Free Paris: Café Panis
Ah, the joys of Paris on a budget. Yes, you read that right. Paris may be an expensive place and the five-star indulgences are many, but it’s still possible to enjoy its unique pleasures without draining the kids’ college funds. Stop number one? Notre Dame, the spiritual and symbolic heart of France.
From the literary to the esoteric (for an intro to the alchemical symbolism in the cathedral’s architecture, see “The Notre Dame Equation” in this book) and the spiritual to the political (Charles de Gaulle was *nearly* assassinated inside in 1944), Notre Dame is one fascinating story after another. But one thing you won’t find here are many decent places to eat. The central islands may be gorgeous to walk around, but no self-respecting Parisian would come for lunch, right? Well, as it turns out, there are a few – a very few – local favorites that you can rely on.
Right across the Seine from Notre Dame, Café Panis is central Paris’s most reliable hangout. It’s distinguished but unpretentious, authentic but inexpensive – and, of course, it is incredibly convenient. What’s not to love? One clue that it’s a favorite with Parisians as much as everyone else is that the food, although simple, is actually respectable (croque monsieur, smoked salmon salad, steak with roquefort sauce). And there’s a decent wine and tea list.
Address: 21 quai Montebello, 5th arrondissement
Prices: Croque Monsieur €6.80, full meals from €10.60
Ma Salle à Manger
In warm weather, this tiny wine bar on the lovely place Dauphine (on Ile de la Cité) is a one-of-a-kind find. The sophisticated cuisine here doesn’t come cheap, but the chef also offers an in-the-know takeaway deal for under €10: pasta, salads, and sandwiches are all made to order. If you need a picnic spot, place Dauphine itself isn’t bad, but the Square du Vert Galant (beneath Pont Neuf on the western tip of the island) is even better. Stop in on Sunday nights (after 4pm) when the bar is the venue for a popular French card game known as belote.
Address: 26 place Dauphine, 1st arrondissement
Prices: Sandwiches from €5, pasta and salads €9.50