I feel terrible for the tourists eating at the tourist traps in Paris posing as French restaurants that I simply must share some tips for avoiding these places. If you appreciate good food that is thoughtfully prepared, and if you often mark a lunch or evening meal as the high point of your day, beware of these telltale signs that you are most likely in a tourist trap.
• You notice there is excess signage outside the café or restaurant. You see a lot of different signs or very large signs posting the menu. Alternately, if the menu du jour (menu of the day) is written in chalk on a chalkboard, you are much more likely to find fresh food.
• If most of the diners look like tourists (shorts, maps, fanny packs, sneakers, slightly more rotund than your average Parisian), and if many are drinking Coca-Cola and dining on french fries, this is not the place for you. Granted, it’s easier to see what they are eating when they are dining on the terrace (the sidewalk). But if the establishment in question is right next to Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée de Cluny or the like, you are probably in a tourist trap.
• The smaller the restaurant, the better. OK, so this isn’t always true, but the huge cafés and bistros with many diners outside are places to go for drinks or a quick snack, such as a croque-monsieur. These are not real dining establishments. The smaller, less flashy bistros and restaurants are where the real artistry is happening, and normally you need to make a reservation for those. But it can’t hurt to stop in and ask for a table. Apologies for not making a reservation are often received with the presentation of a table.