I made only one restaurant reservation for our week in Paris. I figured our days would be a little unpredictable with a baby, and I didn’t know how many commitments we’d be able to stick to. Thankfully, it was not hard to decide which one restaurant we wanted to be sure to try.

Le Bistrot Paul Bert came up in just about every guide, blog post, and article I came across on recommended restaurants in Paris — and for very good reason. It’s a classic Parisian bistro with excellent food, friendly service, and great prices. We had lunch here on our third day in Paris, when we were joined by my cousin.

Like many restaurants in France, Bistrot Paul Bert has formules (set menus) for lunch and dinner. If I remember correctly, the lunch formule was €18 and the dinner was €38 when we were there, and both came with three courses (appetizer, main, and dessert). The lunch formule is more limited — with only two options for each of the courses, I believe. Luckily, the dinner formule is also available at lunchtime, and that menu is much more extensive. While many places have a separate à la carte menu, here you can order à la carte straight from the formule menus at set prices for starters, mains, and desserts. So between us three adults, we got one full lunch formule and then one appetizer, two mains, and one dessert from the dinner formule.

We were in France during white asparagus season, which we saw at many of the outdoor markets, so we chose the white asparagus soup as one of our starters. It was creamy but not overly rich, and you could pick out the fresh taste of the asparagus.

We also got the foie gras in duck broth, and though this was also rich, it was well balanced. I think I’ve had foie gras at least one other time before, but I don’t have a very good recollection of what it was like. So when I tried it this time, I realized that I was expecting something more paté-like — that is, something more soft and spreadable. But it actually is more like, well, a piece of liver. So this dish was actually a slice of luscious foie gras floating in a clear, light duck consommé. There were also paper-thin slices of mushrooms and radish in the soup. The mushrooms were so flavorful! And the radish added some nice spicy crunch to complement the foie gras.

For my main dish, I chose an onglet de boeuf, a hanger steak, which came with fries and spicy mustard on the side. The steak was excellent, with a crispy exterior. But the highlight of this dish for me was all the wonderful shallots on top. Now, every time I pan-fry shallots, they go pretty much from raw to wilted, and they are tricky not to burn either. These shallots were definitely cooked, so their sweetness came out, but they also retained their shape and even a bit of their crunch. And I loved that the steak was just covered in them, because I definitely liked them with every bite.

The French eat their steak pretty blue and bloody (that is in fact how you order it — bleu for very rare or saignant “bloody” for rare). I asked for à point, which means “just done” but is actually closer to an American medium rare. I think it turned out just as I wanted. The fries that came with my steak were good too, but I didn’t want to fill up too much on them.

My cousin ordered a steak tartare, which she enjoyed immensely. When it came out, the waitress warned us that it would be very spicy and suggested we add some Worcestershire to offset some of that spice. We could not get enough of steak tartare throughout our trip, but this one was definitely the best. It was spicy all right, but not unbearably so. Also, while I am used to steak tartare being an appetizer in the U.S., and proportioned accordingly, it is served as a main dish in France and is pretty sizable. (Although, again, I am almost certain the portion sizes have gone up considerably overall since I was last in France 12 years ago.) The steak tartare also came with a side of fries and a light arugula salad tossed in vinaigrette.

B ordered off the lunch menu and got a blanquette de veau — cubes of tender veal in white sauce accompanied with rice. It was his sort of dish — slow-cooked meat with plenty of sauce for the rice to soak up. It was good, but it wasn’t as special as the other dishes, and I think if we ever went back we’d just go with the dinner menu, as that seems to be where the classic French bistro dishes are.

When we were ordering our desserts, I’d been tempted to get three, as I’d heard Bistrot Paul Bert has a great cheese plate. But we were so stuffed, we decided to share two among the three of us. We got an île flottante “floating island” off the lunch menu, which is meringue floating in crème anglaise (a light custard sauce).

Off the dinner menu, we ordered the bistro’s famous dessert: the Paris-Brest. This was my first Paris-Brest ever, so I’m glad I experienced it here. It is somewhat like a donut-shaped éclair. The outside is choux pastry (like what is used in profitéroles and éclairs) and the inside is a hazelnut cream. It was the perfect end to what we all agree was our favorite meal during our time in France.

Le Bistrot Paul Bert was everything I could hope for in a French restaurant: cozy atmosphere, classic French food well done, and affordable prices. While it’s not in one of the more popular neighborhoods, it’s actually not far east of the Marais and is less touristy. (We stayed in an apartment just across from the bistro and really enjoyed exploring the Bastille Quarter where it’s located.) Le Bistrot Paul Bert alone is well worth the short metro ride to this area. Dorie Greenspan calls this place one of her “hands-down favorite bistros” and lists its steak frites among her top 10 must-taste foods in Paris. As for me, I can definitely say that this is one meal I will be thinking about for a very, very long time.

Le Bistrot Paul Bert
18 rue Paul Bert, Paris 75011
Metro: Faidherbe-Chaligny (line 8)
Closed Sunday and Monday
Call ahead for reservations: 01 43 72 24 01

For more posts on France, see…
Eating in Paris
Not Eating in Paris
The Bastille Quarter
Markets (Paris)
Oh, the Cheeses We Ate
Markets (Provence)
(La Vraie) Bouillabaisse in Marseille
Provençal Specialties in Nice