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The obvious fact : Paris is one of the most famous cities in the world.
We’ve seen countless times the Tour Eiffel, the Arc du Triomphe, the Louvre, and every other single icon of this wonderful city.
I will try now a different approach, and take a look to lesser known but still amazing places.
You may ask why these particular ones, among dozens of places I could suggest you?
Just because these are the first 8 that will come to my mind almost every time anyone asks me for the best choices away from tourist crowded places.
And -perhaps even more important- because in any of them you can find the best food or beverages without ruining your budget.
On a side note : suitably enough to the spirit of this post, I started its draft on September 13th, anniversary of 1993 so called “décret pain” -bread decree- of Prime Minister Édouard Balladur.
Yes, an official decree specifically and exclusively aimed to defend the traditional bakery manufacturing, defining the characteristics of the baguette de tradition française -the traditional French loaf- and imposing precise demands about the flour milling that must be used, and the bread making itself, to face the advance of “industrial” bread sold in supermarkets -I find this very alike to the current situation of bagel offering in NYC city, but that’s a subject for a dedicated post-.
Enough talk for now, time to start with the first place:
1- Au Petit Sud Ouest. 7eme Arrondissement (Closed by mid 2017)
For me, just the duck at its best! By far, my favourite restaurant in Paris.
The place I’ll keep insisting you to visit at least once.
Walking through Avenue de la Bourdonaiss from the École Militaire towards the omnipresent Tour Eiffel, you’ll find this non-conspicuous restaurant.
A small owner-driven establishment where Monsieur and Madame André will give you a kind, friendly reception, no matter the day, no matter the hour.
Mme. Chantal André, a charming blonde lady, carries almost everything as a well directed orchestra.
You’ll be welcomed by a warm, family style shop, with wooden dressed walls -originally featuring the wood of wine boxes-, wooden chairs and tables each one with a toaster for self use -to have your bread timely toasted for your foie gras-.
Just trespassing the entrance door, a big counter at your left reminds a traditional epicerie -grocery- shop , where you can buy wine, foie gras and other duck produce to take away.
They have a Little “terrasse” by the sidewalk, adding more room to the quite small main room.
Take my advice and have dinner here, you’ll thank me.
I strongly suggest you this three-course meal: the foie gras mi-cuit (partly cooked), the canard aux cerises -duck with cherry sauce and potatoes- and the crème brulee.
And don’t miss the oportunity to enjoy the company of a good red wine –if you have any doubts about your choice, jus ask for Mme. Chantal’s or Monsieur André’s advice, you’’l not be disappointed-.
Edited December 2017: Sadly, this wonderful place no longer exists, since it was definitely closed by mid 2017.
But do not despair, I strongly suggest you to visit GUILO GUILO, 8 rue Garreau (Rue Durantin) for a great foie gras and other excellent Parisian delicies.
2- Rue de Cler. Also in the 7eme Arrondissement
This beautiful neighbourhood is home for the Tour Eiffel, the Champs de Mars, the Ecole Militaire, the Dome and Napoleon´s tomb, and many other main sightseeing “musts”.
But now we will go for a hidden spot between the wide avenues: la Rue Cler, specifically aiming to the short length going from Rue Grenelle to Rue de Champs de Mars.
These two blocks were closed to car traffic in 1984, and since then this tiny area became an increasing attraction mainly due to the nice and tidy marché –market- located there, and a few but excellent grocery and bakery stores.
Worth to see: the family driven fromagerie -cheese store- La Fermette; Oliviers and Co., a boutique-like store selling truffles and oils; and the greengrocery and fruit store Halles Bosquet.
From both sides of Rue du Champs de Mars the Café du Marché and Café Central face each other. In the latter, I had on of the best Salade ce chèvre chaud -warm goat cheese salad-.
Few meters away is the modern-style Hotel du Cadran, and its little but remarkable café where you can taste their delicious macarons -their banana flavored ones are mémorable- while drinking a cup of coffee or chocolate.
3- Robert et Louise, 3eme Arrondissement
Hidden in the popular and historic Marais neighbourhood, a few blocks away from the Place des Vosgues and toward the northern end of the Rue Vieille du Temple, we find this cozy and old-fashioned restaurant, luckily still not too famous for tourists -even after Chef Anthony Bourdain had showed it in one of his show episodes-.
Anyway, be advised: it is usually crowded for dinner, when it should also be full of non-locals, so it will be wise to reserve in advance.
For lunch, it is a quiet and more relaxed place.
So if you go there by noon, just ask either for a place on one of the comunal wooden tables, or for your own table if you are not in the mood of sharing your time with unknown people. You may also ask to sit at the bar.
Once sitting, let you chill out and enjoy the vintage atmosphere.
One of the first things that will hit your senses when entering the tiny place is the mild smell of wood smoke, quite inevitable since they prepare their meals in an open kitchen, cooking on a grill over the flames of a fireplace.
Brick walls, tiled floors and beamed ceilings, together with an eclectic variety of decor home artifacts help to complete a “retro” ambiance.
Do not expect a wide menu here, but hearthy, family style food.
You are free to try anything else but meat is the speciality of the house, the steaks being the plat de résistance, so that would be your best bet.
4– Vert d’Absinthe, 4eme Arrondissement.
A few blocks away from Robert & Louise, following our tour through some of the few still remaining medieval streets in Paris, we’ll reach Rue d’Ormesson and the little Place St. Catherine.
Facing the square we find Vert d’Absinthe, a little shop exclusively dedicated to… well, quite obvious : absynth.
This infamous beverage that was originally produced and sold as a “cure-all” medical tonic in the late 1700’s, quickly became a popular drink amongst parisians.
