From baguettes to macarons, this is your ultimate Paris culinary checklist.
Parisians are many things, but above all, they are great eaters, and social ones at that. After that first flaky croissant and frothy café crème, the day revolves around what, when, and with whom the next meal with be. Fittingly, there are endless things to eat and drink in this city, and any real traveler will make it their mission to try as many as they can.
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Biting off the end of a baguette as you leave a bakery is one of the rare times it’s acceptable to eat and walk at the same time in this country. Seriously though, is there anything better than oven-fresh French bread, especially when you can buy it for an average of €0.87? Une baguette traditionnelle is more expensive and, by law, can only be made from flour, water, leaven, and salt. If you prefer a softer baguette, order “pas trop cuite” or if you like it crunchy, “trop cuite.” It’s hard for any true French bakery to make a bad baguette, but every Parisian has their favorite. Voted Paris’s best baguette in 2018, Mahmoud M’Seddi now has to supply the French president with bread for an entire year, but don’t worry, there’s still a baguette for you, too. For a baguette with a canal view, try Du Pain et des Idées, while Chambelland has a loyal following thanks to its gluten-free bread.
Cocktail at a Classic French Bar
Paris nightlife can mean a lot of different things, but if you want to get a taste of how Parisians party, you need to check out the city’s cocktail scene. Over the last few years, more and more bars here have seen a surge of mixologists take over bar menus, creating unique and impressive concoctions from a wide range of ingredients. Some of the city’s most famed bars have gotten in on the action, too.
Downing 51 dry martinis in a row is not something we want to promote, but Ernest Hemingway did just that when he “liberated” the bar at the Ritz Paris from Nazi soldiers. The bar was henceforth named after the writer. Today, the Hemingway Bar is one of the classiest joints in town, and a tall glass of Serendipity (fresh mint, sugar, clarified apple juice, calvados, ice, and Champagne) at the epicenter of the “beau monde” is non-negotiable. Meanwhile, Le Syndicat is France’s highest-ranking bar (#24) on the World’s Best Bar list, commended for its use of Made in France–only spirits and ingredients and its overall originality. Try the St-Nicolas, made with local Armagnac, Choucehen, honey and air foam for an original twist on a mead cocktail. Finally, for a drink and a view, go full-frontal with the Eiffel Tower at Le Quarante-Trois rooftop bar within the Holiday Inn Notre Dame.
Kick off your dinner with a garlicky ratatouille, a tomato-based vegetable stew that was originally a peasant dish in Nice and the Provençal countryside. A divine combination of eggplant, zucchini, onions, and green peppers, it can be served warm, on toast topped with a poached egg, on pasta, or cold as a salad, antipasto, or side dish. The ratatouille at Chez Janou, chilled with toast, tapenade, and anchovy spread gives you the added bonus of dining at a typical rustic French bistro. Miznon Canal puts a Middle Eastern twist on the classic while Chez Remy at Paris Disneyland pays tribute to Gusteau’s, the restaurant featured in the Pixar film Ratatouille.
Dig into a French brasserie classic dish: steak and fries. On a menu, it could be entrecôte (rib eye) or faux filet (strip steak), and restaurants will even list where the beef is sourced. There’s usually a choice of accompanying sauce (which sometimes costs extra) like béarnaise, Roquefort, or peppercorn—or just go for au natural. Americans have a tendency to overcook meat (bien cuit), but if you can’t stomach saignant (rare), go for moyen (medium). Café de la Musee in the Marais makes a mean steak frites and Bistrot Paul Bert serves theirs with a cognac, butter, and peppercorn cream sauce. Nicknamed L’Entrecôte, Le Relais de Venise serves nothing but steak frites.
Paris is a proud city of immigrants, and luckily for diners, that means your meals here can easily span the globe. In the Marais, you’ll find famed Israeli restaurant, L’As du Falafel, where 1,500 to 3,000 falafels (deep-fried ground-chickpea balls) and schawarmas are served every day. This spot has an annual turnover of €4 million, which proves that Middle Eastern food has earned its spot in France’s mainstream food culture—even celebrity chef Alain Ducasse is serving a schawarma dish at his new Monaco restaurant, Ômer. Luckily, the food at L’As is still cheap, but there’s usually at least a 15-minute wait. If there’s a really long line, Chez H’anna down the street also makes a tasty falafel. For a sit-down falafel feast, head to the Lebanese restaurant Assanabel.
