When you visit Paris, one thing is simply unavoidable: You're going to find yourself at least once in the central 1st arrondissement. While stunning—and home to some of the city's best art, history and culture—it's a place where you probably don't want to wait two hours to gorge on Pierre Hermé macarons or rub shoulders with other visitors at bistros catered to tourists.
Luckily, you don't have to. Despite its showy image, the 1st—and neighboring 2nd—arrondissements are home to some of the best places to eat and drink in the City of Light.
For classic French dining: Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse
Farewell to the stuffy dining rooms of yore. The two-Michelin-starred Le Meurice Alain Ducasse received a refresh from designer Philippe Starck just a couple of years ago (think midcentury modern meets Versailles), situating it as one of the best—and chicest—spots to dine in the city. Save a few precious euros by dining at lunch, when the 380-euro three-course menu costs just 130. The food is just as good, and the dining room bathed in natural sunlight is a sight to behold.
For prime people-watching: Chez La Vieille
Drink natural wine at Chez La Vieille, the rollicking, cramped bistro from American chef Daniel Rose that serves French grandma favorites. You can make reservations for the second-floor dining room, but the real fun is cozying up to the zinc-topped bar to eat mustardy rabbit stew and down carafes of unfiltered French wines from a list expertly curated by expat sommelier Aaron Ayscough—who knows most of the winemakers personally.
For a cocktail history lesson: Harry's New York Bar
Hemingway Bar, nestled deep in the recently remodeled Ritz is a treat, sure, but get a real dose of Prohibition-era mixology at the nearby Harry's New York Bar, which is home to the original sidecar, White Lady and French 75 cocktails, among others. Pass the college pennant-covered bar upstairs and head into the ancient-but-underrated subterranean haunt, where drinks are just 14 euro (a pittance in pricy Paris) and a friendly jazz duo plays in the background.
For a quick espresso: Télescope
Paris was one of the last places to embrace third-wave coffee, but still the 1st arrondissement is home to Télescope, one of the original cafés that changed the way the city caffeinated. The minimal-chic shop is tucked away on Rue Villedo, a tiny street lined with a few random izakayas and noodle shops. Try a noisette, an espresso with just a touch of cream.
For a casual dinner: The Spoon
The newest restaurant from Alain Ducasse isn't what you'd expect. The storied French chef drew on his world travels to create the reinvigorated Spoon, an airy space housed in a 19th-century stock exchange near the Opera; the varied menu includes dishes from Thailand, China, Mexico and Turkey. Don't miss the appetizer-portioned chicken wings, which have a hit of numbing Sichuan peppercorns dispersed among slices of fresh red and green jalapeños.
For an Instagrammable treat: Le Meurice Cédric Grolet
There's no shortage of excellent patisseries in Paris, but nothing compares to the elaborate, over-the-top "fruits" created by boy wonder pastry chef Cédric Grolet. Grolet's trompe l’oeil desserts look just like an apple or lemon you'd pluck from a tree, except they're far different: A shiny, paper-thin white chocolate shell encompasses ganache and a fresh fruit filling. Grolet's creations were previously available only as part of the pricy brunch at Le Dalí at Le Meurice, but the Instagram star set up his own shop in mid-March, meaning you can now buy the trademark red apple or black lemon to snack on in the Tuileries Palace, just across the street.
Laura Ratliff is a Brooklyn-based writer who covers food, travel and design. Her work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, Architectural Digest and more. Follow her on Instagram at @smithratliff.
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