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November 22, 2017

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A taste of Paris

Eat like a local at seven bistros that put a modern twist on Old-World classics

French cuisine may boast impeccable technique but, let's face it, it can be stuffy and a little boring. About a decade ago, a generation of young Parisian chefs came to the same conclusion and redefined their nation's gastronomy by drawing on exotic ingredients and techniques.

Between classic eateries and the new standard bearers, you'd think it would be hard to find a bad resto in Paris, right? Sadly not. Mediocre eateries abound — especially in the streets surrounding tourist hotspots. And it's not always easy to tell a banal bistro from a hidden gem just by looking at the menu.

Even if you plan to hit the capital like the most dedicated tourist, we suggest you eat like a local. Try one of these seven affordable spots recommended by our friends in the capital. Whether they feature traditional home-style dishes or classics with an exotic twist, these are all sure bets.

Eiffel Tower/Musée du Quai Branly

Café Constant
(139 rue Saint-Dominique, 7th; Invalides metro; tel: 011-33-1-4753-7334; leviolondingres.com)
Eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant isn't in everyone's budget. So it's hard to resist Café Constant, where the dishes are actually prepared in the kitchen of Christian Constant's Michelin-starred Violon d'Ingres down the street. This tiny café features bistro fare inspired by the chef's family recipes — boar stew with chestnuts, pressed pork terrine with foie gras and fish cakes on a bed of spinach. These classics from Southwestern France are prepared in the fresh, spare style which made Constant a star. About €8 for appetizers, €12 for mains. If there's a line up, try your luck a few doors away at Constant's popular counter-style bistro, Les Cocottes.

Notre-Dame Cathedral

La Ribouldingue
(10 rue Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, 5th; St-Michel metro; tel: 011-33-1-4354-0934)
In the heart of the Latin Quarter, a young female chef has entered the scene with a daring menu laden almost entirely with things that North Americans tend to shy away from like tongue, brain and tripe. Surprisingly, the dishes are accessible and inventive with unusual fusion influences. For the less adventurous, there is always a "normal" meat and fish dish on the menu, in addition to the more accessible foie gras. If you're feeling bold, try the main that everyone is talking about: the salad of thinly sliced, crunchy cow udders (really, we're not making this up). Prix fixe menu for €27.

Centre Pompidou

Le Hangar
(12 impasse Berthaud, 3rd; Rambuteau metro; tel: 011-33-1-4274-5544)
Leave behind bustling Beaubourg Street and enter this little alley where you'll find the Anne Frank Garden — one of the rare green spaces in this historic neighbourhood. Right next to it, an old fruit and veg hangar has been transformed into a neighbourhood restaurant which, not surprisingly, puts the emphasis on freshness. Dishes are uncomplicated, letting the aromas really come to the fore. The squash and chestnut soup is fragrant and subtle, the daily fish is cooked to perfection, and you'll want to make a meal out of the black-olive tapenade. Don't forget to order the molten chocolat mi-cuit at the beginning of your meal; it takes 20 minutes to prepare. The only downside: it's a cash-only establishment. About €30 per person.

Musée d'Orsay/Louvre

5 Mars
(51 rue de Verneuil, 7th; Musée d'Orsay metro; tel: 011-33-1-4544-6913; cinq-mars-restaurant.com)
This bistro is beginning to be a not-so-well-kept secret among urban explorers. It made its name by taking part in Paris's fooding events — an annual celebration for hip foodies. The Pronvençal-inspired menu plays off the very urban loft-style decor which incorporates old country tables and big sideboards. The service is also interestingly retro: diners serve themselves before passing around large soup tureens and stoneware dishes filled with terrines or chocolate mousse. Get there early for a quiet meal; it turns into a hipster hangout later in the evening. About €8 for appetizers, mains €20.

St-Germain/Carrefour de l'Odéon

Le Comptoir
(9 carrefour de l'Odéon, 6th; Odéon metro; tel: 011-33-1-4427-0797; hotel-paris-relais-saint-germain.com)
Yves Camborde is credited with launching the "bistronomie" movement which saw passionate young chefs bringing affordable haute cuisine to the masses. There's almost always a line up at his 22-seat Belle Époque-style bistro, but it's definitely worth the wait. Surprisingly, it's on weekday evenings (rather than weekends) that Camborde pulls out all the stops, offering a five-course tasting menu for €48. Blending French classics with European and Middle Eastern influences, the results are sometimes surprising, but always superb.

Tuileries Gardens/Place Vendôme

L’Écluse
(34 place du Marché Saint-Honoré, 1st; Tuileries metro; tel: 011-33-1-4296-1018; leclusebaravin.com) What could be more Parisian after a long day of pounding the cobblestones than to sit and chat over glass of wine? L’Écluse specializes in the great wines of Bordeaux and serves them at very reasonable prices by the glass. Far from the crowds, its terrace on the pedestrian-only Place du Marché St-Honoré is one of its five outposts in the capital. The menu ranges from nibbles (cold salads, cheeses, terrines and tartares) to more elaborate mains with a fresh market twist — and each is accompanied by a recommendation for a wine pairing. The four-course "discovery" menu is €42, the "classic" menu is €48, wine included.

Opéra Garnier

L'Entracte
(1 rue Auber, 9th; Opéra metro; tel: 011-33-1-4742-2625)
To really live like a local, try ending an evening with a show at the grand Haussmann-era Opéra Garnier (which hosts contemporary dance, ballet and opera; seats start around €15), followed by a bite right across the street at this intimate little brasserie. The menu sticks to the classics — Auvergnat ham, potato gratin, duck confit and the like. The mood in its three wood-panelled rooms tends to be liveliest right before and after shows and the views of the Opéra lit up across the street are dazzling. About €25 per person.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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