The French, luxe variation of an Oreo cookie consists of flavored buttercream or ganache sandwiched between two gravity-defying soft-meringue shells. This is France’s most popular cookie, but they tend to be expensive thanks to the ingredients (almond flour) and the persnickety prep required. The most famous macaron brand is Ladurée, which has several luxury shops throughout the city (and around the world). Fauchon, another definitive maker of this delicacy, just opened a hotel steps from its historic shop in Place de la Madelaine, where it offers guests a free “Gourmet Bar” that includes champagne, chocolates, truffle chips, and, of course, its famous macarons (plus a whole slew of other edible wonders). If chocolate is your thing, La Maison du Chocolat has 13 choco-flavors of macarons. Meanwhile, Japanese patissier Sadaharu Aoki boldly breaks all macaron conventions with his flavors, from Earl Gray crème brûlée with violet cream and red berries to wasabi-horseradish.
There might not be any French food more iconic than a simple croissant. Originally shaped to symbolize the Ottoman flag ensign, these days a moon-shaped croissant means it’s made with margarine and by law must be tucked in the ends. But between the price of butter skyrocketing more than 170% in a year-and-half and industrial-made croissants with loads of preservatives finding their way into local bakeries, the buttery Gallic icon is currently in crisis. Fortunately, this is Paris, where baked-on-the-premises goods are usually available by 9 a.m. The popular Blé Sucré 4 is run by a former three-Michelin-starred chef from Le Bristol and while their glossy croissants look standard, the buttery texture is anything but. Des Gâteaux et du Pain puts the puff in its pastries, and Terroirs d’Avenir croissants are heavenly. Gontran Cherrier makes a less flaky version that locals love, but Stohrer’s, the city’s oldest boulangerie dating back to 1730, makes a cake-like croissant that you’ll never forget.
From Bordeaux and Burgundy to Alsace and Beaujolais, tasting wine in Paris is a given, but vin naturel is de rigeur. Natural wines are considered a step up from organic, usually with low or no sulfites added. The supply of wine bars here is endless, so be sure to spend some time at one (or several) to discover what Parisians are drinking. A newcomer on the scene, the former sommelier at three-star Le Bristol, Marco Pelletier, has opened a natural wine-focused bistro, Vantre, with 2,000 labels. Aux Deux Amis on Rue Oberkampf has one of the city’s leading selections of natural wines (and charcuterie). Its dive-y reputation doesn’t seem to bother the crowds that gather here, and the outdoor patio is a bonus. The rustic but tiny La Buvette offers an excellent selection of natural wines and artisanal beers. It’s standing room only at Septime Cave, the wine bar-shop spin-off of the nearby restaurant with the same name (where it’s impossible to get a reservation), but the natural wines are delicious, and so are the tapas. And finally, for 30 years, Paris’s first natural wine bar, Café de la Nouvelle Mairie in the Latin Quarter, has served reasonably priced red and white wines worth taking a chance on.
Sip, enjoy, repeat. This is how every Parisian morning should be spent: tasting glorious coffee roasts at a classic café. Coffee culture is pretty serious business in Paris, and it involves sitting or standing—not walking or driving. Most French drink un petit café (an espresso) but if that’s too strong, order a diluted version un café allongé (or un café serré if you need a jolt). A café crème is made with steamed milk, and you can sprinkle a little chocolate to make a cappuccino. A noisette is an espresso-sized café crème. And, an “American” is a larger cup of brewed coffee (café dilute). Ten Belles near the canal arguably serves the creamiest café crème in town, but if you need nondairy options like soy or oat milk, head to the cozy Fragments near Places des Vosges (and try their Swedish cinnamon buns). Another classic choice is Le Nemours, located between the Louvre and Palais-Royal gardens.
While you’re here, throw away the Fitbit and focus on the task at hand: enjoying melt-in-your-mouth traditional pastries that you can only find in Paris. Nearly any pastry shop or bakery you visit will include typical French classics, like madeleines, pain au chocolat, éclairs, and profiteroles. But more unique options include Puit d’Amour (Well of Love), a puff pastry with bourbon vanilla cream glazed with caramel, served at Paris’s oldest bakery, Stohrer’s. At Du Pain et des Idées (where they also serve gluten-free baguettes), the Pistachio and Chocolate Escargot—named for its snail-like shape—is a flaky pastry with pistachio-flavored pastry cream and chocolate chips. At Poilâne Bakery, the apple tartlet made of apple slices, cane sugar, and puffed pastry is like nothing you’ve ever tasted, while the Mont Blanc, a bird-nest looking ball of crisp meringue filled with whipped cream and topped with swirls of chestnut cream, is best sampled at Angelina Salon.
