47, rue de Bretagne, in the 3rd Arrondissement.
Lunch and dinner, Mon–Sat; dinner only, Sun.
01 42 72 36 26. No reservations.
Opening the menu at Chez Omar, I was surprised to see oeufs mayonnaise, steak frites and other Paris restaurant standbys. I had forgotten, since my last visit a full four years ago, that they served anything but couscous. That’s what everyone is there for.
“A license to print money” is what my boyfriend at the time called it, and he was right. It’s a bit of a mill. Chez Omar’s ceremony lies in its unceremoniousness: reservations aren’t accepted, so if you arrive later (after 8 p.m, Paris restaurant prime time) you’ll have to queue. The service is nothing if not efficient. They write your order on the paper that covers your table. Your food appears almost suspiciously quickly.
Four years later, visiting friends with kids in tow said they wanted to go for couscous, and I immediately thought of Chez Omar.
We arrived before 8 and were immediately seated. With high ceilings, a lengthy old bar and wooden partitions between the banquettes, the room is definitely more brasserie than Maghreb. Later in the evening the vibe is all hip north Marais, but on the early end this is a family-friendly Paris restaurant, noisy and bustling, with unfussy food and quick turnover.
So: Couscous or couscous? That is not the question. The question is what you want with it. Merguez, chicken, lamb brochettes, beef: these are your options, and for the indecisive there is the “royale,” served with lamb three ways. I love merguez, but the lamb brochettes were surprisingly tender and full of flavor. The chicken is perhaps the least interesting, with little meat but plenty of skin and bones. It’s all served with a generous tureen of broth filled with carrots, zucchini and turnips, aromatic but not hot—unless you stir in a dose of harissa, which is not a bad idea.
Don’t do dessert here. If you really want something sweet, stroll over to Mary on rue Dupuis for ice cream, and then roll home.
In a nutshell: With a lively crowd, a grand room and decent couscous, Chez Omar is the classic address for North African food in the northern Marais.
Price check: Couscous, 16–24 euros. Cheap wine. Cash only!
If you’re in the mood for couscous and don’t have kids in tow, consider Le 404, the low-lit, late-night couscouserie-slash-club, also in the 3rd Arrondissement.
69, rue des Gravilliers, in the 3rd.
01 42 74 57 81.
1, rue Dupuis, in the 3rd.
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