Bistro cooking—simple, homey, and affordable—is one of my favorite things in Paris. However, it's not really the type of cooking for which the city is renowned. Haute cuisine, the kind that's prepared by an army of toque-wearing chefs, is what many imagine French food to be. In reality, it's something that very few tourists (and even fewer locals) can afford.
If you've been dreaming about this sort of experience but can't imagine spending €500 on a meal, there's a solution—go for lunch. Some of the best restaurants in the city serve daytime menus for less than €100. That's still expensive, but it does put it more in line with a Broadway show than a transatlantic flight. For savvy gastronomes, going for lunch is a no-brainer. In addition to the cheaper menus, one usually spends a lot less on wine. Penny watchers can order a single glass or simply a bottle of sparkling water, and dessert seems less of an obligation. If you're curious and ready to take the plunge, consider these options, and be sure to reserve in advance.
Guy Savoy One of the tasting menus at this incredible three-star restaurant is priced at €480 ($618).That's way out of reach for, well, almost everyone, but the little-known lunch special here is more accessible. Available only to those who book online, it allows you to choose a half appetizer, one main dish, and a half-dessert for €100 ($128). Wines by the glass start at €10. Although it's certainly at the high end of the price range, Guy Savoy is a good address for special occasions. 18 rue Troyon, 17th arrondissement, 011-33/8-26-10-13-07
L'Atelier and La Table de Joël Robuchon One of the country's most famous chefs came out of retirement a few years ago to open the left-bank L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (5 rue de Montalembert, 7th arrondissement, 011-33/8-26-10-12-19) and the right-bank La Table de Joël Robuchon (16 avenue Bugeaud, 16th arrondissement, 011-33/1-56-28-16-16). Neither is strictly haute, but both are undoubtedly hot. L'Atelier draws most of the attention, thanks to edgy design and open kitchen theatrics. La Table, however, boasts one of the best deals in town. You'll find many of the same dishes as at l'Atelier but for half the price at lunch. The €55 ($70) menu includes a glass of wine, hors d'œuvres and a main dish, plus cheese, dessert, coffee, and mignardises. As an added (and rare) bonus, both places are open every day of the year.
Les Magnolias My best-ever Paris meal wasn't exactly in Paris, it was in a quiet suburb just outside of town. Locals all know that crossing the périphérique (freeways) will cut any dining bill in half, but travel guides rarely print recommendations for anything outside of central Paris. There's a reason for this: We don't want you getting lost. However, if you can handle taking a 20-minute train (RER-C) from Gare du Nord and then walking for 5 minutes, you'll be richly rewarded at les Magnolias. Chef Jean Chauvel offers a lunch menu for &eucro;58 ($75) that's composed of three playful, poetic, and extremely yummy courses. Two courses are even cheaper at €41 ($53). Choose only an appetizer and main dish, and you'll still be rewarded with plenty of sweet mignardises during coffee. It's a delightful experience and a great value for those who can negotiate a little public transport. 48 avenue de Bry, le Perreux-Sur-Marne, 011-33/1-48-72-47-43