Paris Picks: Restaurants (Partie I)
“Paris restaurants, Our last summer… Morning croissaaaaaaaaaaaants~” ABBA/Mamma Mia pretty much encapsulates my nostalgia for Paris, and also coincidentally gives me a perfect intro to today’s post: Paris Restaurants!
For those of you who’ve stuck around this blog for a little while, you know that I am and have always been a foodie (before that was a trending thing to be). I grew up with delectable foods stuffed in my mouth (there are home videos of my mom stuffing me with homemade baby food – because I would never say no to more food – and there are pictures of me stuffing my face with onigiri… the list can go on), and I continue to seek out delicious food, keeping in mind my (sadly) finite monetary resources.
I’ve had the chance of spending a total of about 1.5 years living in Paris (study abroad, research project, overseas seminar, teaching with TAPIF), and a good chunk of it was spent researching and seeking out food. You might have seen my recent post on my favorite chocolate and candy stores. Today, I’m here for the savories at the restaurants that sustained me through final papers that left me in tears*, through my quest to revisit the 1830s**, my homesickness***, my tiredness after the teaching/tutoring/babysitting of the week, and so many other things. Food = comfort for me, and as long as I pay attention and don’t go too crazy, I think this is a lovely thing. [You can see explanations of my asterisks at the bottom of this post, after my Paris restaurant picks!]
So, *drumroll please*, here is Part I of my favorite Paris restaurants/brasseries/bistros/caterer-delis. A mix of traditionally French foods, international foods, affordable as well as pricey. Places I went to all the time, and places I went to just once but loved. I’ll list them first, for those who are like “tl;dr“, and will describe in more detail below. They aren’t ranked, but I will say that I went to Pho Mui at least once a week in the year 2014-2015, and I still need to send a postcard to the lady who runs/owns Le P’tit Souk, because her pastillas were so good and I still daydream about them (the brik are also good).
Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon, featuring a monument historique, a mosque, crepes, falafel and more!
Places I Enjoyed:
- Pho Mui 97 Avenue d’Ivry, 75013 (Okay, I know you go to Paris to have French food, but I crave their pho all the time, so….)
- Septime 80 rue de Charonnes, 75011 (Deserving of its Michelin star)
- Le P’tit Souk 84 rue de Patay, 75013 (Yes. Just yes.)
- Le Comptoir du Panthéon 5 Rue Soufflot, 75005 (The waiters here have all the jokes)
- Au Petit Suisse 16 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006 (Fave place to get croque madame)
- Laï Laï Ken 7 Rue Sainte Anne, 75001 (Ramennnn)
More Detailed Descriptions and Stories:
97 Avenue d’Ivry 75013
Most people would start a list of favorite Parisian restaurants with a traditional bistro or something, but I’m going to stay true to me and start with my favorite Vietnamese place ever: Pho Mui. It was recommended to me by a friend (one of the teachers at the school I taught at), and even before my first visit I had high expectations since she’s of Vietnamese descent and grew up eating delicious things.
I was not disappointed. Pho Mui remains my favorite pho place and I dream of their bowls of beautiful broth, thick pho noodles (I’m not sure if it’s a regional difference, but the pho in France tends to have wider noodles than in the US) and pickled onions. French Vietnamese restaurants often have nems (fried egg rolls, cha gio) that are made with rice paper so they have the beautifully crispy, blistery outside. Pho Mui’s nems are particularly delicious.
During my months of teaching English in France, I ate here at least once a week, if not more. When Kenji came to visit me for two weeks, we went about 5 times (my pho addiction is real, folks). The waiters and employees at the restaurant are super nice and I always had a smile on my face while eating lunch/dinner. Even the customers are nice, and I feel like that’s saying something.
One time, I was chatting with my favorite waiter (I don’t remember his name, but I remember his face) about my Japanese background and he was telling me how he learned Japan when he was younger and living there. Across from my table was an older Vietnamese couple who heard our conversation. The wife studiously recalled how to count numbers in Japanese, using her fingers as a guide, mentioning how she tried to learn it but keeps forgetting.
The husband, on the other hand, smiles at me with a mischievous look (as if he’s a pro at Japanese) and bursts out, “HONDA! TOYOTA!…YAMAHA!” He laughs, “Oh!” as he remembers another one, “Ninja!” In almost any other scenario, I might have been something close to offended, but it was such a funny interaction with this gramps. The wife was laughing at her husband, somewhat embarrassed at his antics.
This is the kind of warmth that brought me to Pho Mui every week. And the pho, of course. [Kenji also enjoyed the chicken rice plate – since, unlike me, he couldn’t subsist on just pho all the time.] Also get the nems, and the ché taro (warm tapioca taro dessert with coconut milk).
