The Paris of your childhood is probably very different from the Paris of your hosteling days, and very different still from the Paris of 2020. Even the most iconic monuments change—Notre Dame fell prey to a devastating fire in April 2019—but as with all cities, recovery and rebirth simultaneously solidify the best part of a place and also make room for the new. Nothing has changed both more and less in Paris than its food and drink scene: You’ll still find sidewalk cafés on almost every street corner bursting with Parisians tucking into foie gras pâté or steak frites for lunch, but today you’ll find lines snaking down the street for the most popular Szechuan noodle spot. Next time you find yourself in the City of Light, pay homage to your favorites, but be prepared to venture out into l’inconnue (the unknown). You’ll always have Paris, but you’ll also always have more to try.
For classic French fare: LE COMPTOIR
No trip to Paris is complete without a meal outdoors at one of Paris’s sidewalk bistros. At Le Comptoir du Relais, on the ground floor of the tony Hôtel du Relais Saint Germain, you’ll find the best versions of classic pork pâtés, velvety soups, croque monsieur, and Niçoise salad available anywhere—and all with a perfect Left Bank perch for people-watching, if you can score a heated spot outdoors.
For fun: BALAGAN
Serving modern French fare with a strong Israeli accent, Balagan’s boisterous atmosphere in the ritzy 2nd arrondissement is a great restaurant for celebrations. Start by swiping long strips of yeasty frenavon bread through creamy tahini while you sip on a glass of Israeli viognier, then try Ashkenazi-style chicken livers on brioche, and finish with lamb chops with a hot tabbouleh salad. The conviviality is contagious—you might wind up doing a shot of the house cucumber-absinthe cocktail with your server—so don’t go expecting a quiet spot for a tête-à-tête.
For the best coffee in Paris: BELLEVILLE BRÛLERIE
Belleville Brûlerie is a small-batch boutique coffee roaster (think Stumptown, but French), a shop some say is responsible for bringing Seattle- or Portland-style coffee trends to Paris. Stop at one of their storefronts for beans from around the globe to take home (their instant coffee is actually fantastic), or go to La Fontaine de Belleville, their café in the 10th arrondissement, for a pourover or perfectly smooth café crème and a slice of afternoon cake.
For a spice fix: TROIS FOIS PLUS DE PIMENT
Anyone eating only French food for a few days will notice there’s not a lot of spice involved in the native gastronomy. But like any big city, Paris has its share of delicious ethnic food. Go early to snag a tiny seat at this pocket-sized Szechuan noodle house, whose name translates to “three times as spicy.” Order the dan dan noodles “with soup” or the vinegar-spiked glass noodles with extra pork, and check your ego at the door—they’re not shy with spice.
For modern French bread: CIRCUS BAKERY
Hidden on a side street near Notre Dame, pocket-sized Circus Bakery is a no-frills, Copenhagen-inspired joint that sells just a few types of perfect breads and pastries each day. If you’re staying in an apartment, here’s where you want to get your breads—a darkly browned sourdough baguette for dinner, lemon-tinged apple pie for dessert, and pain au levain to eat in the morning with jam—but any time of day, you’ll want to order a latte (with their homemade vegan milk) and sample a cinnamon or cardamom bun.
For a classy cocktail: BAR 228
Hidden inside the elegant Hôtel Le Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli, Bar 228 epitomizes the classy Parisian bar experience. Order a Meurice Millenium cocktail, and you’ll clink with rosé champagne scented with Cointreau and rose water, perhaps while munching on the copious bar snacks that seem to replenish themselves on cue. It’s less see-and-be-seen than Bar Les Ambassadeurs at the Hôtel de Crillon and less touristy than the tiny Bar Hemingway at the Ritz, but with nightly jazz, charming service, and drinks served with a barman’s flourish, it still feels like a splurge—which it is, once the bill comes.
For an intellectual lunch: MAISON
In a bright, airy house in the 11th, chef Sota Atsumi, of Clown Bar fame, toils quietly with his team in an open kitchen to present course after course of gorgeous Japanese-inflected fare that makes you think. Start with tuna carpaccio on a bed of kiwi-turnip cream with wasabi leaves; dig into roasted squab served with a date-yuzu compote, along with radicchio and housemade pasta; gape at the silkiness of vanilla ice cream with apple puree and a drizzle of celery oil. The service is impeccable and the wines are carefully selected, so let the staff guide you. Go midday for the natural light—this is food you want to see well, and Atsumi’s five-course lunch is an excellent value.
For fast(er) food that doesn’t break the bank: LE PETIT CAMBODGE
The quick-service outpost of the restaurant whose name translates to “The Little Cambodia” has traditional curries and soups, giant spring rolls, deep-fried Imperial rolls, and Cambodian classics like porc au caramel at affordable price points. If you want to follow the Parisian trend, use the DIY order slips to snag a bobun—one of the rice noodle bowls overstuffed with lemongrass beef, shrimp, or vegetables, plus mint, cilantro, chives, bean sprouts, carrots, and peanuts. (Bobun, as the rice noodle dish is colloquially known in Paris, is actually a reversal of the traditional Vietnamese phrase for it, bún bò.) Go early to avoid a line, and don’t miss the ginger-mint lemonade.
For a reenergizing afternoon: OGATA
Although it’s billed as a tea house, Ogata, in the heart of the Marais, is perhaps more accurately described as a Japanese tea-tasting voyage. Named for the man who founded Higashiya teahouse in Tokyo, Ogata welcomes guests to experience hours-long Japanese teamaking exhibits, complete with multiple forms of green tea, plus ochauke and wagashi, both forms of Japanese sweets. It’s the tea-centric equivalent of an hours-long tasting menu made by a private chef—all enjoyed in Ogata’s moody, monastic basement tea room. Save time for a visit to the gift shop.
For an experience worth bragging about: SEPTIME
Septime begins taking reservations each morning it’s open for lunch and dinner three weeks ahead, and they go almost immediately, so scoring a reservation is half the battle. But if you’re willing to wake up in the dead of night in the U.S. to snag a table at one of the most sought-after restaurants in Paris, make it Septime. You’ll be treated to five (for lunch) or seven (for dinner) courses of smart, interesting food perfectly proportioned to leave you intrigued, satisfied and inspired. Best of all, for a Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s casual—so you can pair perfectly cooked venison and its quenelle of cauliflower purée with incredible French wine in the comfort of your stretchiest jeans.