A new wave of chefs is bringing a fresh and modern flair to Paris’ classic bistros.
The Paris bistro, if you believe the legend, was ostensibly invented following the Napoleonic Wars, when impatient Russian occupiers called out “Bystro! Quickly!” to harried French waiters, thus creating a restaurant where you could eat in a hurry. Urban legend aside, today, Paris bistros are associated less with speed and more with the simple, traditional dishes that are some of the most emblematic of Paris dining: steak-frites, escargots, perfectly roasted chicken, or long-braised beef bourguignon.
But beginning in the 1990s, a new wave of bistros inspired by modern trends began taking the capital by storm. The neo-bistro combines the flavors and comfort food flair with contemporary minimalism and freshness. Smaller portions with a higher ratio of vegetables and excellent wine lists featuring independent organic or natural producers tend to be the secret of the neo-bistro’s success, making them some of the best French restaurants and Paris bistros.
Bistrot Paul Bert
This 11th arrondissement favorite, Bistrot Paul Bert, is perhaps one of the best bistros in Paris–and it’s no secret. The dining room is often a flurry of English speakers but trust us: this place is no tourist trap. It boasts authentic décor and a menu revolving around classic steak au poivre and roast lamb, as well as French offal specialties like veal liver and andouillette. While many bistros look at vegetables a bit askance, Paul Bert knows how to serve seasonal vegetables right, with fat asparagus gracing the menu in the spring. Lovers of fromage will feel right at home with the restaurant’s cheese platter, and house-made desserts like soufflé and ile flottante are some of the best around. Accompany your meal with one of the wines from owner Bertrand Aboyneau’s excellent selection.
INSIDER TIPMake sure to make a reservation at Bistrot Paul Bert ahead of your visit.
Café des Musées
Café des Musées has attracted Parisians for nearly a century, and while it has had its moments of less-than-stellar reputation, under current management, it more than lives up to its beautiful bistro dining room. Choose from starters ranging from a classic terrine to a lighter dish of green beans served with toasted hazelnuts. Or capitalize on one of the bistro’s stars: Escargots, usually presented simply in their shells, are here revisited with an edible mushroom cap as the serving vessel, soaking up even more of that garlicky escargot butter. Specials may also include gnocchi with mushrooms and cream sauce or a hearty veal-stuffed cabbage leaf, but the beef bourguignon, one of the city’s best, is a surefire stalwart and a star of any Paris bistro.
INSIDER TIPDining times in Paris can seem strict to visitors, with most restaurants serving between 12 and 2, not to reopen until 7. (Indeed, the best time to eat dinner in Paris is usually 8.) But Café des Musées stands out, serving until 4 pm on weekends and, unlike many other restaurants in Paris, remaining open on Mondays.
Joséphine “Chez Dumonet”
Joséphine may well be one of the most luxurious bistros in Paris, France, with décor and service straight out of the 19th century. Waiters in their starched aprons deliver the bounty of classic French bistro fare to an endless parade of modern diners looking for authentic bistro food. In a break from Paris tradition, dishes at Joséphine are made for sharing: House-made terrine or house-smoked salmon are served family-style, and a beef chateaubriand is more than hearty enough for two. Joséphine can be a bit stodgy at times, and it’s not necessarily the most innovative spot in Paris, but if you’re looking for traditional bistro fare, there’s nowhere better. Just make sure to make a reservation at this popular Paris bistro.
The categories of bistro, bouillon, café, and brasserie were once clearly defined, but today, they have become a bit of a hodgepodge. All that to say, while Bouillon Pigalle remains staunchly in bouillon territory, with its all-day service from noon to midnight and almost criminally reasonable prices, it scratches the bistro itch for those looking for exquisite versions of classic Paris bistro cooking, from French onion soup to beef bourguignon. Wine is served by the pitcher, and service is quick and no-nonsense. Be sure to save room for the profiterole: a towering choux pastry filled with sweet cream ice cream and drizzled with warm chocolate sauce. It’s no wonder it’s a favorite among local chefs!
