Pull up at roadside stand.
Be happy you’re with people who speak Arabic.
Pull up at roadside stand.
Be happy you’re with people who speak Arabic.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was talking to someone at the airport, just after my arrival in Israel, who had asked me what I was doing in her country.
When I told her I was there to learn about the cuisine – by eating it, her eyes lit up, and she said – “Whenever I leave Israel, after my family, the thing I miss the most is the food.” And after one week, I could see why. I was missing it, too, the moment I stepped off the plane and returned home. In fact, my home kitchen has become a mini hummus factory, churning out batch-after-batch of hummus. And it lasts just about as fast as I can scoop it onto pita bread.
Yes, that’s me in the corner, wolfing down falafels at Maoz. I was trying to figure out a way to break the news, but my favorite falafel place in Paris is not where you think it is.
Last time I went to another joint, the French fries that came out were so light and limp that I was wondering what was going through the head of the cook who plated ‘em up. Let me state this simply (and in bold): If you have a professional-strength deep fryer, there’s no possible excuse for soggy fries.
There’s a little bit of a war going on here in Paris on the rue des Rosiers, in the Marais. The Rue Des Rosiers is the Jewish street, sporting several good (and a few bad) bakeries, a few chic clothing stores, but a string of fafafel stands and restaurants. The most famous, L’As du Falafel, is always crowded, and teeming with locals, who come for their Heeb-Hop (Hebrew-Hop, as we call it), and tourists, who’ve read about L’As du Falafel in their guidebooks.
I always feel sorry for the other places on the street. There’s often deserted, while the throngs of people line up at L’As in search of their falafel-fix. The only time they seem to generate any interest is when L’As du Falafel closes for the Sabbath, on Friday nights and Saturdays. But a few weeks ago I started noticing handwritten signs on the place across the street, Mi-Va-Mi, with slogans like “Taste and Compare”, daring to take on the Ace o’ Falafel, just across the street.
Today as I stop by to get my weekly falafel, making a beeline for L’As, I notice a swarm of missionaries agressively confronting passers-by with plates brimming with warm falafel, followed closely by someone with a guest-check book, pen-to-the-paper, ready to take their order. The scene was curious, since the French haven’t quite grasped the concept of ‘Free Samples’ (or competition). When I asked a French friend why anyone rarely offers samples, I was told “Because it’s not ‘correct’. But there’s a guy at the fromagerie on the Î’le St-Louis who’s making a killing offering samples to passers-by, mostly tourists, who get one taste of great French cheese, and invariably come in and make a purchase.
Correct or not, that dude is rakin’ it in.
So although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially in Paris, there’s lots of free falafels to be had this week as the street is abuzz with people bearing heaping bowls of freshly-fried falafels. I don’t know how long it will last, and the offer doesn’t extend to those who’ve already purchased. (I tried to get one of the falafel-pushers to augment my half-eaten sandwich, but being très Paris, there’s little interest in the customer after the sale.)
And in an unlikely show of unity, as I was finishing up, I saw one of the fellows from L’As du Falafel pop one of his crisp falafels in the mouth of his main competitor, a woman who was offering falafels from Mi-Va-Mi. She stopped, took a taste, and nodded in agreement before going back to offering her falafels to all takers.
So perhaps there’s something to be said for the absence of competition.
(Although I appreciate the presence of free samples.)
L’As du Falafel
34, rue des Rosiers
Tél: 01 48 87 63 60
27, rue des Ecouffes
Tél: 01 42 71 53 72
Here are some of my favorite places to eat in Paris. This is not an exhaustive list, and I’ve mentioned many of my other top picks here on the site, so you can use the search engine to find them. And there’s others on My Paris page here as well.
Several of these are also not fancy places. Sure, many people come to Paris for fine-dining, and you can find many of those addresses floating around guidebooks and online. But sometimes you just want a big plate of vegetable salads instead of half a carrot garnished by a shredded basil leaf with a dot of saffron sauce. I’ve included a few stand-by, reliably decent restaurants in case you happen to be in Paris on a Sunday, when many places are closed.
