The Paris Bistro Guide
The Best Bistros, Brasseries, & Bouillons in Paris
With so many good restaurants in Paris serving traditional French food, it can be tough to choose. You can find typical French dishes at many different kinds of restaurants, with something for every budget: grand restaurant, bistrot, bouillon, brasserie — the terms for French restaurants can get a bit confusing. Don’t know what the difference is between a brasserie and a bistro? Here’s a quick guide to explain the three main types of casual French restaurants you’ll find in Paris: bouillons, brasseries, and bistros.
Bouillons are generally the most affordable and casual of these three types of traditional French restaurants. They serve simple French food fast in some stunning settings.
Like its more upscale cousins the brasseries and bistros, these traditional French restaurants got their beginning during the Belle Epoque. With a name that literally means broth — one of the signature dishes — , bouillons quickly served cheap and hearty lunches to capital’s blue-collar workers.
They became some of the most popular restaurants in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, but most of the city’s 200+ bouillons disappeared over the past hundred years. Recently, however, bouillons have made a comeback on the Paris restaurant scene, loved by locals in-the-know and visitors alike for their incredibly affordable French fare.
If you ask us, you should definitely have at least one meal at a bouillon when in Paris, we just wouldn’t recommend going for a romantic date as they’re usually quite loud and busy.
Learn even more about these typical French eateries and get our recommendations for which ones to try in our guide to Paris bouillons.
How much does a meal cost at a typical Paris bouillon?
Expect to spend 15-30€ per person.
Brasseries are Parisian institutions, indissociably linked to the romanticized image of vieux Paris, the happy and carefree times of la Belle Epoque, or the cultural and artistic exuberance of the Années Folles in the 1920s.
The word brasserie may mean brewery, but most of these restaurants no longer brew their own beer. While some continue the tradition of serving affordable meals to the working masses, many modern brasseries have taken a pricier and more upscale approach, brewing an interesting mix of people more than anything else – businessmen, birthday groups, tourists, and even gourmets all coming to enjoy traditional French cuisine in a warm and rich setting.
So what defines a typical brasserie today?
- They’re usually quite spacious with lots of tables, welcoming diners at any time of the day, or at least during larger spans of opening hours.
- Their décor is typically Art Deco or Art Nouveau, with high ceilings and gold details.
- The service is quick and professional and servers wear the traditional uniform of a white shirt with black pants, vest, and tie.
- They have large menus centered on traditional French cuisine. You’ll nearly always find oysters, mussels, marinated herrings, choucroutes (sauerkraut), soups and bouillons, and a selection of cheeses and desserts.
Which is the best Paris brasserie?
Our favorite historic brasseries in Paris are: the elegant Le Train Bleu in Gare de Lyon for its mind-blowingly beautiful interiors which transport you back into Paris of La Belle Époque; La Coupole in the Montparnasse neighborhood for its warm and inviting atmosphere which is full of history; Le Vaudeville in the 2nd Arrondissement for its oyster happy hours, delicious Irish coffees, and corner terrace perfect for people watching.
For a new twist on the tradition, we also love the neo-brasseries Brasserie Thoumieux and Brasserie Lutetia inside the five-star luxury hotel Hôtel Lutetia.
How much does a meal cost at a typical Paris brasserie?
Expect to spend 25-50€ per person at a typical brasserie, but prices can be much higher (an average of 60€ for Le Train Bleu, La Coupole, and above for neo-brasseries).
Bistros & Neo-bistros
At their origins, bistros — also called bistrots or troquets (pronounced tro-kay) — were small cafés serving a few lighter traditional lunch dishes at an inexpensive price. They appeared in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution when wine merchants opened these little venues serving food and wine to the workers in big cities.
Nowadays, the French bistro concept has evolved towards a more sophisticated cuisine, combining fresh, quality ingredients and good food at an affordable price. Mixing the art of gastronomy and bistro cuisine, this modern, foodie-favorite approach — called bistronomy — first appeared in the French capital in the 1990s thanks to chef Yves Camdeborde. Many of the best bistronomic restaurants in Paris like Le Radis Beurre, Le Pantruche, and Le Comptoir du Relais continue to bring gastronomic cuisine to the masses today.
Learn more with our guide to Paris bistronomy.
Paris bistros remain small restaurants offering a short menu of typical French cuisine in a rather casual and convivial atmosphere. They’re extremely popular and favored by gourmets seeking well-executed dishes, seasonal menus, and inventive recipes at a reasonable price.
Scroll down to see our selection of the best Paris bistros and neo-bistros and be sure to add a few to your Paris to-do list. If you love food and are looking to experience Paris like a local, there’s no better place to enjoy an authentic French restaurant experience.
How much does a meal cost at a typical Paris bistro?
Expect to spend 35-80€ per person. Et oui, that’s quite a range, that’s why we recommend checking the prices beforehand as the restaurant’s hype and its chef’s renown can significantly impact the bill.
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