Although the 13th arrondissement on the whole is a fairly non-descript district of Paris, the Butte aux Cailles neighborhood is a clear exception, with its high concentration of bars, pubs, and restaurants, many of them boasting open air terraces in the warm weather. This small and residential neighborhood is located at the far southeast corner of the City of Lights, just below the Place d’Italie. That this quartier is a far trek from the center of town is, in fact, a blessing in disguise given that its narrow, cobblestone streets are frequented almost entirely by its Parisian residents.
Admittedly, for an expat or a visitor trying to experience Paris to the fullest, this may not be a weekly or even monthly destination, but it’s worth a periodic visit if only to have a more comprehensive view of the many different Parisian social scenes, this one being the perfect combination of busy and peaceful. It serves as the perfect smaller-scale alternative for dinner and/or drinks with friends, away from the crowded tourist traps and Anglophone pubs of certain central Paris neighborhoods.
Nearly all of the action in this little neighborhood can be found on the aptly named rue de la Butte aux Cailles. In the spring and summer its bars overflow onto the sidewalk with young Parisians drinking from plastic cups. If you’re looking for drinks and/or dinner, simply check out the various menus posted in the doorway of each establishment and pick one that suits you (most restaurants are French). Otherwise consider trying out a few of my personal favorites:
Auberge de la Butte
8 rue de la Butte aux Cailles
Perhaps the most economical choice of cafe, the Auberge de la Butte is one of the smaller and quieter establishments on rue de la Butte aux Cailles. You’re in luck if you go between 5pm and 8pm as their happy hour special includes pints of beer for 4.50 euros and cocktails for 5 euros. As you sit on the sidewalk and sip your drink, enjoy the sights and sounds of the small and peaceful park across the street, often with children playing inside. The service is friendly and accommodating and you can even indulge in cheese or meat platters to whet your appetite for dinner. However, I strongly advise against pre-dinner snacking should you decide to try out this next restaurant…
30 rue des Cinq Diamants
Just two blocks away, this Basque style restaurant is already an institution in certain Parisian circles, and is perhaps the one spot in la Butte aux Cailles where you will, in fact, find an international crowd. It has been lauded in various publications including the New York Times, and with good reason. Chez Gladines specializes in big portions and small prices, and as a result there are constantly patrons lining up out the door. Upon arriving, go inside to the bar and put your name on the list. After that, you and your friends may have a significant wait to be seated (on average 30-60 minutes), but the wait goes surprisingly fast while you’re sipping on a glass of beer, wine, sangria, etc, and standing on the sidewalk chatting with friends. However, if you can’t possibly imagine waiting that long to eat, plan to arrive at 7pm sharp when the restaurant opens and you should be seated immediately.
When the waiter steps out the door and yells your name, follow him into the restaurant where you’ll be enveloped by the constant buzz of fun-loving customers enjoying their copious meals. It is not uncommon for various groups to be seated at the same table given the tight quarters, and that, plus the inexpensive wine, means you just may leave the restaurant with more friends than when you arrived. The waiters are friendly and good-humored but somehow continue to move at light speed to serve hundreds of loyal customers.
The menu is simple but fairly long, and includes classic French staples such as various steak, veal, and duck dishes, all of which are in the 11-13 euro range. Otherwise you can choose from the list of Basque specialties (9-12 euros) like chicken, tuna, or omelettes prepared with a Basque sauce made from tomatoes, green and red peppers, and onions.
If you’re looking for something lighter, don’t be fooled by the salads (all of which cost under 10 euros), which are not starters, but rather enormous portions of lettuce, ham, goat cheese, eggs, and potatoes depending on which salad you order. Whichever dish you end up ordering, consider washing it down with a bottle of Bordeaux or Cotes du Rhone, which can cost as little as 14 euros.
Just remember, people don’t go to Chez Gladines for top quality cuisine, but rather for the comfort food, the lively ambiance, and of course for that nice low number that appears on the piece of scrap paper (your bill) delivered by the waiter after your meal.