109, rue Oberkampf, in the 11th Arrondissement.
01 43 57 55 13. Lunch and dinner daily, plus brunch Sun.
I’ve had a lot of visitors in Paris lately, and my last one stumped me when it came time to pick a restaurant. She said she’s not into food and just wanted a nice atmosphere. I think life is too short to ever eat bad food, especially in Paris. So I needed to find a fun, middle-of-the-road Paris brasserie whose menu would be approachable but also palatable pour moi! The perfect answer ended up being the Oberkampf classic Café Charbon.
Café Charbon was one of the first bars to open in the not-yet-trendy Oberkampf neighborhood of 15 years ago. The building dates back more than a century and has undergone stints as a brewery and a theatre courtyard. Rich cherry wood adorns the high-ceilinged interior and long bar, with mirrors and large windows adding air and space to a dining room that spills seamlessly onto the terrace on a nice day.
A collection of hipsters of varying ages populated the tables, but there was enough of a mix that everyone seemed to fit in. The music was a funky mélange of everything from Marvin Gaye to Madonna, at a low enough level that we could still have a good conversation.
Starters spanned a range of tapas-type bites, from crispy croquettes to grilled frog legs. For the indecisive, there was a “mezze” platter offering four different appetizers.
Mains included a wide selection of fish and meat, but I went with the recommended squid stuffed with red bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic. The perfect parcel was delivered sealed with a side of grilled potatoes. Cutting into the squid released a wonderful array of colors and scents. My friend had mouthwatering ravioli filled with herbed cheese and covered with Granny Smith apples, giving the dish a nice sweetness and the perfect bite.
After a dessert mixup, our waiter graciously brought us a dish well worth waiting for. It looked like your basic mi-cuit au chocolat with a side of ice cream. But once our forks pierced the baked chocolate exterior, it oozed with the most delicious salted crème caramel sauce. We had to ask for spoons to lap up every last bite. I’m not sure if I made a foodie out of my friend, but we did both enjoy a nice meal and a good evening in a fun atmosphere.
In a nutshell: Step into Café Charbon for a taste of an Oberkampf genuine original, offering a cut above bar food in a beautiful setting with a friendly mix of hipsters and locals.
Price check: Starters, 6–14 euros; mains, 12–20 euros; desserts, 5–8 euros. Brunch menu, 18 euros.
If you like the sound of Café Charbon and want a similar hip vibe on rue Oberkampf, check out Place Verte.
105, rue Oberkampf, in the 11th.
01 43 57 34 10.
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