Paris Fast Food

Not everyone who visits Paris is interested in food. A lot of visitors, in fact, are interested in just about everything in Paris except fancy French cuisine. Some people prefer adventure in all respects except meals. And one question that guide books for Paris never seem to address is: Where can one find plain, fast food in Paris? Nothing traditional, nothing local, nothing fancy, nothing expensive—just a burger and fries. Well, I figured I’d answer the question here on my web site.

I don’t give locations or telephone numbers because most of these restaurants have multiple locations throughout Paris.

The Major Players

First of all, it’s easy to find a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris; they are everywhere (including Disneyland Paris and the Louvre Museum). The food is practically the same as you’ll find in any other McDonald’s in the United States, or in the world. The layout of the restaurants is the same; the manner of ordering and paying is the same. There are virtually no surprises. Service is often slower than it would be in the U.S., and the level of cleanliness often leaves something to be desired (except in company-owned restaurants). It is reassuringly familiar, inexpensive, and fast. It’s also surprising to see that most customers are French, and that they buy huge amounts of food—enough to feed the entire family; I have even seen teachers bringing in entire classes of elementary-school students (they reserved in advance!). Given how loudly the French complain about American fast food and its presumed responsibility for the decline of civilization, this is quite amusing to watch.

The only difference I really see between American McDonald’s stores and French stores in terms of food is that the French stores sell beer. Like Disneyland Paris, McDonald’s in France has apparently discovered that the French are too addicted to alcohol to conceive of any meal—even a hamburger—without it. And indeed, I have seen people on many occasions ordering just a beer, and then picking something else at random off the menu to go with it (since, under the type of liquor license that stores like McDonald's have, they must must sell some sort of food with alcohol).

The French often refer to McDonald's as the MacDo /makdo/, since it's hard for them to say the complete name. And French people occasionally e-mail me to complain about this page, claiming I don't know what I'm talking about. Well, I've been here a long time, and I'm sorry if the truth hurts!

Another major player, and probably the biggest competitor to McDonald’s, is Quick (prounounced /kwik/ by the French). Cleanliness, service, and food quality are about the same. It is an attractive chain of hamburger restaurants, very much like McDonald's; they are almost interchangeable. As with McDonald's, company-owned restaurants are always cleaner and better operated. Overall, I'd say that your choice would be a matter of personal preference. The food at Quick is essentially the same as that at McDonald's; Quick’s equivalent of the Big Mac is the Giant, and it tastes very much the same (Quick's burgers even contain bone chips, just like the ones at McDonald's). Little Magic Boxes (similar to Happy Meals) are available for the kiddies (Quick doesn’t have the financial resources of McDonald’s and so the toys inside aren't as fancy, but they do their best). McDonald's restrooms are generally free; at some Quick stores (and a minority of McDonald's), they are digitally locked and you can’t use them until after you’ve bought something. McDonald’s has drive-ins outside of Paris, but this is rare with Quick.

Burger King once had a presence in Paris, but then it pulled out of France. In 2013, however, it returned, with its first restaurant at the Saint Lazare train station. This has been great news for Whopper fans.

The Others

If you like more specialized fare, KFC has a few restaurants in Paris, notably near the Forum des Halles, as well as at least one other restaurant on the place d’Italie. The Forum area is one of many that hosts a selection of mostly American fast-food restaurants, including McDonald’s, Laura Todd (cookies), the aforementioned KFC, Quick, Pizza Hut, Häagen-Dazs, etc. There were once several Baskin-Robbins stores in the city—near the Mabillon Métro station, near Montparnasse, etc., but I think they have all folded now; too bad, since I miss French Vanilla ice cream (although they never had that flavor here in France, anyway, strange as that may seem). Ben & Jerry’s is a recent addition, with three stores in Paris, although some have opened and closed, so I'm not sure what kind of business they are doing—the one near Mabillon seems to be doing okay. Häagen-Dazs is everywhere: the Forum, several in the Latin Quarter, one on the Champs-Élysées, and so on—like McDonald’s, they appeal strongly to the wannabes. I stopped going to the Häagen-Dazs on the rue de la Huchette because I have reason to believe that they are reusing their spoons.

Starbucks Coffee opened multiple stores in 2004 throughout Paris, and now they seem to be on every corner, even in places like the Louvre. Their prices are extremely high, but they have a good wannabe crowd, and if you like their style of coffee, I guess price is no object. They charge nearly €5 for a large hot chocolate, and they raised their prices by about 25% only a few months after opening. They seem to be moderately clean, and very much in the Starbucks style, but there's almost always a waiting line, and they often lock emergency exits (like too many other places in Paris). Their raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake is pretty good, and I like their vanilla frappuchinos, too (I can't stand coffee, oddly enough).

