The menu at Les Fabricants is both extensive and brief. Extensive in that there is plenty to choose from, most of it hearty French fare from the Basque region. It is brief, however, in description. You either need to know your way around Southwest French cuisine, or be prepared to ask questions. The menu comes with very little in the way of explanation, even in French, so your best bet is probably just to pick a type of meat or fish and whatever preparation sounds exciting. There is a menu in English, and you can ask questions of the staff, but that just seems less fun.
Among locals, they are famous for their escalope de veau montagnarde, a mountain (hence the name) of veal stuffed with cheese and mushrooms, covered in a crème fraîche sauce. Not exactly a ‘getting fit for summer’ kind of meal. They have all sorts of exotic sounding dishes such as tripes basquaise and salade de gessiers (duck gizzard salad), but also classics like confit de canard.
This is not much good for vegetarians. Virtually everything, even the salade du chèvre chaud, has meat in it. They’ll leave the bacon bits out of your salad if you ask, but that leaves practically the rest of the menu off-limits. They do have a nice range of fried potato slices though with various toppings and a baked camembert served in its little wooden box.
This is a place to go with friends, to sit on or near the terrace, to drink too much and eat far too much. It’s not ‘fine dining,’ but you wouldn’t want it to be. This is traditional, home-style cooking, to be shared with friends who just want a good meal, cheap drinks, and to share it all with a noisy room full of Parisians.
Les Fabricants, 61 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris, France, +33 1 48 07 17 04
If you’re smart, you’ll get there early for the happy hour (6-8pm), have a Duff beer or a cocktail and some onion rings or a quesadilla to snack on. This should help you settle into the charming American diner surroundings and prepare for the main event: the burgers. The classic choice here is the the ‘American Bistrot burger,’ a cheeseburger with pastrami and onion rings. You might also like the ‘JD burger,’ a Jack Daniel’s sauce smothered over a beef patty with smoked cheddar and honey mustard. Then there’s the ‘Batman and Reuben,’ a New York-style Reuben sandwich stuffed with pastrami, smoked cheddar and Thousand Island dressing, and they have a similarly loaded sandwich filled with turkey pastrami.
Should you be looking for brunch, they have the customary Parisian brunch, including eggs and hash browns, a burger or sandwich, plus a dessert or milkshake and a coffee. The milkshakes themselves are worth the visit alone, with all-American flavors such as the ‘Janis’ (Oreo), the ‘Elvis’ (banana and maple syrup), and the ‘Jack and Elvis,’ the already-delicious Elvis with an added shot of Jack Daniel’s bourbon.
The food itself is easily enough to get you in the door, but fans of American culture will be thrilled with the musical choices, the vinyl records and the diner-style seating. There’s even a charming little gummi burger that comes with the bill, as a final parting gesture. The American Bistrot can get very busy, especially on the weekend, so your best bet is to get in early…as in, just in time for happy hour.
American Bistrot, 74 Rue de la Folie Méricourt, 75011 Paris, France, +33 9 81 86 99 72
La Reine de Saba
In Paris, Moroccan and Tunisian restaurants abound, and they are often great, but it’s about time to add Ethiopian to your personal culinary map. La Reine de Saba is a rustic, intimate Ethiopian restaurant on Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud.
If you’ve never had Ethiopian cuisine before, a good start is the doro key wot. This is a rich, dark curry, almost the color of gravy, containing a chicken leg and a boiled egg. It’s hard to eat this without making a giant mess, but that goes for a lot on the menu. An even better move is to order the yefseg beyonetou (a tasting plate of six menu items), which includes the doro key wot as well as a beef ragout, a red lentil curry (similar to Indian dal), spinach, carrots and potatoes. There is also a vegetarian version of the tasting plate (yetsom beyonetou), a wonderful salmon curry, a minced beef curry, Ethiopian cheese (similar to feta), and a pea flour sauce (chero), which is much nicer than it sounds.
Whatever you order, it will be served on a special Ethiopian flatbread called injera. This is both delicious and fun because it also serves as your cutlery for the evening. Injera is like a giant sourdough pancake. It’s very filling, and covered in an array of delicious sauces, a delight to eat. All of this from a small kitchen — with usually just one chef.
There is a fairly standard range of drinks, mostly the usual cheap French wines, spirits and beers, plus Ethiopian beer. Honestly, Ethiopian beer isn’t much different from a standard lager, but it’s fun to feel like a local. Every so often, the restaurant fills with the smoke from burning rosemary sprigs, which means that someone has ordered a coffee. It’s a powerful blend of herbs and coffee, which mixes with all of the other pungent smells already filling the small space. The combination of taste and smell, plus the relatively unusual experience of eating with your hands, makes this a multi-sensory eating experience that should not be missed.
La Reine de Saba, 78 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 75011 Paris, France, +33 1 48 05 21 47
‘In-the-know’ Parisians are already aware of Candelaria in the 3rd arrondissement, with it’s hidden cocktail bar out the back. They are quickly getting to know Café Chilango as another outstanding go-to for authentic Mexican food in northeastern Paris.
Small and noisy, Café Chilango has more of a canteen feel than some of its stuffier neighbors. You order your food at the counter, reading off the chalkboard menu behind the chef. You also collect your drinks directly from the counter, which just cuts out the middleman, really. Of all the places on this list, this is the best lunch option. It is also very good for dinner, but the combination of early afternoon sun and the coffee shop on-site (open 10am-5:30pm) make lunchtime a great time to visit.
