PARGuide

The Best Bistros In Paris

Massive chocolate mousses, chalkboard menus, french fry perfection, and more.
Bone marrow dish with side of mozzarella salad on red checkered tablecloth at Chez Marius

photo credit: Wenkang Shan

Ask a tourist to ID a bistro in Paris, and they’ll probably point to somewhere with a zinc bar, tiled floor, chalkboard menu, and a chain-smoking waiter guarding the entrance. Ask a Parisian, and they’ll push you in the opposite direction. Forget the myth of every corner bistro serving a life-changing French onion soup. Most of those old-school spots are tourist traps, and they often have menus full of store-bought, industrial beef bourguignon and steak tartare.

But great bistros do exist—you just need to know where to look. For each spot turning out soulless escargots, there are time warps making outstanding steak frites, and neo-bistros plating za'atar-dusted sweetbreads and vegetarian-friendly croques on ceramic plates. Whether you’re looking for a classic or a more modern spin, this guide is the path to the crème de la crème.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Ilya Kagan

French

3rd Arr.

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightSpecial OccasionsDrinking Good Wine
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You’d assume that this bistro near Place des Vosges, with tile floors, lace curtains, and an old-timey cash register, has been around since Charles de Gaulle was president, but it opened in late 2022. The menu delivers on the retro kitsch thanks to the usual bistro suspects that remind us why the saucier is the top dog of any French kitchen brigade. Beef tenderloin swims in creamy au poivre sauce, and daube de boeuf, the Provençal answer to beef stew, is olive-studded gravy perfection. If you can't resist a cheese pull, their signature softball-sized cordon bleu oozes a lava flow of melted comté when you pierce it with your knife. (Watch out for hot cheese oil geysers!) This is a pocket-sized spot with limited seating, so head here with close friends, especially ones who like low-intervention Beaujolais and hate shared small plates.

The smoky scent of roasted beef draws you into L’Ami Jean’s packed dining room, where locals and tourists raise their voices to be heard over the chef’s booming baritone. It’s the best kind of sensory overload and a preview of the food’s intense flavors. Wild game is the way to go: Seasonal grouse is roasted with thyme, oregano-marinated duck breast is perfectly char-grilled, and the wild boar stew arrives in a generous vat that’ll convince you that small portions are a Parisian myth. (Plan on a post-meal nap on the Champ de Mars.) While it isn’t physically possible to save room for their incredible riz au lait, you should order it anyway. The rice pudding, subtly flavored with vanilla, is total comfort food as is, but becomes a top contender for the most memorable dessert in Paris once you add the salted butter caramel sauce and housemade nougatine.

Mounted boar heads and a seething taxidermied fox stare you down as you sip a natty glass—it was chosen by the waiter who’s a walking line list and just set down a marrow bone heaped with steak tartare. Are you at a wine bar? An osteria? A bistro? A fever dream? Chez Marius keeps you guessing, and that’s part of the fun. Tables almost buckle beneath the organized chaos of the meat-heavy Italian- and Asian-influenced small plates shared by groups of mostly locals. (Rehearse your “Je prendrai comme eux,” or “I’ll have what they're having,” in advance.) The housemade pasta is always excellent like the tagliolini coated in broccoli rabe sauce and generously dusted with ricotta salata, and the veal’s brain served in a pho-inspired broth heaped with fresh herbs is a must. The menu changes daily, so get ready to become a regular.

If you’re looking for service with that stereotypical blend of efficiency, practiced scorn, and flirtiness, reserve a table at Chez Georges—and make sure it’s the one on rue du Mail in the 2nd arrondissement or risk a disappointing visit to one of many spots with the same name. This Chez Georges is a time warp that begins with a handwritten menu in a looping French penmanship that hasn’t been taught since the ’60s. Share a massive bowl of salade lyonnaise with thumb-sized chunks of lardon, and save space for one of the very meaty mains, like a hearty veal liver slab served next to a mound of shoestring frites you dreamed every sidewalk café made. The wine list worships Burgundy but is ultimately overpriced, so do as the locals do and choose from the more reasonable selection crammed into the margins of the food menu.

Astier is a refreshing change-up steeped in old-school charm in an area overrun with small plates and minimalist Scandi-chic décor. Sit at a banquette, spread your gingham napkin on your lap, and soak in the service spectacle you’d usually find in places charging twice these prices. Many dishes arrive in glinting copper pots and plated tableside, like the spheres of fried mashed potato ”dauphine” that come with the steak au poivre. This spot hits its stride when it gets playful: a stewed lamb shoulder seasoned more like a tagine with lemon, spices, and olives, or French country lapin à la moutarde taken off the bone, rolled into a more refined roasted rabbit roulade, and smothered in mustard cream. Since their once-unlimited cheese basket is no longer on the menu (it’s now just five cheeses on a plate), you’ll have room to end date night with one of the city’s best babas au rhum.