Subway has stores in Paris, too, at various locations (the first one I spotted was across from the Gare du Nord train station). I've eaten there from time to time, the sandwiches are quite good.

Standard Restaurants

There are more traditional chain restaurants. Pizza Hut has several locations, plus a couple of Pizza Express take-out locations and the usual pizza home delivery. Unlike American Pizza Huts, the French restaurants are true sit-down restaurants with good pizza, good food generally, a clean atmosphere, and often a waiting line to get in on busy evenings. Near the Opera, there is the Paris Hard Rock Cafe, with its unhealthy but tasty food and live music that is loud enough to rapidly damage your hearing. There was a Planet Hollywood on the Champs-Élysées, but it closed in May of 2008. There is also a Rainforest Cafe at Disneyland Paris, and it is very popular, with tasty (but high-calorie) food.

There are restaurants that serve American food and Tex-Mex, including several at Disney Village at Disneyland Paris, along with the hotel restaurants at the resort. Real Tex-Mex is very hard to find in Paris, however, but the Indiana Cafe, El Rancho, and ChiChi’s chains around the city try. There was a chain of bagel shops called the Bagel Place at a few locations around town, such as near the Forum and in the passage Choiseul, but I don't know if it's still in business. There's an American Diner in the Latin Quarter, which some Americans like, although I haven't had a chance to try it. There's a soul food restaurant, Chez Haynes, up by Pigalle, but I haven't tried it and I haven't heard from any locals who have tried it (although it apparently has received good reviews).

There are many pizza places that will deliver, including Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Speed Rabbit, and Pizza Girls (so called because all its delivery people are girls—try to get away with that in the U.S.!). Be prepared to speak French. I prefer Speed Rabbit, mainly because there is one close to where I live.

The food court at the Louvre Museum has a selection of small fast-food places selling different types of cuisine. Since the Apple Store moved in, the food court is half the size, three times as expensive, and all its restaurants are operated by the same Italian roadside diner conglomerate (Autogril). It is not actually in the museum, but in the underground Carrousel du Louvre shopping center next door to the museum. Although it's expensive and the choices are limited, it's cheaper and easier than the other restaurants in the area. The one bright spot is that they added a McDonalds to the food court when they remodeled it, which is probably the best choice of all for food at the Louvre, if you're just hungry (as most people tend to become while at the Louvre).

Lina’s Sandwiches, with several locations around Paris, makes excellent, fresh sandwiches of all kinds at a reasonable price, under squeaky-clean conditions. Unfortunately, they seem to be open only during banking hours.

French and European Restaurants

The French aren’t very good at fast food, but there have been a few successes. Flunch is a chain that serves food cafeteria-style, and offers a good selection of simple, reasonably palatable French dishes at a reasonable price. Pomme de Pain is a chain of tiny restaurants that serves appetizing sandwiches of all types. La Patata, near the Opera Garnier, serves huge baked potatoes with virtually any kind of topping you want (including none at all). Pizza Pino serves moderately tasty pizzas and some locations are open into the wee hours. Bistro Romain serves moderately good Italian food. Paul serves tasty baked goods (butter croissants, breads, etc.) and sandwiches, as does La Brioche Dorée. Hippopotamus is a popular chain that serves mostly meat; there are many locations, and they are open late (at least part of their success is said to be due to the short skirts of the waitresses and the business-lunch crowd). Chez Bébert serves good, traditional Middle-Eastern cuisine (especially couscous—granular pasta with sauce, vegetables, lamb, beef, and spicy sausage). L’Alsace on the Champs serves food from Alsace, such as sauerkraut and sausage; they are open 24 hours a day. Au Pied de Cochon near the Forum serves pig's feet, if you like that sort of thing. Bofinger near the Bastille is pricey but fast and quite good; they used to have a chain of cheaper but still good restaurants, but those closed.

In summary, all of the above restaurants will provide you with a decent meal, at a reasonable price, without a long wait. You don’t have to spend $80 a person and three hours a day eating in Paris—the residents of the city certainly don’t!

Do-It-Yourself Food

If you are staying in a furnished apartment or one of the increasingly popular apartment-hotels in the city (which provide fully- equipped kitchens), you can buy and prepare your own food. If you want to do this quickly, be advised that France is a leader in top- quality frozen meals. The largest chain seems to be Picard, with multiple locations in Paris, all of which feature long rows of freezers with zillions of ready-made meals that you can just pop into a microwave (usually); the quality of the food is amazingly high, compared to what you might normally expect in the U.S. for this type of food. Many supermarket chains also offer microwavable dinners that you need only keep refrigerated; here again, quality is astonishingly high—many of these little meals are delicious!

