Lyon is off the beaten track, but France's "capital of gastronomy" is well worth a visit. Here's what to eat and where when visiting this hidden gem of a city.
While Paris or Strasbourg may be the best-known destinations for a good food trip in France, Lyon should definitely also be on your wish-list. The “capital of gastronomy” offers a rich traditional cuisine through its bouchons, typical restaurants with a “lunch at grandma’s” atmosphere, and offers as many food options as there are stunning views throughout the city.
Anchored in tradition and proud of its gastronomy, Lyon has seen a boom in food and drink festivals in recent years, particularly the street food scene. Lyon shows how tradition and novelty can be perfectly mixed.
Praline — a delicious snack
While walking through the city, you’ll often notice thick golden and pink brioche in bakeries' windows, and lines of locals and tourists waiting to get a taste of praline, in Lyon’s signature pastry.
To bite into the best one, head to Maison Pralus, where the Praluline has made the bakery’s reputation since 1955. The recipe is simple: a soft, buttered brioche stuffed and topped with a generous dose of homemade pink praline chips. The sweet pastry is enjoyed as an afternoon snack.
While you're there, get a small bag of pralines chips on their own, or some chocolate — François Pralus is one of the rare French chocolatiers to have his chocolate handmade in Madagascar.
A bouchon lunch on the banks
For lunch, take a seat in a bouchon with a view. On the banks of the Saône river, La Mère Léa offers a choice of traditional dishes alongside a view on the Saint Jean cathedral, a Michelin star and an affordable three-course lunch (€24). Founded in 1943, the restaurant has made its name through its authentic and generous cuisine, served in a traditional and elegant bistrot atmosphere.
Start with a generous slice of pâté en croûte, a meat pie wrapped in crust pastry served with a light salad, or a thin andouillette (French sausage) pie. For the main course, don’t miss out on the typical quenelle with its lobster sauce and pilaf rice, but the more adventurous might turn to sweetbread, a lamb or veal organ meat cooked with creamy girolle mushrooms and baby potatoes.To end on a fresh note, the cervelle de canut (literally “silk worker's brain”), a spread cheese mixed with shallots and herbs, is the perfect choice.
Brunch, à la Lyonnaise
Want to feel like a local and take a trip through history ? In Lyon, the mâchon is about tradition and conviviality: dating back to the 19th century, this morning meal was shared by workmen between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. during a break, as they started their work long before dawn.
While it could be qualified as brunch à la française, the mâchon does not offer pancakes and avocado toasts. Instead, you’ll find various charcuterie items: rognons de veau (calf’s kidney), tablier de sapeur (fried tripe) or saucisson brioché (a sausage coated in crushed pistachios and baked in a brioche loaf), depending on the chef’s mood.
On top of it all and as tradition requires, the meal is served with a glass of wine and ends with a black coffee. While several restaurants in the city offer a mâchon, Chez Georges has a special place in history: it is where the Francs-Mâchons brotherhood, an association dedicated to protecting the mâchon tradition, was founded in the 1960s.
A chic evening under the vaults
Sitting on the West Rhône river bank, the imposing Grand Hotel Dieu is more inviting than it seems. Inside the 250-year-old building, the tables of the Grand Réfectoire line up under the vaults in a chic and warm atmosphere.
Despite the fancy setting, the menu offers an affordable three-course lunch (€26), and the evening prices are also very decent (€39 for the three-course dinner). Duck breast filets, saucisson pistaché and lemon financiers are among the list, along with a rather short wine list of quality.To keep the evening going, find your way to the hidden and intimate L’Officine bar. Pick a seat in the hushed atmosphere of the bar or enjoy the terrace over the city in the summer and pick a cocktail on the seemingly never ending list. Opt for a Royal Praline (Grey Goose vodka, strawberry and mango tea, praline, clarified milk and Mumm champagne) or a more classic Negroni and enjoy the night.
Have some street food in the Pink Tower
Founded in 2020, Food Traboule has become a hub of conviviality in the city. Located in the historical Pink Tower, the concept gathers a large sample of local gastronomy with a bar and 13 food booths.
Behind the counter, Michelin-starred chefs (Ludovic and Tabata Mey, and others) offer a gastronomical experience of street food, in a friendly cafeteria atmosphere. Get a full meal for about €25 and dive into the other side of lyonnaise cuisine: andouillette kebab, quenelle fries, but also lobster rolls, truffle pizza and mac and cheese with local Chaource cheese.
Order from the app or at the counter, pick up your plates and take a seat wherever you want: welcome to Food Traboule!
A night out in Confluence
After a long renovation initiated in the 1990s by the city’s mayor Raymond Barre and finished in the 2010s, the post-industrial Confluence district has become the eco-friendly, modern neighborhood of the Gallic capital.
Here, in this “neighborhood behind the vaults” (its official nickname), there are no bouchons, but instead it offers a large choice of cuisines from all over the world, with techno clubs on boats and rooftops to dance the night away. For an all-in-one experience, head to HEAT, a food court located at the edge of the island.
Each week, the food booths are held by new chefs and restaurants and ensure a variety of choices: Italian pizza, decadent burgers, Greek plates to share or Asian fusion cuisine, the place will suit all tastes.
More than a food court, HEAT organizes several events a week, from wild DJ sets to open mic nights and table tennis sessions to drag shows and thrift shops. It's a lively place that reinvents itself constantly and is worth the 15-min walk from the closest subway station.
Spotlight: Paul Bocuse, the Pope of gastronomy
Pope of Collonges, Genius of the Saône banks, Primat des gueules (“primate of the mouths”), head of the mafia… There's no shortage of nicknames to refer to “Monsieur Paul”, who throughout his 60 years' career has made his mark on the French culinary scene.
Born in 1926 to a family of cooks in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, near Lyon, the family owns the Bocuse restaurant and the Bridge Hotel in Collonges.
Paul Bocuse started his career at 16 in the kitchens of Claude Maret. After a quick enrollment in the war, where he is wounded in Alsace, he comes back to his native Rhône region and works in a series of renowned restaurants: La Mère Brazier, La Pyramide, where he works with Fernand Point, his mentor, for eight years. In 1958, he took over L’Abbaye de Collonge, which got him his first Michelin star and “French craftsperson of the year” title.
At the basis of his cuisine are simplicity, generosity and perfect cooking methods. Named “cook of the century” by the prestigious Gault and Millau and by the Culinary Institute of America, Bocuse revolutionized French cuisine — not by being extravagant, but by putting his heart and soul into it. His most famous dish is the black truffle soup he created especially for French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
Paul Bocuse passed away in 2018, just before his 92th birthday and has left a remarkable legacy. In Lyon, visit the Paul Bocuse food court to get a taste of what the local cuisine － and more － has to offer, and keep an eye out for murals representing him, looking over the city.