East Asian food has long been popular in Paris; yet despite (or perhaps because of) this, substandard Asian eateries abound. At times, it can seem as though they all serve up the same nems and noodle bowls at the same prices. To help you navigate this minefield, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite Asian restaurants in the capital, from budget Chinatown canteens to cosy Vietnamese basements. Can't find your favourite on the list? Let us know in the comments box or tweet us.
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The best Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants in Paris
Bien Bien has been serving excellent Thai food on the Rue Bergère for the last 25 years. The decor is simple and elegant, but that's not what you come for – the cooking here is the good stuff, full of big, bold flavours lifted here and there with well-judged touches of coriander, Thai basil and bergamot. To start, go for the triangular parcels of pork and prawns, or the beef salad (€5-€7). For main dishes (around €10 without rice), curry is the house speciality.
You risk burnt fingers and tongues trying to get into your hotpot too soon at La Taverne de Zhao, with its wonderful casseroles full of bouillon, large translucent soft noodles, beef, coriander, mushrooms, seaweed and tofu. Cool down with a pull of milky bubble tea with tapioca balls, and take a break to snack on pork buns. No roast duck here: the cooking is native to X’ian, the capital of the Shaanxi province, where traditional recipes prefer cooking in a pot.
If you’re lost and starving in Chinatown of a lunchtime, choosing from among the serried ranks of neon signs offering Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai or all three at the same time can feel like a minefield. No longer – head to Li Ka Fo. A few ducks hang in the window to attract the hordes, and there’s a warm welcome when you go inside and find your way to a table between Chinese families eating their way through gargantuan plates of food.
A clean and simple modern restaurant with an open kitchen, Little Hanoï (or its big brother, Paris-Hanoï at 74 rue de Charonne) is a breath of fresh air. Delicately scented dishes arrive on your table still steaming, fresh out of the oven and free from MSG – huge salads, bo bun, pho, beef with onions and much more. There are some nice touches, like the mint leaves in the water carafe, and the excellent egg rolls and deep-fried prawns that can be ordered by the piece.
Be prepared to queue at this tiny Franco-Korean canteen, whose rainbow of colours and flavours behind the bar seem to attract the entire neighbourhood. Fortunately the staff are both patient and prompt in filling their cardboard cartons with the house speciality, bibimbap. Traditionally, this Korean dish mixes rice, vegetables, meat and an egg – Ma Kitchen's version leaves out the egg, but gives it five new spins every day of the week.
Despite its fairly uninspiring décor (the usual plastic orchids, fake leather chairs and wooden tables), Mian Guan definitely impresses when it comes to what’s on your plate. At the back of the restaurant, chefs are hard at work, hand-pulling fresh noodles and slicing them up for dishes like the soup with spicy ground pork or the perfectly textured beef sauté. With sizable portions, and everything under €8, it’s no surprise that this is a favourite spot in the Belleville neighbourhood.
Everything is spot on at this adorable Vietnamese canteen, the walls blooming with colourful flowers above Formica tables and dinners happily queuing to get their upscale banh mi sandwiches (a crusty baguette, grated carrots, coriander and usually marinated beef, which you normally get as a budget lunch in Chinatown). And though it might be pricier than the traditional version, all objections evaporate at the first bite: Miss Banh Mi’s recipe takes in Eric Kayser bread, grated carrot, daikon, homemade soya mayonnaise, cucumber, coriander, spices and four choices of filling like prime beef marinated in sake and Phu Quoc pepper (there’s also a vegetarian option).
Look beyond the cheap furniture and the waiters’ grumpy faces: Vietnamese canteen Pho 14 is the place to come for delicious Pho soups, filled with noodles, meat-balls, beef, or chicken, all served with fresh mint and basil. Other specialties worth testing are the crispy pork spring rolls (nems) and squidgy ravioli vapeur (steamed dumplings). There’s take-out too, if you don’t want to wait for a table (there are usually queues).
Adjacent to the Canal Saint-Martin, this stylish Thai canteen offers a regularly changing menu of delicacies to a young and trendy clientele. Behind the counter, the former chef at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Bangkok – leads a team of skilled Bangkokian chefs who here serve up typical ‘Chatuchak’ set menus. Named after the popular inner-city market in the Thai capital, these colourful little dishes come served in baskets and feature things like skewers of chicken curried in coriander, lime and coconut milk and served with rice, pork in a bittersweet sauce or a salad of beef marinated in soya.
Don’t be fooled by the calm, friendly atmosphere, all exposed brick walls and wooden stools. The spicy Szichuan dishes will take you right out of your comfort zone. Think plump, flavourful home made pork dumplings – with a spicy, garlicky, slightly sweet Sichuan sauce. Or a bowl of noodles (with or without broth), perhaps the Dan Dan (minced pork, peanuts and coriander), with a customisable chilli level on a scale of 1 to 5. The waitress, perhaps well seasoned in weak Parisian palates, recommended we try a level 2 – quite hardcore enough for us.