Saint-Germain-des-Prés can be touristy, but it’s also home to fantastic cafes and shops ranging from the authentically Parisian to the avant-garde.
This is the heart of Paris’s Left Bank, the literary center of the capital. Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots were centers of literary life of Paris in the 1930s to 1960s—and they’re still going strong. But modern Germanopratins (the wonderful name for inhabitants of this district!) are heading elsewhere for their coffee and food.
Just where are they going, exactly? Most likely to one of these Saint-Germain-des-Prés restaurants. Here’s where you’ll find some of the best bites this side of the Seine.
1. Boot Cafe
Boot Cafe actually started up in the Marais—in an old shoe repair shop, hence the name—before opening its second branch in Saint Germain. It’s a cafe that has a much more Anglo feeling than most in Paris. Pastries here include brownies, banana bread, homemade granola, carrot cake and even scones with jam and cream.
The coffee is excellent (from Belleville Brulerie, in northern Paris), and if the prices are a little on the high side, that’s par for the course in the area.
KGB is a great place to challenge your taste buds. Its contemporary, Zen-style interior and simple white plates are intended to focus your mind not on the fripperies of design, but rather on what you’re eating. And you won’t be bored: the food is innovative and often unusual.
There’s a lot of Asian influence—fish comes with yuzu and galanga butter—and pleasantly surprising combinations including lovage, lemon and harissa sauce for hake, chimichurri and tapenade with pork, and even a miso caramel with rice pudding.
Even better, you can try a large number of different dishes by picking a number of “Zors d’oeuvres”—starters that come together like mezze or tapas—or choosing an eight- or ten-course tasting menu (€55 or €66). Portions are small, but the variety is immense.
By the way, there are no Russian spies here. The letters stand for Kitchen Galerie Bis (“number 2”)—big brother Ze Kitchen Gallery is just up the street at number 4.
Both Boot Cafe and KGB represent modern, cosmopolitan Paris, but the city’s traditions still flourish in places like this bistro (3 carrefour de l’Odeon). It’s standing room only at lunchtime, and usually elbows-in-ribs crowded. The bread bucket and huge slab of butter are communal—there’s no pretension here, just excellent provisions.
Order a glass or two of good wine and dig into what’s perhaps best described as “Parisian tapas,” such as fried ham croquettes or a plate of mixed charcuterie. The financier, Yves Camdeborde, has several other bars with the same ethos: L’Avant-Comptoir de la Mer next door serving oysters and fish, the original Le Comptoir du Relais at number 9 (which has unfortunately gotten a bit touristy these days), and l’Avant-Comptoir du Marché (14 rue Lobineau).
Poilane is one of Paris’s great bakeries. But unlike many, it’s got a particular niche in sourdough, with its round “miche” loaves made from only four ingredients: stone-ground flour, sourdough, water, and Guérande sea salt. Other breads include rye, rye-raisin, and walnut—our favorite for accompanying creamy Mont d’Or or Brie cheeses.
Got a sweet tooth? Then choose between the apple tarts, with roughly chopped apple in a swirled-edged pastry case, or the “punitions” (literally, “punishments!”) butter cookies. Though Poilane is primarily a bakery (and counter staff can be impatient with the indecisive, if you’re holding up the line) it has a cafe next door where you can rest your feet and grab a café-croissant.
5. La Grande Epicerie
The Big Grocer’s (yes, Grande Epicerie does have more of a ring to it) is part of Le Bon Marché, founded in 1838 and still one of the city’s leading department stores. Simply put, it’s quite amazing.
While many Paris foodie spots excel with a pared-down presentation and intense focus on a single specialty, La Grande Epicerie turns the dial up to 11: a fish counter with species you didn’t even know existed, a crazily huge variety of pates and terrines, and—probably our favorite display—dried mushrooms. Ceps, morel, chanterelle, trompettes de la mort, girolles—they’ve got it all. They even have a pretty good range of French craft beers.
This might not be the most efficient way to shop for daily essentials, but it’s a great place to just go and gawk at the incredible wealth of French culinary tradition.
6. Patrick Roger
Ferrero Rocher has nothing on Patrick Roger’s eponymous chocolates. And yes, this is technically a chocolate shop and not a restaurant, but no gastronomic jaunt through Saint-Germain-des-Prés would be complete without a stop here.
Roger is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France—literally, “Best Worker of France,” a prestigious title for which a “master work” has to be submitted—and a revolutionary chocolatier. Flavors include Sichuan peppercorn, lime and lemongrass, and caramels far more salty than most chocolatiers would dare.
As a bonus, they come in beautiful boxes and gorgeous shopping bags that make them the perfect gift.