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Avoiding Bad food In Paris: 5 Things You Need To Know

Dinner Series & Mike Fleming

I have a friend who travels for the museums, spending each day snapping photos next to ancient art, otherworldly architecture, and every single monument she comes across.

All I can say is: pfft.

While I adore her, if you’ve seen one thousand-year-old building, you’ve seen them all, right? Okay, I’m teasing. But for me, history, art and language are pleasant fringe benefits best served on the side. Call me names and throw Monets at me, but I travel for the food.

jimmyweee & ktylerconk

In one flavorful bite, I experience history, art and years of culture passed down from generation to generation. For this humble foodie, an entire plate will tell me a story far longer and more interesting than the line at the Louvre on a free Sunday. You stand in line, mon amie, and I’ll skip around the corner to a 500-bottle wine bar to taste and learn the history of French wine.

Sadly, all Paris food spots don’t tell such fine tales. In fact, Paris food can be – gasp! – kind of bad sometimes. If you’ve dreamed of perfect foie and crispy frites on every corner, wake up, lovely. You actually do have to work for your food. And since I’ve narrowly escaped a lot of bad dishes, I’d like to share here five bits of advice that may help with your next visit to Paris – or any city, for that matter.

pdbreen & Sarah and Iain

1. Charm doesn’t mean quality. Quaint Parisian bistros may bewitch you, but often the beautiful facade is not reflected in your plate. In fact, it feels like there’s a direct and opposite correlation between the two: the higher the cheesy charm quotient, the worse the food. I found charm and deliciousness at Coquelicot, Le Baron Rouge, Bistrot Paul Bert and Le Petit Pontoise.

dev null & avlxyz

2. Spending more won’t guarantee gastronomic delights. Even the French culinary titans make mistakes, oui? I dined in one of the best (and most expensive) restaurants in Paris and found so-so food and service lacking any sort of soul. Perhaps a bad night? But if you’ve got big bucks, you will find a reliably delightful experience at Verjus. I actually went three times on my last trip!

jules:stonesoup & BurgTender

3. Popular locales are the worst offenders. Unlike real estate, location, location, location isn’t always the golden rule in food. Just because the poets of yore feasted like kings in St Germain doesn’t mean you will consistently. Some bistros in tourist spots focus less on food and more on providing a good vantage point to take in the city scene. My favorite dishes are often found in the nooks of the other neighborhoods, down the less trendy streets, and I definitely struck gold when I lunched at Au Passage.

MCA /Mike Allyn & Fabio Penna

4. English menus mean nothing. Foodie tourists used to cry out in dismay whenever they were offered a menu in English, preparing themselves for lackluster dishes designed to please all types. English menus don’t mean much these days. I’ve had superb meals at Café des Musees, Glou and Breizh Cafe, and if anything, the English-language menu placed before me at each spot sent me the right message: the proprietors prioritized good service to all of their clients. And the food was very good too.

kanuck & Stepheye

5. Seek out suggestions from trustworthy sources. Everyone wants to tell you where to eat in Paris. There’s Yelp France, Paris by Mouth, Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz and Bon Appetit even dedicated their May 2012 issue to Paris. We love them all, and as you know, we also love to spill the beans on our favorite restos on this very site. Latch onto someone whose tastes suit yours and try his or her top picks.

If all else fails, even a baguette and inexpensive block of Mimolette can be way better than bad bistro fare. Especially if there’s enough wine and a view of the setting sun on the Seine, oui? Bon appétit!

More links for finding great food in Paris:

Written by Maggie Battista for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Maggie Battista

Maggie BattistaPassionate about fine dining and old-fashioned hospitality, Maggie is focused on finding hidden, authentic food gems and is absolutely in love with the creamy, salty butter sold all over Paris. She also runs an online magazine and market called Eat Boutique, where she discovers the best small batch foods by boutique food makers. Maggie’s based in Boston, with frequent trips to Paris, Brooklyn, Maine, and northern California.

Website: Maggie Battista, blogger

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Posted in Food | 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “Avoiding Bad food In Paris: 5 Things You Need To Know”

  • Susan says:

    Catching up on my reading…great advice, but I’m throwing a Monet at you (jokingly)! Personal preference I know, but I travel for the history…and no, I’ve never considered that it is there in the cuisine, so thank you for pointing that out. ;)

  • You’ve hit upon one of Paris’ dirty little secrets (and not something that most tourists are willing to see through their rose-colored glasses). I’ve always loved Le Grizzli in the Marais and Pierrot on rue Étienne Marcel for straightforward, well-prepared food.

  • This is great, just bookmarked it. Thank you!

  • Meg says:

    Great post! Couldn’t agree more. When we travel, our trips revolve around food, drink, and shopping. The cultural aspects are important, of course, but we feel the best way to experience a new place is to just live it :)

  • Edward Stern says:

    My I also suggest if you can not get into paul bert, chez mamy a few doors from paul Bert. A small but very tasty restaurant.

  • Laura - Girl About Town says:

    Delicious read! I had a tasty month in Paris, eating my way around the city. I found it helpful to ask the waiters what they enjoyed and recommended, often forgoing the menu for their suggestions. They seemed flattered to be asked and genuinely put thought into it. The English translations at times made the dish initially sound unappetizing, so it was just best to go with the flow. I didn’t have a bad meal at all. My meal at Les Pappilles will go down in history.

  • Sweet Freak says:

    Delicious tips, Maggie!

  • Erica says:

    Excellent post. I would say that I suggest avoiding Cafe des Musées. I had horrible food and service there, very recently.

  • I wish I had this advice when I lived there and am definitely saving this post for future visits. Will just add one bit of advice: beware of really, really long menus. I know in my touristy town of Arles too much of a selection means that is impossible for all of those ingredients to be fresh, so you are paying a lot for the French equivalent of a Hungry Man dinner! :O

  • Yes a girl after my own!! Coming from Italy to live in Paris I was so let down by the food..great tips I certainly have had many let downs but am so much wiser now with my choices.
    Carla x

  • Leigh says:

    Heading over to Paris in a couple of months and your blog has given me some fabulous tips and hints. Thanks so much!

  • I JUST got back from Paris. Sadly, I never made it to Le Baron Rouge and Bistrot Paul Bert, though they were on my “to eat” list, BUT I did make it to Verjus: and it was amazing! I also loved, loved, loved Au Passage. Their leg of lamb is truly something. Time to go back?! :)

  • Marla says:

    As my family and I prepare to leave for France this coming weekend, Hip Paris has been indescribably useful. Thank you sooo much.

    Marla in Columbus, OH

  • Emilia says:

    Great post! I love walking around and looking at old buildings (museums less so), but completely agree that FOOD is the reason to visit a new place. Good advice that, while I’ll definitely think about next time I head to Paris, I think can be applied to visiting pretty much any large city! :)

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