The stereotypical caricature of Parisian dining goes something like this: white tablecloths dotting an elegant (read: stuffy) dining room, pencil-thin waiters clad in sleek-fitting vests, and refined dishes that skew heavy on the butter. It's a cuisine that steeped in tradition. It's desirable and iconic. A convenient image that stands up to the certain je ne sais quoi that has people all around the world swooning for La Ville Lumière. And yet, to hold on to this image is to ignore the endearingly laid-back side of Paris that's taking shape today. Will you still stumble upon bastions of traditional French gastronomy? Yep. But that's not all the city is. You just have to dig deeper.
These five restaurants and bars are a small sample of the establishments doing something different. They're all quirky in their own ways, frequented primarily by locals, and a tad off the beaten path. But then again, that's part of their indelible charm.
1. Order a drink from a pant-less bartender at Le Calbar
At this 12th arrondissement gem, you’ll find classic, well-balanced cocktails in a Prohibition-style setting that manages to strike the perfect balance between Parisian chic and, well, silliness. Here, the waiters sport their underwear (paired with button-downs, bowties, and vests) to keep things light and fun. But not to worry, there’s nothing seedy about the space. You can’t go wrong with any of the inventive cocktails on the list, but we’re partial to the “Le Pause Kawa,” a blend of C. Ferrand Plantation St. Lucia Old Reserve Rum, Plantation Original Dark, bitter chocolate, coffee, cardamom, and rose syrup.
2. Grab a drink at Le Comptoir Général, an African flea market by day, bar by night
Tucked away behind a street art mural along the canal Saint Martin is Le Comptoir Général, a sun-drenched flea market that celebrates Franco-African culture through music, film, fashion, and dance. Come after 8PM, and you’ll be greeted by two bars spinning out inventive cocktails in the bustling space. Don’t miss La Secousse, which comes together with a fresh and floral combination of hibiscus, passionfruit juice, vodka, and cucumber slices.
Protip: This spot is popular with locals, so the lines may be long. If you’re not in the mood to wait, head to the nearby La Fine Mousse for craft French beer.
3. Grab a bite and a drink at the bookstore-meets-bar, La Belle Hortense
A must-visit while you’re in the Marais, La Belle Hortense captures the storied literary spirit of Paris. Settle in with a glass of wine and a good book—the shelves are stocked with new releases, rare editions, independent poetry, and classic titles. Hungry? The kitchen is presided over by the kitchen team over at La Chaise au Plafond and offers a plat du jour for the can’t-beat price of €12 and a set menu for €24.
4. Eat at LaREcyclerie, an abandoned train station-turned-urban-farm
This community meeting place is situated along the petite ceinture in the far less touristy Porte de Clignancourt neighborhood of Paris. Upon entering, you'll be greeted by vaulted ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and eclectic vintage decor outfitting this café, bar, restaurant, urban farm, and DIY workshop. Rooted in sustainable development, ecology, and community, LaREcyclerie is the perfect place to perch yourself for a slow afternoon, Parisian style. The restaurant serves seasonal, sometimes vegan, and often locavore options, with 17% of the kitchen's turnover reinvested into onsite events, the repair shop, and urban farm.
Once you're done eating, talk a walk through the outdoor space to see how they've ingeniously repurposed roofs, ledges, and platforms of the station for community vegetable and herb gardens—you may even catch a glimpse of the 20 hens and 30 fish in an aquaponics system.
5. Cozy up to French comfort food at Derrière
Yes, that name means what you think it does. And yes, the entire restaurant embodies a cheeky, let's-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously vibe—starting with the ping pong table interspersed between the dining tables and chairs. And then there's the menu of homey French comfort food, that sarcastically—and quite literally—defines every dish and food item.
Soup (noun) Soup is liquid food made by boiling meat, fish, or vegetables in water.
Starters [stahr-ter] 1. A person or thing that starts 2. A person who gives the signal to begin, as for a race
...you get the idea. Try the farm chicken followed by the dark chocolate mousse, then visit the upstairs lounge for some interesting art and design.
In the meantime, when you can't make it to France, bring France home to you with our culture guide complete with the best French books, movies, TV shows, magazines, podcasts, and more.
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