From bœuf bourguignon to oeufs mayo to crème brûlée, bouillons – Paris’ original old school restaurants – serve up casual French classics in breathtaking, convivial atmospheres. Bursting onto the gastronomy scene in France in the late 19th century, the institutions that live to tell their tales today stay true to their traditional fare, affordable pricing and snappy service.
The bouillon restaurant was born in 1855, thanks to Pierre-Louis Duval, a butcher who sold simple yet satisfying meals made of meat and bouillon (broth) to the workers of the capital’s bustling Les Halles district. The concept was simple – inexpensive, hearty food, served quickly. The idea took off, and by the beginning of the 20th century, some 250 of these popular eateries could be found dotted throughout the City of Light (some even consider bouillons the first restaurant chain!).
As the Art Nouveau movement spread throughout Europe – particularly with Paris’ hosting of the 1878, 1889 and 1900 World Fairs – it influenced the decor, furniture and architecture of popular establishments, and bouillons were no exception. Carved wood, glistening ceramics, colorful mirrors, glass paintings… these forever-Belle Époque restaurants have a recognizable old-world beauty that makes their interiors as endearing to admire as they are to eat inside.
Below, meet a few of our favorite bouillon restaurants in Paris!
Known as a “neo-bistro,” one of the most perfect examples of well-preserved Art Nouveau design can be found in Bouillon Julien, a reputed historic haunt for the city’s cultural elite (it’s rumored that French singer Edith Piaf and her lover, champion boxer Marcel Cerdan, frequently dined at Table 24). It was constructed in 1906 by French architect Edouard Fournier and was recently restored to glory in 2018. The interior is credited to a number of different elements: the walls are a calming sea-foam green (the signature color of the Art Nouveau movement), which plays off the plethora of colors that make up the vibrant stained-glass ceiling, charming red furniture and decorative, painted panels that line the walls. Among the designs on these panels are peacocks, while others are graced with nymphs meant to evoke each of the four seasons. The mesmerizing floor tile design, which displays a pattern of geraniums and daisies, contrasts with the prominent, rich mahogany bar. Despite its grandiosity, this bouillon restaurant has stayed remarkably true to its origins – stop by for French comfort classics in a gorgeous setting for prices that won’t break the bank.
16 rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010
Immerse yourself in the Belle Époque at Bouillon Chartier. Founded in 1896 by two brothers, Camille and Frédéric Chartier, Bouillon Chartier is a proper “roaring twenties” destination that continues to honor its doctrine of delectable dishes at modest prices. The same sublime interiors that it was built with remain today, making a visit to this bouillon restaurant feel like taking a step back in time (it was listed in France’s Directory of Historical Monuments in 1984). Dine inside its ceramic walls imagined by the famous French artist, Louis Trézel, alongside mirrors surrounded by scalloped woodwork and painted glass. But there’s more to this traditional bouillon restaurant than its beautiful interiors – don’t miss the house specialties: homemade terrine, andouillette, marinated herring and more. But come early – there’s often a long line!
59 boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris
Bouillon Racine, in Paris’ 6th arrondissement housing the celebrated Sorbonne university, was built in 1906 by the aforementioned Chartier brothers. The enchanting old-world dining room, with its flowery walls & etched mirrors, is the perfect embodiment of Art Nouveau style. Then and now, it is a wondrous place where Parisian students, workers and upper-class bourgeois alike gather and dine, side-by-side. A major renovation that took place in 1996 saw the restoration of the two-story Baroque beauty’s beveled mirrors, stained-glass windows, carved woodworks, marble mosaiscs and gilded gold-leaf lettering, calling upon ancient techniques that had been largely lost over decades. Luckily for us, the experts and savoir-faire prevailed, and visitors can enjoy the rich beauty of this bouillon restaurant, just as it was in its prime. The chef Alexandre Belthoise offers a unique menu that mixes modern and traditional French with specialities; come for the foie gras, stay for the Îles flottantes.
3 Rue Racine, 75006 Paris
Le Petit Bouillon Pharamond
Meet Pharamond, a restored bouillon restaurant in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. Situated in a traditional half-timbered building in the city’s famous Les Halles district (dubbed “the belly of Paris”), it is the epitome of Art Deco style while embodying a true Norman spirit. Not only a destination for a delicious and wildly affordable meal – think oeufs mayo for 1.90 €, escargot for 6.90 €, bœuf tartare for 10.50 €, crème brûlée for 2.90 €, and cheeses (direct from Normandy) all for under 3.20 € – its breathtaking interiors are classified as a listed Historic Monument. An address to know (and boast about eating in), Pharamond, has fed the likes of Georges Clémenceau and Ernest Hemingway.
24, rue de la Grande Truanderie, Paris 7007