Dining on the Fly: How to Sniff Out the Best Restos
Thu 15 Apr 2010
Signs of approval at Josephine Chez Dumonet in the 6th Arrondissement.
Real foodies come to Paris with reservations made months in advance, restaurant guidebooks and newspaper clippings featuring recommendations of the latest and greatest on the local scene. It is true that this city has some absolutely fabulous cuisine, with new spots opening daily. But some of us like to travel light—without the guidebooks and without the limitations of reservations—while still hoping to run into some excellent cuisine. And let’s face it: even the most organized foodie can find herself strolling through a completely new neighborhood without a clue about what the neighborhood has to offer.
By “best,” let me be clear that I do not mean the fanciest or the most expensive restaurants. For me, the best food in the Marais is probably l’As du Fallafel, a takeout pita joint, and in my own neighborhood (the 15th) it is surely the Le Cosmos, which is just downstairs and offers hand-cut fries, house-made vinaigrette and a lively scene. More formal options are great, too—just not necessary.
I’d also like to emphasize that good food is essential to me. Very few things irritate me more than wasting time, money and calories on bad food. I don’t have a huge budget and I don’t eat out often, so when I do I want the food to be better than average. As a result, I’ve made something of an art out of finding good, honest food nearby.
My first trick is to ask the neighbors. If I am in a local shop, I’ll ask the shopkeeper where he eats and where he brings his friends. This is invariably a neighborhood joint with a lively atmosphere and fair prices. I especially use this tip when traveling outside of Paris, where I am less knowledgeable about my surroundings. I have never had a local lead me astray.
If I’m feeling particularly shy as I scout different places, I look at the stickers on the front doors. Once you begin, you’ll notice them everywhere. In fact, this tip works throughout France, Italy and much of Spain. There will always be stickers for the credit cards accepted and often ones (labeled Ticket Restaurant) for meal checks provided by local employers. But the good places have also been awarded stickers from well-known guidebooks. The restaurant owners post these stickers proudly, letting customers know that they are a favorite of one brand or another. Some of the guidebooks are strictly food related. Zagat and Michelin are two you probably know well, and you’ll find their stickers plastered throughout the city. For local endorsements, look for stickers that mention the Lebey or Pudlo guides. Le Bottin Gourmand and Gault Millau offer a sticker that indicates extremely traditional cuisine, while the Guide du Routard identifies very affordable food. Even the less-specialized guides have gotten in on the act, with Fodor’s, Time Out and TripAdvisor all distributing stickers to restaurants deemed worthy of mention in their publications.
If all else fails, I do like the French and rely on my “pif,” because the nose always knows.
L’As du Fallafel
34, rue des Rosiers, in the 4th.
01 48 87 63 60. Closed Sat.
133, ave Émile Zola, in the 15th.