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.
Le 2121 Rue Mazarine, 6th | +220.127.116.11.76.90
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 | +18.104.22.168.24.01
Bistrot Paul Bert is what any French restaurant ought to be: It features old-school, 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 | +22.214.171.124.03.30
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.
Chez Julien1, Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 4th | +126.96.36.199.12.06
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.
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.
La Laiterie Sainte Clotilde64 Rue de Bellechasse, 7th | +188.8.131.52.74.61
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.
Le Grand Véfour17 Rue du Beaujolais, 1st | +184.108.40.206.56.27
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.
Shu8 Rue Suger, 6th | +220.127.116.11.25.88
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.
La Closerie des Lilas171 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th | +18.104.22.168.34.50
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. But the brasserie-slash-piano-bar is great for a drink and to get a feel of the place without spending a fortune. Note: In August, the restaurant is open only in the evenings.
Le Stresa7 Rue Chambiges, 8th | +22.214.171.124.51.62
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.
L’Ami Louis32 Rue du Vertbois, 3rd | +126.96.36.199.48
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.
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.
Market15 Avenue Matignon, 8th | +188.8.131.52.40.90
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.
Le Voltaire27 Quai Voltaire, 7th | +184.108.40.206.17.49
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.
Le Duc243 Boulevard Raspail, 14th | +220.127.116.11.96.30
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.
Kinugawa9 Rue du Mont-Thabor, 1st | +18.104.22.168.65.07
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.
Joséphine Chez Dumonet117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th | +22.214.171.124.52.40
Chez Dumonet has been serving up classic bistro fare (beef bourguignon, a delectable duck confit) for decades, in a dining room that dates back over a century (to 1880 to be exact). Its Belle Epoque 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).
Cinq-Mars51 Rue de Verneuil, 7th | +126.96.36.199.69.13
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.
Aux Prés27 Rue du Dragon, 6th | +188.8.131.52.29.68
This cozy spot in the 6th is open through the entire month of August, and we’re grateful for that because the dishes are a perfect showcase of France’s summer garden bounty. The burrata starter comes with fresh cherry tomatoes and a pistachio pesto, and the brunch dishes (yes, that means French toast and crepes) revolve around around summer raspberries and strawberries.
Angelina226 Rue de Rivoli, 1st Arrondissement | +33.142.608.200
Paris is one of those special cities that enthusiastically clings on to the more traditional, elegant remnants of the past—Angelina is an embodiment of this (delightful) policy. A classic tearoom that first opened in 1903, the over-the-top Belle Epoque interiors create the ambiance for a truly decadent hour (or two) of sweet indulgence. The sculptural cakes and classic patisserie that line the glass cases are the perfect accompaniment to the main event: Angelina's world-renowned hot chocolate. Choosing from the extensive chocolat chaud menu is no easy feat—we recommend the African hot chocolate, made from a blend of cocoa from Niger, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast whipped into hot milk and cream for the smoothest, slightly sweet, slightly bitter cup. Aside from sweet treats, Angelina serves up well-executed classic French dishes like croque-madame and quiche Lorraine but really it's the chocolate—and the people-watching—that makes this Paris institution a favorite with locals and tourists alike.
Le Petit Lutetia107 Rue de Sevres, 7th | +33.145.483.353
La Petit Lutetia has become a favorite ever since it was taken over and face-lifted by Jean-Louis Costes, the man behind city institutions Hôtel Costes and La Société. The décor is still that of a classic Paris bistro, with charming mirrored walls, monogrammed dishes, haphazard stacks of newspapers, and too-small tables. While the food is certainly good, you're here for the people-watching, an endless parade of beautifully outfitted Parisians ducking out for cigarettes between courses and drinking seemingly endless glasses of red wine like water. Photo credit: @parisinfourmonths
Chez Georges1 Rue du Mail, 2nd | +33.142.600.711
Chez George is hyper traditional, a little overpriced, and exactly the kind of place where one wants to eat dinner in Paris. A classic bistro in every sense, down to the mirrored walls and too-small tables. As can be expected, steak frites and boeuf bourguignon is the way to go. Unlike some of the other old-world bistros in Paris, the food here is legitimately very good and the atmosphere delivers every time.
Les Deux Magots6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 7th | +33.145.485.525
Café culture is one of the many institutions that make Paris such a pleasure to visit. An hour spent sitting outside with a café au lait and a croissant watching the Parisians pass by is time well spent. Les Deux Magots in the heart of Saint-Germain has been one of the preferred literary and creative spots forever, with regulars including Picasso and Hemingway. The menu touches the greatest hits; the croque-madame is especially good, but honestly, a coffee or—hell, you’re on vacation—a glass of champagne outside under the canopy is the way to go.
Pur5 Rue de la Paix, 1st Arrondissement | +184.108.40.206.10.60
There's a certain sexiness to hotel restaurants, and Michelin-starred Pur at the Park Hyatt oozes it. Chef Jean-François Rouquette has put together a menu of flawless interpretations of classic French dishes. Gently roasted scallops, Plouguerneau abalones, and truly excellent steak are all served in the refined, many-columned dining room. For a blow-out, completely seasonal meal in Paris, Pur delivers—drink your wine at the table and save a post-dinner digestif for the elegant Park Hyatt bar.
Pierre Hermé86 Champs-Elysées, 8th Arrondissement | +220.127.116.11.79.54
A good part of the local population is of the opinion that Pierre Hermé makes the best macarons in the city. As for the éclairs, croissants, and cakes? You'll just have to do the taste-testing for yourself. This particular outpost is massive, with a sumptuous Art Deco interior to match the contents of the pastry cases. A pretty box of Hermé’s delicately-flavored macarons veloutés (essentially meringue-like macaroons stuffed with a creamy filling) never fails to impress and makes for the perfect, easily-packed gift to bring back home.