So you’ve had your fill of street vendor crepes and the quaint but all-in-all perfunctory brasseries found at every corner in Paris, and you’re ready fork over the cash for the exquisite, delicate, lemon zest-laden morsel of gastronomic bliss for which you came to France in the first place. But please, please, please, whatever you do, do not head for Montmartre.
If you’re one of those more refined tourists looking to steer clear of flashy, overly commercial five-star restaurants that may provide a good show of strobe lights and wrinkleless international elite, you might want to try any one these smaller, privately owned restaurants more often frequented by the Paris locals than the parade of J. Lindeberg-wearing yuppies. Some are tucked away in subterranean burrows of auburn lighting and dark cedar chairs. Some display fine antique décor, like Voltaire’s desk. But it can be safely said that all of the following restaurant serve fish with the head on. Allons-y!
1. La Coupole
If you’re a lover of French literature, you’re surely to have run into a reference of this restaurant at least a few times.
Perhaps still too on the beaten path for some, the décor is so open, green, and fresh, with art deco cream light fixtures and teal molding encrusting the vast high-ceilinged hall, its authenticity makes up for its crowdedness. Order the sole meunière, it’s the best in the city and a dish no lover of the real Paris can miss.
La Coupole : 102, Boulevard Montparnasse, Paris Montparnasse (Metro Vavin)
2. Le Petit Cour
You have to descend two flights of stairs just to get to the main dining area of Le Petit Cour, but never has such a secretive restaurant location felt so airy and lush, as cool breezes flow from the Seine through the restaurant’s sprawling subterranean veranda.
Gold and pinkish hues trickle from the lamps and bounce off the peach-colored walls. With its bed and breakfast-y countryside atmosphere, this is where Paris’s upper class comes to get away. So don’t be surprised if the waiter snubs you at first; he probably hasn’t seen a tourist in years. The duck here melts in your mouth like some sort of ethereal cloud. C’est si bon!
Le Petit Cour : 10, Rue Mabillon, Paris Latin Quarter (Metro Mabillon)
3. La Rotonde
If you have an addictive personality, you might want to skip this restaurant. The onion soup here is so perfectly seasoned, so delightfully cheesy, and so lovingly caramelized that you may find yourself coming back for more at every meal!
The red velvet chairs and walls may give this very old restaurant a somewhat stuffy air, but the youthful, charming servers almost always greet you with a smile – surely, a rare occurrence in most Parisian eateries! After you’ve finished your meal, you’re within walking distance of the Jardin du Luxembourg. But the luxurious park sometimes closes early, especially during the wintertime. So if you want an after-dinner stroll, start your evening at dusk.
La Rotonde : 6, Boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris 15th Arrondissement (Metro Duroc)
4. Le Relais Odéon
The portions here are unusually large and the dishes are quite creamy and come with heaps of potatoes, so Le Relais Odeon might be the perfect place to eat after a long day of museum touring and garden wandering.
The hand-painted advertisements and flamboyant woodwork of this restaurant make it the most beautiful relic of old bohemian Paris still in use. Delightful mosaics cover the walls of the multilevel dining area. In the late afternoon, orange rays of the sun burst in through the long, slender windows. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie!
Le Relais Odéon : 132 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris Latin Quarter (Metro Odéon)
5. Le Procope
Le Procope is the oldest restaurant in Paris, and if that isn’t already enough to impress you, the restaurant is also home of the personal desks of two of France’s greatest thinkers: Voltaire and Rousseau.
With so many nooks and crannies here, three different dining areas, and a number of curtained enclaves, any party could find privacy at Le Procope, from a glittery-eyed couple to a bevy of CEOs. It’s the only restaurant that does escargot just right, and the fish is small, select, and of muted flavors, served with the lightest smatterings of herbs and shallots. Paintings of French Enlightenment thinkers stare down at you by the light of ornate Rococo chandeliers. The rooms smell like they’ve seen centuries of amazing cuisine. If it was good enough for Thomas Jefferson, it’s probably worth a try.
Le Procope : 13, Rue Ancienne Comédie, Paris Latin Quarter (Metro Odéon)
Photo of Paris bistro menu originally posted by AlainB