If you visit Paris, sooner or later you’re going to end up at the Louvre. The massive, maze-like, mind-boggling collection of artistic wonders is inarguably one of the city’s greatest treasures—if not the world’s—and it is very, very much worth your time, even if you’re really only in Paris to eat. Happily, as you might expect from a 652,000-square-foot palace, the Louvre offers its visitors plenty of options for sustenance. Ranging from grab-and-go kiosks to elegant dining rooms (remember, this is a former palace), there are plenty of places to take a break while recovering from the mosh pit around the Mona Lisa. Here’s a ranked list of which ones are worth your time… and euros.
1. Le Café Richelieu / Angelina
Of the dozen or so food options at the Louvre, this is the only one that you really, truly should visit as an experience in itself, not just a refueling stop between masterpieces. The café occupies three elegant, minimalist rooms adjacent to the maximalist personal apartments of Napoleon III, and it's lovely. It's located on the second floor of the Richelieu wing (the section of the museum dedicated primarily to objects d'art and interiors; walking its halls is significantly less of an exercise in saintly patience than braving the surging crowds thrusting their iPhones at the iconic paintings and sculptures in the Denon wing) and the entire experience is restorative and invites you to appreciate the palace's architecture for itself, rather than for what hangs on the walls. Indoors, the café's slate-blue walls and mansard windows frame a bird's-eye view of I.M. Pei's iconic pyramid; outdoors, a terrace bar offers one of the most postcard-perfect places to have a Spritz in all of Paris. The café is an outpost of the Angelina teahouse, famous in equal parts for its midcentury heyday as a fabulous-people hangout and its densely sweet chocolat chaud. In addition to serving lunch and dinner, there's also a more limited spread of afternoon snacks and sweets.
2. Le Café Mollien
The other café embedded in the galleries themselves—wrapping around two sides of the dramatic staircase from which it draws its name—is a much more industrial affair. There's a cafeteria-style counter slinging decent coffees, good-enough lemon tarts, pre-packaged salads, and American-style giant muffins—but once you have them in hand, your seating options are glorious. You can choose to stay indoors, at one of a dozen or so small tables overlooking the Tuileries, in a space recently remodeled by designer Mathieu Lehanneur to include modernist, overscale, pale-pink light fixtures that improbably harmonize with the brooding brass of the massive staircase. Or, if it's a nice day, say pardon to the poor souls still in line to order, and slip between them to find a terrace that's the mirror image of Café Richelieu's bar—at least, architecturally speaking. The tables and chairs are nothing to write home about, but drinking a café au lait behind the stone backs of the powerful, dead Frenchmen whose likenesses line the ramparts is a treat unto itself.
3. Le Comptoir du Louvre
There are three little food stands scattered around the large open lobby area just under the Pyramid, and if you're starving, any of them will suffice. But if you're feeling mildly discerning, consider seeking out the decent sandwiches and lovely pastries at the Comptoir, set behind glass walls just past the information desk. This spot is actually a location of Paul, a family-friendly boulangerie-patisserie chain with dozens of outlets throughout France; it's primarily takeout, but there are a few small tables and chairs tucked into the corner.
4. Café Marly
A number of years ago, many airports made the mistake of installing lots of new food and drink options outside the security cordon. No one goes to them, because when one is at the airport, there is this overwhelming, mostly irrational anxiety to just get inside. Café Marly, on the ground floor colonnade of the Richelieu wing, but accessible only from outside the Louvre, suffers from the same syndrome. The view overlooking the Pyramid is iconic, the menu is extensive and alcoholic, and the chairs are comfortable. The menu is comprehensive and the food is acceptable — but it's all jaw-droppingly expensive—€28 for a plate of melon and ham—with service that's off-puttingly snooty in precisely the way tourists think Parisian service will be, but (present company excepted) never is. That's not to say the restaurant doesn't have its appeal: If, just hypothetically, you forgot to buy tickets ahead of time to the museum you were supposed to visit in order to rank all of its restaurants, and the line for same-day ticket sales was inhumanly long, Café Marly would be a good place to buy an overpriced macchiato while figuring out how to fire up your international data plan to buy tickets on your phone. It's also open continuously from 8 a.m. to midnight, if you find yourself needing to kill time. Otherwise, do not go to Café Marly.
5. Le Café Grand Louvre
The midcentury-inspired design of this low-slung restaurant—mustard-yellow tables, chairs, and rug, against a vivid blue wall—is an oddly compelling juxtaposition to the Napoleonic splendor of the rest of the museum. And the classical French menu is, by all reports, decently well-executed by chef Régis Bregere. But with so many other options that offer a lovelier view, a cheaper bottom line on l'addition, or both, sitting down for a meal here seems misguided.
6. Every Other Option
Are you hungry? Are you in or near the Louvre? There are a number of kiosks scattered throughout the museum—not to mention in the full-fledged underground shopping mall that's rather garishly attached to it—to provide you with a sandwich, a coffee, or even a quinoa salad, so you can recharge and get back to the business of sassily Snapchatting the world's greatest collection of art. That said, you could do worse than pick up a few of the macarons lovingly displayed in the pastry case of the McCafé adjacent to the McDonald's in the Louvre mall food court. Seriously, they're not that bad.