They’re All the Same, Right?

brasserie lippBefore setting out for an unforgettable day of Paris dining, it’s important to understand the differences between these types of establishments. And once you do, it’s important to understand that the distinctions are becoming blurrier all the time.
Bistros are generally small, often family-run and open for limited hours at lunch and/or dinner. The food is typically hearty and traditional, but today’s bistro chefs are putting out creative, inventive cuisine, and many bistros have been opened by chefs who paid their dues at high-end restaurants before striking out on their own. Like the food, the wines can range from basic to spectacular. A few favorites are Le Bistrot Paul Bert, Chez Michel, La Régalade, Chez l’Ami Jean and Jadis. Always reserve–not just to make sure you have a seat but out of politeness.
Restaurants are traditionally the most formal of the lot, and from them you can expect an elegant, multi-course meal, careful service, great wine lists and a hefty check. This term certainly applies to legendary two- and three-star tables like Taillevent, Le Meurice, L’Arpège and Pierre Gagnaire. Booking in advance is imperative.
Brasseries, Alsatian in origin and many with glowing Belle Epoque decor, are iconic Paris dining. Numerous brasseries still serve specialties like choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with several different kinds of pork) and have beers on tap, but you can expect a broad menu and a bustling atmosphere. Many have oyster stands out front where an écailler prepares grand platters of shellfish. Two of the most famous—Bofinger, with a stunning stained glass dome, near the Bastille; and Lipp, in St.-Germain-des-Prés—are worth visiting for the atmosphere, though perhaps not for the food. Other classics include Julien and Le Grand Colbert.

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