INSIDER TIPWhile traditionally, bouillons don’t take reservations, Bouillon Pigalle and sister restaurant Bouillon République now do. You can also brave the line and try to snag a table, though in that case, the best time to eat dinner would be on the earlier side, i.e., around 6 pm.
Tucked into a pocket of the 11th arrondissement better known for contemporary, internationally-inspired small plates, Astier is keeping the bistro tradition alive with an authentic dining room bedecked with red leather seats and worn wooden tables. Game meats regularly feature here, from rabbit to boar, and many dishes, like the puffy pommes dauphines accompanying the steak au poivre, are served in beautiful gleaming copper pots. While no longer plonked on the table for an all-you-can-eat cheese-devouring frenzy, the cheese service is still one of the best.
When Chef Christian Constant finally retired at 70, celebrity Chef Cyril Lignac took the reins of his temple to French bistro fare within a stone’s throw of the Eiffel Tower. Café Lignac is a popular spot, but don’t just take our word—a quick look at the myriad positive reviews shows this Paris bistro is a favorite amongst both locals and travelers. The menu features an array of options ranging from classics like deviled eggs, mushroom omelet, steak tartare, or steak au poivre to more contemporary offerings with international inspiration, like vitello tonnato, miso-glazed salmon, or grilled cuttlefish with chorizo cream.
INSIDER TIPCyril Lignac started as a pastry chef, so save room for a vanilla-pecan mille-feuille, tarte tatin, or fruit pavlova for dessert.
This 7th arrondissement bistro Cinq Mars perfectly marries tradition and modernity. The appetizer menu boasts loads of classics at reasonable prices, from egg mayonnaise to escargots to celery root with remoulade sauce. Mains continue in a similar vein, including sausage and mashed potatoes or hand-cut steak tartare. But international inspiration is alive and well on this menu, which deviates from more commonplace ho-hum vegetarian offerings to feature, for example, a chickpea curry or an Andalusian gazpacho. And offerings on the wine menu skew organic and natural.
INSIDER TIPAll of the desserts here are phenomenal, but the chocolate mousse is a home run emblematic of the generosity synonymous with the best traditional bistros in Paris.
Argentine Chef Raquel Carena adds her own touch to classic Paris bistro cooking at Le Baratin, a Belleville institution, which also features one of the city’s best organic and natural wine lists. Her focus is on offal, those organ cuts at which she excels, but you’ll also find a larger assortment of fish and vegetable options on the ever-changing chalkboard menu than at many of the best traditional bistros in Paris.
La Bourse et la Vie
American chef Daniel Rose made his mark on the capital with Spring before opening this ode to the classic bistro, La Bourse et la Vie, near the Parisian stock exchange. The menu may feature steak-frites, leek-vinaigrette, or a grown-up play on the childhood classic of cordon bleu–chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese before being breaded and fried. No matter what you order, you’ll start with a house-made gougère, an eggy cheese puff worthy of an encore.
Chef Thomas Boullault is one of a swath of Michelin-starred chefs who have also opted to open a neo-bistro to show off their traditional French cooking chops. Bistrot Marloe is a slightly more upscale version of your neighborhood bistro, with a menu gravitating towards classics like foie gras, steak-frites with béarnaise, or escargots, albeit with a fine dining flair. Guinea hen is served with butter infused with casette, a Burgundian relative of the hazelnut; Montbéliarde filet mignon comes with pepper sauce and mashed potatoes made with artisan Bordier butter. And vegetarians are not forgotten: Choose from offerings like a lentil and quinoa salad dressed up with beets and cheese or fregola risotto with watercress pesto and Stracciatella.
INSIDER TIPBoullault’s grandfather apparently made a mean Croque monsieur that has made it onto the menu here. The sandwich comprises of the city’s best ham, artisanal cheese, and a touch of cream, and is served with a side salad dressed with sherry vinaigrette.