Made with pain de mie (soft) sandwich bread, ham, and Gruyère, Emmental, or Comté cheese, this lunch staple has been served in cafés here since 1910. Sometimes the bread is dipped in egg before grilling; other times it has a drizzle of béchamel sauce. The Croque Madame, served with a fried egg on top, was introduced in the 1960s. The most classic example you’ll find is at La Fontaine de Belleville: two slices of crusty brioche bread, a thick slice of Prince de Paris ham, and béchamel sauce with 18-month-old Comté cheese baked on top. At Lamée, an artisan sandwich shop that makes its organic breads on the premises, a new generation of the Croque includes Swiss Gruyère and Prince de Paris white ham served on two thick slices of homemade sourdough country bread. Café de Flore’s Croque Madame, “Le Jockey,” is so tasty that Maria Grazia Chiuri, the director of Christian Dior, tucks into one to celebrate her runway successes. And if you’re wondering, the verb croquer means “to bite.”
A beloved French treat, the buttery and chewy caramel takes rich to a new level. When Henry Le Roux wanted to make a name for himself in the world of confectionary, he came up with the salted-butter caramel, which won the 1980 Best French Candy at the International Confectionery Fair in Paris. The following year, CBS (Caramel au Beurre Salé) became a registered trademark. In addition to the classic salted butter, be sure to sample the seasonal flavors, from black sesame to piña colada. There are several locations of Maison Le Roux throughout Paris, and you can also buy the caramels at the old-fashioned candy shop, A L’Etoile d’Or. Jacques Genin caramels are equally as tempting and flavors change daily, with everything from mango-passion and rhubarb to pecan and licorice. For kids, pick up a bag of Carambar individually wrapped caramels at any grocery store.
Crêpes are an essential part of French culture. You’ve probably heard of Pancake Tuesday, but what about Crêpe Chandeleur? A Groundhog Day–esque holiday, Chandeleur takes place on February 2 each year; if it rains, expect another 40 days of winter. The French are superstitious about Chandeleur, and instead of staring at a rodent, they hold a coin in their writing hand while flipping crêpes with the other. But of course, you can enjoy crêpes at any time of the year here. The golden sucré crêpe is wheat-based and topped with sweet ingredients (the basics are sugar or chocolate) while the darker gallette crêpe is made from gluten-free buckwheat and is a base for savory combinations (everything from ham and cheese to mozzarella and egg with truffle oil). Alizée Crêperie Gourmet uses organic flour from Brittany for their mint sorbet and melted chocolate with almonds crêpe while Creperie Framboise Champs-Elysees pays tribute to American apple pie and ice cream with theirs. Breizh Paris Café honors the traditional homemade Breton crêpe, and Mardi plugs itself as the first crêpe bar. For the epicurean, Gigi Crêpes de Comptoir serves a rose petal and whipped cream crêpe.
Put on your spandex shorts—this wheel-shaped pastry is a tribute to the 1,200-km (750-mile) Paris-Brest-Paris cycling race that ran from 1891 to 1951. It’s unclear who originally dreamed up the circular cream puffs filled with praline cream and topped with hazelnuts. According to the encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique, a pastry chef named Bauget first made the Paris-Brest in 1891—and it was 20 inches in diameter. Others say it first appeared in 1910 at the request of race organizer Pierre Giffard to pâtissier Louis Durand of Maisons-Laffitte in order to promote the race. Either way, the commemorative wheel reached new summits in the United States when the Chicken Liver Paris-Brest with Black Honey Glaze was voted Food & Wine Dish of Year in 2018. For Durand’s original pastry, you’d have to drive 35 km (22 miles) northwest of Paris, but one of the best traditional versions in the city is made by Sebastien Gaudard at his Salon de thé des Tuileries. The crown-shaped best seller at La Pâtisserie des Rêves frequently gets rave reviews and in 2018, Le Parisien newspaper chose Jacques Genin as the tastiest in all of Paris.
While chocolate was first introduced to France in 1615 for the marriage of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, it was Louis XV who popularized its consumption as a beverage. He would make hot chocolate for himself in his private apartments, and around the same time, chocolate-making machines appeared in Paris. The city (and the world) hasn’t stopped enjoying cozy cups of chocolate chaud since. The most velvety cup is at Angelina’s tearoom, steps from the Louvre; the upper echelon of Paris society, from Chanel to Proust, has been frequenting this spot since 1903. It’s also where you can try the “l’Africain,” a secret combination of three cocoas from the Ivory Coast, Niger, and Ghana, topped with luscious fresh cream. La Jacobine serves the best onion soup in town, but it’s also known for its 80% cocoa, 20% hot milk drink. Les Deux Magots not only serves old-style hot chocolate but also a Viennese version that uses egg yolk to thicken the consistency. Most Parisian hot chocolate is quite thick, but you won’t need a spoon to indulge in the Mexican spiced chocolat chaud at Soul Kitchen.
