Surviving Aix-en-Provence for two weeks
February 24, 2011 6:34 AM   Subscribe

I have to go to Aix-en-Provence for work for two weeks. I would like to hear some restaurant recommendations in the "cheap and good" category.

I looked at Chowhound, and other websites but they mostly talk about the Michelin star restaurants where dinner for one is at least 80 Euros. I don't want to spend more that 20 or 25 Euros for dinner every night. However, if you believe that there are one or two restaurants out of my range that I must try, please tell me about them too.

Also, is it worth renting a car for the weekend, and exploring the region? I have never been to Aix before, and I don't know if I will get a chance again. Anything I should not miss?
posted by hariya to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I don't often get to Aix, and when I do, food is usually provided by friends or caterers (my company has a division headquarters there), but I can tell you how to find good restaurants in your price range there.

First, that's a great price range to find nice food in French cities. Second, you'll be looking for restaurants with 1. chalkboard-style menus, whether on feet or posted on their outside walls, 2. lots of people in them between 12-2pm and from 7:30pm on. Those are meal times in France; you'll have a hard time finding good restaurants for dinner that are open before 7pm. I mean that: the ones that are open earlier, usually are not very good. Most people eat dinner around 8pm here, sometimes even 9pm. As for food quality, that's where the people come in: avoid restaurants that are empty at peak meal times! The ones that have people are almost sure to be good. Don't be afraid to look at what others are eating, politely of course. Read the menu, it's absolutely done here, friends and I restaurant-browse all the time and chat with waiters about what's on offer only to go on to another restaurant until we decide on what we want, then we pick the best of the bunch.

As for renting a car. Depends on what you want to see. Aix is doable on foot, the nice parts of it, anyway. There may be regional buses (dirt cheap here, as in there are some at 1 euro for 60-100-kilometer trips) or trains (also cheap) to surrounding places you'd want to visit. For visiting perched villages, yes, a car could be better, but if you do rent, please be careful. Drivers here are absolutely terrible and sometimes seem genuinely murderous (I've lived in southern France for 11 years now, I know of what I speak). See what you can do on public transportation, it's really excellent here, and you'll be refreshed when you get to destination for exploring!
posted by fraula at 7:52 AM on February 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

We enjoyed Chez Maxime.
posted by onepot at 9:03 AM on February 24, 2011

Also, why "surviving" and "have to go"? Aix is lovely.
posted by onepot at 9:03 AM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Aix-en-Provence is awesome, you will love it. Cheap and good is totally doable, this is France and Aix is a university town. I'm afraid I don't have notes from my two weeks there, but I remember eating well and it not being very expensive. (I distinctly remember excellent pizza in a student dive, for instance.)

Here's a map of the city center. Inside the yellow ring is the old city. Most of the expensive restaurants are there, but there's a lot of inexpensive ones too. The Cours Mirabeau is the central see-and-be-seen street with a variety of cafes and restaurants. It trends expensive, you'll find better value off there, but it's a great place for a coffee or glass of wine.

Provence is famously beautiful and if you have the means to explore the countryside you will enjoy it. Les Baux de Provence is a nice day trip, a well restored fortified town. There are any of 20 villages nearby (such as Saint-Remy) which will offer inexpensive hotel rooms and great food for a night. For a totally different kind of tourist experience, take a train to Marseille. I think it's an unappealing city, it was destroyed in WW2 and rebuilt poorly, but it has a lot to offer for a day or two's visit and is an interesting city for how different it is from the rest of France.

If you are interested in 20th century art, be sure to visit La Fondation Vasarely in Aix.
posted by Nelson at 10:06 AM on February 24, 2011

I found one restaurant in my notes: Le Zinc d'Hugo. I don't think it's particularly cheap but closer to 20€ than 80€. No prices online, but I see they offer a variety of delicious sounding things from a wood fired oven. Now I'm missing France.
posted by Nelson at 10:12 AM on February 24, 2011

Thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately, I am staying at a hotel close to La Rotonde. That seems to be the touristy part of town. I will try to get out of there to find some decent eats but are there any decent choices on the Cours Mirabeau or close by?

I have been to Marseille, stayed close to the Vieux Port, and did not enjoy it at all. The food was great when I went out of the touristy parts to explore but the city was not to my liking. I heard better things about Aix. I am looking forward to this trip for the food but I am also hoping to do it without busting the bank.

I am not worried about the drivers, how much worse than Greek or Indian drivers can they be? I was planning to drive to Avignon on the weekend to see the Petit Palace, and then just drift here and there till nightfall. Does that sound like a plan?

So, if you have any more specific recommendations for towns to visit (even just for the food), I would love to hear that.
posted by hariya at 12:01 PM on February 24, 2011

Les Baux de Provence reminds me of Fikardou, one of my favorite places in Cyprus to visit.
posted by hariya at 12:07 PM on February 24, 2011

Cote Sud: 31-33 Rue Felibre Gaut, 13100 Aix-En-Provence, Ph. 04 42 91 38 98

Run by a very sweet couple who had, as of last summer, just opened up shop and were very excited about their new restaurant. Food, service, atmosphere all lovely. I don't recall it as being too pricey but it might be more than 20 euros. Definitely not 80 euros though.

Bistrot des Philosophes: 20 Place Forum des Cardeurs, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, Ph. 04 42 21 64 35

I loved this place. Beautiful presentation, extremely tasty food, interesting menu. Service was friendly, but they were busy and understaffed the night we were there. Still, the food was worth it.

La Fourchette (more of a splurge but totally worth it): 17 Rue Racine, 84000 Avignon, Ph. # 33 4 90 85 20 93 ‎

Delicious traditional French food. This is where I had the best lamb I've ever eaten. Food, service, atmosphere all very good.

Also nearby and worth checking out: Pont du Gard (ancient Roman aquaduct) and Fontaine de Vaucluse.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:05 PM on February 24, 2011

Places I liked when I visited Aix:

Le Zinc d'Hugo: Meat cooked in an oven. Heavenly rack of lamb.
Le Tire Bouchon: Had an excellent duck confit.
Chez Jo, Pizza Capri, and La Grange: Pretty good New York style pizza. Chez Jo was the best, Pizza Capri sells huge slices for 2 euros which are a great bargain.
I also went to a Morrocan restaurant that was pretty good. I think it was Table Marocain but I am not too sure now.

I also had great lunches at Baux and Cassis.

The Asian restaurants I went to were nothing special.

Thanks for the recommendations and tips.
posted by hariya at 6:31 AM on March 21, 2011

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