There is a vibrant energy in the place, even when there are relatively few customers. The exposed brick walls reflect the modern jazz coming through the stereo as well as the conversations of just about everyone inside — this is not the place to pen your novel. The vibrancy is reflected in the food, always bright in color and taste. The quesadilla (vegetarian or with meat), a folded tortilla stuffed with black beans and cheese and toasted, is crispy without being greasy. It is served with a spicy (but not deadly) homemade red salsa and a colorful salad of rocket, sprouts and radishes. The lunch menu also includes huevos rancheros or a plate of four tacos (pork, fresh cheese, chicken or potato with green salsa). Everything is beautifully presented by the cheerful chef behind the counter, and quickly.
Café Chilango takes on a whole new energy in the evenings. The music gets louder and the conversation gets more animated, usually brought on by a Negroni or a shot of tequila and plenty of Pacifico beer (from Mexico). Tables become crowded with diners and drinkers huddled over an impressively chunky guacamole (with homemade tortilla chips), speaking in French, Spanish and English. Every so often the bartender declares that they’re making a round of tequila cocktails, and those who are game queue up along the small counter. This is the sort of place where a quick dinner can get out of hand in a hurry, which is probably why it was named one of the best bars in the 11th arrondissement by Time Out (as evidenced by a certificate on the shelf behind the bar).
Café Chilango, 82 Rue de la Folie Méricourt, 75011 Paris, France, +33 1 47 00 78 95
Pierre Sang In Oberkampf
Don’t ask for the menu. There is no menu. You’re going to be eating whatever the chef has come up with for the day; all six courses of it. Luckily for you, it’s all going to be delicious. This restaurant can be a little pricey. Having said that, if you go for lunch, you can have two courses for €20 or five courses for €35. They’re not huge, but they will be exciting.
Pierre Sang Boyer was a finalist in France’s 2011 edition of Top Chef and soon after opened his first restaurant at 55 Rue Oberkampf. Choosing to base his cuisine around fresh, seasonal produce, he relies on the local neighborhood shops and farmers’ market and bases the menu upon what is available. The cooking is a fusion of French techniques and Korean flavors, but each dish is its own case.
They didn’t use to accept reservations, but the website suggests that it is now possible to book on the day, and it’s recommended to book your table in advance, especially on week ends. It pays to arrive around the start of service if you want to sit at the high table in the center. From this perch, you can see all the food being prepared, which is half of the fun. After you’ve eaten, the wait staff will test your knowledge of what was just on your plate, to see whether you know what the herbs, spices, vegetables and fish were. If you’re not up for an interactive, conversational eating experience, this is not the place for you.
Don’t eat everything? Tell the wait staff. Since they set every plate right in front of you, it’s not too difficult to take something out and replace it with another, equally delicious ingredient. Still, you’re best not to visit with your fussy friends. The whole point is to have fun, to try things you’ve never had before, and to surprise yourself with what you find. If someone you know is the ‘no vegetables’ type, or won’t try something just because of how it looks, they should probably be left at home. Oh, and you don’t need to dress up. Most of the clientele, and the wait staff, will be dressed ‘Paris casual,’ meaning jeans and a shirt or sweater, ready for an evening of food tasting that is sure to surprise and delight.
Pierre Sang In Oberkampf, 55 Rue Oberkampf, 75011 Paris, France, +33 9 67 31 96 80
At this place, reservations are a must. It is perfectly normal to see lines down the street, an hour’s wait, most nights of the week. According to the Wall Street Journal, Au Passage is a popular haunt for wine producers and cooks, which shows just how interesting their food is. The lines might also be attributable, in part, to an appearance in Anthony Bourdain’s television show The Layover. While Bourdain visited for a set menu lunch, Au Passage is only open Monday-Saturday for dinner, 7pm till late.
Au Passage is ostensibly a French tapas bar, with some larger plates, designed for sharing. The choices are largely dictated by what looked good at the market that day; the food is fresh and constantly changing. Favorites include the octopus, which takes three days to prepare. Adventurous eaters might like the calves’ brains, or the beef heart with fries, accompanied by broccoli hollandaise or artichoke with mayonnaise. Easily daunted eaters will probably not make the most of the experience. This is not the classic French bistro serving predictable old favorites.
Au Passage, 1bis Passage Saint-Sébastien, 75011 Paris, France, +33 1 43 55 07 52
Afghan cooking is relatively unknown in the West, which makes this restaurant both an opportunity to eat and to learn. Thankfully, the food here is delicious, using fruits and spices that might be familiar through Moroccan and Persian cooking. The flavors might remind you of Indian food, hardly surprising given the two countries’ proximity geographically.
If you have never tried it before, you should come on the weekend to order the Quabely. The national dish of Afghanistan, it combines seasoned lamb pieces with pallaw, which is seasoned rice with vegetables and dried fruit mixed through. They only serve this on Friday and Saturday, so plan ahead. Another dish, Shalgam tchalow, mixes veal with rice, turnips and honey, which is certainly worth tasting.
Those wanting something closer to Indian cuisine should try the Kormé. This is similar to an Indian Korma, but more casserole than curry. Interestingly, Afghan cuisine also involves pasta. Ravioli dumplings stuffed with leek and ground beef (or lentils and carrots) are definitely worth sampling. The menu is fairly brief and not terribly vegetarian-friendly. The owner and chef, Sadjia Masshour, is known to be fairly inflexible with the preparation of the dishes. They are made her way, which seems to be the traditional way in her native Kabul. Thankfully, they are also truly delicious, delicate and perfumed, somehow familiar in taste and yet new and enlightening.
The only downside at Afghanistan is that the service can be slow. This restaurant has the feel of a family operation, not a slick franchise. But the food is well worth the wait, served in a quietly dignified dining space, and with prices that are very reasonable.
Afghanistan, 48 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011 Paris, France, +33 1 49 23 02 91