The battle for gastronomic supremacy between Lyon and Paris has long been waged. Sure, Paris has the tower, the museums, the shops, and myriad eateries in every neighborhood, but it’s Lyon that’s top when it comes to food, with the highest ratio of restaurants to people in the whole of France.
Unique to Lyon is the bouchon – a traditional bistro dishing up 100% Lyonnaise food. Think herring and potatoes soused in oil, sausages in all their guises, chunky terrines, lentils and pork, juicy chicken and buttery rich apple tarts – simple home-style cooking at its rustic best, washed down with a glass or two of Beaujolais.
This is, after all, the wine’s heartland. In fact, in Lyon the third Thursday of November sees a serious celebration of the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau – the new season’s wine. Come midnight on the Wednesday, the Place Bellecour is alive with music, fireworks, and people hanging out to taste the new vintage. It’s an event that’s been dubbed “the Beaujolympics.”
In addition to its down-to-earth eating establishments, Lyon has its stellar performers. Veteran super-chef Paul Bocuse, a proud local, has his Michelin 3-star restaurant here. (He also runs a string of brasseries, so the great man’s tastes are available to all pockets.) As revered as Bocuse are the nearby Côtes du Rhône vineyards, home to the famed Condrieu, Château Grillet, Saint Joseph, and Côteaux de l’Hermitage wines.
The French passion for food is a huge part of life in Paris, with bistros and regional restaurants, from modest to upscale, proudly flying the French flag. Also on offer are Japanese, North African, Caribbean, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine, as well as that from every part of the Mediterranean. And, of course, Paris is the headquarters of haute cuisine
You can spend a lot of money on food in Paris without even trying. And without a recommendation, finding a good-value eatery can be hit and (mostly) miss. The city is a tourist mecca and prices are heavily inflated in popular areas, where the food rarely corresponds to the bill.
Getting There and Around
TGV trains run regularly from Paris to Lyon. Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport is 16 miles (25 km) from the town center. A shuttle bus runs every 20 minutes. To get around Lyon city center, take trains, trams, or buses. Bicycle rental is another option.
Where to Eat
Head for the atmospheric La Meunière bouchon for its Lyonnaise salad buffet table, including cervelle de canut (cream cheese with shallots and herbs), shredded beef with lentils, and Beaujolais drawn straight from the cask. The Michelin 2-star Nicolas Le Bec serves an original take on regional and French classics: pigeon cooked in Dijon mustard, poached quince with fresh figs and almond cream.
When to Go
Try to visit in June or September; July and August get very crowded
Budget per Day for Two
If you eat in bouchons and stay in a mid-range hotel, expect to spend US$260 per day. Any splurges on Michelin-starred restaurants will significantly add to the expense.
Sample the lemon verbena or strawberry and basil macaroons at Sève. And then, sustained by coussins (pillows of almond paste filled with chocolate ganache), roam the charming passageways of Vieux Lyon and salute the city and its cuisine from one of the floating bars on the banks of the Rhône.