The Classic Paris Guide
Paris is overrun with culture-defining institutions, whether it’s its storied cafés, unparalleled art collections, our couture-based boutiques. Here are a handful of spots that epitomize classic Paris.
Aux Prés27 Rue du Dragon, 6th | +220.127.116.11.29.68
This cozy spot in the 6th is open through the entire month of August, and we’re grateful for that because their dishes are a perfect showcase of France’s summer garden bounty. Their burrata starter comes with fresh cherry tomatoes and a pistachio pesto, and their brunch dishes (yes, that means French toast and crêpes) revolve around around summer raspberries and strawberries.
Le 2121 Rue Mazarine, 6th | +18.104.22.168.76.90
Power lunchers from the publishing and political worlds tend to pack out the black booths at this discreet, hard-to-find spot (it’s pricey, so an expense account helps). They come for the fresh seafood, and the fact that 21 feels more like a private club than a restaurant. Photography by Jules Morgan
Le Bistrot Paul Bert18 Rue Paul Bert, 11th | +22.214.171.124.24.01
Bistro Paul Bert is what any French restaurant ought to be: It features old-school yet understated décor, simple but solid food at reasonable prices (including an excellent entrecôte), and brusque waiters. Don’t skip dessert, particularly the not-too-sweet Tarte Tatin.
Café Charlot38 Rue de Bretagne, 3rd | +126.96.36.199.03.30
This bustling bistro is particularly great for late dinners and brunch: The menu is nice and succinct, offering the classics you want after a few glasses of wine. You’ll find steak au cheval, steak tartare, a selection of burgers, and a sampling of salads, plus a small wine list mostly offered by the carafe. This is one of the few places open on Sunday.
Bistro aux Vieux Chene7 Rue du Dahomey, 11th | +188.8.131.52.67.69
If Bistro Paul Bert is too busy (which is often the case), grab a seat at the zinc bar here. It’s friendlier, much less hyped, and specializes in reliably wonderful bistro classics at always reasonable prices.
Miroir94 Rue des Martyrs, 18th | +33.1.46.06.50.73
Unassuming red leather banquettes and a simple tile floor definitely don’t compete with the seriously good French country-inspired food at this popular lunch destination for Montmartre businessmen. The options are brief (they’re presented tableside via a small chalkboard), and they’re generally roasted, braised, or terrained—you can order the menu d’hôte (appetizer, entree, dessert) or à la carte.
Chez Julien1, Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 4th | +184.108.40.206.12.06
Classic French bistros like Chez Julien are actually getting a little harder to find. Just steps from the Seine, it has an outdoor terrace where you can take in the city views. The most perfect steak frites, crème brûlée, and other traditional dishes are served on logo-emblazoned plates and accompanied by a great wine list. It’s a little on the pricey side but the formal interior (which was recently revamped by the Costes brothers) and old-school service make it a good choice to toast a special occasion.
Le Grand Véfour17 Rue du Beaujolais, 1st | +220.127.116.11.56.27
This historic restaurant—it’s the oldest in Paris, actually—has been taking up the same spot in the Palais-Royal since 1784. While it’s been thoroughly modernized, the majority of beautiful neoclassical embellishments are intact, and the tables are still marked with the names of literary legends (Victor Hugo, John Paul-Sartre, Voltaire) who frequented the spot way back when. With Chef Guy Martin at the helm, the food offering—duck, the finest cheeses—is on par with its rich history. Keep in mind that prices are astronomical and reflect the two-Michelin star ranking, so making a reservation for lunch rather than a grand dinner is a good compromise.
La Laiterie Sainte Clotilde64 Rue de Bellechasse, 7th | +18.104.22.168.74.61
La Laiterie (translation: the dairy, which is what this tiny spot used to be), is located in a section of the Left Bank that’s particularly popular with tourists—the Musée Rodin and Musée d’Orsay are both within walking distance. Though the staff here will happily explain the dishes (leek soup, poached eggs, steak with new potatoes) in near-perfect english to out-of-towners, a good portion of the patrons are locals, which really speaks volumes for the pared-down, comfort-food-centric menu.