Popularly labeled as “le fée verte” -the green fairy- due to its color and that it supposedly inspire hallucinations, absynth was finally prohibited by the French government in 1915.
In 1988 the authorities decided to make it legal again to be sold and drunk, and since then it gained a somehow “cult status”, mainly due to all the ceremony around the “proper” way of serving a drink previously forbidden.
(On a side note, absinthe was forbidden in the US in 1912, and never got back to a legal status, so it should be still illegal to carry it into the States)
5- Marché d’Aligre, 12eme Arrondissement
Unlike the markets in Rue Cler and Rue Moffetard, this one remains authentic -not aimed to tourists- so you can find true neighbours gathering and making their daily shopping here.
You’re not going to eat here, but if you are staying in a place where you can cook or prepare your meals it would be the right place to buy charcuterie, cheese or the best fresh vegetables and fruits.
Close to the market, the Place d’Aligre houses a small flea-market and the Marché Couvert Beauvau -a covered market, as its name says- where the prices are slightly higher than in the decouvert -open- market, but offers a range of gourmet options including poultry, cheeses, craft beer, and olive oil.
Be aware that the Beauvau market suffered a fire on July 2015, and will remain shut until being restored. So if you plan to visit it, check if it had been already reopened.
6- Le Baron Rouge, 12eme Arrondissement
My absolute favourite place in this neighborhood. A small “bar à vins” in Rue Théophile-Roussel where you can taste a wide variety of “vins du pays” by the glass or by the bottle.
Darkling, intimate, Le Baron Rouge receives you with walls covered by wine bottles and lots of barrels stacked at the back.
The front room accomodates a group of big wooden casks, and a zinc bar with a few banquets, where you can order a wide range of wines choosing from the long list written on the chalkboards placed over and by the bar.
Like the nearby market, it is a place mainly for locals, where they go to chill out and enjoy a good glass of wine at reasonable prices, backed with a good platter of assorted cheeses, charcuterie or fresh oysters.
During mild and warm weather weekends, the street in front of the local accomodates the crowds that use to gather there for a late-afternoon oyster ceremony.
Talking about oysters, I would pair them with a good Sancerre, but this is just my choice -perhaps not a sommelier’s one.
7- Le Pure Café, 11eme Arrondissement
Time seems to stand still at this restaurant, located in a distinctive corner in Rue Jean Macé.
Entering there, you’ll find yourself transported back to the 1920’s or 30’s .
The wide dining-room exhibiting tulip lights, beveled mirrors and a big, round zinc bar, while three bay-windows with art deco flower designs softly filter the light into the salón.
Best menu recomendation : choose between some homely vintage dishes, like the Côte de boeuf affinée 7 semaines -prime beef refined seven weeks, be advised: it’s about 1,2Kg of meat- , Onglet de veau laqué “maison” avec frites fraîches -lacquered calf “Maison” with French fries- , suprême de canette des Dombes, légumes croquants -Dombes’ duckling Supreme with crisp vegetables- and poire pochée, crème à la pistache, crumble Speculoos -poached pear, pistachio cream, crumble Speculoos-.
If you drop by on a sunny morning, just find a place on the terrace and let time go by, while comforting yourself with a chocolat chaud or a plain cafe.
8. Le Foyer de la Madeleine, 8eme Arrondissement
Not only tourists, but many Parisians ignore the existence of this non-profit restaurant, hidden inside a 18th century subterranean vault.
A favourite with very in-the-know customers working in the area,
Perhaps the main reason why the Foyer has a place in my list is its special, “collective,” social ambiance.
The freshly prepared food is always excellent, the atmosphere is unique, and the service is provided by volunteer neighbour ladies, members of La Madeleine, so the funds raised can be destined both to provide a four course meal for just 1 €- 1 euro- to the homeless, and to help the maintenance of the church.
If eating in a place like this is suitable for you, this is the way you should go: facing the church stay on the street level, do not climb the entrancesteps, and keep walking to the right side, where you’ll find a small green door.
Once inside the Foyer, a lady sitting at a desk will inquire if you have an annual membership card.
From this point things can start to be a bit confusing, but let’s try to explain your options : if you have the card your lunch will cost you 8 euros; if you don’t -presumably your case- she’ll ask you to choose if you want to go for a three-course lunch -including dessert or cheese- for 15,50 €, or to get the membership card for 7 € and the same lunch for additional 8,50.
It’s not hard to realize that even if you’re not going to use the card again, you’ll end paying the same if you go with this option.
Once you’ve decided your choice, you have to go to the cashier and pay for the total, plus any other additionals like wine, soft drinks, and so on.
Be advised that there are free carafes –jars- of tap water already available on the tables.
If you drop by alone you might look for an empty seat at any table and ask if you may join the person/s already seated at it. You’ll usually receive a positive response, maybe deriving in an interesting conversation with your random company.
Let me tell you, if you want to practice your French this is one of the best places in Paris to give it a try.
Once sitting, a volunteer will bring a tray with the starters for you to choose one. When you’ve finished, the same lady will remove your plate while telling you the day’s options for the main course.
Later the lady will bring the desserts’s/cheese tray. For an additional euro you may ask for both cheese and dessert.
If you would like to finish your meal with coffee or tea, there’s a cafe to the far left side of the restaurant.
Very important : don’t forget that it’s open from Mondays to Fridays from 11:45 am to 2:00pm only.
Let yourself discover the lesser known and crowded places in Paris; rumble by the neighbourhoods and quiet streets to find the many secrets the “City of Lights” has to share with you.
Remember : life is about the journey and not the destination.