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Best Dining Bets in Paris on a Budget

Ah, the French cooking! It sounds so delicious and so...pricey. With our bets savoring French culinary art will not turn into a guilty pleasure.

March, 2004 -- The Parisian's reverence for fine cuisine is almost religious. It is part of his or her heritage. Whether it's choucroute from the Alsatian region or agneau de lait Pyrénés rôti (roast lamb) from the southwest, it is quintessentially French, and it is all fabulous. The millennium seems to have ushered in a renewed excitement in French dining, ignited by some star chefs including the Costes brothers, Thierry Breton and Philippe Tredgeu assuring the Parisian and tourist alike that traditional-and excellent-French fare will never die out.

For French, dining is an art, and one of their holy places: a restaurant. Due respect is given to taking meals, so whether they're lunching at a family brasserie or a place that serves haute cuisine, the French will take time to eat their feuilleté au fromage (cheese pastry) and confit de canard. This reverence for cuisine may sound expensive, but it doesn't have to be the case. Even if you're not feeling flush, you can find a restaurant that offers a wonderful meal at an affordable price, particularly since so many places offer a prix-fixe menu called formule or menu du jour. Many ethnic restaurants in Paris are inexpensive and worth trying for some spice in your life. So look at out picks and make your choice!

Best Affordable Restaurant Bets

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Best Restaurant with a View: In good weather, you'll have one of the loveliest views in Paris from an outdoor table at the Restaurant du Palais-Royal, 43 rue Valois, 1er (tel. 01/40/20-00-27). The restaurant is in the Palais-Royal, so you'll overlook its beautiful, peaceful gardens while dining on fine dishes like grilled sole with a garnish of carrots, parsley, red pepper, and baby squid.

Best Cafes with a View: Under the arcades, and facing the lovely place des Vosges with its shady chestnut trees, the Caf&eacute Hugo, 22 place des Vosges, 4e (tel. 01/42/72-64-04), is a great place to while away a summer afternoon. Closer to the hubbub, chic Caf&eacute Marly, 93 rue de Rivoli, cour Napoléon du Louvre, 1er (tel. 01/49/26-06-60), overlooks I. M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre and has ultracushy chairs for sitting back and contemplating architecture, art and life.

Best Places for a Celebration: If you want a glamorous night on the town, try the infinitely elegant La Butte Chaillot, 110 bis av. Keleber, 16e (tel. 01/47/27-88-88), with its polished glass and leather interior, and exquisitely prepared dishes that are fresh, simple, and utterly delectable. For something just as chic but a bit more trendy, head to Georges, Centre Pompidou, 6th Floor, rue Rambuteau, 4e (tel. 01/44/78-47-99). This creation of the Costes Brothers (of Hotel Costes) is one of the hottest spots in Paris, with a 360-degree view to kill -- and its prices are surprisingly reasonable.

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Most Typical Parisian Bistro: Every Parisian has his or her pick, but almost everyone agrees that Chardenoux, 1 rue Jules-Valles, 11e (tel. 01/43/71-49-52), belongs in the top 10. It's a small place in an out-of-the-way location, but the food is excellent and the Art Nouveau setting is gloriously, eternally Parisian.

Best Modern Bistro: You'll have to book the minute you get to town if you want to sample the food at the almost hopelessly popular Chez Casimir, 6 rue de Belzunce, 10e (tel. 01/48/78-28-80). It's worth the trip to this treasure close to the Gare du Nord, where you'll find traditional French cuisine with a twist in an animated setting.

Best for Business Meals: Bofinger, 5-7 rue de la Bastille, 4e (tel. 01/42/72-87-82). It's one of the prettiest restaurants in Paris, with a gorgeous domed stained-glass ceiling over the main dining room. It became part of the Brasserie Flo chain in 1996, and the food has never been better.

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Best Brasserie: For a taste of the real thing, go to Brasserie Ile St-Louis, 55 quai de Bourbon, 1er (tel. 01/43/54-02-59), the last independent brasserie in Paris. Far from the polished restaurants that masquerade as true brasseries, this one has as its heart old Paris.

Best Place for a Late-Night Meal: You can always wander into one of the all-night brasseries along rue Coquillière (on the northern edge of Les Halles) without a reservation. For a Parisian experience with a splash of American literary history, head to Closerie des Lilas, 171 bd. du Montparnasse, 6e (tel. 01/40/51-34-50). Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises here, and in his off time he hung out here with John Dos Passos. You'll need reservations. For a change of pace, try the bustling, bawdy La Tour de Montlhéry, 5 rue des Prouvaires, 1er (tel. 01/42/36-21-82), open nonstop from 7am Monday to 7am Saturday. It's known for huge cuts of excellent meat and good house wines. Reservations are always required.

Best for Mingling with the Locals: Parisians are avid bargain-hunters, which explains the huge popularity of moderately priced eateries. On the Right Bank, near the Concorde and the U.S. consulate, L'Escure, 7 rue de Mondovi, 1e (tel. 01/42/60-18-91), pulls in many of the local businesspeople at lunch and residents at dinner. On the Left Bank, Bistro Mazarin, 42 rue Mazarin, 6e (tel. 01/43/29-99-01), attracts many locals associated with the shops or universities around the neighborhood; portions are large and prices are fair, and there's a terrace for outdoor dining.

