You can’t turn a corner in Paris without stumbling upon one of the city’s multitude of eating establishments. Brasseries, bistros, cafés – and even the ubiquitous salon de thé – make dining choices more abundant and diverse. Of course, there’s no small amount of confusion among visitors as to the differences between these establishments. So, to make it simple, here are a few ways to understand what makes each type of eatery unique.
A brasserie is a restaurant that serves the same menu all day, sometimes with a few specials/plat du Jour. The cuisine is classic French with dishes like charcuterie, plats de mer, steak tartare, onion soup, and confit de canard. Brasserie also means brewery and many of them serve a good selection of beer on tap. Some well known Parisian brasseries include Brasserie Lipp, Bofinger, Vaudeville, and La Coupole.
A bistro is a small, informal, neighborhood restaurant with simple food, usually with a single owner or chef-owned. They are open at set times, approximately from 12PM to 2 or 2:30PM for lunch and 7:30PM to 10:30 or 11PM for dinner and are, most of the time, closed either Sunday or Monday (or both). Legend has it that the name bistro came about when, in 1812, Russian soldiers at a restaurant in Montmartre on Place du Tertre were upset that their food was too slow in coming, so they yelled “Bistrot! Bistrot!”, which means quickly in Russian. Some of my favorite bistros are Le Reminet, Chez Janou, L’ Atelier d’Antan, and Chez Dumonet.
The most common eating establishment, the café focuses more on beverages like coffee, tea, wine and beer, and many now offer cocktails and Happy Hour. Cafés are open all day and night serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the same menu served throughout the day – casual fare like sandwiches, croques, omelets and salads. Most cafés have outdoor terraces all year round, with heat lamps to keep things cozy in winter. Some classic cafés include Café de Fleur, Café de la Paix, Les Deux Magots, and Le Fouquet’s.
More informal than a café, a salon de thé specializes in cakes and pastries along with tea and and coffee.They’re usually open morning to early evening, and sometimes serve light lunches and small dishes. Popular salon de thés include Ladurée, Carette, Angelina, Mariage Frères and, one of my personal favorites, Comme a la Maison.
All photographs from Chez Janou.
Richard Nahem is a native New Yorker who now lives in Paris. A successful New York City event planner and producer of cultural events, he has worked with many celebrities including Sarah Jessica Parker, Whitney Houston, and Joan Rivers. After a teenage trip to Paris made him an instant Francophile, he visited the city frequently until he made it his home (in 2005). With 25 years of rave reviews from friends and colleagues, Richard decided to take his own private tours of “his” Paris public. His goal for Eye Prefer Paris Tours is to provide fun, adventurous, and exciting tours of Paris for the independent-spirited traveler.