Rue Saint-Anne has always had a little bit of an independent streak. In 1822, the headquarters of the Nicolas wine shop, the first company to sell wine from a bottle, opens at #53. Until then, wine was only consumed in bars or cabaret houses. In the late 1960s, the gay, underground night club scene takes hold on Rue Saint-Anne with the opening of “Le Sept” at #7 and” The Colony” at #13. “The Bronx” opens at #11 in 1973 and is Paris’ first official gay bar because it banned women altogether and had a back room for rendezvous. Inspired by the gay club scene in New York, “The Bronx” eschewed the gilded decor of the past in favor of a grungy, minimalist look. During the day, the street kept a conservative appearance with a few banks, fire station and office buildings, and the bars operated without signage. Between 8 and 9 pm, restaurants (concealed behind shutters or heavy curtains) would start serving and the bars would open from 11 pm until dawn.
In the late 1970s, the gay community moved towards the Marais in the newly cleared areas behind the Pompidou Center. Rue Saint-Anne became abandoned in the 1980s but was re-populated by Japanese restaurant entrepreneurs in the 1990s. Today, the street has become a veritable Little Tokyo in the heart of Paris with a plethora of Japanese restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores and shops. It may be the one of the most ethnically diverse area of Paris, where tourists, immigrants and native French sit in close proximity to sample the cuisine. The lines often snake down the street for the most popular restaurants. I watched two French men attempt to pick up their pretty Japanese waitress in a near epic language fail, and I wondered if the minority landscape of Paris might be changing before our eyes.
Here’s a “best of” the restaurants on Rue Saint-Anne. Each restaurant has a slightly different specialty:
Kunitoraya (39, Rue Saint-Anne): For udon (the large, round white noodles) in soup bowls with tasty additions such as tempura (shrimp fried in batter), duck, or tofu. Also offers tasty side dishes, which they call tapas, adopting the Spanish term. Try the tofu tapas, looks just like how my grandmother used to serve it. The udons are about 13 euros.
Yakiniku (11 bis, Rue Saint-Anne): This place is sort of a mix between traditional Korean barbecue and Japanese food, due to the do-it-yourself grill and the offerings of kimchi (pickled vegetables). For 12.5 to 13 euros, you get salad, two spring rolls, and choice of meats to grill. But unlike Korean barbecue, the meat isn’t marinated first so a sauce is offered
Aki (11, Rue Saint-Anne): I was pleased with my katsu don (deep fried pork cutlet), and it came with a generous helping of rice and eggs. The soba was a bit less impressive but the ability to mix and match items for lunch was great. There same owners run the boulangerie (bakery) just across the street which serves traditional Japanese pastries. Yum!
Higuma (32 bis, Rue Saint-Anne): Though Higuma always has long lines, it’s really a Chinese-style Japanese restaurant. It has an open kitchen in the front, serving up stir fry in woks, dumplings (gyoza) and more. It’s a fun experience and my mother & I had a good time speaking in Mandarin to all the cooks and waiters.
Jujiya (46, Rue Saint-Anne): An awesome Japanese grocery store, stock piled with those familiar brightly packaged products. Also in Jujiya is an area to eat, with ready-made and made to order foods.
There are definitely some higher-end, traditional-style restaurants on this street which will be the subject of another post–the focus here is on the affordable eats on Rue Saint-Anne. Rue Saint-Anne is nearby the Paris Opera House.
Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.