Paris's best cheap eats
Great food and good-value restaurants and cafés in the capital
Dining out in the gourmet capital of the world needn't cost the earth. We reveal the best places in Paris for those with big appetites but small budgets.
The Place de la Madeleine is a favourite Parisian foodie pilgrimage, hosting as it does the Aladdin’s cave gourmet boutiques of Fauchon and Hediard. But most of the shoppers there shelling out a fortune for foie gras, caviar and champagne have no idea that right in the middle of the square, tucked away beneath the imposing Madeleine church, is an offbeat canteen that serves up simple but tasty fare to over 300 people every lunchtime at the quite ridiculous price of €8 for a three course meal. Over on the side from the grand entrance into the Madeleine itself, a small door leads into the Foyer.
The Vietnamese fare here is a notch above what is normally served in Paris. Seating is elbow to elbow and, should you come on your own, the waiter will draw a line down the middle of the paper tablecloth and seat a stranger on the other side. That stranger might offer pointers on how to eat certain dishes, such as the no.42: grilled marinated pork to be wrapped in lettuce with beansprouts and herbs and eaten by hand, dipped into the accompanying sauce (no.43 is the same thing, but with pre-soaked rice paper wrappers).
- 70 rue Baudricourt, 13e, Paris, France
Star pastry chef Pierre Hermé visits this cheerful little bistro and wine bar high up in Belleville at least every two weeks to fill up on Raquel Carena's homely cooking with the occasional exotic twist. Typical of her style, which draws on her native Argentina, are tuna carpaccio with cherries, roast Basque lamb with new potatoes and spinach, and hazelnut pudding. If the food weren't so fantastic, it would still be worth coming for the mostly organic wines. Le Baratin attracts gourmands from all over Paris - so be sure to book.
- 3 rue Jouye-Rouve, 20e, Paris
However crowded it gets here, it doesn't matter because everyone always seems so happy with the food and the convivial atmosphere. It's impossible not to be enthusiastic about the more than generous portions offered with the €25.90 prix fixe menu. Mains might include tasty portions of wild duck in blackcurrant sauce, partridge with cabbage or wild venison stew. If you can still do dessert, go for one of the home-made tarts laden with seasonal fruits. The wine list has a reputation as one of the best-value selections in town. Book in advance, but expect to wait anyway.
- 45 avenue Ledru-Rollin, 12e, Paris, France
A la Bière looks like one of those nondescript corner brasseries, but what makes it stand out is an amazingly good-value €14.50 prix fixefull of fine bistro favourites. White tablecloths and fine kirs set the tone; starters of thinly sliced pig's cheek with a nice French dressing on the salad, and a home-made rabbit terrine exceed expectations. The mains live up to what's served before: charcoal-grilled entrecôte with hand-cut chips, and juicy Lyonnais sausages with potatoes drenched in olive oil, garlic and parsley. This is one of the few bargains left in Paris.
- 104 avenue Simon Bolivar, 19e, Paris, France
Bistros with vintage decor serving no-nonsense food at generous prices are growing thin on the ground in Paris, so it's no surprise that this gem is packed to the gills with bargain-loving office workers and locals every day. The steak-frites are exemplary, featuring a slab of entrecôte topped with a smoking sprig of thyme, but plats du jour such as blanquette de veau (veal in cream sauce) are equally comforting. The wines by the glass can be rough, but the authentic buzz should make up for any flaws.
- 6 rue de la Vrillière, 1er, Paris, France
With its modern interior of pale wood and its choice of 15 artisanal ciders, this outpost of a restaurant in Cancale, Brittany, is a world away from the average crêperie. For the complete faux-seaside experience, you might start with a plate of creuse oysters from Cancale before indulging in an inventive buckwheat galette such as the Cancalaise, made with potato, smoked herring from Brittany and herring roe. The choice of fillings is fairly limited, but the ingredients are of high quality - including the use of Valrhona chocolate with 70% cocoa solids in the dessert crêpes.
- 109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3e, Paris, France
The new fairtrade concept store Merci is all about feeling virtuous even as you indulge, and its basement canteen is a perfect example. Fresh and colourful salads, soup and risotto of the day, an organic salmon plate, and the assiette merci (perhaps chicken kefta with two salads) make up the brief, Rose Bakery-esque menu, complete with invigorating teas and juices. Rustic desserts add just the right handmade touch.
- 111 boulevard Beaumarchais, 3e, Paris
By noon on a Sunday there is a queue outside every falafel shop along rue des Rosiers. The long-established L'As du Fallafel, a little further up the street, still reigns supreme, whereas Hanna remains something of a locals' secret, quietly serving up falafel and shawarma sandwiches to rival any in the world. A pitta sandwich bursting with crunchy chickpea-and-herb balls, tahini sauce and vegetables costs €4 if you order from the takeaway window, €8 if you sit at one of the tables in the buzzy dining room overlooking the street. Either way, you really can't lose.