The temple of great steak in Paris is undoubtedly Le Severo, a charming, 30-seat shoebox perfect for a meat-centric midweek date. (It’s closed on weekends, which is pretty much the biggest flex in the Paris restaurant world.) You’ll have to go to the sleepy back end of the 14th for their dry-aged filet mignon or beef rib, but they’re worth any commute. The steaks are lusciously marbled, seared to perfection—you’ll hear your knife blade catching on the crisp surface—and happy naked (no need for butter or bearnaise). That said, the rumsteak’s au poivre sauce is on point, and we wouldn’t kick the thick frites double-fried in duck fat out of bed.

This place looks like a boutique hotel lobby, with glossy black furnishings, a monochrome statement wall, and romantic corners to hide in. It’s the perfect cozy setting to dust off old-school French classics and season them with a bit of 7th arrondissement refinement. Golden towers of flaky puff pastry vol au vent are generously filled with veal sweetbreads simmered in cream, but not before they're lined with a sautéed spinach base to keep the pastry crisp. (That’s the whole point of vegetables, right?). Innards aside, the menu also features a delicious egg-mayo and some of the prettiest in-shell scallops ever. Sip a digestif from the drinks cart or an espresso before a walk along the Seine a few steps away.

If you can’t see your food at Cinq-Mars, don’t worry—it’s not just you. The dimly lit bistro is full of dark wood and darker accents, but it’s still a bright spot in the touristy Musée d'Orsay area. We love the gut-busting portions, like the veal blanquette and a chocolate mousse served in a vessel nearly the size of a fruit bowl. The lighter options are made with just as much care, and that’s pretty rare for a bistro. While you can add a seasonal mushroom filling to the French omelets, the creamy eggs shine when you order them plain. Along with seasonal soups, mushroom toast, and warm leek vinaigrette, these meat-free dishes feel like nods to Gwyneth’s Goop groupies, but we’re just glad that there’s a bistro in town where vegetarians won’t feel left out—and where you can get a break between two croissants.

It’s hard to make a long midweek lunch feel cheeky in a city where even working stiffs call their lunch break the “twelve to two.” But Parcelles is where to give it a go. Mismatched ceramics and white tablecloths add sophistication to the vintage tiled floors and wraparound bar—call it a bistro that got Botox. The glow-up translates to the daily-changing menu, which nudges traditional flavors into fine dining territory, like fish tartare with ponzu vinaigrette and a pig’s head terrine that somehow feels fancy, with its delicate ribbons of white fat and homemade pickle garnish. Service is friendly by Parisian standards, which seals the deal on making this the place to take the rest of the day off (you were gonna do it anyway), and fuel up with a second bottle from the 1,000 on the wine list before doing major damage at the Marais boutiques nearby.

To understand why the French say, “Tout est bon dans le cochon” (“Everything in the pig is good”), head to this Belleville old faithful. Dishes at this barebones bistro mostly revolve around offal, and are more creative and delicious than the next—pork snout terrine, crispy pig's ears, poached calf’s brain doused in lemon butter. It’s no surprise that Parisians have been sitting on these worn leather banquettes for over 30 years—and that’s despite (or is it thanks to?) its almost comically ornery maitre’d, who seems straight out of central casting for “disgruntled Frenchman.” He's part of the charm, but not the reason why we return to this spot again and again. Grab a group of friends who don’t turn their noses up at nose, and won’t think twice about swapping plates so that everyone can try every dish.

This maximalist bistro delivers big flavors, big ambiance, and big prices (shareable slabs of dry-aged beef cost the same as a month’s groceries). The walls of the three dining rooms are crammed with massive chalkboard menus and vintage tin signs advertising Pernod and Picon. It’s the Disney ideal of the bistro, so no surprise that tables are loaded seven nights a week with tourists who put up with occasionally aloof service and page through a wine list weighing more than a child. This place is best with a group, so you can share the dry-aged entrecôte flavor bomb (avoid the unseasoned €28 tartare), and order the elevated à la carte dishes, like a lentil salad classed up with smoky bacon and endive shavings. Split the chocolate mousse with five close friends—and hope one of them is picking up the check.

