Paris may not be the first place that springs to mind for most of you when the topic of where to go for spring break comes up over dinner. But for Gary and I, springtime in Paris isn’t all that strange. Where else would two food lovers go on vacation? We have visited Paris multiple times, with a range of budgets and culinary sophistication — from newbies with no money to food writers with far more discretionary income. And of course, I took notes on every step of the journey. Well, at least on the food.
In this two-part series, I will cover all my favorites, lessons learned, and travel tips to make the most of your next food adventure in the City of Lights. Part one: arrive and get oriented, learn what is so great about Parisian food, and begin our culinary adventure with a stroll through the food markets of Paris. Let’s go!
“welcome to Paris” by Jenn Kosar
From a food perspective, there is much to explore and experience in Paris. I cannot begin to cover it all, but throughout these posts you will find the planning resources I have found particularly helpful. I am a planner, so this is hard for me to say: Paris is at its best when you do not have plan. I encourage everyone to make a few reservations for those #wheretoeatbeforeyoudie sort of places, but otherwise, enjoy the wandering. It is what Paris is all about.
First things first: traveling to Paris
Add it to the list of reasons to love Paris: it is relatively easy to get there. Direct flights abound to Charles de Gaulle airport; or, consider Orly Airport, smaller and closer to Paris city center. We will be checking it out on our next trip with our new airline of choice, the all-business class La Compagnie.
Paris is a reasonably small city and easy to explore, thanks to a history of strong city planning and an easily navigated metro system that covers the entire city quite well. Having said that, when planning your day, stay above ground as often as you can; the joy of Paris is wandering the beautiful streets.
“photography shop in Paris” by Jenn Kosar
Paris has 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods). Visitors generally will want to stay in those numbered 11e (the common abbreviation, equivalent to ’th’ ordinal numbers) or below for greater convenience to the sights, restaurants, and the heart of Paris. Selecting a neighborhood for “home base” is a matter of travel preference and budget. Here are a few thoughts to guide your selection:
- Food lovers might prefer the 6e (Luxembourg, also known as the St. Germain-des-Prés) or the 7e (Palais Bourbon). A mix of residential and tourist elements, these neighborhoods allow you to enjoy Paris like a local without losing proximity to the major food destinations on your list. Make sure your hotel is situated in a just-busy-enough neighborhood with cafés, boulangeries (bakeries), and other food conveniences, as well as a metro stop. Surprisingly, these arrondissements, while central themselves, have long stretches with less access to these food tourist needs.
- The 4e arrondissement (Hotel-de-Ville, more commonly known as “The Marais”) is the preserved section that makes visitors say “this is Paris”, thanks to its charming, narrow medieval streets left intact through those years of city planning. The irony is The Marais is the most “hip”, with tons of nightlife, boutique contemporary fashion, and young people. Food lovers looking to explore the modern French dining scene may find themselves hanging out in The Marais more often.
- This is a food blog, but a love of the finer things in life tends to extend to leather goods. If you plan on some serious French shopping, the 8e arrondissement (Élysées) is for you. Probably not by accident, this area is also filled with Michelin stars and classic French Restaurants. Just watch out for the tourist-trap cafés on the Champs Élysées. These are not your best food choices.
- If you want to save your money for the food, consider the 5e Arrondissement, known as the Latin Quarter thanks to the abundance of scholarly institutions. Student-oriented, it is generally less expensive, but still convenient to plenty of spots you will want to visit.
photo by jenn kosar
Getting oriented: things to know when planning your culinary adventures in Paris
I would love to blame the jet lag, but the truth it, the arrival of children and our forties means we no longer keep young New Yorker dining hours. Aligning ourselves to typical Parisian mealtimes was more of an adjustment than we expected. Lunch typically begins at 12:30 or 1:00pm, and the most common dinner reservation is 8:30 or 9:00pm. The early bird special (which apparently we were enjoying) is the 7:00pm slot. Most restaurants are literally just opening at this hour, so plan accordingly if you are of the metabolic variety that cannot go more than a few hours without eating (more on that in part two).
