When I returned to Paris in April 2022, I was on a mission. With a short time left on the planet before it either burns up or Marine Le Pen is elected, I wanted to dine in as many elevated addresses—Michelin-starred or trending hot spots—as possible. As for the budget, let’s just say I was lucky to be a guest of someone with resources.
Although I have written about food for nearly 30 years, I have never been at ease with haute cuisine. The star system always seemed too ancien regime for my politics. Midway through a four-hour meal, all I ever wanted was to get back to the hotel room, rip off my clothes, and lie prostrate between crisp hotel sheets, dreaming of the tiny chocolate truffle stashed in my bag for morning coffee.
Thankfully, fine dining has relaxed. You may feel stuffed after seven courses, but you’ll still be breathing since dress codes are over. Denim, T-shirts and baskets (aka sneakers) are correct everywhere now, including the opera. The only ones formally dressed these days are the staff and President Macron.
Décor, even in the best restaurants, is also more democratic. Minus draperies and upholstery, your eyes are drawn straight to the plate. But what is on it? For that, you need a nervous waiter to rattle off a list of about 18 ingredients. One embarrassing night, I bit into a stone, and I was so frazzled. No one warned me that the decorative stone was a landing pad for a one-ounce morsel of line-caught fish topped with three petals, one fermented chickpea, two chia seeds and a dollop of espelette foam.
But enough complaining! We ate our way through Paris with gusto, experiencing more moments of pure bliss than is possible in any other city. Can you tell I’m prejudiced? Following are my personal best with one caveat. Make reservations in advance to get into these popular places.
Joséphine Chez Dumonet, 117 rue de Cherche-Midi, 6th. La crème de la crème of traditional bistros, located on a charming left bank street, Josephine serves generous portions of dishes like steak frites, Grand Marnier souffle, and roast duck. All items served with a side of joie de vivre and the savoir faire to match.
Cinq Mars, 51 rue de Verneuil, 7th. A modern, hand-crafted neighborhood bistro serving contemporary versions of classics like blanquette de veau and brandade de morue with quiet sophistication. A good respite after too many fancy nights out, this is a place to which to return.
Les Antiquaires, 12 rue de Bac, 7th. A young guide recommended this bustling hotspot for the pan-seared duck breast. At lunch, we tried a perfect Niçoise salad and an iced seafood platter, along with many desserts that shall remain nameless. Judging by the crowds spilling onto the street, the clientele is a mix of locals and tourists.
Halle Aux Grains, 2 rue de Viarmes, 1st. On the top floor of the new Bourse and the Pinault Collection, this stylish address gets the highest points for overall excellence. The refined cuisine featuring neglected grains is inventive without being silly. Sealing the deal, our server for lunch was a Timothée Chalamet look-alike in cute designer togs. I recommend lunch for the beauty of the design in daylight.
Substance, 18 rue de Chaillot, 16th. I could complain about the room being overpacked and the service being less than polished, but we had more perfect bites here than anywhere. The young chef, Matthias Marc, a semi-finalist on “Top Chef France,” has created a modern one-star restaurant that retains the casual vibe of a neighborhood place in the posh 16th.
Comice, 31 avenue de Versailles, 16th. I was seduced the moment I listened to sommelier Etheliya Hananova’s thoughtful interview on Lindsey Tramuta’s “New Paris Podcast.” Unlike icier Michelin-starred restaurants, Comice radiates the warmth and savoir faire of two restaurant pros, Hanavova and her husband, chef Noam Gedalof.
Le Relais Louis XIII, 8 rue des Grands Augustins, 6th. This elegant room is recommended by Michelin-starred chef Daniel Rose, who has spent his career perfecting bistro basics at his La Bourse et La Vie in Paris and Le CouCou in New York. The man knows what the French do best, and according to him, this is the hot ticket in town for now. It’s on my list for next time!
Los Angeles food writer Helene Siegel is the author of 40 cookbooks, including the “Totally Cookbook” series and “Pure Chocolate.” She runs the Pastry Session blog.