You might have read it somewhere: Lyon, France is said to be the French capital of gastronomy.
Now, frankly, I don’t know if that’s true, even if it is indeed accepted as universal truth by all of us Lyonnais. What I do know, however, is that we love to eat and spend an awful lot of time doing it and thinking about it. Call us obsessed, but good food is just necessary in Lyon.
I’ve said it before, and finding great food is always a difficult task, especially when traveling. To spare you this pain (or at least ease it) when you come to Lyon, here are a few general tips about the gastronomic state of our city, and my favorite addresses.
Food-wise, I’m going to stick with my favorite Bouchons, which is how restaurants serving Lyonnaise cuisine are called. You can also find foreign food, as you can anywhere these days – bad sushi are a worldwide staple – but you haven’t really been to Lyon if you don’t try some of our most classic dishes: gateau de foie (liver cake), andouillete, cochonnailles (including the unlikely bits of the pig that you wouldn’t dare to eat otherwise, such as tripes, head, tongue, feet… and which can be frankly delicious), as well as the safer and delicious Quenelle sauce homardine (I’ve tried, but I can’t translate – just go for it!).
When you’re in Lyon, don’t skip the cheese (Saint-Marcelin and Saint-Felicien are regional staples), try the cervelle de canut (nothing to do with brains, it’s cottage cheese with garlic and herbs), and to go truly local, finish it off with a praline pie.
You will find these dishes (and much, much more) in the following restaurants. And yes, my selection is completely and utterly subjective.
Don’t eat in Rue Mercière
La Rue Mercière is the biggest dining street in Lyon. That is, it only features restaurants and nothing else. This means choice, but it also means that people who don’t know better go there. The street has long lost its patina and you can always find better, cheaper and hipper elsewhere.
Now don’t get me wrong, Rue Mercière is quite a sight. It’s lively, loud, busy with people of all nationalities, and is definitely worth a look around 8pm. If you must eat there, choose Les Enfants Terribles, it’s more than correct, and there’s a nice ice-cream place nearby.
Opt for Rue des Marronniers instead
La Rue des Marronniers is a similar dining street, except that it is slightly smaller and less touristic. I do like a few of the bouchons there, they’re ok without being great. But my favorite is it this restaurant:
Nowhere else in town will you get similar value for money than in this restaurant. It is one place were I forget and forgive the cramped space and non-existent decoration: the food is delicious and criminally cheap. You’re going to eat what your grandma would have cooked for you if she were born in Lyon and had impeccable taste. Yes, it’s loud and crowded, but there it is: for € 10,5 you get a four courses meal, with starter, entrée, cheese AND desert. I’m not even going to start with the price of the wine, I don’t think it’s necessary. Oh yes, booking is necessary, and here’s the number: 04 78 37 79 26.
Café des Fédérations
This restaurant is one of the oldest bouchons in Lyon and still one of the best. Authentic, traditional, generous, delicious… take your pick of adjective, but you won’t be disappointed. Also, and that’s very interesting, in the menu the cheese is à volonté! Yes, you’ll never leave hungry, and you’ll come back. (04 78 28 26 00)
La Cantine des Sales Gosses
This is the restaurant that has coined the term “playful gastronomy” for me. It’s a bit out of the way, but I’ve never met anyone that didn’t rave about the place. I love the toys used as place mats and the candy jar by the bar, and I love that they take their food very seriously but don’t show it. The service is not always as good as it should be, but this is France, and well, that’s just how it is.
Huge advantage for all of you who never know what to pick: the trust menu: for € 26 you let the chef decide what you’re going to eat, and you’re never going to regret it. (06 15 11 58 12)
Les Brasseries de Bocuse
Mr. Bocuse is THE Chef Lyonnais. A legend, he features on the painted wall of the famous people from the city, la fresque des Lyonnais. His main restaurant, the Michelin starred one, is located in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, and if one can afford to eat there one should (side-bar: if you’re going in that direction stop at the Boulangerie de l’Ile Barbe which makes great deserts and bread).
For all the rest of us, Mr. Bocuse opened four brasseries in Lyon, called Nord, Est, Sud and Ouest. He cornered Lyon and the food is always good. My favorites are Est (located in the old railroad station of les Brotteaux) and Ouest (on the bank of the Soane), but take your pick.
To finish this list, I wanted to let you in on one of the least expensive and French-est places to eat in Lyon: the 203. It’s more a bar than a restaurant, technically speaking, but they do serve quintessential, simple French food: saucisson, quiche, cheese… The bar was recently much-talked about for refusing to comply with the legislation prohibiting smoking inside places, and in our strike prone country, you don’t get much more authentic. Go for the rillettes, they’re the best I’ve ever had.