La Closerie des Lilas171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th | +22.214.171.124.34.50
La Closerie is in the same league as historic cafés like Les Deux Magots and La Palette. And while some might say this Montparnasse standby is past its prime, many insist it’s still very much happening—after all, Hemingway (there’s a handy sign indicating his preferred spot at the bar), Picasso, and Beckett used to hang out here all the time. We recommend springing for a full dinner in the formal main hall. That said, the brasserie-slash-piano-bar is great for a drink, and to get a feel of the place without spending a fortune.
Shu8 Rue Suger, 6th | +126.96.36.199.25.88
Tucked away down a flight of stairs, this cave-like find offers an excellent omakase experience with three menus to choose from. They specialize in kushi-agué, which basically means that they specialize in delicious ingredients grilled on sticks, each one prepared differently.
Le Stresa7 Rue Chambiges, 8th | +188.8.131.52.51.62
It’s admittedly scene-y, but the tiny Le Stresa is also undeniably fun: Red velvet banquettes, a sea of ornate mirrors, and piles of pasta make it all even better. Like many restaurants in Paris, it’s closed on the weekends.
Aux Lyonnais32 Rue Saint Marc, 2nd | +33.1.58.00.21.87
Alain Ducasse’s Aux Lyonnais is one of those traditional French dining experiences that manages to deftly skirt stuffiness. The old-world façade still has the original sign from the restaurant’s 1914 debút, and the belle époque interior (mirrored walls, intricate tile floors, and an original wooden staircase) feels straight out of central casting. The menu changes seasonally—they offer a prix fixe as well as a la carte.
L’Ami Louis32 Rue du Vertbois, 3rd | +184.108.40.206.48
There are two schools of thought regarding L’Ami Louis: one is that it is an overpriced place for tourists and the other is that it is one of the best, most venerable bistros in Paris. We firmly in the school of the latter. It is small and wood-paneled, with an ancient oven and a sick wine list. We’re usually so full by the end that we walk back to the hotel.
Le Voltaire27 Quai Voltaire, 7th | +220.127.116.11.17.49
Situated right on the river, you can opt to take a seat in the front café for lighter fare (coffees, drinks, and classic sandwiches), or in the back, where they serve full meals. We love the grapefruit and avocado salad, but we particularly love the excellent people watching at lunch.
Market15 Avenue Matignon, 8th | +18.104.22.168.40.90
While this isn’t our first stop when we descend on Paris—and arguably should be skipped if you have limited time in the city—this Jean-Georges, Asian-inspired French restaurant is reliably good. And the Christian Liagre-designed space is elegant, without ever compromising comfort.
Kinugawa9 Rue du Mont-Thabor, 1st | +22.214.171.124.65.07
After a week in Paris, when it’s time to lay off the butter and goose fat, we head here. It’s not the sort of restaurant that’s going to change your life, but their seaweed salad and sashimi is solidly decent. And with two sleek and spacious floors, there’s room enough for everyone. At night, when the lights get dimmer and the music louder, it can get a bit scene-y.
Le Duc243 Boulevard Raspail, 14th | +126.96.36.199.96.30
Fresh and wonderful seafood—served in a dining room that feels like the captain's dining room in a ship—justifies the haul to this slightly out of the way institution (unless you’re hoping to hit up the nearby Marché aux Puces de Vanves flea market, in which case it’s convenient). The preparations here are blessedly simple and unflashy, which further underlines the consistently excellent quality of their catch.
Cinq-Mars51 Rue de Verneuil, 7th | +188.8.131.52.69.13
Unpretentious and laid-back, this is the sort of restaurant that’s the perfect reprieve after a few days of big, loud brasseries. The food is simple but well-prepared, and nicely affordable, too.
Joséphine Chez Dumonet117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th | +184.108.40.206.52.40
Chez Dumonet has been serving up classic bistro fare (beef bourguignon, a delectable duck confit) for decades, in a dining room that dates back centuries (1880 to be exact). Its belle époque vibe is totally charming, made even better by the clientele: You can be assured that everyone in the dining room is likely a grandparent a few times over. Keep in mind that Chez Dumonet offers many half-orders, which is key if you’re not staying in a spot that can accommodate leftovers (portions tend to be generous).