The "Best" of Paris
Some favorite dining and eating places in Paris
Before I start, I just want to say that I wince a bit when I’m asked who has “the best baguette” in Paris, or where the “best croissant” in Paris is. People probably think that I’m not a nice person for being reluctant to name a specific address for “the best baguette” or croissant or some macarons. But the truth is, with over 1,300 bakeries, it’s doubtful that I (or anyone) could taste everything and be able to conclusively declare something as “the best” in Paris. And even if I could, my idea of best might not be yours.
(In 2007, I named the croissant from my local bakery on my blog as “the best in Paris,” which prompted a taste-test years later by some online group, who weren’t as convinced. They also didn’t mention that the bakery had changed hands twice since I wrote that piece, and with 2,259 posts on my blog, it’s impossible for me to go back and update all the posts as things inevitably change.)
In addition, if you come to Paris and take the métro across town to grab a baguette and it’s not up to snuff, I don’t want to take responsibility for ruining anyone’s vacation…or even a half-day of it. I want you to have a great time on your vacation!…not curse me out. (Or do a post about my recommendations.) So rather than saying something is “the best,” think of these recommendations as my favorites.
For the record, macarons have had quite their day in Paris (and beyond), and while they’re not going anywhere, things have settled down. I am a little stodgy and a firm believer in hewing close to the classics. I don’t think you can go wrong with Ladurée, which went up for sale last year, or Pierre Hermé, whose flavors are well-thought-out and more intriguing, without being silly. The mini ones at Richart (above) are nice, and I also like the ones at La Maison du Chocolat.
Now that I’ve gotten the “best macarons in Paris” out of the way…😉…we can move on.
A caveat: My picks lean toward the Right Bank as I don’t go over to the Left Bank much. It’s a different vibe over there—and certainly tidier—and while I head over there once in a while, we do most of our eating and drinking on this side of the Seine. And a broad generalization, but the farther away you get from the single-digit arrondissements in Paris, the more you’ll find the dining and baking more diverse.
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A Great Crêpe
The best crêpe in Paris isn’t a crêpe at all. It’s the buckwheat galette—the Breton name for buckwheat crêpes, which also go by the name crêpe au blé noir, just to keep us on our toes—served up at Breizh Café.
Breizh Café started with one always-packed restaurant in the Marais and has now branched out with eight more places around the city. There are other good crêperies in Paris, but 9 out of 10 times, we go to Breizh Café, which is easier now that there are more addresses in town.
Being partial to simplicity and tradition, I invariably go with the complète; a buckwheat crêpe/galette with ham, cheese, and an egg on top, which they’ll scramble if you prefer your eggs not sunny-side up. Being Breton, butter isn’t optional, but essential. For the pat offered alongside, I choose Bordier seaweed butter, but the rosy piment d’Espelette with spicy Basque peppers is also delicious smeared over the whole shebang.
The Perfect Place for Oysters
While cheap oysters never sound like a good idea, it’s very hard to argue when the very reasonably priced oysters are alive and shucked right in front of you, then served with a goblet of cool white wine while you’re standing in the midst of one of the busiest marchés in Paris. That’s my idea of heaven, folks.
At the Bastille market, on Sunday, there are generally two vendors opening and shucking les huitres, offering them up by the platter. I like both vendors and the freshness at both stands is unparalleled. A plateau of oysters will run you somewhere between €9-15, and a cup of vin blanc ordinaire around €2.
While we don’t do it often, as we usually bring oysters home and eat them, since you get more for your €€€, we like going to L’Européen, across from the Gare de Lyon where there’s a mix of locals and travelers. For a more “sit down,” full-meal experience, you can’t go wrong with L’Ecailler de Bistro from the same owner of the popular Bistro Paul Bert.
On the left bank, Huîterie Régis is popular. I haven’t been but according to their online menu, a dozen oysters will run you between €32 and €69. I have been to Avant Comptoir de la Mer, which is excellent and fun. One stand-out at this mostly stand-up seafood comptoir is a giant mound of salted French butter on the bar. It’s traditional to serve oysters with rye bread and salted butter, a tradition I’m happy that exists, and happy to indulge in.
Fabulously Fair-Priced Standard Bistro Fare
When we just want a simple French meal without pretense and a friendly welcome, we head to Aux Bons Crus. The typewritten menu lists the standards, including leeks vinaigrette, œufs mayonnaise, and a frisée salad with bacon, and the daily specials on the chalkboard reinforce their commitment to the French classics, like chicken in vin jaune and pistachio-flecked sausages. The prices are fair, and the only time I’ve ever had something I really didn’t like was an unfortunate salade Niçoise. (I arrived after a day of shooting food photography and just wanted a salad, which was a mistake.) We enjoy the warm atmosphere, the steak-frites, and the generous Floating Island and Baba au rhum for dessert, which are both big enough to share. House wine by the carafe is a good value and pairs just fine with the food.
