Everyone visiting Paris is likely to end up among the crowds at its most famous sights; the problem that arises, then, is that there is rarely anywhere reasonable to stop for lunch – either price- or quality-wise. To miss out on the chance of a great meal in somewhere such as France is shame, especially as there is invariably a hidden gem just round the corner. So, here is a selection of classic-but-affordable bistros and brasseries, plus surprising health food and vegetarian options, and the chance to sample Asian and North African cooking too.
All places cited are children-friendly, and ready to prepare a small-portion special dish, say pasta or chicken
For a great lunch deal, cross to the Right Bank of the Seine and discover Le Trumilou, a quaint bistro of cosy red banquettes, where Corinne and Alain Charvin have been serving genuine terroir cuisine for the last 30 years. The lunch menu features classics such as celeri remoulade, crunchy raw celery root with mayonnaise, veal kidney in a tangy mustard sauce, and the perfect creme caramel. Or two people can share the copious €14 platter of charcuterie. The sunny terrace looks out over the twin towers of Notre Dame cathedral. Alternatively, for just a cold beer served in traditional stone mugs, head from Notre Dame to the Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis.
• Two-course lunch menu €18. 84 Quai de l’Hotel de Ville, 4th arrondissement, +33 1 42 77 63 98, letrumilou.fr
Le Sancerre is one of the most authentic wine bars in Paris. It was opened in 1946 by Edmond Mellot, a renowned vigneron who decamped to the French capital to promote sancerre to Parisians, setting in motion a process that would turn it into one of the world’s best-known wines. With its snug interiors decorated with evocative paintings of the Sancerre area, and its vineyards, little has changed over the years. Dishes of the day run from braised guinea fowl to roast pork with cauliflower gratin, plus a selection of the famous Crottin de Chavignol goat cheese.
• Dish of the day €14, salad €9.50. 22 Avenue Rapp, 7th arr, +33 1 45 51 75 91, no website
The Pompidou Centre celebrates its 40th birthday this year, so crowds are likely to be even bigger than usual; but just two minutes’ walk away is a peaceful spot for a delicious lunch of the distinctive cuisine of France’s Auvergne region. From the outside, the “Embassy of Auvergne” looks austere, but push open the door and a rustic wooden-beamed auberge is revealed. Auvergne cooking is seriously hearty, so be prepared for big portions, especially the succulent Sarlan sausage served with the speciality aligot, creamy mashed potato blended with Cantal cheese. There is an excellent wine list, including a surprising selection of 35 different wines from the Auvergne itself. For vegetarians there is a main course of seasonal vegetables along with soups such as chestnut veloute.
• Two-course lunch menu €22.50, main dish from €17. 22 Rue du Grenier Saint-Lazare, 3rd arr, +33 1 42 72 31 22, ambassade-auvergne.com
Café Du Théâtre
The Sacré-Coeur looks down on the roofs of Montmartre, one of the most intriguing Parisian quarters, part tourist trap with rip-off restaurants, part genuine bohemian. Sitting right at the foot of the Sacré-Coeur funicular is a quiet square where the friendly Cafe du Theatre has become a neighbourhood institution. It’s a family affair, run for the last 40 years by two Algerians, Sami and Akim, and has a lively clientele of locals residents, actors and theatregoers, plus the occasional tourist. There is a two-course €12 menu with French classics such as onion soup and a big choice of salads and omelettes, but the best bet is to stick with its speciality couscous: a mountain of it topped with spicy merguez sausages or grilled chicken, plus a steaming bowl of vegetables and soup.
• Coucous €13, vegetarian couscous €9.50. 48 Rue d’Orsel, 18th arr, +33 9 51 84 47 39, no website
La Guinguette d’Angèle
Although Paris is far from a paradise for vegetarians, let alone vegans, there are a lot more alternatives today to the classic boeuf bourguignon. Visitors coming out of the Louvre need to walk a while to find some reasonable places for lunch, but in the buzzing Rue Coquillière, just behind Les Halles shopping centre, is a tiny hole-in-the-wall counter serving a dazzling array of detox lunchboxes that are all organic and gluten-free. There is usually a choice of vegetarian, vegan and raw dishes, as well as daily specials of saffron chicken with parsley pesto, carrot and white bean salad. The menu always features a freshly-made soup, along with tempting home-baked cakes and pastries. There are a couple of tiny stools and a wobbly table to eat outside the Guinguette, but this is perfect for a takeaway picnic with the tranquil Palais Royal gardens two minutes away.