L’Ami Jean, an unassuming restaurant tucked into a little street in the 7th, reveals itself to be a temple to unique and innovative flavor combinations. Chef Stéphane Jégo has hit the sweet spot at the intersection of neo and bistro in his Basque-inspired dining room: you’ll get extra cozy with your table neighbors as you dig into perfectly roasted squab or seasonal vegetables simmered in a flavorful broth and topped with a parmesan espuma. The tasting menu may be a bit hard on your wallet, but it’s well worth it to see Jégo’s creativity in all its glory.
INSIDER TIPThe rice pudding dessert is a must-order: assembled tableside, it’s an exquisite version of this classic French homestyle dessert. Make sure to make a reservation at L’Ami Jean ahead of time.
Chez Georges on rue du Mail in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement is frequently evoked as one of the best bistros in Paris, and it’s not hard to see why: Since 1946, this old-school bistro has served up the ideal assortment of fare in its time-battered dining room, and it’s for this reason that it remains the favorite Parisian bistro of so many of the city’s culinary elite. Whether you want sole meuniere, steak au poivre, andouillette or house-made foie gras terrine, Chez Georges is the place to come for traditional fare.
A neo-bistro par excellence, Le Richer is a truly extraordinary bastion of what makes the category so great. The all-day menu might not appear to give off Paris bistro vibes, offering everything from mackerel bao with prune sauce to samosas, but the vibe is spot-on, and vegetarians are more than catered to, with spelt- and mushroom-stuffed squash or whole roast cauliflower with split peas and poppadum.
When old-school and new-school meet, there is culinary magic, and that’s exactly what you’ll find in the tiny 10th arrondissement spot Les Arlots, which positively exudes old-school bistro vibes. The floor manager couldn’t be more genial; the chalkboard menu couldn’t be more appetizing, with ever-changing offerings, of which the only stalwart is a mind-blowing sausage with mashed potatoes. Choose a bottle or a glass from the massive natural wine selection, and contemplate the odd-yet-endearing selection of taxidermy animals while you dine.
Le Maquis is a restaurant with two identities: The evening sees the 55-euro prix fixe menu replete with shared portions of creations, including house-made pasta or curry-spiked local lamb. Lunch is where bistro classics live, with a simple, ever-changing offering of fare ranging from leeks vinaigrette to grilled mackerel to skate à la grenobloise. Passion for bistro classics–and a time-worn dining room complete with red leather banquettes, an authentic zinc bar, and old-school tiling–make this a true must-try.
Paris has recently been flooded with a new wave of Insta-friendly bistros, with some far more laudable than others. Brasserie Rosie is perhaps the standout, with comfortable booths welcoming groups coming to sample offerings ranging from simple, exquisite charcuterie to Paris bistro classics like herring with potatoes or roasted chicken with house-made French fries. Vegetarian options are more interesting and numerous than most: A vegetarian shepherd’s pie with chestnuts or truffle-spiked pasta with 18-month-old Comté cheese are sure to please. And the cocktail menu features a host of classic and creative tipples. With its hipster vibe, the clientele here unsurprisingly skews far younger than at many other bistros in Paris.
INSIDER TIPUnlike many other Paris bistros and brasseries, Brasserie Rosie is open seven days a week.
Just off the trendy Canal Saint-Martin, Bichettes, a pocket-sized bistro, is turning out comfort food dishes inspired by the recipes of the two co-founders’ grandmothers, albeit with a contemporary twist. French onion soup is revisited with a house-made vegetarian broth and a puff pastry topping for even more crunch; a hefty sausage comes with mashed potatoes made according to the recipe of the late, great Joël Robuchon, which is to say, with 250 grams of butter for every kilo of potatoes. Comfort food with warm service? Nothing says Paris bistro better than that.