Note: I just saw their new Facebook page – they’ve remodeled! Sadly, being miles and miles away in California, I can’t tell you if it’s the same food. I really hope it is! The name is still the same though, so I’m thinking they just got a makeover.
80 rue de Charonnes (Deserving of its Michelin star)
This is for all your bougie gourmet needs, especially if you’re the type to chase after Michelin stars. I’m not in the habit of frequenting many Michelin starred restaurants, but I’m still going to make a judgment call and say Septime deserves its star. Everything from the decor, food, presentation and service was clean, charming and delicious! While pricey, you can find many places that will rob you senseless, while Septime I think charges a relatively fair amount for a lovely tasting menu (that definitely leaves you full). The lunch pricing (currently 42 euros) is nicer for your wallet than the dinner pricing (about 80 euros). Also, you should book weeks in advance.
I went twice in 2015, and had a marvelous time on both occasions. To be fair and honest, I didn’t love every single plate, but I loved the large majority of them (there was probably just one plate each time that I didn’t absolutely love). You can taste the individual ingredients, and there’s a vividness to each course. The presentation gets full marks. Also, the waiters and waitresses were fantastic. This is a nice restaurant, but it also wants to maintain its casual cool, and the wait staff perfect this. They are professional and friendly, but not of the snobby sort. Full marks. The décor is kind of industrial chic – definitely got a hipster vibe going on here. Paris by Mouth confirms that Septime is still marvelous in 2017.
Even if you don’t go for the full wine pairing (I didn’t), you should try at least one drink, if your budget allows. They have some lovely creations and bottles and knowledgeable staff that will guide you.
P.S. The bathrooms have Aesop handsoap (at least they did). That is all.
84 rue de Patay, 75013
What can I say about Le P’tit Souk? Nothing except for it’s one of my favorite places, and I wish I lived in the neighborhood so I could befriend Meryem(?) and her family and friends and everyone that frequents this establishment. It’s a most marvelous shop full of North African dishes and goods (they call themselves a “Traiteur Oriental” or an “Oriental Caterer” – there are a lot of “caterers” in Paris, but I think of them more as delis, although that’s not exactly the term either). Think marvelous pastillas, briks, M’hajeb (yummy flat dough/crepe with tomatoes, onions and peppers inside), Lebanese taboulé, olives, nuts, teas, and of course scrumptious, nutty cookies!
When Kenji came to visit, our Airbnb was literally in the same building (but behind it), so we’d just walk around the corner to the front of the building every morning to get some yummy things. I was partial to the cinnamon-y, savory-yet-sweet-ness of the pastilla, but I also loved the briks. Kenji liked the M’hajeb and the other savory breads. We both enjoyed the cookies.
I’m sad I don’t have a picture of the place.
5 Rue Soufflot, 75005
Le Comptoir du Panthéon is one of those places that I just keep going back to, even though the food’s not stellar or out of the ordinary (it’s good, though, although some Yelpers seem to think otherwise). It’s just a regular bistro/café and it’s a great place to just get un café or a deliciously filling salade composée (the duck pictured above, if I remember, is just standard but I can almost never say no to fried duck). I love France’s hearty salads.
Another reason I love Le Comptoir is that their waiters (and also probably waitresses, I just didn’t encounter any personally) have a sense of humor. And especially if you’re there with a group (of English speakers), be ready for jokes! When my friend ordered a lait chaud au miel (steamed milk with honey), the waiter was like, “honey for my honeyyyyy” in a funny, joking way. Writing it down, it sounds a little creepy, but I promise it was not creepy in any way but most definitely laugh inducing.
There’s usually plenty of seating and is close to the Panthéon (which you can tell from the name), Jardin du Luxembourg, Sorbonne, Musée Cluny (included in my museum post) and so many other things! You could get lunch here, explore the gardens or Pantheon and slowly shop/walk your way to the Seine and continue your stroll – or you could stay on the left bank and venture Westward towards the 7th. OR you could explore the charming 5th in more detail. So many wonderous options! 🙂
16 Rue de Vaugirard 75006
I love this cozy little brasserie right outside of the Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s my favorite place to get a Croque Madame (Open faced sandwich with ham, cheese and a fried egg, comes with a side salad, pictured below), for just 10 euros you can soak up a lovely classic brasserie atmosphere. I like to sit upstairs.
They also have a wide range of drinks so you could just huddle up here in the summer or winter with a book or some work. I especially like to come here in the winter. Get the hot chocolate or coffee with whipped cream 🙂 They also have a selection of desserts that I’m always curious about.
7 Rue Sainte Anne, 75001
Ah, last (of part I) but not least, Laï Laï Ken. This is a Japanese/Chinese fast(er) food place where you can get noms such as ramen, gyoza (potstickers), fried rice, noodles and other various things. Ramen has always been influenced by Chinese cuisine, and this particular restaurant definitely has a mix of both Japanese and Chinese elements (including the staff). I’ve always had a lovely time here (both food wise, and service wise) and love getting a bowl of hot noodles (and a mini fried rice :)) on a cold day. Let’s be honest, I went on hot days too.
