France has long been heralded as the gastronomy world’s beating heart, but that belies a dirty secret. In truth, during the past few decades, its own capitol has faded from being a culinary mecca. Hidebound by tradition, and overrun by industrial food like the kind you’d find at an American chain restaurant, Paris’ food and bar scene fell behind London, New York and San Francisco. But over the last decade, a new energy has invigorated the City of Lights dining scene.
On the food side, the Bistronomy movement has embraced farm-to-table cuisine and shunned the white tablecloths and fustiness of fine dining. And the craft cocktail boom has reached Paris too. The Experimental Cocktail Club opened in 2007, becoming an incubator for bartenders who would fan out across the city to sling drinks at spots like Candelaria and PasDeLoup. What’s even better is that you don’t have to break the bank to eat and drink well. I ventured across the city in search of the best wine, food and booze that you’ll need to get to Paris to try.
Throughout Paris you’ll find fantastic croissants and pain au chocolats for your breakfast. It’s almost hard to go wrong by buying one to munch as you stroll to your first sightseeing destination of the day. Yet, if you happen to find your way into the 9th Arrondissment in the morning, skip the croissant and buy a pain perdu. This brick of custardy, sweet goodness is essentially a slab of the best bread pudding you’ll ever have in your life.
Though it’s not particularly new, the “Stolen Glass” helped usher in the wine shop/restaurant in Paris the last decade. You can walk in to buy a bottle off the shelves flanking the tiny dining room, or sit for a rustic meal where you can drink one of the bottles for just a 7€ markup. There’s no wine list for the bottles, they just ask you what you like look at what you’re having and then you’re just in their hands when it comes to selection. The menu changes seasonally, but if steak from Normandy is on the menu, this rich beef with a depth of flavor rivaled only by America’s best steakhouses at a fraction of the cost.
CHEZ ALAIN MIAM MIAM
Subway may claim to have sandwich artists, but those hacks are Thomas Kinkade compared to the Pablo Picasso that runs Chez Alain Miam Miam. This artisan, adorned in his “Who the fuck is Shawn Carter?” T-shirt, painstakingly makes one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever have, filling it with comte and ham and pressing it on a griddle. While the 20 food stalls in Marche de Enfants Rouges, the city’s oldest covered market (built in 1615), are worthy of you stopping to eat, you definitely should line up for the privilege of just paying 8€ for lunch.
LE VINE EN TETE BIS
Down the hill from Sacre Couer and adjacent to the seedy strip of adult shops surrounding Moulin Rouge is South Pigalle, Paris’ hippest neighborhood. This Brooklyn-esque locale features numerous little shops and restaurants, including this unique wine and spirits store. Sure, you can select among a wall full of natural wine bottles, but there’s something a little different here. On the right side of the store are large metal tanks holding wine straight from the winery. You can bring in your own empty bottle, or buy a bottle from the shop for 2€ and fill it up from one of the tanks for around 5€. This way you can have your own nightcap for cheap back at your hotel.
SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY CAFÉ
Pull away from the throngs of tourists roaming around Notre Dame and stroll over a bridge to the Left Bank of the Seine to one of the city’s most famed bookstores. After wandering inside this labyrinth of English-language books, head over to the adjoining café to grab a cup of coffee by craft roaster Café Lomi and a snack by Bob’s Bake Shop.
American ex-pat Amanda Boucher originally came to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, but ended up being part of the nascent cocktail scene that continues to grow in the city. When you arrive, cross through the front dining room and make your way to the bar in the back, where you can belly up for some drinks and food. Boucher’s menu mixes classic cocktails with innovative seasonal drinks, while the kitchen makes delicious dishes like a sweet and tangy pork atop a refined potato salad.
SEPTIME LA CAVE
One of the toughest reservations right now in the city is Septime, which is part of that bistronomy movement in Paris that is bringing farm-to-table cuisine to the City of Lights. If you can’t get a reservation at Septime, they also have a wine shop and bar around the corner, where you can buy a bottle to go or sip wine by the glass on the chairs out front while snacking on cheese and charcuterie. Pours of wine of a quality you’d expect to pay $18 for stateside can be found at La Cave for around $8.