“pink chairs at a Paris café” by Jenn Kosar
On the subject of reservations, you might be surprised to learn that restaurant reservation culture is not as nutty in Paris as it has become in certain places (ahem, New York City). You can typically reserve a table at all but the most grand of restaurants with just a few days’ notice. However, you should still make a proper reservation for a “Restaurant” (more on that in part two) for two reasons. First, it is proper Parisian etiquette to let the establishment know your plans, and equally, to cancel them if they change. Second, as we experienced, even the finest dining establishments can change their plans. For example, if the French President comes to visit and wants to eat at Le Cinq the same night you were planning to dine (true story). Calling to both reserve and confirm is always a good idea.
So what should I eat? The best of food in Paris
Choosing the restaurant is often not the hard part — it is deciding what to eat when you only have a few fabulous meals to enjoy! Here is my list of must-eat foods on a trip to Paris.
- Croissants. I try to keep very low carb. If I am going to eat them, this is how I am going to do it.
- Escargots à la Bourguignonne. Yes, snails. But please, try them. The snails are drowned in garlic and butter and served with bread to sop it up. The texture is like a firm mushroom. Trust me, it is delicious.
- Eggs. Let’s just say the French know how to treat an egg. Any omelet will be superior, but also consider any dish on the menu featuring a oeuf. I particularly enjoy anything with baked eggs (“en cocotte”).
- Chèvre Tiède sur un Lit de Salade. Grilled goat cheese on salad; so simple, so divine.
“grilled goat cheese salad at a Paris cafe” by jenn kosar
- Moules Marinières. Mussels in garlicky wine, even better with Frites (fries) with aioli (garlic mayonnaise) for dipping.
- Crepes. Fill it with whatever your heart desires, but I go for the sweet.
- Galettes. Similar to a crêpe, but made with buckwheat. In my view, these are best with, you guessed it, eggs.
- Macarons. Go with the local vote and head for Pierre Hermé, or the more famous Ladurée. Do a tasting and decide for yourself!
- Falafel. This surprised me too, but yes, it is good here and apparently quite Parisian.
- Meringues. I love these in general, but the as-big-as-your-head variety are extra special.
- Duck. I love duck, but the French eat it more often and know how to do it right. Like in a chocolate dome at Pierre Gagnaire.
- Croque Monsieur or Madame. Or really, any ham and cheese sandwich, but croques are grilled, the latter with an egg on top. You’re getting the idea.
- Steak Tartare. Yes, raw meat, mixed with egg and other accompaniments. Done right, it is delicious.
“croque monsieur in a Paris café” by jenn kosar
And of course, the wine…
This really is deserving of an entirely separate post, and frankly, one I am not qualified to write. Navigating French wine is daunting, and wine lists in even the most casual of restaurants are unnerving. If there is a sommelier or even a friendly waiter, do not hesitate to seek help. Guide them with your desired region, flavor profile (light vs. bold, dry vs. sweet, etc.) and budget.
“glass of chablis on a rainy day in Paris” by jenn kosar
Here are a few quick tips that helped us navigate wine in Paris restaurants:
- For a light meal or snack, consider a glass of champagne or something from Alsace or Loire regions. The Loire region also produces Sancerre, my personal favorite, as well as lighter, drier reds.
- Rose fans should look for wines from Languedoc-Roussilon for full-bodied, fruity options.
- Food-friendly whites are generally those from Burgundy (which is typically Chardonnay, or Chablis, the better of which stays in France so give it a try even if you think you don’t like it) and Bordeaux (Bourgogne on a French menu, and typically Sauvignon Blanc based).
- Bordeaux reds are some of the finest and most expensive wine in the world, but there are lower price options. They are almost always a blend of grapes. The Medoc sub-region is more Cabernet Sauvignon focused, St. Émilion and Pomerol sub-regions are more Merlot.
- The Rhone region produces more budget-friendly options, including Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which we find are generally well-balanced and food friendly for a range of palettes.
- Burgundy region red wines are essentially Pinot Noir, but they can be big and powerful, so get advice unless you know your labels and your food pairings.
