Although I consistently decry the lack of good "ethnic" or non-French eating options here in France, I'll be the first to tell you that a notable exception can be found in the plethora of good restaurants representing the countries of North Africa, or the Maghreb as it is called. The former French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are well represented in France with large immigrant and descendant populations, and naturally the cuisines of those countries are among some of the best eating options here in Paris.
Gorgeous, trendy North African restaurants abound...such as 404, Riad Nejma, Mansouria and other such spots, all of which I love. But for me, the best couscous in Paris is at Le Petit Bleu, a little hole-in-the-wall joint here in the 18th arrondissement on Rue Muller, one of the streets leading up to the Sacré Cœur. If you're not looking for it, you can very easily miss this spot, as the only sign outside simply says "Restaurant". Luis, a long-time resident of the 18th, introduced me to Le Petit Bleu soon after we first met, and it became immediately obvious to me that neither a fancy sign nor a website is needed for this place. It's tiny, with just a few tables, but always seems to be packed to the max with neighborhood "bobos" (bourgeois-bohèmes, which is Parisian speak for hipsters), who happily line up for a table or wait for their couscous à emporter (takeaway), as this is one of the rare places which will do so.
Le Petit Bleu is run by an Algerian Kabyle family (though some reviews of the restaurant say that it's Tunisian...maybe it's a mix). The friendly owner always has time for a smile and a joke, and he always says "obrigado" to Luis since he knows that he is Portuguese. The menu includes different types of bricks (a type of filo pastry stuffed with cheese, tuna or other fillings) and salads as starters and several types of grills, tajines (depending on the day, this might lamb with prunes, chicken with figs or olives, vegetables, scallops, etc.) and couscous as main courses. With main courses at only 10-12 euros each, this place is definitely easy on your wallet. Given that we're just a five-minute walk from Le Petit Bleu, we go there all the time!
We've never bothered with any starters here, as we know how huge and delicious the couscous is! I always get the vegetarian couscous of course, which is always made with seasonal, fresh vegetables. Depending on the time of year, you might get butternut squash, artichokes, carrots, zucchini, eggplant...you name it! It's always delicately seasoned and delicious. Luis and our other meat-eating friends always seem to opt for the couscous royal, which includes a mountain of different types of meat - chicken, lamb, merguez sausage and who knows what else.
As always when you have couscous, you should ask for extra sauce (since couscous tends to soak up its sauce and get a bit dry) and of course harissa, the Tunisian chili paste that's an integral part of any Maghrebian meal. I usually like to add chickpeas and golden raisins to my couscous, which Le Petit Bleu doesn't give you, but their couscous is so good that I don't even miss them!
I can never finish more than half of my couscous at Le Petit Bleu, but luckily the nice folks there are always happy to wrap up the rest for me to take home (though they don't always have proper takeaway boxes). Mint tea and/or bricks stuffed with pistachios or chocolate are available for dessert, for those who manage to save room.
So the next time that you're in Paris and want to have possibly the best couscous in town, come up to Montmartre and check out Le Petit Bleu!
Le Petit Bleu
23, Rue Muller
Tel: 01 42 59 27 01
Metro: Chateau Rouge
Open 7 days a week for dinner and Saturday-Sunday for lunch