Paris has recovered its scents, and the city is suddenly ravenous. The whiffs of shallots sautéing in butter, bread baking, meat roasting and bouillon simmering that invisibly punctuate any stroll in this food-loving city are back. In fact, the French capital is in the midst of a restaurant boom.
“I think it’s a carpe diem thing,” said Ezéchiel Zérah, the Paris-based editor of two popular French food publications. “After Covid, everyone has a keen appetite and wants a good time.”
Encouraged by pent-up local demand and a dramatic revival of the city’s tourist trade, young chefs and restaurateurs are hanging out their first shingles in Paris, and the most popular idiom is the beloved Parisian bistro. Some of them are pointedly traditional — the delightful Bistrot des Tournelles in the Marais, for example — while others offer a refined contemporary take on bistro cooking, notably the just opened Géosmine in the 11th Arrondissement.
What all of them have in common is chefs with a refreshingly simple culinary style. “No wants tweezer cooking anymore,” said Thibault Sizun, the owner of Janine, an excellent new modern bistro in Les Batignolles, a neighborhood in the 17th Arrondissement.
Here, six restaurants to try in Paris now (prices are approximate).
Bistrot des Tournelles
When you arrive at the long, narrow dining room of the Bistrot des Tournelles for the second seating (from 9:15 p.m. onward; you don’t want to have dinner with an invisible hourglass on your table), odds are you’ll politely be informed that it’ll be another 10 to 15 minutes. It’ll be longer than that, so go across the street for a drink at the Le Vanart cocktail bar instead of milling around on the sidewalk and getting cranky.
This noisy bistro is absolutely worth the wait for the charm of its friendly grace-under-pressure staff, the contagiousness of its high-spirits atmosphere and the deliciousness of a menu that reads like a primer of French bistro cooking. It also looks like a place that the famed French photographer Robert Doisneau might have photographed many years ago, with a marble-topped oak bar just inside the front door, flea-market bric-a-brac on the walls, a stenciled tile floor, bentwood chairs at bare tables and moleskin banquettes.
The porcine richness of the rillettes (potted pork) from the Perche region of Normandy accompanied by glasses of a brilliantly flinty Alsatian Riesling is reason alone to fall in love, and then the sautéed oyster mushrooms in a veil of finely chopped garlic and parsley and the plump ivory asparagus in an Xeres-vinegar-spiked dressing deliver the simple pleasure of impeccably cooked and perfectly seasoned produce.
For main dishes, the juicy chicken with morel mushrooms in cream sauce embodies the gastronomic riches of Paris, or try the andouillette, a bulging sausage made from pig intestines, pepper, wine, onions and seasonings. These dishes are served with a heaping platter of hot homemade frites and spinach that is a sink of butter. Dessert might seem improbable, but go ahead and share a dark chocolate mousse with a bracing shadow of bitterness (6 Rue des Tournelles, Fourth Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-57-40-99-96; starters from 7 euros, or about $7.50, entrees from 27 euros).
Once a country village where Édouard Manet painted, Les Batignolles is now a lively younger district of the 17th Arrondissement that’s little known to tourists. “I chose this neighborhood, because it’s happy, inclusive and without hipster pretensions,” said the Breton restaurateur Thibault Sizun, who named Janine, his first restaurant, after his adored grandmother.
The restaurant has a great-looking dining room with a zinc-topped service bar, bare wood tables, tile floors, and oil paintings, mirrors and flea-market finds on the walls. The superb slice of pâté de campagne du Grand-Père Jean with pickled red onions, cauliflower sprigs, carrots and celery pairs perfectly with glasses of chardonnay from the Jura region. From the expertly seasoned mixture of ground meat bound in caul fat, you might expect an old-fashioned French chef in the kitchen.
But the chef at Janine is Soda Thiam, a talented young Senegalese woman who grew up in Italy and whose cooking is an inventive mixture of traditional French bistro and Italian trattoria dishes updated with shrewd garnishes and seasonings and a sparing use of dairy.
First courses include an excellent celery rémoulade garnished with mussels, squid and grilled leeks, and a luscious vitello tonnato that might be unexpected if you didn’t know Ms. Thiam’s background.
The menu here evolves regularly, but if the braised pig cheek with creamy polenta and Treviso or roasted cockerel with an herbal pesto sauce and baby vegetables in a shallow bath of ruddy bouillon are on the menu, don’t miss them. Desserts are excellent, too, especially the buckwheat brownie with bread ice cream (90 Rue des Dames, 17th Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-42-93-33-94; starters from 11 euros, entrees from 28 euros).
Les Parisiens is a beautifully low-lit bistro with globe lamps, plump banquettes and a slate-and-gray Art Deco-style mosaic floor in the Pavillon Faubourg St.-Germain hotel in the heart of St.-Germain-des-Prés, one of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods.
The chef Thibault Sombardier trained with several three-Michelin-starred chefs, which explains the steely haute-cuisine technique he brings to contemporary French bistro cooking. His langoustines quenelles are featherweight but fully flavored dumplings, and they come to the table in a luscious ivory-colored puddle of velvety cauliflower velouté. The ris de veau (veal sweetbreads) are beautifully browned but still custardy inside and come with a bright Provençal sauce of tomatoes, capers and onions sautéed in olive oil.