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Best for Celebrity Spotting: Most recently, John Malkovich and Tom Hanks were spotted; years ago, it was Marlene Dietrich and Jackie Kennedy. Le Relais Plaza, 25 av. Montaigne, 8e (tel. 01/53/67-66-65), at the venerable Hotel Plaza Athenée, has reopened and regained its place as the most star-studded and (somewhat) affordable eatery.

Best Breakfast: The day sometimes starts with mealy croissants and watery coffee in budget accommodations; if you make the effort to come here, you'll wish that Angelina, 226 rue de Rivoli, 1er (tel. 01/42/60-82-00), was next door to your hotel. This Belle Epoque palace with gold-trimmed mirrors serves delectable buttery pastries and hot chocolate you'll never forget.

Best Afternoon Tea: For a delightful timeout during an ambitious day of sightseeing, head to Mariage Frères, 30-32 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, 4e (tel. 01/42/72-28-11). The Mariage family entered the trade in 1660, when Nicolas Mariage began importing tea from Persia for King Louis XIV. Take your pick from almost 500 teas in the attractive colonial-style salon at the back of the shop.

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Best Sandwiches: Italy is the inspiration for the focaccia-style bread and scrumptious fillings at Cosi, 54 rue de Seine, 6e (tel. 01/46/33-35-36). To accompany the freshly baked bread, you can choose from an assortment of specialties, including arugula, mozzarella, Parmesan, Italian ham, roast tomatoes, and tapenade.

Best Picnic Fare: Two excellent places for one-stop shopping are La Grande Epicerie, Bon Marché, 38 rue de Sèvres 7e (tel. 01/44/39-81-00); and Lafayette Gourmet, 52 bd. Haussmann, 9e (tel. 01/48/74-46-06). The quiche from the Grande Epicerie Alsatian deli counter is a special treat.

Best Spot for a Family Meal: The polite and efficient waiters at Le Grand Colbert, 2-4 rue Vivienne, 2e (tel. 01/42/86-87-88), are used to Parisian family gatherings, especially on Sunday. This historic landmark dates back to the 1830s and shimmers with polished brass, old lamps, and frescoes. It's boisterous and lively, and children get to be a bit loud without upsetting the convivial atmosphere.

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Best Wine Bar: For excellent Rhône Valley wines and generous plates of cold cuts and cheese in a lively little dining room, visit A la Cloche des Halles, 28 rue Coquillière, 1er (tel. 01/42/36-93-89). Cloche means "bell," and the name refers to the bell that tolled the opening and closing of the city's main market when it was nearby. Some old-market atmosphere survives here, including an interesting mix of people and a high level of conviviality. It's a great place for a light, very French lunch.

Best Cafe Food: Although cafes all over town serve salads and omelets, the staff makes an extra effort at La Chaise au Plafond, 10 rue Trésor, 4e (tel. 01/42/76-03-22), on a side street in the heart of the Marais. The offbeat decor-park benches and a ceiling painted black and white to resemble the markings on a cow, attracts a young crowd that delights in the big, fresh salads and thick tartes.

Best Foreign Meals: A meal at Le Manguier, 67 av. Parmentier, 11e (tel. 01/48/07-03-27), might be the only chance you'll ever have to try West African cooking. Among the better dishes are chicken yassa with lemons and onions, and requin fumé (smoked shark), if you're feeling adventurous. This lively place also serves potent, mostly rum-based cocktails and plays African music. At Al Diwan, 30 av. Georges V, 8e (tel. 01/47/20-18-17), you can sample delicious, fresh, and affordable Lebanese cuisine just off the Champs-Elysées.

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Best Student Hangout: Parisian students have a keen eye for bargains, skimping on food so they can spend their parents' money in salsa bars. At Restaurant Perraudin, 157 rue St-Jacques, 5e (tel. 01/46/33-15-75), in the heart of the Latin Quarter, students and professors get comfortable home cooking at rock-bottom prices. The 18€ ($21) lunch menu is hearty enough to see them through an afternoon of classes and an evening of carousing.

Best French Regional Restaurants: Regional cooking has been enjoying a new vogue in Paris. Two of the best places to dine in the provinces without leaving town are: Chantairelle, 17 rue Laplace, 5e (tel. 01/46/33-18-59), to sample the sturdy fare of the south-central Auvergne region; and Vivario, 6 rue Cochin, 5e (tel. 01/43/25-08-19), the oldest Corsican restaurant in Paris, which serves hearty specialties from Napoléon's birthplace.

Best Deals: The 20€ ($23) three-course menu with wine at L'Escure provides delicious French cuisine that you don't often see at this price. The tasty 12€ ($14) two-course lunch menu at Cirio, 17 rue des Petits Champs, 1e (tel. 01/42/96-47-54), can't be beat. The 30€ ($35) heavenly three-course gourmet menu at Le Clos du Gourmet, 16 av. Rapp, 7e (tel. 01/45/51-75-61), will make you want to pinch yourself; no, you're not dreaming, these prices are real!

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