In 1697, when Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk and cellar master, tasted accidental bubbles in his wine, he cried, “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” And so the methode champenoise was born, meaning all champagne is technically sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is champagne. Champagne is typically made with chardonnay, pinot noir, or pinot meunier grapes, and must come from the Champagne region in northeastern France. Top-selling brands, most of which you’ll have seen on shelves in the United States, are Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Nicolas Feuillatte. Obvious spots to enjoy une coupe in Paris are classic luxe destinations like the Hemingway Bar and Le Bar du Plaza Athenée, but a low-key Parisian favorite is Dokhan’s Champagne Bar with its choice of 250 different varieties. At Canard & Champagne in the Passage des Panoramas, two of France’s favorite delicacies are served together: duck and champagne. Dilettantes was the city’s first champagne-only shop, with about 150 different champagnes as well as rare bottles from Ruinart (the world’s oldest producer since 1729).
A classic French treat made with three layers of puff pastries, the pronunciation of mille-feuille (pronounced “meel-foy”) is more intriguing than its history. Its first reference dates back to a cookbook by François Pierre de la Varenne in 1651, but a century later, Marie-Antoine Carême, a master of grande cuisine renamed the recipe gâteau de mille-feuilles, or “cake of a thousand leaves.” Sandwiched between the “leaves” is a firm but very sweet pastry cream filling. Yann Couvreur’s signature dish (he only makes 50 a day) is a deconstructed Madagascar vanilla mille-feuille. Located in Place du Trocadéro since 1927, Carette isn’t as well-known as other bakeries, but its towering mille-feuille with silky cream and a strong vanilla flavor are excellent. Lenôtre is known for its more traditional (and pricier) version that’s so light and creamy it’s like eating air.
The word “tartiner” means “to spread,” and the connection to bread is obvious. The traditional tartine of a baguette with jam dunked into a morning cup of coffee has become a more sophisticated open-face sandwich that can be eaten any time of day.
For a breakfast tartine, try the ridiculously popular Ob-la-di in Marais Nord or go for the salmon and egg brunch tartine at Season Paris. For a tartine with ambiance, the former 1950s cabaret L’Écluse is now a hip wine bar that’s part speakeasy and part gentlemen’s club, where you can sample tartine à la croque monsieur.
Baba au Rhum
Originally from Eastern Europe, this moist cake gets its name from the word babka, meaning “grandmother” or “old woman.” After King Stanisław of Poland lost the throne in 1738, he moved to the duchy of Lorraine and, depending on whom you ask, he took either a Polish babka cake or a local yeast-baked Gugelhupf cake and added Hungarian wine or sherry to moisten it. But it was the pastry chef of Stanisław’s daughter, who happened to be married to King Louis XV, who added rum to the dessert on a visit to Versailles. The dessert was so popular, he started selling it at his patisserie Stohrer, which is now the oldest bakery in Paris and still sells a fantastic Baba Rum. At Pain de Sucre, le baobab is soaked in vanilla and citrus zest syrup, with amber rum and Madagascar vanilla cream. Pain de Sucre was also the first to use the add-your-own pipette of rum.
While France isn’t the biggest consumer of chocolate in the world (that honor goes to Switzerland where more than 8 kg per capita of chocolate was consumed in 2017—France ranked only 20th with 4.3 kg), the French do still love their chocolat noir. The first chocolate shop in Paris, À la Mère de Famille, opened in 1761 and is still there in all its old-fashioned glory. Jacques Ganin still hand-paints his haute couture chocolates in Marais and has become one of the go-to places for chocoholics in Paris. Maison du Chocolate has won the heart of truffle lovers while La Chocolaterie by Cyril Lignac sells the classic Oursons, chocolate-covered marshmallow bears. On the far side, Jean-Paul Hévin is legendary for his chocolate-covered cheese and Les Trois Chocolats combines Japanese ingredients with traditional French chocolate making.
