France in general is a food and wine lover’s orgy – the kind of place where, after two weeks or so, your body is going, “Please, for the love of God, STOP.”
But oh, what a way to overindulge.
Considered the gastronomic capital of the world, France’s third largest city has both Michelin-starred restaurants and hole-in-the-walls that are fairly astounding in quality. You can spend hundreds of dollars at glamorous, two and three Michelin-star restaurants (of which there are more per capita than anywhere in the world)…or enjoy a $35 three-course prix-fixe at a small, Old Town eatery that will absolutely floor you.
The top restaurants, like legendary chef Paul Bocuse’s three-Michelin star Auberge du Pont de Collonges, are well-known and easily Google-able. So, in this article, we’ll focus on how to dine like a French queen on a peasant’s budget.
For starters, there are the wonderful “bouchons” – homey bistro-style restaurants, most of which have been family-run for generations. These are where you will find prix-fixe lunch and dinner meals with extraordinarily inventive cuisine, most of which run about $25 at lunch and $35 at dinner for three (sometimes four) courses.
- Like everywhere in France, don’t rush in for a 30-minute meal; these are two-hour affairs meant to be appreciated and lingered over, even at lunch. They’re proud of their food, and they don’t want you wolfing it down like you’re sitting behind a steering wheel.
- Be adventurous. Some of the dishes I’ve tried – lamb’s feet, sweetbreads – are things I would never have considered at home. Sure, you can order chicken breast and salmon, but why not get a story out of it?
Two of our favorites in Old Town are:
[Paul Bocuse’s famous food hall]
Then, there’s Paul Bocuse’s food hall, a farmer’s market on steroids, where you can get some of the most exquisite cheeses, petit fours, etc. imaginable. Many foods there are like little works of art. It’s a great place to have a quick bite – grab some gruyere, bread and wine – in an atmosphere of locals.
Then, there are the wonderful small-group tasting tours, which generally run 3-4 hours, and include a number of stops at Old Town eateries. (Lyon’s medieval Old Town is insanely charming.) If you’re limited on time and want to have a chance to sample about four different restaurants, this is the way to go. Here, you’ll enjoy items like French cheeses, meats, casseroles, desserts and wine. Arrive hungry. A big part of these tours is getting to meet and connect with the owners and experience their passion for food.
Here are two excellent ones:
About $80 –
About $100-175, depending on the number in your group (great if, say, 4 or 6 of you want to do a private tour)
[Sebastien, of Lyon is Yours Tours, is in the middle]
And finally, there are the privately guided city tours that include a meal or two – like Lyon is Yours Tours, run by a guide named Sebastien. A former flight attendant for Air France, he’s a Lyon native who speaks flawless English, is super warm and knowledgeable, and very gay-friendly. On a full-day tour of Lyon, Sebastien included lunch at the Restaurant Fourviere, adjacent to the Basilica Fourviere. Sitting atop Lyon’s highest hill, their outdoor patio had stunning views. (Sadly, it recently closed.) Lyon is Yours also offers half and full-day wine tours (Sebastien’s family is in the wine business).
If you’re taking a Rhone river cruise (like Brand g’s Provence to Burgundy cruise in 2020), you’ll discover that of all the charming cities and villages you hit along the way – and there are MANY – Lyon is the one you’ll want to return to for a full-fledged vacation. There’s a reason so many Lyon natives return to their birthplace; like the mafia, just when you think you’re out, it pulls you back in.