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What To Eat in Lyon: 11 Essential Tips for Food Lovers

July 19, 2018
"President" Bernachon chocolate cake at Paul Bocuse

Every food enthusiast hopes to someday get to Lyon, the city voted as the gastronomic capital of France. It’s also been called the “stomach” of the country—a moniker especially notable since France is one of the most food-centric countries in the world.

The culinary riches of Lyon

Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers in the fertile Rhônes-Alpes region of France, Lyon is the birthplace of legendary Chef Paul Bocuse, affectionately called Monsieur Paul. Twice named “Chef of the Century” by the Culinary Institute of America, Bocuse (who died earlier this year at the age of 92) is credited with popularizing nouvelle cuisine. His namesake restaurant at Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or (about 20 minutes from the center of Lyon, by Uber or taxi) has held three Michelin stars since 1965.

Mural of a young Paul Bocuse at his restaurant in Collonges, in the house where he was born and died.

Mural of a young Paul Bocuse at his restaurant in Collonges, in the house where he was born and died.

Irene and Jerry at the Paul Bocuse restaurant in Collonges

Irene and Jerry at the Paul Bocuse restaurant in Collonges

Returning to Bocuse Restaurant for the second meal-of-a-lifetime

Returning to Bocuse Restaurant for the second meal-of-a-lifetime

The numerous culinary and catering schools found in and around Lyon serve as training grounds for young chefs and restaurateurs around the world. Its indoor and outdoor markets, nestled throughout the city, showcase the poultry, wine, fruits, vegetables and cheeses enjoyed both by visitors and Lyonnais locals.

Mural of Paul Bocuse with Julia Childs at the Bocuse restaurant in Collonges

Mural of Paul Bocuse with Julia Childs at the Bocuse restaurant in Collonges

With more than 4000 eateries (including bistros, brasseries, bouchons and restaurants) and well as other food experiences, navigating this culinary mecca can be daunting. Although we have yet to experience a bad meal in Lyon, we are always frustrated because we’re only able to get a small “taste” of what Lyon has to offer each time we visit.

Le pâté en croûte at La Mere Brazier, where Paul Bocuse worked as a youth

Le pâté en croûte at La Mere Brazier, where Paul Bocuse worked as a youth

11 Tips for eating your way through Lyon

Here are 11 tips we’ve learned to help travelers eat their way through the city:

1) Be sure to do some research before you go. With so many restaurants to choose from and only a finite number of meals in your itinerary, you want to select a mix of culinary experiences that will fit your budget and satiate your palate. Lyon offers classic menus, contemporary ones and a range of ethnic cuisines. At the time this post was written, 15 restaurants in Lyon held Michelin stars! It’s essential to read magazine articles, guidebooks, blogs and restaurant reviews on sites like TripAdvisor to make informed choices.

2) Check out “The Fork “and download the app on your smartphone. Now owned by TripAdvisor, it’s the European equivalent of OpenTable.com, the popular online reservation system. It allows you to find restaurants in major cities throughout Europe, to read their reviews, to pinpoint their location on a map, and to make reservations. (Making online reservations can be helpful if your French conversational skills are limited.) There is also a way to collect discounts (called Yum points) for making reservations.

3) Bear in mind that opening hours of eateries tend to be more “fixed” in Lyon than they are in the U.S. Many restaurants are closed on Sundays and Mondays as well as the hours between lunch and dinner. Most restaurants open for dinner after 7:30 PM.

4) Download Google Translate on your phone to help you translate unfamiliar food words or phrases from menus. (Some restaurants also provide English menus but it’s more interesting to learn about French dishes in the mother tongue).

5) Be sure to try as many specialty foods from the region as you can. These foods for which Lyon is known worldwide, to name a few, include:

  • Saint-Marcellin cheese (a soft, delicate, goat milk cheese),
  • Bresse chicken (considered the best, these chickens have an “appellation d’origine controlee” status,
  • Lyonnaise salad (frisée lettuce topped with a poached egg, thick bacon and a warm vinaigrette dressing),
  • Saucisson brioche (sausage baked in pastry dough)
  • Quenelles (pike dumplings with a Béchamel and crayfish sauce), and
  • Tarte Lyonnaise (a characteristic red praline tart)

If you like any form of organ meats, including liver, you will be in heaven because here, because they are common on menus in Lyon, including foie gras.

Quenelle de brochet sauce Nantua at Paul Bocuse

Quenelle de brochet sauce Nantua at Paul Bocuse

One of the most famous Bocuse dishes, chicken cooked in a pig's bladder to help infuse the flavors of black truffle, white wine, and foie gras

One of the most famous Bocuse dishes, chicken cooked in a pig’s bladder to help infuse the flavors of black truffle, white wine, and foie gras

Tarte Lyonnaise

Tarte Lyonnaise

6) Pair your meals with the very affordable local wines (usually Beaujolais or Côtes-du-Rhône). In many casual restaurants, if you order “Le Pot Lyonnais,” your wine will be served in a 46 cl. carafe (roughly one-pint bottle) with a weighted glass bottom. It’s a bit more wine than a half-carafe in the States and for those who have trouble finishing an entire bottle, it’s totally right-sized.

7) Be sure to eat in at least one bouchon. These rustic eateries, usually family-owned, are only found in Lyon. Steeped in history, silk traders once stopped at bouchons to groom their horses and get a bite to eat. The Chamber of Commerce certifies those that are authentic by placing a seal in their windows with the emblem Les Buchan’s Lyonnais. Dishes are delicious but very hearty, akin to comfort foods.

