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The Bouchons of Lyon

Discovering the Hidden Gems of France's Dining Mecca

By Rion Klawinski

For a great meal at a reasonable price forego Lyon’s expensive 3-star restaurants in favor of its intimate bouchons, traditional Lyonnais restaurants that blend regional cuisine and local wines into a quintessential taste of Burgundy.

A number of bouchons cluster north of Place Bellecour, France’s largest public square, and on La Presqu’île, the narrow peninsula formed by the confluence of the Soâne and Rhône rivers in the heart of Lyon. In Vieux Lyon, the city’s historic district that climbs the hills on the opposite bank of the Soâne, bouchons hide in the quiet side streets and dot the length of rue St. Jean.

Most of the customers are Lyonnais locals, even in the tourist areas, so prices remain low. Daily specials, called Les Suggestions, are chalked on a board in front of most bouchons. Reasonably priced house wine, usually a Beaujolais or a Côtes-du-Rhône, is served in le pot, a slender bottle anchored by a thick bottom.

An up-to-date list of bouchons is available from the tourist office in Place Bellecour. Any bouchon you choose will probably be fine. However, here are a few favorites:

Le Laurencin, at 24, rue Saint-Jean, stands out among the many choices in Vieux Lyon. This cozy bouchon lyonnais, with the comfortable feel of a friendly kitchen, is open seven days a week for both lunch and dinner. I recommend the salad with warmed goat cheese and cuisse de canard, duck breast in a rich wine sauce.

On La Presqu’île, Cafe Comptoir de Lyon at No. 4 rue Tupin, a quiet, pedestrian-only lane leading off the broad and busy rue de la Republique, serves typical bouchon fare and a daily fish special. It’s a favorite of businessmen for an after-work meal.

Along the same street but closer to the Soâne is the slightly more expensive Café du Jura at 25 rue Tupin. A little farther to the north on La Presqu’île, near the Opera de Lyon, Le Garet, at 7 rue du Garet and Chez Georges Le Petit, across the street at No. 8, face each other.

Most bouchons offer outdoor seating. Traditional in more than food, many bouchons observe the summer holidays in France: A number of them close for the latter part of July and either a part or all of August.

RION KLAWINSKI, who took his first trip to France in 1971 and now lives in Chicago with Susan, his wife and traveling companion.

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