Tango, tacos, arepas, olé! The City of Light has a new flavor—and it speaks with a Spanish accent.
The salsa and tango dancers who liven up the banks of the Seine on summer evenings will be back in June. But in the meantime, you can feel the Latin mood in Paris year-round, thanks to a boom in Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese food. Now these restaurants are among the hottest places in town, where you can rub shoulders with in-the-know locals (and take a break from the French food).
There was a time when Latin restaurants were practically nonexistent in Paris. Then a few years ago the taqueria Candelaria opened in the Marais with a small counter and four tables. In a room hidden behind the kitchen is a bar and lounge that has become an insider hangout for drinks and dancing. (Colin Field—the legendary bartender at the Hemingway Bar who was on leave from the Ritz during its renovation—mixed drinks there one night.)
Since then, a host of Latin spots have opened all over town. You’ll see a particular concentration in the Ninth Arrondissement. Les Grands d’Espagne is a Spanish fine-foods store that sells charcuterie, wine, paella rice, Manzanilla olive oil, and exceptional pata negra ham (it’s better than the jambon de Bayonne at the French place down the block).
On Rue Notre-Dame de Lorette sits Ají Dulce (arepas $7–$10), a Venezuelan restaurant that opened last August with a façade painted bright lime green. It specializes in arepas, the thick, cornmeal-based pancakes stuffed with meat or vegetables. Chef-owners Luis Alfredo Machado and Daniela Baland Aldrey started their business cooking on a food truck in a working-class Paris suburb. Now their counter and handful of seats are almost always full; those not lucky enough to find a spot line up patiently to get their arepas to go.
La Compagnie du Café opened next door that same month; it roasts, grinds, and serves coffee from Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador. And on Rue Henry Monnier, nearby in getting-chicer-all-the-time SoPi (for South of Pigalle) is the restaurant and wine bar Luz Verde (entrées $5–$59). Opened by two veterans of the popular bistro Frenchie, it serves tuna ceviche; tacos with lamb, chicken, pork, chorizo, or vegetables; and frozen margaritas and orange-and- lime-based sangritas. It’s always packed, so diners who can’t get in might try the empanadas at the adjacent Clasico Argentino, the restaurant that brought the South American specialty to Paris. (There are now more than a dozen empanada joints in the city.)
For a shopping detour, head to Tienda Esquipulas on Rue Houdon, a few blocks away. Owner Ana Carrillo brings in a delightful assortment of items from Mexico and Guatemala, including bandannas, colorful plastic tote bags, earrings with portraits of Frida Kahlo, and notebooks with vintage images of Lotería, the popular Mexican card game.
Elsewhere in the city, you’ll find El Nopal (3 Rue Eugène Varlin; entrées $3–$9), a hole-in-the-wall Mexican takeout place on the edge of the Canal St.-Martin that’s popular with the hipsters of the 10th Arrondissement. In the Latin Quarter, Nossa Churrasqueira, a Portuguese rotisserie, might just sell the best churrasco-style chicken in the city, and its pastel de nata, a traditional Lisboan egg tart, melts in the mouth.
Down the street from the French National Assembly, on the Boulevard St.-Germain, the Maison de l’Amérique Latine is where Latin American culture, gastronomy, politics, and diplomacy come together in two 18th-century mansions. It hosts art exhibitions, films, and lectures on a range of subjects. But its best-kept secret is the cozy bar (entrées $10–$15). It offers a range of traditional dishes, including quesadillas, Argentinean steak grilled a la plancha, and a ne selection of Chilean wines—something that’s hard to find in most Parisian shops. The place doesn’t advertise, and there is no sign for the restaurant at the entrance. You just have to know.