There are small stores selling comfort foods from home for Americans near the infamous rue Cler (Real McCoy) and off the rue Saint Paul (Thanksgiving). These are the places you go to buy Pop-Tarts or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Sidewalk Food

In some parts of Paris, you can buy food ready to eat right on the street. The most common offering is the classic French crêpe (like a very large, very thin pancake). You can buy a sweet crêpe with jam, sugar, butter, honey, Nutella (a thick chocolate spread made of milk chocolate and hazelnut purée), etc., or a savory crêpe made with cheese, ham, spinach, egg, and so on. Usually the crêpe is made right in front of you on a circular iron griddle, and is covered with your choice of toppings and folded up to make it easy to eat. Crêpes are very tasty snacks. Other places will sell you sandwiches or ice cream.

A Few Warnings

There is one restaurant I can’t recommend: Fouquet’s, on the Champs-Élysées. I was assaulted by security guards of the restaurant in April of 2000, right on the sidewalk in front of the building, incredible as that seems. Given that, plus a statement by the director of the restaurant (as quoted by Reuters) to the effect that they won’t let unaccompanied women into the restaurant because they might be prostitutes, I’d be extremely wary about actually entering the place (it’s dangerous enough just to walk in front of it!). There are plenty of places to get food in Paris, so why take risks?

Chez Clément is a chain of restaurants with very attractive decor and a very nice atmosphere. Unfortunately, the one I tried was disappointing in terms of the actual quality of the food. As a result, I cannot recommend it—although perhaps the location I tried was an exception.

I've noticed McDonald's and Starbucks stores locking their emergency exits during business hours, which—apart from being illegal—seriously endangers store customers. Always verify the state of emergency exits in these restaurants or any popular, crowded restaurant. If they are locked, complain to the management, and if management does not unlock them, eat somewhere else; being caught in the panic of a fire or bomb attack in a crowded restaurant with no exits is a sure ticket to the afterlife. Apparently places like these are more interested in their own convenience than in customer safety.

Both Quick and McDonald's—but especially McDonald's—often reuse food trays without bothering to wash them or even wipe them off. Always complain about this if you see it, as it is very unsanitary. Insist that you be given a clean tray. If you get sauces like ketchup or mayonnaise, always open them, even if you don't use them (this prevents their reuse).

Quick and McDonald's hamburgers have bone chips in them sometimes, so take care with your teeth. Also the Quick restaurant near the top of the Champs-Élysées, was so filthy the last time that I visited it that my boots actually stuck to the floor and were nearly pulled off (I am not exaggerating!). After struggling to get to the counter only to watch the manager berating an employee right in front of me for daring to overfill a soft-drink cup by a few millimeters beyond the fill line, I decided not to return there, and I haven’t been back. The other Quick restaurants seem fine, so it must have been just that one store (or that one manager—he should have paid more attention to hygiene and customer satisfaction, and less attention to making a fast buck).

I stopped going to a Haagen-Dazs in the Latin Quarter after I saw them drop a container of spoons, then scoop them up and take them into a back room instead of throwing them away.

I did see a mouse scampering among (sealed) packages of hamburger buns at the Quick at Montparnasse once. And the general level of kitchen hygiene in many restaurants is poor in France, although there is almost no correlation between the type of restaurant and the condition of the kitchen, so without actually going back there and inspecting things, you never know. I can at least say, however, that I've never become ill after eating anywhere in France.

In summertime, most places in Paris become almost unbearably hot (the city no longer has the cool summers it used to have twenty years ago). Some restaurants have air conditioning, but—in truly French (and European) fashion—they don't bother to turn it on. Before Planet Hollywood went out of business on the Champs in 2008, they were allowing the temperature to rise to the 90s inside the restaurant, even though they had full air conditioning (they claimed it was "broken," but threatened once with losing an entire group if they didn't "fix" it, they somehow had it running in about thirty seconds). McDonald's ran an extensive ad campaign a few years ago in which they claimed that their restaurants were air-conditioned to stay cool, but it was fraudulent, because, although most McDonald's stores have air conditioning, they are too cheap to actually turn it on, making many of the chain's restaurants hot, humidy, smelly, and unhealthy in summer ("would you like sweat on your burger?"). Even when restaurants run air conditioning, it's often set too high, so it gets sticky (the A/C isn't removing humidity) or it is simply still too hot.

One also sees this attitude reflected in other ways. Starbucks are usually air-conditioned; I think they all have A/C, but for the reasons described above, they don't always turn it on, but most do. One of their wannabe competitors, however, the Columbus Cafe, never seems to have any A/C at all, and their restaurants are hellholes in summertime—apparently in their attempt to seem American (the chain is French), these latter cafes weren't willing to embrace the 21st century technology of air conditioning, despite its near-universal presence in warm areas of the U.S.

Last modified on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 22:50:06 UTC
© 2014 Anthony Atkielski. All rights reserved.