Don’t let the name fool you. This is not a coffee house or a café and it is certainly not a restaurant serving French food. Coffee Parisien is actually a quintessential American Diner. If you are craving a classic cheeseburger, club sandwich or real nachos then this is your place. The only thing “Parisien” about Coffee Parisien is that it is full of young, hip, well-heeled Parisians, without any Americans to be found.
We found Coffee Parisien by accident, as we were shopping on the high-end Avenue Victor Hugo and needed to find a place for a late lunch with our two young (and hungry) boys. From Avenue Victor Hugo we walked down a small side street, Rue Gustave Courbet, lined with chic boutique shops. We nearly passed Coffee Parisien, as my wife thought it was a coffee shop, but I remembered that my in-the-know Parisian colleague told me this was the place to go for a burger. So we popped in, just before 2:00 on a Saturday afternoon, to find the place completely packed, and a long line of others ahead of us waiting for a much sought after table. We had to wait nearly 20 minutes to sit down, and a line continued to form until almost 2:30.
When you walk into Coffee Parisien you instantly are walking back into an Americana, with pictures of JFK lining the walls and old-fashioned Coca-Cola signs posted as art. On each table is a place mat with all 44 U.S. presidents, including President Obama. It is actually a nice centerpiece to quiz each other about presidents, including the number assassinated and those who died in office (4 have been assassinated and 4 died in office of natural causes). It reminds me of any diner you might find in the heart of Manhattan, Chicago or the New Jersey Turnpike, except that this is in the center of Paris. Unlike any French restaurant, the kitchen is completely open, like a diner of course, and an L-shaped bar with bar stools offers quicker seating for diners who are alone or in pairs. Even the menu is in English, with French translation in small print under each menu item. The only thing that reminds you of being in Paris, besides the fact that all the patrons are French, is that the tables are all crammed together, as is the custom in small bistros that save precious room by seating everyone together.
The new rave in Paris is a classic burger. Parisians come here for for just that and you will find any decent burger joint in the city is always full, since you can count the number of restaurants offering a real burger on one hand. There are three to four chefs on the grill, cooking freshly ground beef, to order, as burger is king at Coffee Parisien. Other American standbys are worthy, such as nachos, chicken wings and club sandwiches, and you can even order a Caesar salad or chili. But there are no Americans behind the grill, so stick with what people come here for: a hamburger, either with real cheddar cheese (which is not so easy to come by in Paris) or a bacon cheeseburger. Milkshakes can also be ordered with your meal, but Parisians don’t drink shakes with a burger – they have them for dessert.
Don’t expect a mammoth half pound burger on a giant bun. We are in Paris after all, where portions are just large enough to fill you up, not to make your stomach bulge. While you may be disappointed with the “junior” sized bun, the beef is about 6 ounces, which is more than satisfying when topped with onions, lettuce and tomato. A jar of Gulden’s mustard is on each table (you cannot buy Gulden’s in the store and the usual mustard of choice in France is hot and spicy Dijon, not mellow yellow American mustard). Each hamburger is served on a plate with a choice of a potato gallette (like hash browns) or potato wedges (thick cut fries). We opted for the potato wedges, and ordered an extra “assiette des frites” (plate of fries) for my youngest son who refuses to eat just about anything.
One of the real joys of going to a burger place in Paris is to see Parisians eat. They cut their burgers with a fork and knife and pick their burger apart with precision, like a steak. It may take them 20 or more minutes to eat a burger as conversation is requisite. Rarely do you see Parisians indulge themselves and dare to pick up a burger with their bare hands. Even with fries, a fork and knife is the rule. Indeed, the first time we went to an American diner in the 5th arrondissement at Breakfast in America, I saw a grandfather take his grandson for his first burger, and the boy looked thoroughly confused about what to do. He peered at his burger, with the bun open faced, and picked away at it with a knife and fork (the boy must have been five, but French children use real knives, forks and glassware by age 3), leaving the bun untouched. And so it is not surprising to see most Parisians eat their burgers like a steak haché (a plain burger), occasionally slicing at the bun separately, and eating the lettuce, tomato and onion like a salad.
For desserts, American classics such as brownies, apple crumbles, New York cheesecake and sundaes are available, but don’t expect them to match what you’d find in a standard American diner where a cup of Joe can still be bought for a buck. The French are still learning to dumb-down their cuisine in making simple American classics, but Coffee Parisien gets an A for effort in matching the ambiance one would expect to see in any old American diner, and its burgers do satisfy that primal craving for a grilled burger on a toasted bun. In Paris when I think of burgers, I think of Coffee Parisien. Burgers range in price from 11-13.50 Euros, and lunch for four, with drinks and dessert, is approximately 80 Euros (only 20 Euros per person, which is not bad for any restaurant in Paris).
Open seven days a week.
Address: 7 Rue Gustave Courbet, 16th arrondissement