Paris is home to some of the world's finest - and priciest - restaurants. But a new breed of affordable places to eat means the budget traveller needn't feel hard done by. We pick 10 places where you can dine on excellent French cuisine for €20 a head
Eating on a budget in Paris often used to leave you feeling like the spectre at the feast, or rather sadly deprived of the city's gastronomic excellence. To be sure, there were always a few wallet-friendly French places where the food was better than average, plus some great ethnic options, but cheap eats rarely equated with seriously good food. Happily, a new generation of innovative restaurateurs are rebooting the French capital's offer for pennywise travellers, with food that's good enough even if you aren't counting your centimes. Oh, and in case you were wondering, Chartier, probably Paris's most famous budget restaurant, soldiers on as a place people go to get a meal for a tenner (euros, bien sur), just because you can.
Just a short walk from the Louvre, this cheerful bistro with a nostalgic decor worthy of a Parisian postcard (globe lights, frosted glass windows) is a local favourite for tasty Gallic grub such as steak frites (here served with a smouldering sprig of thyme), confit de canard (grilled preserved duck) or roast chicken. Skip a starter and share a dessert instead, maybe the tarte tatin or the profiteroles with lashings of hot chocolate sauce.
• 6 rue La Vrillière, 1st arrondissement, +33 1 42 61 43 78. Open daily for lunch and dinner, average two-course meal €20. Métro: Palais-Royal-Musee-du-Louvre, Pyramides or Sentier
At this clever mini-chain of three restaurants in the heart of Paris, five three-star chefs - including Anne-Sophie Pic, Régis Marcon, and Emmanuel Renaut - were recruited to create recipes for a selection of eat-in or takeaway starters, mains and desserts using mostly organic produce. Most dishes come in recyclable glass jars (bocal, pronounced "boco," is French for jar), and they run from Pic's starter of coddled egg with lentils and red onions, to Renaut's polenta lasagne with mushrooms and spinach, and Marcon's braised beef parmentier (shepherd's pie). Don't miss star pastry chef Philippe Conticini's black sesame cream and pistachio crumble for dessert. And note these are also great places to pick up a picnic.
• Boco Opéra, 3 rue Danielle Casanova, 1st arr, +33 1 42 61 17 67, boco.fr. Other branches at Bercy-Village and Saint-Lazare. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, average three-course meal €20
The Marais branch of an excellent crêperie from the seaside Breton town of Cancale, serves buckwheat galettes and crêpes made with top quality ingredients - organic wheat and buckwheat flour, farmhouse butter and Valrhona chocolate. The freshly shucked oysters here are a worthy splurge, or you can go right to one of their crispy-edged and neatly folded savoury galettes, maybe the Cancalaise, filled with smoked herring, crème fraîche and herring roe, or the complet, which comes with an egg, ham and cheese, and can be dressed up with extras like mushrooms or artichoke hearts. For dessert, follow the regulars with a salted caramel and vanilla ice-cream crêpe. Wash it all down with one of the 15 different artisanal ciders on offer.
• 109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd arr, +33 1 42 72 13 77, breizhcafe.com. Open all day Wednesday to Sunday, closed for three weeks in August, average €15. Métro: St-Sébastien-Froissart
La Cantine de la Cigale
Right in the heart of honky-tonk Pigalle, talented bistro chef Christian Etchebest's recently-opened restaurant offers excellent eats from south-west France at surprisingly affordable prices. It is ideal for those feeling weary after a tour of the local shops selling life-size dolls and fur-lined hand-cuffs, or, more decorously, on their way back from visiting the Sacre Coeur. Portions at this friendly place serving non-stop from 8am-2am are generous, so share a slice of the excellent pâté, then go for the sausage with white beans or cod in sauce vierge, and finish up with some Ossau-Iraty cheese from the Pyrenees with black-cherry jam or maybe a slice of mirabelle tart with almond cream.
• 124 boulevard Rochechouart, 18th arr, +33 1 55 79 10 10, cafelacigale.com. Open Monday to Saturday for breakfast, lunch and dinner, average two-course meal €20. Métro: Pigalle, Abbesses or Anver
Though it's landlocked, Paris is one of the best cities in the world for seafood lovers, because it's well supplied from French ports on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Usually, a good French marine feast is expensive, but at this easygoing little place in the Marais, you can share a starter - maybe some taramasalata or half a crab, and then tuck into a dozen oysters or a plate of smoked fish without a major wound to your wallet.
