Your Glossary of the 9 Different Types of French Restaurants
Of course the French have a million names for a place where you buy and eat food—it’s just so engrained in their culture. In fact, dining in France is an art of categorization: A restaurant is not simply a restaurant but a specific type of eatery designed to satiate your specific craving. Here, the nine categories of French restaurants. Study up.
All those French people walking around with baguettes under their arms? They bought them fresh out of the oven at a boulangerie, the French word for bakery. Here, you’ll find crusty breads, and vionesserie, that is, buttery pastries like croissants and pain au chocolat. Most boulangeries sell espresso to sip while you sit down with your breakfast, some sell pre-made sandwiches (jambon et beurre, i.e., ham and butter), quiches and other savory or semi-sweet treats you can take home or on a picnic.
This is where the really sweet stuff is: macarons, cream puffs (choux), eclairs, tartes and more pastries specific to each patisserie. In Paris, several patisseries extend beyond the classic French dessert items, offering international riffs on traditional patisserie fare, such as chocolate chip cookies at Mokonuts, green tea and black sesame flavored Japanese-French treats at Sadaharu Aoki and the artistic desserts at Pierre Hermé.
Dating back to the 17th century, cafés are a communal meeting place at quite literally any time of day. Serving both coffee (espresso) and booze, cafés are primarily for drinking at, though many offer meals throughout the day (hold out for a proper restaurant). Iconic for their outdoor terraces with outward-facing chairs, French cafés, especially in Paris, are a place to see and be seen.
A bistrot (bistro) is a small and often family-owned (historically, a husband would cook and a wife would run the dining room) restaurant, that is, not managed by a high-powered chef or restaurant group. It’s that spot in your neighborhood you can rely on for solid, comforting food at the end of a day. This is where you’ll find classic no-frills French fare, like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignonne, pot-au-feu, cassoulet and several more French dishes with less renown outside France.
While oft confused with the humble bistro, the brasserie is its total opposite, outgoing, boisterous sibling. Derived from an archaic word for “brewery,” a French brasserie offers a convivial ambiance to imbibe, dine and galavant the night away. Brasserie menus can be similar to those at bistrots, also typically serving shareable items like oysters, charcuterie and daily rotating plats du jour.
Yet another purveyor of typical French fare, bouillons are usually historic (that is, no one’s really opening bouillons today, but they’re still in business from decades past) and shadow in popularity to brasseries and bistrots, thanks to their humble origins. Aimed to serve good food at good prices, bouillons, in a way, were the first fast-casual joints, though, because this is France, they’re not offering takeout but rather satisfying, low-priced dishes, like leeks vinaigrette, soups and stews. In Paris, a complete meal can be enjoyed for 10 euro at the Bouillon Chartier.
Literally a butcher shop, you’re not eating here but rather grabbing meat to eat at home. And while most cuts are raw, several boucheries offer ready-to-eat sausages and charcuterie, as well as, on occasion, slow-cooked meats like rotisserie chickens.
Just like its root word, fromage, a fromagerie is indeed a cheese shop and only a cheese shop. Here you’ll find all the legendarily creamy wheels of French Brie, Époisses, chèvre and hundreds of other types of cheese. Don’t be shy and ask a cheesemonger to help find your new favorites.
Translating to market, the marché is typically an open-air (though it can be covered) farmers market where vendors sell local produce, eggs, dairy products, spices, preserved foods and more.