The mid-trot taxidermied piglet standing watch over the front door of this tiny bistro might make you do a double take—especially once you get your plate of complimentary saucisson slices. But the cozy ambiance, nostalgic French comfort food, and friendly staff who may even use the informal “tu” will make you feel like a regular. The short menu revolves around updates to bistro old-reliables like egg-mayo punched up with black garlic and smoked eel, or pan-fried sweetbreads paired with celery root mousseline and shiitake mushrooms. The only constant is the saucisse-purée, a gorgeous herb-infused sausage served with silky mashed potatoes filled with a jus so thick it’s almost sticky. There’s no wine list (bottles line the shelves along the back wall), but the servers will be more useful in helping you pick a natural glass than the forty framed ortolans staring down at you.

Don’t be fooled by the plain façade and wicker chairs of this not-so-textbook bistro. Tatted servers pour exclusively natural wines, and the chalkboard menu is dominated by seasonal dishes with enough “cheffy” touches to make them feel new. Leeks shed their typical vinaigrette security blanket for a buttermilk sauce and mussels, while steak tartare, fresh from an Italian vacation, is seasoned with guanciale and anchovy and molded around an egg yolk. The 11th is full of small plate spots where you’re forced to fill up on bread to leave satisfied, but not at Au Petit Panisse. Their mains come with sides, like bitter greens and roasted potatoes, both a step up from traditional salade verte and frites. This place is open on Mondays, unlike most of the city’s restaurants, which is another reason to come and dine next to chefs enjoying a night off.

If you’re as tired as we are of restaurants plating butter with fancy radishes from some farm you’ve never heard of and calling it dinner, high-tail it to Café Les Deux Gares. This bistro with the candy-cane striped awning isn’t just name-dropping the best in France’s regional specialties—it’s transforming them with so much creativity that no part of you will wonder why you didn’t just eat the same tin of expensive sardines at home in your pajamas. Here, Galabar blood pudding is seared to a perfect crisp and plated with golfball-sized sweet peppers, and tiny Noirmoutier shrimp are scattered on a borlotti bean purée, a surprising textural contrast with a flavor punch of sage. If the weather's nice, sit on the terrace for sunset over Gare de l’Est. It’s no Eiffel Tower, but that’s why we (and all the other locals) love it.

Velvet curtains and mirrored pillars glam up the traditional dark wood dining room at this Pigalle bistro, turning even a random weekday lunch into the moveable feast Hemingway promised. And at this party, the food is both the sustenance and the show. Tender beef shoulder is presented like a work of art, with a rich red wine reduction and strokes of black garlic purée. A perfect disc of chocolate cake in a pool of whiskey crème anglaise is dusted with toasted pecans and crowned with an immaculate quenelle of hazelnut ice cream. The plates may look like something out of a fancy, white tablecloth restaurant, but the homey flavors of persillade and remoulade pack the room with mostly local diners, and the steal of a €23, two-course lunch prix fixe is a big part of what keeps us coming back.

Everyone from your dog walker to Ina Garten (to Ina Garten’s dog walker) has proclaimed Bistrot Paul Bert the city’s best. And it’s not hard to see why. This place in the 11th ticks all the classic bistro boxes. Service is efficient and resolutely Francophone, no matter how many Americans occupy the wooden tables. There are tiled floors and a wraparound bar. The complimentary gougères are creamy puffs of cheesy bliss, and the steak au poivre is downright luxurious, blanketed in a black peppercorn-rich sauce that’ll clear your sinuses. Yes, some dishes miss the mark, like the overcooked egg-mayo or bland chocolate soufflé. And, yes, the truffle-studded everything and branded sweatshirts feel like a money grab. But look past them. This place is an institution for a reason—there’s just no need to give up your firstborn for a reservation.

The casual three-hour, three-bottle weekday lunch is alive and well at this Latin Quarter bistro that’s thankfully immune to the frustrating table-turning trend that’s crept onto the Paris dining scene. Servers will riff on the exact weather conditions that made this Beaujolais so beautiful before leaving you free to eat at your pace. Make friends with your neighbors so they can help you support the chalkboard menu on your bare square meter of table, and order from the list of bistro classics with acidic and bitter touches that aren’t 100% traditional, but totally should be. Why doesn't every place pair fatty smoked morteau sausage and slow-cooked lentils with bitter greens and pickled red cabbage? We don’t have the answer, but we love coming here with friends who want to philosophize it with us, especially for the €27, three-course prix fixe lunch.

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