Paris is a city like no other. Paris is, at its core, an eclectic melting pot that is influenced by both old tradition and progressive thought. The overall vibe of the city is both chaotic and relaxed. At the heart of this mixed pulse is the cuisine. Much like the vibe of the city, the cuisine of Paris is two-sided; affordable and indulgent.
For whatever reason, everyone who heard about our trip to Paris remarked that we were so lucky to do Paris when we were young and had money to spend. From these conversations I was under the impression that good Parisian food was expensive. My Paris travel pocket book even pleaded with the reader to find room in their budget to eat well – stay in a hostel or subpar accommodations if need be. As a fairly inexperienced traveler who is a hesitant spender, I was worried. I am a firm believer that you do not need to break the bank just to enjoy a meal or to create a memorable experience and was worried that our trip to Paris would challenge my beliefs.
Thankfully, after our 6 whirlwind days I can attest to the fact that you can experience all that Parisian cuisine can offer on a budget and with a frugal mindset. Here are my 6 tips to ensure your trip to Paris doesn’t break the bank and leaves you basking in the afterglow of a great meal!
1) Rick Steves isn’t always right. I am a planner. I purchased a well-reviewed and current edition of Rick Steve’s Paris travel guide to assist me with understanding the city and the various attractions and restaurants we must see. The reviews online led me to believe that I couldn’t ‘do’ Paris without it (Oh, marketing at its finest!). Well, the maps and area guides were helpful but the section I was most excited about, Dining, was an utter let down. Thankfully, I had the sense to cross reference his suggestions with Trip Advisor and other online platforms. The disconnect was huge! Many restaurants that the all-mighty Steves rated as a ‘$’ (one dollar sign and therefore affordable) have since skyrocketed in price and were often now ‘$$$’ (three dollar signs) on Trip Advisor. I totally get that this was probably a case of cause and affect but it made me question what else was just wrong. Turns-out, there were a few since closed-down restaurants and accurately priced restaurants that had horrible reviews that in no way reflected Steves’ independent review. After realizing the misinformation, we took matters into our own hands as not to be met with disappointment.
2) Don’t eat near the major attractions. Half of the trip we stayed right near the Eiffel Tower. The other half, we stayed in a young and trendy area that was not littered with hotels or ‘must see’ venues. The difference in both quality and price of food between the two areas was astounding! Paris is so walkable that it only takes minimal effort to put some distance between yourself and the tourist-y areas.
3) Let your eyes guide you. Having limited cell service in Paris meant I could not stop on the street and Google a place that looked nice from the outside. I had to use a mixture of people watching, intuition and quick attempts at translation to determine if I wanted to dine at a restaurant or not. Thankfully, numbers are the same in English and French so once I determined it if place fit my budget (nearly every restaurant displays their menu outside) I then studied what type of clientele were dining and how busy the place was. The only time this steered me wrong is when I quickly glanced at an incredibly busy café and decided to eat an early dinner there. Only after receiving an incredibly dull meal did I relaize that the people surrounding me were only drinking wine and coffee. Oops!
4) Dining is part of the experience. When budgeting for your trip, remember that eating like a local is as key to your Paris trip as walking the Seine or seeing Notre Dame. Take your time with the experience, savour the dishes and the wine (oh, the WINE!) and enjoy. Dining, in Paris, is not a means to an end. It is trip in its own right.
5) Ask for help! A French menu can be a bit difficult to navigate no matter what level of Français you speak. I attended a French only school for 12 years and worked in multiple functionally bilingual roles over the past few years and I still had difficulty understanding just what was on the menu. The best way to ensure you are confident in your meal is to ask for help. Waiters aren’t there to just hand you your dishes and keep your wine glass full! They are ambassadors of their Chef’s cuisine and are well educated in the dishes. Don’t be afraid to ask what their recommendation is house specialty. If anything, asking our waiter for recommendations pleased them so much that we had a more engaging and fun experience with better service!
6) Skip lunch. If all else fails and you are finding the restaurants you want to eat at the most are most pricey, make your dinner time the highlight of the day. Breakfasts can be done on the cheap at various street side cafes with continental breakfast (hot beverage, fresh orange juice, half baguette with butter and preserves). You can then grab a beverage, pastry and fresh fruit from an outdoor market for very cheap mid-day meal to off-set the cost of an indulgent dinner.
I will also leave you with my list of budget friendly favourite restaurants in Paris!
Douceurs et traditions Boulangerie Nelly Julien: Bakery located a 10 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower at 85 Rue Saint-Dominique. Perfect for fresh bakery style options. I had a lovely fresh cherry tart that was generous in its size with a firm, yet flakey and buttery pastry shell. I will dream of it for years to come.
Le Lutetia Ile Saint Louis : Waterside cafe near Notre Dame Cathédral at 33 quai Bourbon. Perfect for mid-day lunches and afternoon snacks. We were served by an amazing waiter who provided us with not only numerous affordable wine and cheese suggestions but an education in how to properly eat a Saint Nectaire cheese (Take a piece of baguette, spread on a liberal amount of butter, place cheese on top and then sprinkle with fresh black pepper, if you were wondering!)
Le Campanella: Affordable French bistro with the most amazing house wine at 18 avenue Bosquet. Get a risotto dish (my husband raved about the seafood risotto for days) but pass on the dessert and pick-up a treat at one of the many close-by bakeries.
Au Bourguignon du Marais : Mid-end place for a treat of a dinner (or lunch) in the heart of Le Marais at 52, Rue Francois Miron. While not the cheapest place we dined at, we were met with amazing beef dishes, quality wines and the best dark chocolate dessert of my life. The boeuf bourguignon was my favourite meal in Paris. The restaurant was full of locals which made for a lively Saturday lunch experience.