When people learn that I have reviewed hundreds of restaurants in Paris over the past eight years, they inevitably ask the same question: “So what is your favorite restaurant?” If only it were so simple. One day I might crave French specialties like a great big iron pot of boeuf bourguignon in jovial bistro surroundings, while another the most minimalist fish dish served on a sunny Paris terrace will fill me with contentment. For a night out with my husband, I look for a little bistro close to home with good wines; with a group of friends I love to venture out to Chinatown for a multi-course Laotian feast washed down with Tsing Tao beer. Haute cuisine splash-outs are rare events not just for the sake of my banker’s blood pressure, but because I find that the most formal French meals are rarely the most relaxed.
To complicate matters further, my job rarely allows me to become a regular at any French restaurant. I might be enthralled with a new find, only to discover six months later that the restaurant hasn’t lived up to its initial promise. That’s why I am always fascinated to hear the opinions of fellow restaurant reviewers (I work with 20 other critics on the Time Out Paris Eating and Drinking guide), Paris Notes readers and those who have used my Edible Paris service.
Once I have explained all this, people usually look at me impatiently. “But what is your favorite restaurant?”
After much agonizing I have narrowed my list of favorite Paris restaurants down to 20 (with an emphasis on French cuisine), which in a city of 20,000 restaurants is no mean feat. Even this carefully thought-out selection would be meaningless unless I explained my Paris restaurant criteria, which you’ll find at the end of the list. I have chosen Paris restaurants that represent a range of prices, food styles – regional, traditional, modern, fish, haute – and neighborhoods. This was more of an accident than anything, reflecting that fact that I don’t like to eat the same food or spend time in the same neighborhood every day. Restaurants are listed in arrondissement order, as it would be impossible to list them in order of preference – each establishment corresponds to a particular mood.
Because Paris restaurants change at such a dizzying pace – just look at Alain Senderens, who transformed the art nouveau landmark Lucas Carton into a fusion restaurant overnight – the Top 20 will be fluid. A restaurant might be bumped off by a new discovery too great to ignore, or lose its spot after a disappointing meal. Unlike the feared Michelin inspectors, I don’t consider any restaurant sacred – and, with very rare exceptions, I dine anonymously and pay my own bill. I am confident that if you try every restaurant on this list you will have a complete – and encouraging – picture of Paris dining today, one that will keep you coming back to this city for the food alone.