Sausage and potatoes at Chabert & Fils, a typical bouchon

Sausage and potatoes at Chabert & Fils, a typical bouchon

Sweetbread, another name for thymus, typical bouchon fare

Sweetbread, another name for thymus, typical bouchon fare

The sign of authenticity

The Bouchon Lyonnaise sign of authenticity

8) Have a sweet tooth? Step into one of the Voisin Chocolate stores scattered throughout the city. These artisanal chocolates have been made in Lyon since 1897. The most famous Voisin confectionary is the Coussin de Lyon, beautifully displayed in green velvet wrapping in many shop windows. The candy is also green with a chocolate ganache center (laced with a touch of curaçao liqueur) and a thin coating of almond paste.

Voisin Coussin de Lyon in a shop window

Voisin Coussin de Lyon in a shop window

9) Make sure you visit several markets and arrive there with an appetite. Vendors usually hand out samples and you’ll certainly be tempted to purchase a snack. Saint Antoine Market is one of the biggest and most impressive, and it’s open every day except Monday. Located along one bank of the Saône River, only a short walk from Place Bellecour (the public square), it offers incredible views of the Basilica on Fourvière Hill. You’ll find the finest fresh and cooked foods (including rotisserie chickens, sausages, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, pastries and fresh flowers) beautifully displayed. As a kid, Chef Daniel Boulud used to shop at this market with his father.

Strawberries at Saint Antoine market in Lyon

Strawberries at Saint Antoine market in Lyon

Rotisserie chickens at Saint-Antoine market in Lyon

Rotisserie chickens at Saint-Antoine market in Lyon

Seafood paella at the Saint-Antoine market

Seafood paella at the Saint-Antoine market

10) If your visit is brief, taking a food tour of the city offers a great primer for learning about Lyonnais history and traditions as well as the chance to sample various foods. Lyon Food Tour offers small group tours of Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) and of the Halles de Lyon market. All the tours are led by personable locals who introduce participants to food artisans and iconic food emporiums. The tours can be booked at the Lyon Tourist Office. Our tour of Old Lyon included 10 memorable stops.

Sampling saucisson brioche with Food Tour Lyon

Sampling saucisson brioche with Food Tour Lyon

Visiting Crèmerie Lyonnaise in Vieux Lyon to sample cheeses

Visiting Crèmerie Lyonnaise in Vieux Lyon to sample cheeses

11) Although there are five brasseries and two restaurants in the city that bear the Bocuse name, for the meal of a lifetime don’t miss the opportunity to dine at Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or. The food, service and setting are unbeatable.

Ice cream with a raspberry coulis and cream sauce at Paul Bocuse

Ice cream with a raspberry coulis and cream sauce at Paul Bocuse

And one last suggestion:

Pace yourself. In addition to the wonderful gastronomy, take time to enjoy all the art, history and culture that’s also so abundant in Lyon.


All photo credits: Jerome Levine


Worth Reading:


IF YOU GO

  • Reply
    Bonnie Carroll
    July 19, 2018 at 10:56 am

    Dear Irene,
    Thank you for this amazing journey through the divine dishes of Lyon. Lyon cuisine has always been my favorite. Never made it to Paul Bocuse, but so enjoyed this visit with you. The photos are perfect.
    Bonnie Carroll

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    July 19, 2018 at 11:09 pm

    Thanks for posting, Bonnie. I do hope you get to the Bocuse Restaurant one day. I know what a food enthusiast you are, someone who would really appreciate that experience!

  • Reply
    michele h peterson
    July 23, 2018 at 8:44 am

    What a handy post on Lyon — I wish I’d read it before I went there! Research is absolutely important as you might also need to make reservations far in advance as I discovered. Bocuse Restaurant is still on my list! Great photos by Jerry!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 23, 2018 at 8:47 am

      So glad you got to experience this foodie heaven Michelle!

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    July 23, 2018 at 9:59 am

    4 things not to forget for me: Bocuse’s Collonges, bouchon, Voisin and Saint Antoine Market!

  • Reply
    Lori
    July 23, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    Where to even begin. thanks for providing your experiences. Your photos have me searching for airfares! Love this article.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 24, 2018 at 10:24 pm

      Lyon is a place to which you’ll want to return many times!

  • Reply
    Kristin Henning
    July 25, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    These are great tips in preparation for eating your way around Lyon. What a well-deserved culinary reputation Lyon has! Nice photos, too. Thanks for the post. Must go eat now.

  • Irene S. Levine
    Reply
    Irene S. Levine
    July 25, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    Every time I re-read the post, I remind myself about self-pacing!

  • Reply
    Rachel Heller
    July 25, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    I spent 6 months in Lyon back when I was in my 20s. I was working as an au pair so I couldn’t afford any of the Michelin level restaurants. I did get to eat at ordinary restaurants a few times, and they were wonderful. I suppose that you’d have to be an excellent chef to even dare opening any restaurant in Lyon! I’ll remember these tips for next time I’m passing through, now that I can afford more!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 26, 2018 at 7:20 am

      Lyon holds culinary treasures for every pocketbook, including students. I can’t imagine how much fun it would be to live there for six months!

  • Reply
    Jackie K Smith
    July 27, 2018 at 8:12 am

    Great tips for dining in Lyon – in fact many could be applied to much of one’s travel on this side of the pond. Afraid organ meat isn’t high on our list of treats so we’d miss some of what are probably wonderful dishes for those who like those flavors . . .however you provided plenty of other mouth-watering temptations! We do need to return to Lyon for a visit one day and this is a keeper of a post to use when there!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      July 27, 2018 at 8:21 am

      When it comes to organ meats, people either love them or hate them. Seems like there is no middle of the road:-)

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