I feel so terrible for all the tourists eating at the tourist traps in Paris posing as French restaurants that I simply must share with you some tips for avoiding these places. First, if you are not a foodie and really don’t care what you eat, and are just searching for the fastest, cheapest meal, then this advice isn’t for you. That’s not to say that you have to spend a lot to eat well in this town, but if you don’t care much about your meal, skip this post and move on to the next one.
If you appreciate good food that is thoughtfully prepared, and if you often mark a lunch or evening meal as the high point of your day, beware of these telltale signs that you are most likely in a tourist trap.
• You notice there is excess signage outside the café or restaurant. You see a lot of different signs or very large signs posting the menu. Alternately, if the menu du jour (menu of the day) is written in chalk on a chalkboard, you are much more likely to find fresh food.
• If most of the diners look like tourists (shorts, maps, fanny packs, sneakers, slightly more rotund than your average Parisian), and if many are drinking Coca-Cola and dining on french fries, this is not the place for you. Granted, it’s easier to see what they are eating when they are dining on the terrace (the sidewalk). But if the establishment in question is right next to Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée de Cluny or the like, you are probably in a tourist trap.
• If you notice in the window of the establishment a sign advertising that English is spoken or that American coffee is served, or if you see a menu in English, steer clear.
• The smaller the restaurant, the better. OK, so this isn’t always true, but the huge cafés and bistros with many diners outside are places to go for drinks or a quick snack, such as a croque-monsieur. These are not real dining establishments. The smaller, less flashy bistros and restaurants are where the real artistry is happening, and normally you need to make a reservation for those. But it can’t hurt to stop in and ask for a table. Apologies for not making a reservation are often received with the presentation of a table.
• Do some research. Use our site and any others you like, and have a handy list prepared for each neighborhood you think you’ll be frequenting. Make most of your dinner reservations in advance, before you arrive, because the best places in Paris, as in all cities, get booked up early. Also, consider a foodie app such as lefooding.fr to find places on the fly. When all else fails, look for key stickers in the window, such as Michelin, Pudlo, Le Fooding, Le Figaro, etc. This means that the place has been written up and considered by some of the best food critics in town, which is always a good sign.
• If you see a hawker trying to get you to come into his or her restaurant, run for the hills!
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