Depending on the time of day, you’ll see some tourists, but also many Japanese families (with small children) or businesspeople (though, mostly men) eating alone for a quick lunch or dinner. It’s ramen, so it’s affordable. Is it the most authentic ramen place, ever? Perhaps not, but what is “authentic” anyway? ANYWAY, it’s quite good (and I’ve had my share of delicious ramen in various locations in Japan) and doesn’t break the bank! Win, and win.
I’m just going to leave this by saying Rue Sainte Anne was the street that got me through months/almost years in Paris. I’m someone that can’t live without Asian (especially Japanese) food, and so I’m pretty sure I made the trek out to this street within my first week of living with my host fam in the 16th. They also have a GREAT Korean/Japanese supermarket (K-Mart), a wonderful bakery (which I’ll talk about in my Pastry/Bread edition of Paris Picks) and some other great restaurants.
Finally, a few more things to keep in mind when visiting these or any Parisian food joint:
- Paris = a bustling tourist city. Translation: Expect service and food quality to vary somewhat depending on the time of day, day of week, vacation seasons, etc. Even the best of places have off times/days. Don’t expect movie-like perfection at every table you sit to eat at.
- While it’s possible to find affordable food, like San Francisco or New York, it’s getting harder and harder to find really good, really cheap food at a sitdown place. However, feel free to breakfast/lunch/dine at your nearest boulangerie – France does bread right (and makes lovely sandwiches) and won’t break the bank!
- In order to get the best deal at restaurants, I highly recommend going to more expensive places during lunch time so that you might take advantage of any prix fixe menus they might have (which usually are valid only Mondays through Fridays, excluding holidays, of which there are many so Google in advance).
- I’ve never had terrible service*, and I think this might be due to the fact that I speak French. If you don’t speak the language, definitely make the effort to at least say the basics (hello, thank you, etc). And while the Parisians might not smile, you’re most welcome to do so and it might help your case.
- Ordering water: “Une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plaît :)” Tap water is just fine, so make sure to ask for it! Don’t be shy 🙂 Though of course, in the land of all the vin, I suggest you try some of it if you drink alcohol.
- Tipping: In France, tip is included when you get the bill. If you had EXTRA fabulous service, you could leave a euro or something. Otherwise, bask in the delight of not having to figure out the darn tip.
- Getting the bill: France is changing and touristy/busy places will give you the bill quickly (maybe too quickly, if they’re crowded). That said, la France remains la France, and some places won’t bring it to you until you ask. A simple, “L’addition, s’il vous plaît 🙂 ” should do just fine. [My issue is trying to successfully make eye contact, in any country lol.
*I have one bad service story, but it was at a ramen place, and it wasn’t the stereotypical “bad Parisian service,” it was just simply bad: One winter night, a waitress literally dropped/poured a carafe of freezing water onto my pants, only to giggle about it. When I went up to pay after dinner, I asked politely if there could be a discount or something (they said no). The only semi good thing that happened was an apologetic waiter (not the one who spilled water), who brought me a cup of hot tea. I’m just going to reiterate the fact that it was WINTER. It was a cold walk home.
My side stories/asterisks:
*I actually enjoyed my classes and papers, but I took a bunch of courses (French Politics, Medieval Art History and Architecture, History of Statistics (the only class in English), violin lessons, and Egyptian Art History and Archaeology at the Sorbonne) and was stressed out because I had zero idea what level of French perfection my professors were expecting. Of course, in hindsight, I was stressing for nothing (as is usually the case). My French was quite good and while I took more classes than necessary (I most definitely missed the memo where study abroad should = vacation lolol), I was doing just fine. Still, that didn’t stop me from rolling up into a ball while sitting at my desk, Skyping Kenji in tears. The things he’s had to put up with through the years…
**My independent summer research project in 2012 was about the intersection of visual arts, music and literature in Paris during the decade of the 1830s, seen through the lens of Delacroix (painter), Chopin (pianist/composer) and Balzac (novelist). I loved the project, and while I’m not sure it had tons of scholarly merit, the French department still gave me a bit of monies to do it. I frolicked around the streets and dove into a bunch of library collections, capturing photographs and things left behind from the era in today’s Paris. Fun stuff! Maybe one day I’ll put together a blog post about it – I still have SO much “data” (photographs) from it…
***My homesickness consisted mostly of missing my parents and Kenji. I never really missed being in the US that much, except for the ready access to a wide variety of foods from a wide variety of countries (ah, the results of being spoiled by the SF Bay Area). In many ways, I feel more at “home” in France than in the States!