Paris is, like London and New York, a very expensive city. Add to that the very high euro exchange rate, and restaurant prices that seem fairly normal to Parisians may look shocking to visitors. A few of our favorite Paris bistrots that offer excellent value for reasonable prices:

Le Tourbillon

On a quiet corner of the 5th arrondissement, easy to get to but far from the crowd, Cédric and Rebecca Tessier have created a nearly perfect small neighborhood restaurant, with a pleasant minimalist décor and well-spaced tables that leave you free of your neighbor’s conversation. The atmosphere is low-key, but the food definitely has a discreet wow! factor — a delightful surprise in such a simple setting. Tall and lanky chef Tessier did his apprenticeship with Michel Rostang and Alain Dutournier, but his style is very much his own version of updated traditional bistrot fare. He even dares to start off his fixed-price menu with a starter of fromage de tête — head cheese, but if you didn’t know that, it’s just a delicious, well-seasoned pâté. Other starters include a fricassee of wild mushrooms and a superb salad of shoestring strips of raw vegetables, topped with shaved Parmesan and a truffle oil vinaigrette. (Don’t fear, there’s only the barest hint of the usually noxious truffle oil.)

Main dishes might include giant shrimp sauteed with Java pepper served with a vegetable fricassee; rolled veal roast with chanterelles; or delicate rouleaux of filet of sole with lemon and leeks. Among the recent plats du jour was a superb civet of wild hare that managed to be at once classic and unusually light. For dessert there might be spicy pineapple with ginger, or tangerine soup with hazelnut chantilly. Wines are reasonable too, and there’s a remarkably good Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes at €25.

45 rue Claude Bernard, 5th, Métro: Cluny, Censier-Daubenton or RER Luxembourg, Fixed price: starter and main or main and dessert €24, three courses €27

Le Petit Fernand

A hangout for neighborhood regulars in Saint Germain des Prés, Le Petit Fernand definitely looks the part of an old-fashioned bistrot — a miniscule front room, a narrow corridor lined with tables for two, and a slightly larger back room, all decked out with red-checked tablecloths, rattan chairs and a vintage patterned tile floor (along with some new and highly original upturned-bottle lighting fixtures). There’s a big blackboard menu to be propped up near your table while you choose, and a staff of gregarious young cooks and waiters right out of photos by Robert Doisneau. It’s actually part of a small family of bistrots whose owners run a well-known butcher shop in the central market of Tours, so the meat is particularly good — try the morceau du boucher

but there’s plenty of choice on the board. Depending on the season, you might find a “tartare” of spicy chopped avocado and (cooked) crawfish, foie gras ravioli, baked eggs with mushrooms, magret de canard with cherries and mushrooms or filet of salmon with zucchini puree and basil. Desserts include a melting chocolat mi-cuit, vanilla crème brûlée or trendy salted caramel ice cream. Wines are available by the glass or carafe. It’s a cheery place for a delightful, low-key dinner or lunch — and you can feel free to order just two starters if a light meal is all you want. Exceptionally good value in this increasingly upmarket area.

7 rue Lobineau, 6th, Métro: Mabillon. €25-€30


Opened in 1956, Astier has long been a legendary institution on the Paris bistrot scene. Taken over recently by Frédéric Hubig-Schall (who also runs the Café Moderne near the Bourse), Astier has been spruced up but not changed, with its vieux parigot atmosphere and red-checked tablecloths with thick matching napkins. Downstairs is buzzing, crowded elbow-to-elbow with small tables and a busy old-fashioned mirrored service bar, while the upstairs room is quieter and more spacious. Chef Christophe Kestler has kept a roster of old-fashioned bistrot staples including chicken-liver terrine, foie gras, guinea fowl grand-mère, or pork dishes from top cut to trotters (a different one is served each day), but he has also added lighter, more contemporary dishes like a thin tart of sea bream or herb risotto.

The four-course fixed-price menu (which allows several choices per course) includes the very impressive serve-yourself cheese tray piled high with all the chèvre, Camembert, Roquefort, Cantal and other delicious French fromages anyone might ever want. Desserts might include a nectarine soup with wine syrup and honey-almond ice cream, or a traditional baba au rhum with chantilly. And the famed, 400-reference wine list, managed by sommelier Robert Henry (formerly of Le Grand Véfour) maintains its well-deserved reputation for excellence, with a good choice of bottles at around €25.

44 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 11th, Métro: Parmentier. Four-course fixed-price menu €32

Prices are per person without wine.

Originally published in the November 2009 issue of France Today.


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