For those who aren’t keen on offal, the menu offers many other options, including saddle of lamb in pastry with a tangy mustard-and-tarragon condiment and a whole sea bream for two with voluptuous Hollandaise sabayon. For dessert, it’s your call between the vanilla soufflé and the warm chocolate mousse with buckwheat ice cream (1 Rue du Pré aux Clercs, Seventh Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-42-96-65-43; starters from 12 euros, entrees from 22 euros).
One of the best trends at the new Paris bistros is their really excellent wine lists, because many bistros of yore were pretty much content to pour cheerful plonk. Parcelles, a popular bistrot à vins, or wine-oriented bistro, near the Pompidou Center in the Upper Marais is an on-point example.
In French wine terminology a parcelle is a small plot of land with distinctive geographical and geological characteristics that explain the quality and character of the grapes grown on it. Here, it refers to the seriousness of the restaurant’s wine list and the way the menu is designed to create memorable food and wine pairings.
The exigent and very knowledgeable young sommelier Bastien Fidelin works with the chef Julien Chevallier and the owner, Sarah Michielsen, to sync his mostly organic and natural wines to the regularly changing menu. The bistro itself dates to 1936. This team took it over a year ago and wisely left the décor almost untouched, since it has an effortless Gallic chic that comes from the copper-clad bar, cracked tile floor and lace curtains in the front windows.
Expect dishes like earthy homemade headcheese with the punctuation of puckery pickles and a bracing herbal slash of peppery mustard greens and scallops in a parsley-garlic butter with guanciale to start. That might be followed by mains like pan-roasted brill in a sauce of baby clams with spinach and veal sweetbreads with fried sage leaves and potato purée. The chocolate tart with caramelized pecans and whipped cream is excellent, but keep your fingers crossed that the crème caramel, maybe the best in Paris, will be on the menu when you come for a meal (13 Rue Chapon, Third Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-43-37-91-64; starters from 12 euros, entrees from 25 euros).
Bistros can also be chic and their cooking intense, precise and refined. A perfect example is the young chef Maxime Bouttier’s just-opened restaurant Géosmine in the Oberkampf quarter of the 11th Arrondissement in eastern Paris.
In French, the word géosmine means “odor of the soil,” as in a freshly plowed field. Mr. Bouttier’s cooking at this stylish two-story restaurant with recycled wood tables and white cement floors in a former textile factory seduces by being earthy but elegant.
Starters of green asparagus with a sauce of pistachios and ramps and morel mushrooms stuffed with ground veal and garnished with baby peas are vivid with freshness, contrasts of texture and unexpected flavors. A main course of sirloin with a tangy mahogany puddle of homemade barbecue sauce and wilted radicchio and turbot with friar’s beard, a wild herb, further display the chef’s well-honed culinary skills. Proof Mr. Bouttier likes to provoke is a dish very rarely seen on Paris menus: cow’s udder with caviar, cream and seaweed. With his sinewy talent and lyrical gastronomic creativity, Mr. Bouttier is one of the most impressive young chefs in Paris right now (71 Rue de la Folie Méricourt, 11th Arrondissement, tel. (33) 09-78-80-48-59; à la carte lunch, dishes from 11 euros to 49 euros; dinner, prix fixe 109 euros or 139 euros).
Being on a budget in Paris doesn’t mean you can’t go for a meal at one of the city’s best new restaurants. Des Terres, a corner bistro in Belleville, a formerly working-class but now rapidly gentrifying district of the 20th Arrondissement in northeastern Paris, is an amiable neighborhood place with an avid following of local regulars. They love sampling the latest wine finds of the hugely knowledgeable Matthieu Hernandez and other oenophile staff members and chatting about the highlights of the chalkboard menu, which changes daily and is vegetarian-friendly.
With its exposed red brick walls and bare wood tables, Des Terres could just as easily be in Astoria or Ridgewood, Queens, as in Paris were it not for the big Formica-clad bar just inside the front door crowded with natural and organic wines from small producers all over France and obscure Gallic liqueurs and tinctures.
Starters of a terrine of veal sweetbreads and morel mushrooms and a ruddy lentil soup garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds and freshly grated horseradish are so beautifully made they could easily grace the table of some wallet-busting Michelin-anointed place incentral Paris. Main courses are outstanding, too, including pan-roasted cod with fresh white coco beans from Paimpol in Brittany and golden domed pithiviers (short-crust pastry) filled with layered celeriac, mushrooms and potatoes. The latter, a resonantly earthy dish, was deeply satisfying, as was the intriguing dessert, a fluffy chestnut mousse with quince slices stewed in lemon verbena with crushed pecan praline.
Complimented on his recommendation of a Patrimonio wine from Corsica and also on the inventiveness and precision of the kitchen, Mr. Hernandez grinned and said, “It’s the pleasure that counts.”
That phrase could equally be the motto and motivation of the chefs at all of these excellent new Paris spots (82 Rue Alexandre Dumas, 20th Arrondissement, tel. (33) 01-43-48-42-49; starters from 12 euros; entrees from 24 euros, lunch menu, 18 euros or 21 euros).
Alexander Lobrano is a food and travel writer who’s lived in France for more than 35 years. His latest book is “My Place at the Table: A Recipe for a Delicious Life in Paris.”
Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2023.