On my next visit, I am definitely checking this out: an English-speaking wine class recommended by one of my favorite restaurants, Fish La Boisonnerie, and focused on helping some of us navigate French wine. Sounds perfect!
“daily crepe menu in Paris cafe” by jenn kosar
Because it’s not all about the Louis Vuitton: Food shopping in Paris
Readers of foodwithaview.com know that when I visit other cities, particularly foreign ones, I love checking out grocery stores, food markets, and pretty much any place that sells anything even remotely related to food. It gives me a sense for local life, insight into what is fresh and good about food in my temporary home. Paris is full of food markets, open and closed, new and old, and home to some of the most famous food purveyors in the world. Here are my favorites:
Known as Rue Commerçantes (Merchant Streets), Marchés-Couverts (Covered Markets) or Marchés Volants (Roving Markets), this is how food shopping should be, in my view. Fresh, local, vibrant, and highly specialized, you can roam the shops and stalls for hours. I particularly loved:
- The Marché de Enfants Rouges in the Marais. One of the few remaining Marches-Couverts and simply buzzing with charm and activity. A lovely place to stop for lunch or just to stroll and admire.
- The Rue Cler in the 7th. A Rue Commerçante, housing Fromagerie, Amorino, and countless other speciality shops and cafés (here is a a great guide). Only steps away, but worth the diversion, are Fromager Marie-Anne Cantin (often named the best cheese shop Paris); Doucers et Traditions Boulangerie Nelly Julien (delicious fresh bread and croissants), and the famed Petrossian for caviar and other fish delights.
“lemons at the marche de enfants rouges in Paris” by jenn kosar
- Place de la Madeleine in the 8th. While not officially a “market”, it is a food lover’s destination, and there is a small Marchés Volants and (gasp!) a few food trucks parked nearby. Shop owners actually compete for the most beautiful window displays, and most are food-focused. Yum!
Chocolate is everywhere in Paris, and like most things here, I suspect even the “worst” is pretty good.
- Patrick Roger in Place de la Madeleine is more like a chocolate art museum, with sculptures in every window.
- Jacques Genin in the Marais was recommended by locals as the best, and it did not disappoint; the shop features a small café where you can take a break after all that chocolate shopping.
- Angelina, technically a tea house, but if you stop by for a break from the Louvre or shopping on the Rue Saint Honoré for a hot chocolate, be sure to take home a few packages of the mix to remember your visit, or in my case, to allow your children to pretend they were with you.
“chocolate mountain” at Patrick Roger in Paris by jenn kosar
Food from France and beyond makes a beautiful gift or keep it as souvenirs for yourself. In my view, these shops are worth a visit just for their beautiful settings.
- Boutique Maille (Place de la Madeleine, 8e). My favorite mustard, and an entire shop devoted to the craft of mustard-making.
- Caviar Kaspia (Place de la Madeleine, 8e). A pristine shop featuring fine seafood and caviar, and even better, a small restaurant upstairs overlooking the square where you can sample the best of the shop’s offerings.
- La Maison de la Truffe (Place de la Madeleine, 8e). Oh, that smell. If you love it, make sure to stop in; the shop sells fresh black truffles in season (November to March) as well as white truffles. Products made with truffles are available year-round, as is the tasting room with a menu full of, you guessed it, dishes centered around the truffle.
- Laduree (various locations, including Rue Royale, near Place de la Madeline, 8e). Famous for the macarons, but most locations also are a Salon de The, the quintessential Parisian experience.
“macarons in Paris” by jenn kosar
Next week, we get to “the list”. My recommendations for restaurants, cafés, and places to eat all throughout the city of light. We will debrief on my journey through the Michelin stars of Paris, and I will reveal my favorite. Plus more tips for getting the most out of your own culinary adventure in Paris. Hope to see you there! Until then, follow me on Facebook or Instagram for all my culinary adventures.
What’s your favorite tip for traveling Paris? Leave a comment below and let everyone know! Loving this post? Share with your own networks with my simple sharing buttons. Thanks!