If you have some favorite places that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them since I’m always looking for new places to try and I’m sure others would too.
Feel free to leave your dining suggestions in the Comment area.
Before you start, here’s a few tips when dining in Paris:
Rôtisserie Beaujolais 19 quai des Tournelles, tel 01 43 54 17 47. Grilled and spit roasted meats, and typical French fare. In the 5th. Avoid seats just next to the opening to the oven…it’s très hot and they like to stick out-of-towners there, who they think won’t complain. But I do since they invariably lead me to it. Open Sunday night.
Chez René 14, blvd St. Germain. Tel 01 43 54 30 23. Great French classics. The best Coq au Vin in town, with a sauce as smooth as velvet. If you don’t order the fix-priced menu, be prepared for a lot of food. It’s quite an experience and the cheese plate(s) is/are insane. Dinner menu, approximately 40€. In the 5th. You didn’t hear it from me, but there’s a clear brandy digestive hidden behind the bar…with a snake in it! I haven’t been since there was a recent change of ownership, but I hear the food is still very good.
Cuisine de Bar 8, rue Cherche-Midi (M: Sevres-Babylon), tel 01 45 48 45 69, in the 6th. Open-faced tartines, or sandwiches, served on pain Poilâne, the famed bakery next door. Order the 12€ formule with a salad, tartine (I like the one with sardines and flakes of sea salt, or poulet with anchovies), a glass of wine or bottle of water, café and a spiced cookie. Very casual yet chic. And friendly. No reservations…lunch only. If the wait it long, they’ll often pour you a welcome glass of wine.
L’As du Falafel On 34, rue des Rosiers in the Marais (M: St. Paul), closed Friday night and Saturday for the Jewish holidays. The most famous falafel anywhere! Join the crowd clamoring at the window. No reservations.
For something vegetable-oriented, Chez Marianne in the Marais at 2, rue des Hospitalieres St. Gervais, tel 01 42 72 18 86. Come here for decent Mediterranean salads. You choose a combination plate of 4, 5, or 6 salads. This is a good address to know about if you’re craving something without a lot of meat. Perfect with a bottle of house rosé. Approximately 20€. Reserve, or wait for eternity. Open every day and night, but be aware of the often abrupt servers.
Chez Omar is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Specialties are couscous and they have excellent steak and French fries as well, but I always have the roasted lamb, or méchoui d’agneau. Very lively, no reservations. Open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as Sundays. If you go for dinner, be prepared for a wait after 8:30pm. Don’t let any Parisians cut in front of you! A simple shove with your shoulder, followed by a very apologetic “Oops! Pardon” is usually all it take to get them to recede. Do it firm enough and you’ll only need to do it once. Trust me. Moderate prices, which do seem to keep climbing each time I go. In the 3rd, at 47 rue de Bretagne. (M: Temple or Arts and Metiers)
Another couscous place that’s less-hectic is L’Atlas, with fine Moroccan food. Feathery light couscous and savory tagines. Skip the first courses. Not fancy nor too pricey considering the fine food and gracious service. Dine in the lovely tiled dining room, or outside in fine weather. Located at 12, St. Germaine des Pres. Vegetarians will appreciate the large selection of seafood tagines. Tel 01 44 07 23 66 (M: Maubert-Mutualité), in the 5th.
Bistrot Paul Bert 18, rue Paul Bert, tel 01 43 72 24 01 (M: Faidherbe-Chaligny) Out of the way, but definitely worth going to. I love this restaurant. Some of the best desserts in Paris too. Offers a 3-course fixed menu for 32€. In the 12th.
Les Papilles 30 rue Gay-Lussac, tel 01 43 25 20 79. Wine bar and light, ‘market-fresh’ food. Menu approximately 30€. In the 5th. Nice portions, and cheerful staff.
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