As world-renowned arbiters of culture and cuisine, restaurants in Paris have a lot to live up to. However, when I really thought about it, in the handful of times I’ve been to Paris, I couldn’t remember a single spectacular meal. Everything was okay but totally forgettable. On this trip, my wife and I vowed to change that. So we did our research and put together a perfectly curated foodie guide to Paris… with some mixed results.
Choosing the best of the best
In order to pick from the thousands of restaurant options Paris has to offer, we used a mix of critically acclaimed Michelin Guide restaurants as well as popular diners’ picks from TripAdvisor and Google. (Sorry Yelpers, no one uses that shit outside the US.)
In almost all cases, reviews corroborated Michelin Guide recommendations. And we gave precedence to places with a lot of reviews to increase our chances of having a once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience. In other words, we were more likely to choose a place with 1,500 reviews and 4.7 stars than a place with 4.9 stars but only 50 reviews.
If perhaps you’re hesitant about shelling out a ton of cash for a Michelin star tasting menu, rest assured, you’ll be shelling out a ton of cash regardless of where you eat in Paris. You’ll spend €15 on two coffees at any cafe before you even get any food, so you might as well pay a little more for a world class meal. Nonetheless, we’re not made of money; so we chose within reason and opted to visit the heavy hitters for lunch instead of dinner. This can save you as much as half the cost of the dinner tasting menu, even though it’s usually the same.
Getting a reservation
For every restaurant mentioned below, you will need a reservation. In some cases, that requires booking weeks in advance. Despite the fact that we visited in February during the highest Covid peak of the entire pandemic, without fail, we saw people turned away from all the places we handpicked. So you don’t have a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting a table during any normal non-pandemic travel season.
It’s probably safe to assume that any top 25 restaurant in Paris is going to require advance booking at any time of year. If you’re committed to having a great foodie time in Paris, you simply have to do your homework. And if you’re thinking that it’s kind of inconvenient or hectic to have 2-3 meal reservations per day, you’re probably right. But I promise that having a Michelin star meal is more worthwhile than booking advance tickets to see a bunch of bones at the Catacombs.
So what exceeded our expectations and what fell spectacularly flat?
Pages has one Michelin star and at least 4.5 stars on restaurant review sites, and it was instantly clear why. The restaurant only has two seatings for lunch and dinner and it’s not a huge space, so the experience is intimate and perfectly choreographed. The kitchen is front and center, taking up almost a third of the restaurant so you can see everything that goes on. One of the most striking things is how quietly and harmoniously the chefs worked, with head chef, Ryuji Teshima, plating dishes and smoking Wagyu beef, while also taking the time to look around the restaurant to see how people are enjoying the food.
The meal was to die for. The 7-course tasting menu included lobster, scallops, veal, fresh fish, and the softest aged beef you can possibly imagine, which is basically the most exquisite bite of food you can have at any restaurant on this list. Two desserts rounded out the meal, so it’s safe to say this is not a place you would leave hungry. The servers were attentive and playful, and it was truly an honor to personally be able to thank the chef for our amazing experience. In addition to being a culinary tour de force, the ability to access and pay your bill on your phone so you can leave whenever you want made it the most hassle-free dining experience I’ve ever had.
This one Michelin star restaurant is considered one of the 50 World’s Best restaurants according to a list I will never again refer to for any food or drink recommendations. It’s safe to say Septime was the biggest let down of the bunch. First of all, reservations must be booked exactly 21 days in advance and require a €130 deposit in case of no-show, which is pretty offensive to begin with. Nonetheless, we persisted.
Septime’s 5-course tasting menu included what can be best described as two salads, a pretty decent scallop ceviche… and pigeon. Imagine paying €65 for the star protein of the meal to be pigeon. And it was delicious, but it’s the principle of the matter. The place smelled like mushrooms the entire time, the endive was bitter, and the dessert was somehow also bitter. So one of the best things was the pigeon. However, the restaurant’s biggest downfall is that the service was atrociously neglectful, which is simply unacceptable for something with a Michelin star. Even if something isn’t exactly to my taste, I would never expect to wait 30 minutes to get the bill at a place like this. But I guess there’s a reason there wasn’t a single French person dining there — Septime is a high-end tourist trap.
In addition to having amazing reviews, what sold me on Bistrot Richelieu were the pictures of the food. I don’t think I’ve ever seen duck confit look as juicy or flavorful. So in the hopes of having the best duck confit of my life, we made a lunch reservation. It somehow exceeded our expectations. The service was phenomenal, and of all the places on this list, it’s the best Paris cafe style experience, where you can sit for four hours just drinking wine and ordering more food.
After trying the escargot, beef bourguignon, duck confit, and profiteroles, we simply didn’t have enough capacity in one afternoon to try everything we wanted to. Which is a shame because the burgers looked so good that we almost cancelled two of our remaining reservations to eat there again. For laid back, super Parisian homecooked fare, this is the best restaurant on the list. And it is the first place we will return to the next time we’re in Paris.
Bistrot Instinct in hip Le Marais is a fabulous two story artsy restaurant that is featured in the Michelin Guide though it does not (yet) have a star. Though it’s hard to fully compare this to a tasting menu where you get each course one a time, I felt that Instinct was the best at creating a creative and totally balanced dish. Full of interesting flavors that included sweet butternut squash, zesty salad, and an incredibly rich and tender filet mignon, if I had to rate all the restaurants on our foodie guide based on one plate alone, this single dish would beat them all.
Not to be outdone by the food, Instinct is also well-known for their cocktails, of which I can recommend the crisp and sweet champagne and Grand Marnier cocktail. Their desserts are equally memorable — instead of just getting chocolate ganache, you get chocolate ganache that is accompanied by ginger and lychee.
Il Etait Un Square
This burger place is one of the top restaurants in town, with thousands of reviews and almost 5 stars on TripAdvisor. Il Etait Un Square is probably one of the most casual on this list — after all, it’s just a burger joint. But you will most definitely be turned away on Saturday night unless you make a reservation. From the second it opened at 7:30 pm, it was slammed with patrons and take out orders. And while the hype was definitely curiosity-provoking, the burgers just didn’t look that good. And unfortunately, my eyes did not mislead.
Though the service was fine and the fries were crispy and delicious, there was absolutely nothing special about their burgers or the famed cheese sauce. I even got the monthly special that included raclette and hash brown, and it was fine but not amazing. The burger patties themselves were just not that flavorful and the bread is crumbly and mediocre. If you’re looking for a scrumptious burger or a buttery bun, definitely look elsewhere (like Bistrot Richelieu!) Just goes to show, even if something is highly recommended by thousands of people, if it doesn’t look appetizing to you from the reviews, you should just pass on it.
La Min landed on our foodie tour of Paris by way of TripAdvisor reviews. Regarded as one of the best restaurants in the city, the prices are reasonable and the short and simple menu sounded too good to pass up. You can’t really go wrong with truffle pasta and butcher’s choice beef, after all. I tried the salmon and vegetables, which they really knocked out of the park. Simple and perfectly cooked, the dish was extremely satisfying.
With its stone interior and low thumping hip-hop, the atmosphere was cozy and relaxed. It’s a good place to order an entire bottle of wine and stay a while.
After all was said and done, we may be several hundred dollars poorer but I now have not one, but a few, incredible restaurants in Paris that I’d like to return to one day. And isn’t a longing love affair with food just one of the best things in life?