- 54 rue des Rosiers, 4e, Paris, France
The once-fashionable Omar doesn't take reservations, and the queue can stretch the length of the zinc bar and through the door. Everyone is waiting for the same thing: couscous. Prices range from €11 (vegetarian) to €24 (royale); there are no tagines or other traditional Maghreb mains, only a handful of French classics (duck, fish, steak). Overstretched waiters slip through the crowds with mounds of semolina, vats of vegetable-laden broth and steel platters heaving with meat, including the stellar merguez. Even on packed nights, there's an offer of seconds - gratis - to encourage you to stay a little while longer.
- 47 rue de Bretagne, 3e, Paris, France
The excellent food at this Vietnamese noodle joint attracts a buzzy crowd. The delicious bành cuôn, steamed Vietnamese ravioli stuffed with minced meat, mushrooms, bean sprouts, spring onions and deep-fried onion, are served piping hot. Com ga lui, chicken kebabs with tasty lemongrass, though not as delicate, come with tasty rice. Bò bùn chà giò (noodles with beef and small nem topped with onion strips, spring onion and crushed peanuts) makes a meal in itself. For dessert, the mandarin, lychee and mango sorbets are tasty and authentic.
- 14 rue Louis Bonnet, 11e, Paris, France
Higuma's no-nonsense food and service makes it one of the area's most popular destinations. On entering, customers are greeted by plumes of aromatic steam emanating from the open kitchen-cum-bar, where a small team of chefs ladle out giant bowls of noodle soup piled with meat, vegetables or seafood. You can slurp at the counter or sit at a plastic-topped table.
- 32 bis rue Sainte-Anne, 1er, Paris, France
Ever since it opened, this snug bistro has been packed with a happy crowd of bistro-lovers who appreciate Japanese-born chef Hide Kobayashi's superb cooking and good-value prices. Expect dishes such as duck foie gras terrine with pear-and-thyme compôte to start, followed by tender faux-filet steak in a light foie gras sauce or skate wing with a lemon-accented beurre noisette. Desserts are excellent: perfect tarte tatin comes with crème fraîche from Normandy. Good, affordable wines explain the merriment, including a glass of the day for €2.
- 10 rue du Général-Lanrezac, Paris, France, 75017
The star crêperie of the area, and the one with the longest queues, is the prettily decorated Josselin, where the speciality is the Couple - two layers of galette with the filling in the middle. The savoury galette is followed by the dessert Crêpe de Froment, which comes in three varieties: classic (honey and lemon or wonderful caramel beurre salé); flambéed with calvados; or a fantasy creation oozing with chocolate, banana, ice cream and whipped cream. Wash it all down with bowls of cider, of which the brut is far better than the sweet. You'll be surprised how full you feel at the end and the bill should come to no more than €20 a head, a buckwheat bargain by Paris standards.
- 67 rue du Montparnasse, 14e, Paris, France
La Madonnina flirts with kitsch so skilfully that it ends up coming off as cool. With its candles, mustard yellow walls and red-checked tablecloths, it's the perfect place for a romantic night out. La Madonnina describes itself as a trattoria napoletana, but most of the dishes are pan-southern Italian. The short menu changes monthly; don't miss the home-made pastas, such as artichoke and ricotta ravioli. The cassata, an extremely sweet Sicilian version of cheesecake, is authentic and unusual to see on menus outside Italy.
- 10 rue Marie et Louise, 10e, Paris, France
This English-themed café run by a Franco-British couple stands out for the quality of its ingredients - organic or from small producers - as well as the too-good-to-be-true puddings: carrot cake, sticky toffee pudding and, in winter, a chocolate-chestnut tart. The DIY salad plate is crunchily satisfying, but the thin-crusted pizzettes, daily soups and occasional risottos are equally good choices. Don't expect much beyond scones in the morning except at weekends, when brunch is served to a packed-out house. The dining room is minimalist but welcoming.
- 46 rue des Martyrs, 9e, Paris
Fans of South-east Asian food eventually learn to seek out Laotian holes-in-the-wall in Paris rather than splurge on flashier Thai restaurants. A perfect example is this Chinatown joint, easy to spot thanks to the queue outside the door. The food is cheap and delicious, and the service friendly. Among the highlights are lap neua, a tongue-tickling, chilli-spiked salad made with slivers of beef and tripe; khao nom kroc, Laotian ravioli filled with shrimp; and sweet, juicy prawns stir-fried with Thai basil. Even the sticky rice is exceptional.
- 103 avenue d'Ivry, 13e, Paris