The 50 best restaurants in Paris: Classic bistros

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© Time Out / Laurie Grosset

Small, homely hangouts for locals, the menu of a classic bistro is robust, warming and reassuring – the same selection of earthy classic dishes will be available year round, with just a few seasonal specials. Usually there won't be a prix fixe set menu, so you can dig deep at some of the more famous names to pay for things like cassoulet, duck confit and steak.

The classic bistros

Bistro Volnay

The art deco-inspired Bistro Volnay, situated between Opera Garnier and Madeleine, has been so successful that owners Delphine Alcover and Magali Marian have opened another, Les Jalles, at the end of the road. Popular with businessmen at lunch, Volnay's little dining room comes into its own in the evening. There are Parisians in their element, and tourists who seem a bit overwhelmed tat having found the perfect bistro. And it does seem as if Volnay has everything to please: a welcoming dining room done out in big mirrors, glowing lamps and a gorgeous 1930s bar, smiling efficient waiters...

  1. 8 rue Volney, 2e
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Café Constant

Christian Constant knows about the quest for perfection, having chased after Michelin stars for most of his career before devoting himself to simpler cooking. Maybe that’s why this small two-level bistro, one of four restaurants he owns in the same street, gets all the ingredients right, from the vintage décor with a zinc bar in the front to the menu that often reads like grand-mère’s scribbled notebook.Arriving at 12.30pm on a Saturday during school holidays we found a table immediately; this is unusual here so it’s worth showing up early. Squeezed into the downstairs room, which feels brighter and airier than upstairs...

  1. 139 rue Saint-Dominique, 7e
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Chez Dumonet – Josephine

This bastion of classic bistro cooking, where the use of luxury ingredients brings a splash of glamour, is guaranteed to please the faithful, well-heeled local clientele. The room with its nicotine-coloured walls and massive cast-iron radiators looks comfortingly old-fashioned, while the formal staff reinforce the impression of serious Parisian eating. The good news is that several dishes are available as half portions, opening up the possibility of exploring some classy numbers without your credit card melting. We were tempted by a salad of lamb’s lettuce, warm potatoes and truffle shavings...

  1. 117 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6e
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Chez Grenouille

Tucked away behind the Place de Clichy in Paris’s theatre district, it is easy to walk straight past this unassuming bistro. The impression is hardly improved on entering the tiny dining room, with the drab walls decorated only with a series of charcuterie awards – everything from best boudin blanc (black pudding) to a gold medal for pig’s brawn. But even on a midweek evening, the place was packed with local Parisians – not a tourist in sight – and once the menu arrived it was clear that Chez Grenouille is all about the traditional cooking of chef Alexis Blanchard, who used to be a master charcutier and wonderfully recreates classic dishes...

  1. 52 rue Blanche, 9e
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L'Auberge du 15

Top quality, serious classic French dining should be tried at least once on a trip to Paris. This doesn’t mean you have to spend thousands at big-name restaurants – there’s a new breed of bistros serving some of the best Parisian contemporary cooking at prices that, while not exactly cheap, won’t make you retreat to the nearest Quick drive-thru. L’Auberge du 15 is a little off the beaten track on a quiet street in the 13th arrondissement; it cultivates the air of a country brasserie, with Moroccan tiles lining the open kitchen and a hunting motif on the curtains. Not more than 10 tables fill the long room...

  1. 15 rue de la santé, 13e
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La Gauloise

If dining in the same room as a theatre director, a former politician, a Goncourt prizewinning writer and a recipient of the Légion d’Honneur doesn’t put you off, you’ll fit right in at La Gauloise. This time-honoured restaurant is chic, calm and welcoming, long regulated by the etiquette of the Parisian bourgeoisie (Mitterand was a longstanding customer). It’s done out in immaculate taste (long dark wood bar, plaster mouldings, red velvet banquettes), with an eye to discretion (well-spaced tables throughout multiple rooms), impeccable savoir-faire (the chef straight out of the glittering stable of Alain Ducasse)...

  1. 59 avenue de la Motte-Picquet, 15e
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Le Bougainville

In the extremely chic Galerie Vivienne, it’s surprising to find a bistro that has stayed apparently unchanged since the 1950s, with Formica tables and bar, brick red faux leather banquettes and old-school parquet flooring. The new owners have left the décor practically untouched, though the dining room looks a little tidier than it used to.On the menu, there are still classic bistro dishes such as l’oeuf mayo (with house mayonnaise, a small potato salad and a few salad leaves), fine slices of beef skirt with great fries, a perfectly-cooked duck confit with mashed vegetables or a bang-on chocolate mousse...

  1. 5 rue de la Banque, 2e
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Le Garde-Temps

Le Garde-Temps isn’t exactly the ideal address for a romantic dinner, with tables lined up closely on either side of the small single dining room with its fashionable New York décor. But if it doesn’t bother you to shout over your neighbours to be heard, then ambiance suits the venue, with polite, unfussy service and dishes firmly oriented towards the southwest without being slaves to tradition.The menu starts with things like mullet tartare marinated in Espelette pepper with a chorizo and mustard sprout sauce, or parsnip mousseline with carrots, Chioggia beetroot and chunks of parmesan...

  1. 19 bis rue Fontaine, 9e
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Le Voltaire

With its perfect riverside setting, the Voltaire might be just another tourist-led Parisian bistro, but past the velvet curtains, after maître d’ Antoine has escorted you to one of the cosy tables, you realise that this is a genuinely chic spot whose regulars treat it like a private club – at lunch many of the ladies were greeted by a kiss on the hand. From a delicate niddle to a serious feed, Le Voltaire caters to everyone. Our guest kept us waiting, slightly too intimidated to enter after Jean-Paul Belmondo popped in for a spot of lunch. Full marks to the staff who took the presence of a screen legend in their stride...

  1. 27 Quai Voltaire, 7e
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