Le Bougainville is popular with the locals for a reason; it serves straightforward French food with an excellent wine list. (Plus very good wines by the carafe or glass. Much better than a typical French bistro.) It’s not farm-to-table fare; some of it may have the feel and flavor of a French cantine (lunchroom), but the hearty food is served forth without a lot of frills and is similar to the food you’d get at a great French routier (truck stop), which are beloved places to eat in France. But if your aim is to Live (or Eat) Like a Local, this is a good address to do that. The house-made terrine is outstanding.
A few other places serving typical bistro fare, without a lot of fuss, that are fun: Bouillon Pigalle and Bouillon République, which offer up classic French food at reasonable prices and of good quality. The restaurants have become popular and don’t take reservations, so expect a ~30+ minute wait for a table at mealtimes. À la Biche au Bois is quite fun and still resolutely old-fashioned. At a higher price point, Le Bon Georges has hit its stride and the quality of ingredients is exceptional and the staff as wonderful as can be. We are fans.
A Superior Sandwich, or Two
I don’t live for “Likes” but interestingly, my most Liked pictures on Instagram are the ones of jambon-beurre (ham and butter) sandwiches, eaten on the streets of Paris. Although it’s a close call, I’m going with Le Petit Vendôme as my favorite sandwicherie in Paris, but don’t count out Caracter du Cochon, which is terrific in its own way. Both are decidedly different and Le Petit Vendôme offers a variety of sandwiches, not just ham and butter (you can ask for a sandwich Simple or Mixte, choosing from two or three ingredients, respectively, offered, which include Cantal cheese (recommended!), pork sausage, Camembert, rillettes, blue cheese, or go with the Spécial, with goat cheese, mountain ham, Provençal olive oil and black pepper, which is another favorite. You can eat at the counter (see photo at the top of the post), which is a great place to banter with the staff, or grab it to go.
Solo, the engaging owner of Caracter de Cochon, offers up dozens of hams from around France and neighboring countries, so you can pick your jambon. (Another candidate for great sandwiches in Paris is CheZaline.) I love his little shop in the upper Marais and whatever ham you choose, he’ll do a great job preparing your sandwich with it.
The Parfaite Pastry
The Paris-Brest by Jacques Genin is the one in town to beat. For a while, Chef Genin went on hiatus, only making desserts and pastries by special order. He finally closed the Tea Salon (which was a good idea as the few tables were constantly full and customers weren’t rushing to leave, so the wait could be interminable), which allowed him to concentrate on his chocolates, his exceptional caramels (I usually like my caramels on the non-fussy side, but the mango-passion fruit caramels are seriously superb), and on making desserts to order, which are now for ordering to-go only.
There are a lot of outstanding pastry chefs and shops in Paris and I list my favorites here and here, but I dream about Jacques’ Paris-Brest, which is a crown of pâte à choux encircling a layer of rich hazelnut praline cream made from Italian hazelnuts. Just thinking about it now makes me want to run over there and grab one…!
Another favorite pastry in Paris is the merveille at Au Merveilleux de Fred. Visitors (and locals) sometimes wince at the word “meringue” with visions of tooth-achingly sweet desserts. True, I eat sugar for a living, but while they are a little sweet, they’re so light and airy, I promise you won’t have any trouble polishing it off.
Pro tip: Skip the bite-size ones, the merveilleux that are the size of a golf ball, which don’t have the right proportion of meringue to cream, and get the standard ones, which are the more generous size of a softball. They’re harder to eat on the street but worth indulging in, with a fork or spoon, so you can properly enjoy them. I am partial to the chocolate and coffee varieties.
Another runner-up: The Maple Tart at Tapisserie from the newer kids on the bakery block, from the team that brought us Septime. The tarte is a wonder of zesty maple flavor with a perfect plouf of crème chantilly, perched in a buttery round of pâte sucrée pastry.
A Non-Pareil Chocolate Bar
The Atlantique tablet, above, from Franck Kestener is truly a marvel. Dark chocolate from Venezuela enrobes lip-smacking salty caramel with a plage (layer) of a whisper-thin crunchy biscuit, which is neatly also tucked inside. Kestener claims eating this bar will make you feel like you’re on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, but I always feel like it’s taking me closer to heaven.