Is it possible to eat out in Paris for under €20? The restaurants making French dining affordable

In a quest to find the best budget eats in the French capital, Chloe Braithwaite discovers that the no-frills bouillon – historically, the working man’s restaurant – is making a comeback

Wednesday 22 May 2024 13:20 BST
Bouillon restaurants, which first emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are enjoying a resurgence
Bouillon restaurants, which first emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are enjoying a resurgence (Chartier Bouillon)

Paris: the city of light, love and bon repas. The restaurant scene in Paris is many things: dynamic, creative, and often synonymous with an eye-watering bill – this is the home of Michelin, after all. However, today the capital is enjoying a renaissance of the original working man’s restaurant: the bouillon.

For those seeking to enjoy Paris on a shoestring, this is an excellent way to experience the more traditional side of French cuisine without leaving a huge dent in your savings.

The original concept of the bouillon was simple: an elegant, no-frills establishment offering a single menu item of a warm bowl of flavourful broth accompanied by a hunk of crusty bread and a generous portion of meat. The point was to keep things quick and affordable for Paris’s busy working class.

Bouillon Julien offers a range of traditional French dishes at very affordable prices
Bouillon Julien offers a range of traditional French dishes at very affordable prices (Bouillon Julien)

The bouillon is a staple of Parisian restaurant culture, though until recently it had fallen out of fashion. At one point, the city had more than 200, but one by one each shuttered until only a handful remained. They included Bouillon Chartier, established in 1896, which now has three locations in the capital. One of the last bastions of the old-fashioned bouillon experience, Chartier retains the original art nouveau charm. You’ll find high ceilings, ornate mouldings, and red-and-white checkered floors adorning large restaurant floors. Today, the restaurants are bustling, efficient, organised chaos: waiters in crisp black and white uniforms direct diners to tables that are quickly cleaned and reorganised, writing orders directly on white paper tablecloths.

These eateries offer a much more comprehensive menu than they did in the 19th century, but with the same economical spirit: good food at a good price. Three courses under €20? Possible; the most expensive item on the menu is €13.90. Dishes arrive quickly and with little ceremony, think tender leek swimming in a tart vinaigrette, curls of pike quenelles with a shellfish sauce, and a rum baba soaking in enough rum to warm your body even on the coldest, wettest winter days – complete with a cloud of fresh whipped cream.

The cost of living crisis and a heap of nostalgia are driving a resurgence of bouillons across the city. Even famed Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx – known primarily for molecular gastronomy – is turning his hand to one, opening his own take in the Paris suburbs in June 2024. Bouillons Julien and Racine – the latter reportedly a favourite of Edith Piaf – also continue the tradition, with bouillons République and Pigalle both newer additions to the scene.

Chartier Bouillon has three locations across Paris, serving hearty, traditional food
Chartier Bouillon has three locations across Paris, serving hearty, traditional food (Chartier Bouillon)

Fine dining for less

While bouillons and contemporary eateries are well worth a visit, it can be hard to resist the siren call of high-end French gastronomy.

The good news is there are ways to indulge without breaking the bank. The key is to aim for lunch. Many Michelin-starred establishments offer a formule du midi, or lunch special, featuring two or three courses at a significantly reduced price compared to the à la carte or dinner offerings. Reservations are often essential, so do plan ahead.

Read more on the best vegan places to eat in Paris

Similarly, a number of restaurants offer special menus specifically designed for diners attending theatre performances, often called prix fixe menus. These menus typically consist of two or three pre-selected courses at a discounted price. They focus on speed and are often lighter options. Again, be sure to book in advance; they’re typically only an evening offering, and within a specific time slot.

The art nouveau style makes them feel distictly Parisian
The art nouveau style makes them feel distictly Parisian (Bouillon Julien)

Best budget restaurants in Paris

Bouillons, of course, are not the only option when it comes to affordable, tasty fare; they’re merely a reflection of a wider trend towards affordable dining. Across the city, restaurants are paying attention. If you’re in Paris and seeking good food on a budget, there are a range of options and cuisines offering two and three-course meals for €20 or less.


Nonette is a cult Parisian classic. Freshly stuffed banh mi – traditional Vietnamese sandwiches – are accompanied by pretty beignets in an assortment of southeast Asian flavours. More traditional lemon or cinnamon glaze sits alongside chantilly and chilli oil, kaya jam (coconut milk and pandan cream), sweet-salty pork floss, and a floral jasmine tea and apple. For €14, you can have a banh mi of your choice – the roast chicken is even served with a flavourful broth – a side, and a drink.

Bing Sutt

Another newcomer, Bing Sutt, is a taste of Hong Kong in Paris. Helmed by Davina Chang, a Hongkonger now based in the French capital, the cafe serves traditional flavours with a twist, including a pineapple bun (bo lo bao) stuffed with ham and cheese. Enjoy a light lunch for €11 complete with an egg tart, bun and drink.

Bing Sutt offers speciality coffee, pastries and lunch
Bing Sutt offers speciality coffee, pastries and lunch (Bing Sutt)


Very much a neo-bistro, Malro made headlines upon opening for the chic interiors and clever, Mediterranean-inspired menu. Located in the heart of the Marais, diners can enjoy a lunch special (entrée + main) for €22, changing daily.

Gumbo Yaya

Pairing Paris with fried chicken isn’t an obvious choice, but Gumbo Yaya could change that. The line might be around the corner but the wait is worth it for their legendary fried chicken and waffles (€11).


For a French twist on Basque and northern Spanish flavours, stop at Galerna. A striking tavernesque space, the menu offers simple, tasty dishes; think roast chicken with pico de gallo, piquillos and corn, or roast aubergine with feta and flame-roasted yellow peppers. Two courses come to €21; either an entrée and main, or main and dessert.


Located in the 8th arrondissement, Mandoobar is a Korean dumpling bar. Mandoos can be steamed, boiled, fried or deep-fried, and are served with a variety of fillings. While Mandoobar offers more than just dumplings, these are the star of the show: grab a plate of 10 and a dessert of fresh, homemade ice cream for no more than €18.

Read our Paris city guide for the best places to eat, drink, shop and stay

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