Seasoned Traveller
Paris' Best Bistros

Classic French Restaurants in Paris (where locals still eat)

Words & images by Sofia Levin

Here are three charming Parisienne bistros that are not overrun with tourists, but still welcome visitors alongside locals to dine on traditional French cuisine.

There’s an undeniable hunger to dine at traditional French restaurants when visiting Paris. We crave well-preserved bistros that ladle someone else’s tradition upon us, steeping us in a warm glow that feels like we haven’t just dined in Paris, but experienced it. Paradoxically, this shared desire can lead to a loss of authenticity when classic restaurants become “places tourists go”. It’s a fine balance. This sentiment is more relevant than ever thanks to the 2024 Paris Olympics, but at these three restaurants, you’ll leave with more than just a satisfied stomach.

Chez Georges

What to order: foie gras, puy lentil salad & sole meunière
Details: 1 Rue du Mail, Paris,

Stepping into Chez Georges, a Paris institution that opened in 1964, feels like entering a French film set. A red velvet curtain in the doorway shelters indoor diners from the weather. A vast mural of people playing croquet in the 1800s stretches across one side of the room, while digestifs and espressos fly off the zinc-topped timber bar opposite. The tiled floor, cracked and discoloured from 60 years of spilled stories and wine, leads to a rectangular dining room fringed with arched mirrors, banquettes linked by brass rails and tables dressed in white linen.

The clientele is equally well dressed; a stylish crowd of Parisienne women nibbling frisée salad with bacon lardons and poached eggs alongside well-to-do Americans. Some are now locals, and many are the result of Julia Child singing the praises of Chez George when she lived in Paris. The sole meunière Julia ate here changed her life and remains on the menu; a simple fillet that’s lightly battered, fried in melted butter, and served with a squeeze of fresh lemon and parsley. It’s flawless in its simplicity, as are the other dishes: decadent house foie gras, fat and garlicky escargot and one of the loveliest puy lentil salads you’ll ever taste. Larger plates are another rollcall of classics, from sweetbreads with creamy morel sauce to a selection of steaks. Finish with chilled double creme aux marrons, thick and slightly soured cream set with chestnut puree.

À Côté

What to order: côte de boeuf (rib eye on the bone)
Details: 16 Rue La Fayette, Paris,

Scrap every stereotype you know about stuffy French service, À Côté is as unpretentious as the food is memorable. It's all about meat here; specifically French, hay-fed limousin cattle. There are a limited number of rib-eye steaks available each day. Their weights, all upwards of a kilogram, are scrawled on a blackboard and crossed off as they’re ordered. Each comes with a large, roasted marrow bone and as many frites and lightly-dressed salad leaves as you can manage. Wine is properly stored in temperature-controlled fridges (a surprising rarity in a country that prides itself on its grapes), though you should absolutely start with a glass of champagne and the decadent house foie gras. 

À Côté is a quintessential Parisienne establishment with its zinc-topped bar, dark timber finishes and a distressed antique mirror above oxblood-red leather banquettes. It’s in the 9th arrondissement in a busy part of town, which means you’re likely to find yourself nearby during your travels, and also that staff are used to warmly welcoming people from all over the world. Whether it’s scoring an easy booking over the phone just a couple of hours prior to arriving, or witnessing a sweet Japanese customer present a waiter with their country’s flag during the Rugby World Cup, it’s clear that all are welcome here. 


What to order: cervelle de veau (veal brain)
Details: 22 Rue du Plateau, Paris,

Quedubon is Parisienne neighbourhood perfection. Located in the 19th arrondissement in Belleville near Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, this wine-focussed bistro is staffed by friendly locals who know the ins and outs of every bottle adorning the shelves (which saves you having to scan the six blackboards heaving with the wine list). It’s warm and modest but still smart, with red walls, wooden floors textured by time and a small terrace across the road beneath a vine-shaded pergola.

The daily blackboard menu lives in the window and is brought table-side to order. A fire-engine red meat slicer hints at the offering (perhaps beef tongue pastrami, sliced to order), but at around €24 for three courses, the prix fixe is the smart choice. Depending on the season, there might be dishes such as pâté en croute stuffed with guinea fowl, pork and foie, or a velvety chilled pumpkin soup. For mains, maybe grilled mackerel with pickled cucumber, blanquette de veau (veal stew) or duck breast with sweet bell peppers. Wild game and offal are the pride of the house, particularly the signature cervelle de veau – creamy veal brain that’s gently poached in lemon butter and pan seared until every crevasse has a caramelised crust. The finisher might be cheese sourced directly from farms, creamy rice pudding with prunes, or recommendations on where to eat next scribbled by staff on an ordering pad.  

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