• 4 rue de la Corderie, 3rd arr, +33 6 95 12 86 61, no website. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday dinner only, average two -course meal €20. Métro: Temple, République or Filles du Calvaire
Frenchie to Go
Chef Gregory Marchard's bistro Frenchie (he acquired the nickname when he was working for Jamie Oliver in London) in the Sentier, Paris's old garment district, is one of the hardest reservations in town to land, and beyond the reach of budget diners. You can still sample his wares, however, at this casual takeaway or eat-in shop with a moreish menu that runs to first-rate Reuben and pulled pork sandwiches, fish and chips, cheesecake, doughnuts and homemade ginger beer. They also serve breakfast all day long.
• 9 rue du Nil, 2nd arr, no phone, frenchietogo.com. Open Tuesday-Saturday 8am-6pm, with lunch from 12-4pm, breakfast served all day, average €15. Métro: Sentier or Strasbourg-Saint-Denis.
Le Petit Clerc
Just around the corner from the chic bistro La Fontaine de Mars, where the Obamas famously dined, Le Petit Clerc is its excellent-value sibling and ideal for a meal before or after a visit to the Eiffel Tower. Popular with the locals - so book - this place offers everything from croques (open sandwiches) to omelettes and well-garnished salads, making it relatively vegetarian friendly. There's a different hot dish served daily for €12.50, including roast veal on Tuesdays and roast chicken on Sundays, and steaks come with garnishes of a jacket potato and salad. You'll never feel like you're penny-pinching either when you can tuck into cheese from Marie-Anne Cantin, one of Paris's best-known fromagers, or sorbets and ice-cream from local legend Berthillon.
• 129 rue Saint-Dominique, 7th arr, +33 1 47 05 46 44, fontainedemars.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner, average two-course meal €20. Métro: École Militaire or Pont de l'Alma (RER C)
The 10th arrondissement, an old working-class district in the heart of Paris, is in a sweet spot right now. The recent influx of young creative Parisians has added some excellent bars and restaurants to the neighbourhood without gentrifying local businesses like African hair-grooming salons or Balkan groceries out of the mix. Le Richer, a popular cafe-bar-restaurant that's the annex of the popular L'Office bistro across the street, is one the best deals in the quartier, too. Sit at the bar and get a beautifully cooked main course - maybe braised beef cheeks with buttered cabbage, salsify and pears with a glass of red for €20. Or you could share a couple of starters - maybe trout tartare with cauliflower and tomato-citrus mousse and wild rabbit terrine - instead. Lunch is even cheaper and they also serve breakfast. Friendly service and a great crowd.
• 2 rue Richer, 9th arr, no phone, facebook page. Open daily 8am-1am, average lunch €15, average dinner main course €16. Métro: Cadet or Grands Boulevards
La Pointe du Groin
Escape the fast-food cluster around the Gare du Nord for a cheap and delicious meal at chef Thierry Breton's third restaurant; his Chez Michel and Chez Casimir, a few doors down, are among the better bistros in Paris, and you get the same quality here for a lot less money. The name refers both to a peninsula in Brittany and a pig's snout, the latter hinting at the menu, which runs to rustic barnyard eats like pig's snout with tapenade and oxtail with celery root puree. There are sandwiches, including a few vegetarian ones, made with Breton's baked-on-the-premises bread, for less adventurous eaters, and Breton desserts like a delectable chocolate kouign amann and far Breton, a thick flan with prunes, are not to be missed. The box wines served here do no harm and keep the prices down, too.
• 8 rue de Belzunce, 10th arr, no phone or website. Open all day Monday-Saturday, average €20. Métro: Gare du Nord or Poissonnière
A la Biche au Bois
Though this place tops out at the high-end of the €20 bracket without drinks (the price ceiling that defines budget eats in Paris these days), it's eminently worth the splurge as one of the last old-fashioned no-nonsense seriously good workaday bistros in Paris. If you need to stay in the shallow end of things, go for a main course - maybe venison with homemade potato puree, since this is one of the rare restaurants in Paris where game is still affordable, and a glass of red wine. If you can manage a little more, however, the €25.90 prix fixe menu comes with all sorts of goodness, from a very good steak with real (as opposed to frozen) chips and a lavish cheese course, to a stewed sanglier (wild boar) and freshly-made fruit tart. They also do a heart-warming range of old-fashioned bistro dishes, including coq au vin, and wines are reasonably priced, too. Always busy, so book.
• 45 avenue Ledru-Rollin, 12th arr, +33 1 43 43 34 38, no website. Open Tuesday to Friday for lunch and dinner, Monday dinner only, main courses from €17, prix fixe three-course meal €29.50. Métro: Gare de Lyon
• Paris-based Alexander Lobrano is the author of Hungry for France and Hungry for Paris.
Photo: Chartier, probably Paris's most famous budget restaurant, opened in 1896. Photograph: Alamy