• Lunchbox or dish of the day €9. 34 Rue Coquillière, 1st arr, laguinguettedangele.com
The chic neighbourhood surrounding the Grand Palais is better known for luxury palace hotels and expensive Michelin-starred restaurants than cheap-and-cheerful eateries. So it is quite a surprise to come upon a genuine neighbourhood brasserie just 10-minutes’ walk away – in a quiet side street off the swish Avenue Montaigne. L’Estel is not what the French call a grande brasserie like Bofinger or the Coupole, but a noisy, bustling diner where builders sit next to businessmen at the bar tucking into a juicy steak and frites or a hearty pot-au-feu, a beef, leek and turnip hotpot complete with marrow bone. The menu includes quiche (€12.70) and salads (€12.50), while a long baguette sandwich at the bar costs €3.70
• Dish of the day €15. 13 Rue Clément Marot, 8th arr, +33 1 47 23 43 33, lestel.fr
PLACE DES VOSGES
Bar du Marché
The Place des Vosges can claim to be the most beautiful square in Paris, but for lunch it is worth walking 10 minutes across two blocks to the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. The Bar du Marché stands out with its bright red facade, while the food market that sprawls along the boulevard every Thursday and Sunday morning is not to be missed. There are always a host of colourful characters milling around the zinc counter, where one of the owners, Hakim, holds court while serving organic natural wines and Belgian beers. In the kitchen, his partners, Nathalie and Xavier, prepare savoury plats du jour inspired by the market: succulent paprika-grilled octopus, creamy blanquette de veau, alongside freshly-shucked oysters and Basque pintxos.
• Main dish €14, tapas €6. 16 Boulevard Richard Lenoir, 11 arr, +33 1 77 18 02 19, on Facebook
ARC DE TRIOMPHE
Restaurants lining the Grandes Avenues off the Arc de Triomphe tend to be either pricey – serving businessmen on expenses – or aimed at tourists, so it is a surprise to discover the elegant Restaurant Graindorge. The chef-owner, Bernard Broux, has been cooking there for 25 years, with a loyal clientele filling his 1930s art-deco dining room each lunchtime, drawn by the reasonably-priced gourmet menu. Broux specialises in distinctive Flemish cuisine, rarely found in Paris, including the unpronounceable Potjevleesch, a terrine of veal, pork, chicken and rabbit in aspic. For the main dish don’t miss the waterzooi, a Flemish take on bouillabaisse, a stew of cod, bream, mussels and shrimps cooked with leeks, carrots and potatoes.
• Two-course lunch menu €28, three courses €32. 15 Rue de l’Arc de Triomphe, 17th arr, +33 1 47 54 00 28, le-graindorge.fr
PLACE DE LA BASTILLE
There are plenty of places to eat in the neighbourhood surrounding Place de la Bastille. But for something different, follow the narrow Rue de Charenton at the side of the Opera House. Getting good Chinese food in Paris is not easy, but “Four Friends” has scored a big hit with this authentic no-frills Szechuan diner. Specialities include a spicy fish casserole, tofu with minced pork and crispy sesame-fried squid. A year ago, Végé’Saveurs opened up next door offering purely vegetarian Chinese dishes, while for those looking for French cuisine, 10 minutes down the road is the colourful Aligre food and flea market with a host of popular bistros.
• Lunch menu main dish, such as Szechuan pork plus grilled raviolis, €10. 29 Rue de Charenton, 12th arr, +33 9 82 28 09 17, on Facebook
Rue Saint-Dominique runs at the back of the Musée d’Orsay, one of the longest and most colourful streets in Paris, with delicatessens and salons de thé, bars and bistros. Carry on for a quarter of an hour till you near the end at the Eiffel Tower, where the romantic Café Constant – with its wooden beams and old zinc bar – sits on the corner. This was the first opening by stellar chef Christian Constant, when he abandoned his gastronomic restaurant and Michelin stars to offer diners affordable gastronomy – a pioneer of what the French call bistronomie. Using seasonal, locally sourced produce, and traditional recipes with a gourmet twist, diners can choose between an old fashioned daube of beef cheeks braised with carrots or shepherd’s pie with duck confit, homemade profiteroles smothered in hot chocolate or an unforgettable baba au rhum.
• Two-course lunch menu €17. 139 Rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arr, +33 1 47 53 73 34, maisonconstant.com/cafe-constant