other baked goods devoid of the wheat protein—and the best can be found at this charming bakery off of popular rue Oberkampf. Pop in for a quick snack in the morning before heading out for the day, or later on to grab some carbs that you can bring to the nearby Square Gardette. We love their mini loaves, or “chambellines,” and their shockingly moist and light rice flour focaccia with Kalamata black olives.
Famous for their buckwheat crepes from Brittany, Breizh is a perfect inexpensive lunch or dinner when you need something light and easy or you forgot to book ahead. Traditional savory galettes like simple ham and comté, or sweet crepes like pear, white wine, and chocolate sauce are terrific, but you could also go against the gluten-free grain by ordering one of their rolls. Instead of being served flat and open like a pancake, these are folded into a cylinder shape and then cut into pieces like sushi.
The Marais location is probably the only one of the nine in Paris where you do need a reservation because it’s so small. Others, like Paul Bert and Odeon, have more space and lovely terraces for sitting outside when the weather’s nice.
If you’re wondering why L’As du Fallafel isn’t on this list, it’s because we think Miznon is better. Plus, there’s rarely a long line, and at Miznon, you get to sit and eat your stuffed pita at a table with chairs with some really fun, loud music playing overhead. The three locations of this all-day Israeli-run spot produce some of the best Levantine flavors in Paris on the warmest and fluffiest pita around.
We’re partial to the chou farci, but the spicy fish, lamb kebab, and beef bourguignon are also worth the mess you’ll make while eating them. They recently added a falafel sandwich to the menu at the Marais location, but purists should know it’s in patty form. Also, plan accordingly: They’re closed from mid-afternoon on Friday through sundown on Saturday in observance of Shabbat.
You’ve likely eaten a Sad Desk Salad at work, but have you had the Sad Train Sandwich? Let’s hope not. To avoid it in France, pop into this spot across the street from Gare du Lyon before boarding your train to Lyon or Provence. They’re open all day, with a handful of tables on the sidewalk and three inside along a banquette if you don’t need to grab and go.
The midday meal is unbeatable: a baguette sandwich made with cheese from their display and a dessert of fromage blanc for €9.50. The options will change regularly, but on a recent visit they included gouda with homemade apple jam and pickled apples, goat’s cheese and tomato chutney, and ham with pistachios and burrata. No extras like lettuce—just straight-up fromage, one topping, and a complementary spread.
FINE DINING & TASTING MENUS
Located inside an actual two-story residence off a side street in the 11th arrondissement, Maison Sota is from the Japanese chef who put neo-bistro Clown Bar on the map (and, subsequently, every visitor’s must-eat list) back in 2017. All the action takes place upstairs under a wooden gable and inside the open kitchen, where the chef can be seen using tweezers to top rose-colored beef with bitter purslane or just-barely-roasted vegetables with slices of lemongrass and daikon radish.
At €145 for dinner (or €75 lunch), this is one of the higher-end tastings on our list, but between the unique setting, spacious seating, and almost too-pretty-to-eat meal, it practically feels like a steal compared to fine dining restaurants of this caliber around Paris.
At Granite, the staff wear matching beige pants and white button-downs and the silverware gets its own handmade ceramic holders. But there’s nothing stuffy about this spot around the corner from the Louvre. The inside feels very country home-meets-contemporary art museum, with exposed beams painted white, suspended decorative light fixtures, and white porcelain plates in the shape of bark.
The three-, five-, or seven-course tastings (starting at €75 for lunch and €135 for dinner) feature flavor pairings like wood-fired scallops smothered in a smokey turnip, anise, and butter sauce, and a saffron and mango sorbet for dessert that might just be the star of the meal. With only 26 seats, it’s an intimate, quiet space where you can comfortably spend the better part of an afternoon or evening.
We’ll forgive the ‘90s decor (inexplicable modern art, stonewashed walls, etc.) because the food itself at Substance is representative of today. The degustation menu is seasonal, but there are two standout signatures: the amuse bouche bowl of whipped potatoes and runny cancoillotte cheese topped with trout eggs, and a sharp, creamy lemon tarte palate cleanser that’s presented as a paw print.
The three-course lunch is €62 and the five-course dinner is €125. Despite its location in the posh and otherwise quiet 16th arrondissement, it’s a great destination pre- or post-visit to Place du Trocadéro for viewing the Eiffel Tower, or the nearby fashion houses and museum expos of YSL or Dior.
Pantagruel is a famous mythical character in French literature who “loves to indulge in epicurean pleasures,” says the menu, which not only explains the restaurant’s name, but how the courses—dubbed “chapters”—unfold. Each dish is actually three mini ones: The chef focuses on one major ingredient (say, leeks) and serves it three ways on a variety of striking ceramic plates. If it sounds very The Menu, it is. But it works, and no one will turn into a s’more at the end.
Added flair comes in the form of dry ice, nori and miso seaweed butter prepared tableside, and a recording of “Pantagruel” that’s read aloud in the bathroom. Despite the small portion sizes, you’re still getting three mini plates of each course—at lunch, it’s three for €65, while at dinner it’s six for €150—so you won’t leave hungry.
Eating at Pierre Sang is like playing a game, where the goal is to guess what you’ve just eaten. There’s no set menu—instead, dishes get dropped off and you’re left to savor and reflect on your own. Once you’ve placed your silverware back on the granite plaque for cutlery, someone will arrive to ask what you think you tasted. Perhaps you thought you ate tender veal, but it was really pork filet mignon. Those “cherries”? Actually, they’re beets! Same goes for that carrot purée—it’s butternut.
This type of experience isn’t for everyone, and you probably shouldn’t bring someone who’s a picky eater. Instead, show up with a date or friend who’s down to experiment. The non-pretentious servers—and the namesake chef, a French-Korean and finalist on France’s Top Chef—just want you to enjoy what you’re eating, and maybe understand it a bit better.