Cheese in this country is a serious business. The rule is savory before sweet, so cheese is served before dessert (and not as an appetizer). Start with a mild cheese and finish with stronger ones, and never put your piece of bread on your cheese plate. Every shape has a specific way it should be cut and it helps to know with which cheeses you eat can the rinds. Since 1909, Paris’s most widely regarded cheese shop has been Androuet, a “maître fromager” that works closely with producers across France and offers a selection of superb French and international cheeses, plus specialty dairy products made in-house. Marie Quatrehomme was the first woman to win Best Artisanal Cheesemaker in 2000 and now her children run Fromagerie Quatrehomme, which sells an assortment of nearly 250 different kinds of cheese, including a smoked Smoked Charolais & Whisky (Burgundy Goat Cheese and Japanese Whisky). As a Meilleur Ouvrier, Laurent Dubois holds the country’s highest honor for a cheesemonger and is known for his Pyrenees Comté and Camembert stuffed with mascarpone and Calvados-soaked dried apples. Raw milk cheese (cheese aged fewer than 60 days) is banned in the United States, but at Chez Virginie, where they work closely with small-scale farmers, that’s all the shop sells; try the Pommard, a triple-creamed cheese drained and prepared with Beaune mustard bran.
Regional French Dishes
Tuck into traditional regional dishes at a French bistro and you won’t be disappointed; the possibilities are endless, but there are a few classics you’re guaranteed to see. Boeuf bourguignon is a beef stew with Charolais beef and red Burgundy wine; Joséphine (Chez Dumonet) is legendary for this classic (and its great duck confit). Coq au vin—which gets its name from Henri IV’s promise of “a chicken in every peasant’s pot”—is braised chicken soaked in red Burgundy wine. One of the best examples is at Coq Rico, an excellent bistro dedicated to free-range poultry. L’Assiette is a Parisian institution thanks to its iconic cassoulet, a dish first served in southwestern France and made up of peasant-like simple ingredients like white beans with pork, sausage, duck confit, and gizzards.
Classic American grocery stores may be on the decline as cash-flush urbanites go for gourmet grocery stores (épicerie fine) with restaurants and wine tastings and suburbanites pick up online-ordered groceries after work, but in France, market-style presentation has always been king. La Grande Épicerie wears the crown. Located within Bon Marché, the world’s first department store, it’s considered the best food shop in Paris, thanks to its tasting counters (France’s answer to fast food), 1,500 wine options, 350 types of jams, a “tablettothèque” of hundreds of sourced chocolate bars, and a hip top-floor restaurant. Other glorious grocers include the half-deli, half-restaurant Maison Plisson in Marais and the trendy Causses in south Pigalle.
Paris has more than 80 specialized, covered, and open-air markets, where you can find a variety of only-in-Paris products. The oldest market, the lively Marché des Enfants Rouges in Haut Marais, dates back to 1615, but locals come here to eat more than to buy produce. Try the decadent Burger Fermier des Enfants Rouges. Near Bon Marché Rive Gauche, the open-air traditional Marché Raspail, selling everything from strawberries to scarves, takes place on Tuesday and Friday, with a decent-sized organic market on Sunday. Held every Saturday, Marché Biologique des Batignolles is a quieter market experience where you can buy directly from the producers; items for sale include fresh produce, olive oil soap, makeup, cheese, and jams. Look for the Bastille’s Colonne de Juillet monument to find your way to the 100 stalls that take over Boulevard Richard-Lenoir on Thursday and Sunday. Marché Bastille is one of the city’s biggest food markets, known for its cheese, poultry, and fish as well as its art and handmade gifts.
While eating in Paris on a budget is absolutely possible, it’s also very, very easy to spend a small (and large) fortune on dining here, thanks to some of the world’s most extravagant, fabulous, well-reviewed, and yes, expensive restaurants. Before you head off all Michelin starry-eyed to indulge in haute cuisine, remember that the “best” restaurants in Paris can be uncomfortably ceremonious—think ornate purse stools, priceless menus, and waiters hovering to decrumb the table at every bite. But if you’re going to experience fine dining at its most gastronomic, it might as well be in Paris. There are currently nine three-Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, none of which are what could be called affordable. At Le Cinq at the Four Seasons George V, Christian le Squer reinterprets nostalgic French flavors resulting in some hefty prices: €70 for a starter of “gratinated” Parisian-style onions. The four-course lunch menu (€145 per person and served in 90 minutes) must be ordered by the whole table, but it’s worth it for the sophisticated interior and views alone. Hands down one of Paris’s most expensive restaurants, Guy Savoy’s Monnaie de Paris has a 13-course menu featuring lobster, caviar, duck, and black truffle that will put you back €445 per person. Yannick Alléno leads Alléno Paris au Pavillon Ledoyen, one of luxury Paris’s best-kept secrets, where his daring blue lobster body in floral cucumber melba will impress you as much as the decor. The one-star L’Ecrin, tucked away at the back of the Hotel de Crillon, seats only 28 and has a choice of a seven- or 12-course menu (€195 and €260 respectively).