Every visitor to Paris wants to dine at a traditional French bistro. It’s something we all want and crave, but it’s surprisingly elusive. For one, it’s the traditional French comfort food, rich and satisfying, that we crave while in the City of Lights. Secondly, it’s the atmosphere – dripping with old world Parisian charm, hopefully transporting us to another era.
The Parisian bistro can range from elegant and formal to laid back and boisterous. There are four bistros that stand out as the best in the city.
Josephine Chez Dumonet
For the hands-down best Beef Bourguignon in Paris, worthy of a last meal, reserve a table at Josephine Chez Dumonet. They also happen to serve one of the best duck leg confits in the city (served with potatoes fried in duck fat).
The old-world charm and seriously delicious food make them well known, so expect to hear English. It may diminish the feeling of being in a French restaurant, but I can assure you that Parisians still dine here as well, and the food is worth it. Save room for dessert.
For that charming Parisian feel on the upscale side, Benoit has a certain finesse. It stands out for its attentive service (another rarity in the bistro realm). Bow-tied servers will politely fawn over you, delivering food with the elegance of a timed ballet. If you prefer elegance rather than the hustle and bustle of more traditional bistros, then this is the place.
Start with foie gras on toasted brioche or hand-cut steak tartare, served tableside. Try their cassoulet, Corsican veal, or milk fed lamb served with fresh seasonal vegetables. Whatever you do, do not miss the glorious cheese cart.
Bistrot Paul Bert
This recommendation comes with a big asterisk. Service is sometimes slow and inattentive. If you can shrug that off and enjoy the atmosphere, you’ll absolutely love Bistrot Paul Bert. Two of the best things on the menu are the buttery sole meunière and the decadent steak au poivre.
You’ll find the steak listed in French on a separate chalkboard somewhere in the room (“Filet de boeuf au poivre du Sarawak”). It’s a thick filet that is perfectly seared and crusted with peppercorns, drenched in a heavenly cream sauce that’s been flambéed in Armagnac (French brandy), and served with a pile of golden fries, prime for soaking up that sauce. They will not cook this steak beyond medium, and it would be a crime to do so.
Chez Georges (Rue du Mail)
If you want to be transported a hundred years back, then Chez Georges can deliver that step back in time. Once a favorite haunt of Julia Child, you can find all the classics here: foie gras, escargots, bone marrow, steak in Béarnaise sauce. Order the salad of frisée aux lardons as a starter. For dessert, you can find creamy tarte Tatin, crispy mille-feuille pastry, or a set of profiteroles drowned in warm dark chocolate sauce.
Wherever you end up, enjoy the chance to slow down, eat unbelievably good food, drink good wine, and spend an evening steeped in French culture, history, and charm. And always order the cheese course.