It’s likely that as many people come to Paris for the food as for its art, landmarks, and history. And it’s worth it: there is as much history and culture in France’s cuisine as in its art.
The urge will be to head straight for the well-renowned and ever-lauded hotspots: La Duree for macaroons, or La Fontaine de Mars for fine dining (made particularly famous after President Obama’s visit in 2009. They’re certainly worth their salt.)
But if you want to experience the same culinary hallmarks of equal quality and steer clear of at least some of the crowds, here are some not-so-hidden gems you might not be familiar with, but that will make your experience of French food in Paris thoroughly delectable and complete. Let’s call it what it is: a foodie’s guide to Paris.
Frankly, most any bakery will do the trick. There are some better-known boulangeries in Paris: LeNôtre, Kayser, and Paul have multiple locations; places like Bechu and Pain d’Epis are worth going out of your way for. But for a typical breakfast of a croissant or another kind of viennoiserie, it’s hard to go wrong. Some of the best croissants come from the more anonymous bakeries.
For shopping or a snack, wander into one of the city’s great markets. Note: they don’t have to be huge and sprawling to have ample selections and be of high quality. One of the smaller markets is the Marché Poncelet, off Avenue des Ternes, and as it happens, right around the corner from a Paul’s. If you’re shopping for a picnic, or to cook a meal yourself, tell each vendor what you want and let them both guide you and select your products for you. The guidance is highly recommended, since they’ll be able to help you with pairings and tell you which of their products is best for the time you’ll be serving it. In terms of selecting your product, you don’t have a choice: they will select and bag even your fruits and vegetables. There is no self-service in the marché. And with good reason: they really do know best.
Before you leave the market, stop into Alléosse, a cheese shop with wonderful cheese and wonderful service. Again, tell them what you like and what you’re planning to prepare. They’ll help you out with timing, amounts, and help with subtle differences between varieties of cheese you didn’t know existed.
Should you find yourself on the left bank, wind your way toward the river and the Place St. Michel: it’s time for a crepe. There’s a little side street off the place called Rue Saint Andre des Arts, rife with bakeries, sandwich shops, gyro joints, and creperies. Follow the street down until you hit the Creperie St. Germain, on your left. Their savory crêpe menu (the galettes) is one of the more varied and unusual, among other more traditional creperies. At lunchtime, €9 will buy you a galette, a dessert crêpe, and a glass of traditional (hard) apple cider.
For dessert nearby, grab a cone from the world-famous Berthillon, a family-run business with pure ingredients and incredible flavor. Or try Amorino, where your gelato will be sculpted into rose petals in your cone or bowl.
You came to Paris to eat French food, but given the diverse makeup of Paris, there is a vast array of great foreign fare. Walking around, you may have noticed streets and neighborhoods flooded with gyros and falafel sandwiches. If you’re near the Marais on the right bank, head into the heart of the neighborhood down Rue des Rosiers. You’ll find a number of equally good options, but you cannot go wrong with a falafel sandwich from L’As du Falafel. Get in line, let them do it their way, and get it to go and keep ambling around the serpentine streets of the Jewish quarter. Another commendable option is Chez Marianne, a nicer environment if you want to sit and linger over a falafel platter for lunch.
For dessert in the neighborhood, you could grab a pastry from a Kosher bakery, such as Murciano’s on Rue des Rosiers. If you’re craving ice cream, there’s an Amorino in the Marais, but try Pozzetto, on Rue du Roi de Sicile. Their made-daily gelatos are possibly the most magnificent in Paris, and include unique flavors like gianduja, panna cotta, a lemony Crema del Pozzetto – in addition to their phenomenal pistachio and both milk and dark chocolate flavors. They also serve superb, authentic Italian coffee.
For a Rainy Afternoon:
Go to Angelina’s for what is possibly the world’s most decadent hot chocolate. It’s made from granules of milk chocolate boiled with water, nearly to the consistency of a sauce, and served with whipped cream. You’ll have to think of the cream as lightening it up – in terms of volume, anyway – as you stir it in. The café also has great lunch options, teas, coffee, and other classic pastries and chocolate confections available in their shop, to eat sur place or to go. You can even buy bags of the granulated milk chocolate to relive the experience of Angelina’s chocolat l’africain, at home.
For Happy Hour:
For happy hour and for drinks and nightlife in general, the Latin Quarter, in the 5th arrondissement, is where you want to be. Almost every bar you pass will have appealing happy hour deals, and remain lively through the night. Try L’Académie de la Bière on Boulevard de Port-Royal, specializing in Belgian beers. For a goofy experience, visit L’Urgence Bar on Rue Monsieur le Prince (in the 6th), an “emergency room”-themed bar that serves drinks and shots in baby bottles and test tubes.
If you thought mashed potatoes were an American thing – or at least that American cooking nailed them – you haven’t had real French pommes purées. Or you have, but you haven’t been to the Rotisserie de Beaujolais. The secret is the fresh butter and the cream. Order them with a daily special, or with their roast chicken.
(Another secret about French food? It’s not always that complicated – it just seems complicated to make things taste even better.)
The restaurant is an experience of the best of simple, excellently prepared national cuisine. Be sure to try their towering tarte au citron meringuée at the end of the meal.
Otherwise, try another typical dish – or two – in the form of soufflés at a restaurant named, not surprisingly, Le Soufflé. The place is small, elegant, and unassuming, but you’ll get a sort of magic trick delivered right to your table with their lofty savory and sweet soufflés. They’re served in large personal ramekins, and many are accompanied by a rich sauce that they’ll pour into the middle upon serving it. Of the savory, try the Soufflé Henri IV au Sauce Volaille et Champignons Sauvages: the hearty flavors of fowl, butter, and broth in the sauce are balanced by the incredible lightness of the soufflé itself. It’s a sense-muddling sensation that’s thoroughly worth it.
For dessert, you cannot go wrong with the chocolate soufflé, accompanied by a chocolate sauce. Don’t hesitate: it’s not too much chocolate.
For chocolate and other candy confections (again, to eat sur place in Paris or to take back home when you go), La Maison du Chocolat (with locations throughout the city) will certainly have what you’re looking for, from traditional chocolates to more exciting and experimental varieties. À La Mère de Famille rivals their supply, though, and is also one shop that produced the negus, chewy caramels and chocolates coated in a hard caramel shell. They’re not so good to the teeth, but what they do for the tongue makes up for it entirely.