If there's one city in the world to blow the bank on food, it's Paris. It's easy to imagine raiding your savings account halfway through the trip; all it takes is a tap, tap, swipe on your banking app to move some funds from that rainy day account. Who needs savings when you're alive and hungry in Paris?
But it doesn't have to be that way. Even on the slimmest of budgets, Paris is still deliriously delicious. Indeed, some of its simplest pleasures are its most divine. For me, it's a baguette slathered in salted butter and stuffed with pungent Camembert; at just a few euros, it's either the first or last thing I have on each trip. For my husband, it's quiche. Still others won't leave Paris without a classic crêpe from a street vendor.
It would take a lifetime of exploring to find all the amazing and affordable foods in Paris. Or, we could just ask a few people likely to know: writers. Here are some smart, budget-savvy tips gleaned from their experiences, plus some of my findings as a hungry and cash-strapped repeat visitor.
1. Have a pique-nique.
There really is no bad time or place to have a picnic, including your hotel or Airbnb. Lindsay Landis, Nashville-based co-founder of food blog Love & Olive Oil, has spent many an evening in her Airbnb with the good company of crusty baguettes, salted butter, cheeses, and fruits picked up from the local markets. "Add a bottle of wine and you have yourself a perfect light supper feast, and much less expensive than going out for a full French dinner," she notes.
Still, there's just something so right about a meal en plein air in Paris.
"I personally think there is no better city in the world for eating outdoors." Andi Fisher, Phoenix-based storyteller behind Misadventures with Andi tells us. "I usually drop by a bakery for a crusty baguette (and an éclair for dessert!); then a traiteur (like a deli) to buy sliced sausage, pâté, and other meaty delights (my favorite is duck rillettes); and then the cheesemonger for a few chunks of creamy goodness. That, my friends, is all the makings for a perfect picnic."
Or, follow the lead of Beth Newberry, essayist and editor living in Bordeaux, who is smitten with the French love for a pique-nique. Her recommendation is to head to the marché (she recommends the Marché Bastille) where "you can pick up your choice of cheese, olives, fruit, bread, saucisson sec (thick, dry cured sausage), sweet and savory tarts, and wine." It's worth supplementing your buys with a corkscrew and a knife, she recommends.
2. Go to the outer arrondissements.
Hop the Metro (or grab a bike!) and bust out of the tourist zone. "Chinatown is located in the 13th arrondissement and has some fantastic restaurants," Virginia Willis, James Beard award-winning author, chef, and editor, tells us. "Also, remember that Vietnam was a French colony so Vietnamese food can also be found in the area — and is incredible!"
Willis also seeks out Middle Eastern and Moroccan food when looking for a cheap and cheerful bite. In particular, she says that Zerda Cafe in the 10th serves fantastic couscous and tagines. For Victoire Loup, LA-based Parisian and founder of In the Loup, the hip Israeli spot Miznon is a must: "Miznon is my go-to for a quick lunch or a fun Sunday night dinner. Make sure you order the cauliflower and a pita ('fish' and 'minute steak' are my favorites)."
3. Take advantage of happy hours and freebies.
Who says the best things in life aren't free? If you know where to look, bargains can be found; so, too, can free food!
Forest Collins, Paris-based drinks writer and founder of 52martinis.com, an online guide to the best cocktail bars in Paris, knows what's what. "There are a few fun venues in Paris putting on an aperitivo a l'italien," she says. "In other words buying an early evening drink entitles you to a free buffet of tasty snacks Italian-style with charcuterie, pickled veggies, cheeses, and more. The trendiest option is Lockwood, a coffee shop/restaurant/cocktail bar with a fine selection of early evening drinks that go down so easily with their free 6 p.m. buffet."
Collins also suggests that Paris-bound fans of the bivalve google "oyster hour" to find the latest bars and seafood restaurants serving dollar oysters. Her top pick right now is Istr, where you can slurp oysters solo or with the housemade sauce of soy, ginger, and tabasco.
Maggie Battista, Boston-based food writer and Eat Boutique pop-up shop maker, however, is a fan of Le Baron Rouge: "Le Baron Rouge is a great tiny spot for oysters, charcuterie, and red wine after shopping at the Marche de Aligre. The wine is cheap (as low as 4 euros) and the place is packed with locals, which is always a true testament to affordable local food."
4. Show street food some love.
There may be nothing that feels more quintessentially Parisienne than ordering a crêpe from a street vendor and watching him deftly twirl the batter, quickly transforming the creamy pool into a steaming, golden-crisp crêpe. What goes on top? Nutella, naturellement! Or ham and cheese for a more filling cheap eat.
A falafel sandwich also hits the spot — and Landis says a guide to cheap eats in Paris wouldn't be complete without L'As du Fallafel in the Marais: "It's well worth the wait for an incredible falafel sandwich — perhaps the best I've ever had!"
5. When in doubt, go to Monoprix.
This chain store is to the French what Target is to Americans (only chicer). They sell a little bit of everything — clothing, beauty products, housewares, and more — but for Maggie Battista, it's their affordable sandwiches that are the best buy. Specifically the salami, pickled veg, and butter baguette sandwich: "I loved it so much I recreated my own recipe for my first cookbook."