Being a vegetarian in Paris can make you something of an odd entity. Explanations, you may find, are necessary to really underline that you really, truly eat no chicken, fish or—and the French will be shocked at this one—ham.
And why not? Meat is heaven in Paris. Those stacks of saucissons; glistering chickens on the rotisserie, circulating great globs of goodness; ham, gloriously pinkly smoked or served in fat slices and stuffed into still-warm baguettes; steak so good it begs to be served rare, even blue, drowned in butter sauce with a heap of crispy frites nestling nearby. It takes a staunch vegetarian to dismiss all that and submit to an existence of salads and side orders—it so often feels like French chefs never try so hard with the vegetarians.
But despair not. Good vegetarian restaurants in Paris do exist, as do good restaurants with very decent vegetarian options.
A fully vegetarian and vegan restaurant, L’Aquarius takes its inspiration from dishes around the world but arguably specializes in Mediterranean fare. A few hundred leaps and bounds away from your standard goat’s-cheese salad, its offerings can include dishes like spinach lasagne with Roquefort, bulgur and almonds stuffed into cabbage, roasted aubergines on toast, vegetarian chili con carne and vast salads: a veritable buffet style of hot and cold variety crammed onto a single platter.
For those vegetarians still missing the taste of meat, or for visiting carnivores who can’t bear a meal without it, there are also convincing meat substitutes in the form of sausages and pâté. These were tried and tested by a meat eater who was pleasantly surprised at the authenticity.
As well as providing tasty, meat-free dishes, L’Aquarius emphasizes the healthy and the organic, so bio labels will crop up everywhere here, including on the alcohol: try a glass of the nut- or cherry-flavored wines.
Good Mexican food, like vegetarian food, is a little bit of an enigma in Paris, particularly if you’re searching for a to-go lunch. Le Cactus is geared toward the worker bees in a hurry, with a canteen style of serving, whereby your burrito, taco or salad slides along a production line, gathering a choice of beef, chicken or prawns, crammed with rice, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and cheese, before it’s finally stuffed with fresh salad, which adds the perfect crunch.
For vegetarians, there’s a choice of spicy haricot beans, which more than suffice. These portions are generous—be careful not to unwrap your burrito, because it will explode if you do, and remember to pick up a loyalty card. Once the sun reemerges, this is best enjoyed on the steps of the nearby Eglise Notre Dame de Lorette.
An interview in Elle last year revealed that vegan Natalie Portman makes a stopover at Guen Mai a must-do whenever she is in Paris. Fronted by an unassuming exterior, it is in fact a plethora of all things wholesome, serving up organic vegetarian- and vegan-friendly offerings, with a menu that changes daily and a handful of specials that generally hold a Japanese theme and pack a good punch of superfoods. There are plenty of soy-based dishes, plus great steaming bowls of lentils, vegetable tempura, tofu ravioli, mixed plates with hummus, quinoa-y and couscous-y bits, and savory tarts, all of which can be topped off with a fresh juice.
It also doubles as a health food shop, complete with a good supply of vitamins, supplements, oils and food products to nourish your mind, body and soul.
It’s not an entirely vegetarian restaurant, but Thai Time boasts a substantial vegetarian section with traditional favorites, including pad Thai, stir-fry dishes, tofu soup, curries and crispy, fresh-from-the-wok vegetable nems. This will come as a relief to those who have had to eat a papaya salad while everyone else around them tucked into fragrantly mouthwatering green and red curries. As with most Thai food in Paris, the offerings here are beautifully presented—sticky rice comes packed in a little bamboo basket, and ingredients are fresh and colorful.
40, rue de Gergovie, in the 14th.
Metro: Pernety, Plaisance.
48, rue Laffitte, in the 9th.
Metro: Notre Dame de Lorette, Le Peletier.
6, rue Cardinale, in the 6th.
7, rue Crozatier, in the 12th.
Kate Ross is a London-born freelance journalist and former resident of Jakarta who came to Paris to intern at the International Herald Tribune. She now spends her days writing gig reviews, embracing her inner bobo and blogging about it all.
Editor’s note: We have a number of partners who specialize in foodie trips of Paris (read more about them under the Foodie Trips section). Whether you want to sample macarons, French olive oils or foie gras, this can be one of the most scrumptious experiences you’ll have in Paris. GG2P members are always offered discounts.