Eating Out (Well) in Paris: Six Restaurant Gems for the Frugal Foodie

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Good food in Paris is not a tall order. But good food for less than 15 euros? That can be much harder to find, and can make staying in Paris on a budget nearly impossible. This is one reason I love French food markets so much. You can eat well for a fraction of the restaurant bill, and in some truly gorgeous locations (in fact, Maggie and I wrote a post on it: Eat Boutique Guide to 5 Favorite Paris Markets).

But there’s something about the ambiance of Parisian restaurants that I crave, and which I’m sure no one wants to give up if they have the chance to explore one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. Isn’t there somewhere you can get a delicious meal made with fresh ingredients for a reasonable price?

The Cheap Eats Guides I scoured each time before visiting Paris (the latest trip being in March) would suggest no – so I took to the streets, asked local friends, poked my nose into any nook that looked promising, and this is my list of restaurants that serve high-end food on a tight budget . Each of these spots serves up quality and often inventive cuisine for 15 euros or less (plus a teeny splurge at the end), from tapas to cheeseboards to neo-bistro fare. Excuse the gushing; after all, these are the places I eat at in Paris, and I’ve got quite the soft spot for all of them.

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The Secret: Bar l’Impasse

4 cité Griset, 75011 Paris

I hesitate to share this particular spot, as it’s one of Paris’ infamous hidden restaurants – it has no website, does zero publicity, and has grown purely by word of mouth. A Parisian friend of mine is the one that led me down the random, empty side street to find it. It will be on your right, and look like the entrance to a warehouse. There is a small plaque outside the door spelling out L’Impasse (french for dead end) and during lunch hours, an inconspicuous blackboard spelling out the daily special. The interior is a large, open space filled with unmatched chairs and couches, sunlight streaming in from a partially glass ceiling.

For 9 euros you can enjoy the plat du jour, which changes every day (imagine beautifully cooked chicken with stewed vegetables  and rice or beef stew over roasted potatoes), but for 12.50 you can savor a three course meal. The soups and salads are just as good, and the portions are generous. There’s also rock solid wifi that the servers will happily give you the password to – you can camp out for as long as you want, and I noticed several regulars who seem to have made L’Impasse their new office. Fair warning – you need someone in your party who speaks French. This is entirely a local scene.

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The Secret at Night: Bar l’Impasse

4 cité Griset, 75011 Paris

Yes, I’m writing about the same place. But here’s the thing – it completely changes at night. Whereas lunch is perfect solo or with a friend, at night the space transforms into a low-lit wine bar packed to the gills with young Parisians ready to unwind. Bring a pack of friends (you’re going to want at least three people!) and order boards of charcuterie and cheese and a bottle of wine – the lunch salads are also available, but the fun of this place is the conviviality of it.

The boards are large and come with fresh bread, butter, and pickles. Split between three people, we each paid 10 euros for an excellent dinner and an even better atmosphere. It’s casual; you order and pay at the bar, but the servers are all friendly.

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The Veggie Heaven: Bob’s Kitchen

74 rue des Gravilliers, 75003 Paris

This vegetarian joint is less of a hidden gem, but a gem all the same, and I dare you to walk away unsatisfied. Bob’s Kitchen is just one of the ventures by Bob’s Food Etc., which started as a juice and smoothie bar, and has expanded into a fleet of small restaurants that all serve fresh, vegetarian food. Bob’s Kitchen is my favorite.

It isn’t clearly marked, but the white paneled shop that has diners walking in and out almost constantly is the place. Come for breakfast or lunch, but I suggest lunch. To secure a seat – though I never had an issue – you’d be smart to show up before noon. The menu is written on chalkboard walls, but you only need to know one thing – order the Veggie Bowl, a metal bowl filled with a salad, purple rice, and roasted and fresh vegetables, which change daily. You can choose from four flavorful sauces to top it all off. The dining is communal to put it lightly – you are likely to knock elbows with strangers – but it’s a great way to make friends. The water and tea are free.

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The Hidden Gem: La Cantine Berlinoise

27 Rue de Sambre et Meuse, 75010 Paris, France

While L’Impasse might seem like the ultimate hidden gem, it’s a tad too popular (even if it’s only crowded by locals) to grab that title. La Cantine Berlinoise, however, has all the prerequisites. It’s young, the food is out of this world, and it’s almost always empty. Normally I would find this alarming – but if I lived in Paris, I would happily eat at this adorable cafe every single day.

Here’s the deal: It’s a tapas restaurant that cooks up French dishes and serves them on small plates. The dishes change every day, and there’s usually a selection of about nine or ten, from entrees like a shaved fennel salad to main courses like beef chili or tempura chicken to desserts like sweet crepes and chocolate mousses. Everything is made to order, and the juices freshly pressed. At lunch for 9 euros, you can choose three tapas, and for 12 euros you can choose four, plus the grain of the day (usually rice). The quality and attention to the food is beautiful. Come on Saturday or Sunday and get the 18 euro brunch, which comes with a cold and hot beverage, bread and fresh butter, and four tapas. Bliss.

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The Classic Experience: Dame Jane

39 Rue Ramponeau, 75020 Paris, France

This wine bar/bistro in Belleville is tiny but charming. There are maybe twenty seats in the whole place, which is as carefully crafted as a boutique chocolate shop, while still feeling cozy. Dame Jane offers charcuterie, smoked fish, and cheese boards along with an extensive wine selection (which I would happily do for dinner), but to feel pampered and thrifty, go for the three course menu at lunch, which goes for 16 euros. Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but the quality of the food and service makes it an absolute steal. A similar meal in a more well-known restaurant would easily cost 30-50 euros, so call it a treat. You can also get an entree and main for 12 euros.

The food is Modern French, and made to order in the small galley kitchen. The one server is incredibly helpful and open to menu swaps and substitutions. The menu changes every day, and you can choose from two choices for the entree, main, and dessert – but I sincerely doubt you can go wrong here.

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The Crepe: Breizh Cafe

109 rue Vieille du Temple, 75003 Paris, France

All I can say is: go. And go for dinner. Unlike most restaurants in Paris, the prices don’t change for different meals, and Breizh Cafe (for a full review, check out my previous article on the cafe) is open all day – so you could even drop in for a midday snack! But to give this restaurant it’s due diligence, make reservations for dinner. The simple crepes are as cheap as 10 euros, the more elaborate around 14 or 15. But between two people, you can get your pants quite snug on two galettes, a bowl of cider, and a gigantic dessert crepe for around 30-40 euros, which isn’t so bad, considering how special you’ll feel eating it all. Four stars for ambiance and authentic Brittany crepes.

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Photos taken and styled by Amy Feiereisel except for Bob’s Kitchen, which is courtesy of Bob’s Food Etc.

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