We asked five chefs and culinary experts to determine the most delicious and memorable plates in the food-obsessed French capital. Here are the results.
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By Kurt Soller, Sara Lieberman, Katherine McGrath, Zoey Poll and Lindsey Tramuta
There is perhaps no Zoom meeting less satisfying than one scheduled on a cold weekday morning to talk about food — specifically, the food that one ought to eat in Paris. We couldn’t gather in a great restaurant, for the people assembled were chefs and writers spread across continents, some racing from their kitchens, others dialing in after dropping off their children. The frenetic life we’d all once known was, in many senses, back. And so was the Paris culinary scene, driven by that thrilling hunt for places both new and old, French and not, an obsession among natives and tourists alike.
As with a similar list we made for New York — and as part of our ongoing T 25 series, which has surfaced significant and memorable travel destinations, buildings, interiors, art, fashion and books — we wanted to name the essential Parisian dishes to eat right now. With both visitors and residents in mind, I’d assembled a panel of experts who either work in the city, are from there or spend lots of time in town, including the pastry chef Dominique Ansel; the cookbook author Dorie Greenspan; Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem, the couple who run the restaurants Mokonuts and Mokoloco in the 11th Arrondissement; and Marie-Aude Rose, the French chef of New York’s La Mercerie (who is also, as might be expected, involved in several businesses throughout America and France overseen by her husband, the chef Daniel Rose). I’d asked each of them to nominate 10 or so candidates ahead of time, which ranged from entire meals at gastronomic temples to pastries and street-food staples they’d happened upon on their blocks; the goal was to include classically rich options as well as newer, more internationally inflected choices. And nothing could be nominated from any of our panelists’ establishments (although there would have been many worthy contenders).
Surprisingly, or perhaps not, no one chose a baguette or a croissant. On these longer lists, there were just two overlaps: ice cream by Jessica Yang, a rising chef who co-owns a cave à vin called Folderol, and Ispahan macarons by Pierre Hermé, the grand-père of contemporary French desserts. We quickly advanced those — and some other sweets — to the next round, then spent hours that day, and in a few follow-up calls, discussing everything else we felt merited inclusion: bistro fare, as well as its 21st-century permutations; genteel seafood; haute patisserie; European favorites, particularly from Italy, that have recently crossed borders; and other items influenced and made by the immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East who make Paris what it is today.
The final list, which appears in unranked alphabetical order below and covers most arrondissements, isn’t what we expected, nor is it like the myriad Parisian food rankings we’ve all encountered before. There’s nothing from impossible to reserve (and impossibly expensive) prix fixe stalwarts, but there is the best fried chicken you’ll find outside of the Philippines. Naturally, a few popular wine bars and bistronomy spots made the cut, although mostly for modernizing things like chou farci and steak au poivre. But this list, like all lists, is subjective: It reflects the palates and sensibilities of our panelists on a few gray January mornings. Above all, it speaks to the fact that great food — particularly in Paris, particularly right now — looks forward and backward at once: That’s what makes eating there (and debating where to eat there) so deliciously freewheeling. — Kurt Soller
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Situated on a quiet street below Montparnasse is the chef David Rathgeber’s L’Assiette, a gilded example of fine French bistro fare. The brief menu includes market-driven specialties like escargot and pâté, but it would be a mistake not to order the cassoulet, the slow-simmering, stick-to-your-ribs stew served in generous portions in the wide-lipped cauldron, the cassole d’Issel, that gives the Languedocian dish its name. While it’s considered rustic as French cuisine goes — and is rarely found on bistro menus these days — Rathgeber’s version honors each individual ingredient: thin-skinned white mogette beans from the Vendée region; the harmoniously meaty trio of duck confit, succulent pork belly and a hunk of lamb’s neck that melts from the bone; and garlic sausage on top. It’s made twice weekly, giving the beans and broth time to mingle and deepen their flavor. — Katherine McGrath
181 Rue du Château, 14th Arrondissement.
Dominique Ansel: I love cassoulet. I cook one every year for my team around Christmas, but Chef Rathgeber makes one of the best. He cooks simple bistro food, but the quality is impeccable. It’s not pretentious.
Patrick Roger calls himself a “chocolatier-sculpteur,” and the fantastical forms that fill his shop windows — life-size animals and expressive abstract volumes, some carved from enormous blocks of chocolate — have become fixtures in the wealthy neighborhoods where his seven boutiques are found. Inside, however, it’s the miniatures that get all the attention: Refined squares of chocolate, filled with ganache, praline or marzipan, fan out in boxes beneath the glass counters like fine jewelry. Many Parisians are devoted to the distinctive citrus-accented ones, such as the potent lime-basil Delhi or the lime-caramel Amazone, with its glossy, painterly demisphere. But it’s best to try a few together, comparing Roger’s mellower flavors (oat or beer ganache) with some of his more mischievous (often limited-edition) combinations, such as potato vodka almond paste or cannabis coffee. The assorted take-home sets range from small metal cases with a concise sampling to extravagant emerald green boxes containing more than 600 grams of chocolate, about as much as Roger himself claims to eat daily. — Zoey Poll
Dorie Greenspan: As Dominique wrote [on his list of nominations], you bite into them and you immediately know what flavor they are.
Ansel: I’d describe him first as an artist, not as a pastry chef. My wife always tells me I have a man crush on him. Of course, there are lots of places in Paris that have good chocolate bonbons, but he took it very far and that’s tricky — it’s like chemistry.
Its anise-and-clove-flavored veal broth resembles a Yayoi Kusama painting with all those oil bubbles, while the stuffed savoy cabbage it surrounds looks like a gift to be unwrapped. Once you cut it open, you may be thrilled to find pistachio chips and warm foie gras mixed in with the minced pork, adding sophistication to an otherwise homey classic that was historically developed from leftovers. The 32-seat wine bar is tucked among boutiques and art galleries in the Upper Marais and doesn’t look like much from the outside; come wintertime, curtains cover half the windows, with little to entice passers-by except the daily menu taped outside. Those resourceful enough to know you need a reservation will find an in-demand neighborhood restaurant with exposed stone walls and a copper-topped bar dating to 1936. Its three young proprietors, the couple Bastien Fidelin and Sarah Michielsen, and their friend the chef Julien Chevallier, bought the place in 2021 after years spent in the world of fine dining, and they’ve become increasingly creative with each passing month; as Fidelin says, “The bistro is liberté.” — Sara Lieberman
Marie-Aude Rose: I was surprised by Parcelles — I had the lièvre à la Royale [hare with red-wine garlic sauce], which was something I was doing when I [was employed] at Guy Savoy: It’s a lot of work. It’s impressive they’re doing [those kinds of traditional] dishes so well.
Greenspan: I thought the food was just beautiful.
Rose: I’m not so much into the natural wine, but the food: yes.
You don’t just stumble upon the chef Raquel Carena’s bistro, which she’s been running with her partner, Philippe Pinoteau, for the past three decades — it’s up in the 20th Arrondissement, off the main artery of one of Paris’s Chinatowns, Rue de Belleville. But chefs themselves, along with French gourmands who crave offal, have been making the trek for years — and curious tourists followed after Anthony Bourdain visited it in 2012 for an episode of “The Layover.” Devoid of music, the brightly lit space is decorated with little beyond a wall of cooking and art books. In the kitchen, Carena relies upon lesser-known ingredients and techniques; even those with a working knowledge of French may be unfamiliar with menu terms like “estouffade de joue de boeuf” (smothered beef cheek) and “barbajuan” (a sort of fried ravioli from the south of France). Carena’s plating is usually uncomplicated, as in a chickpea crepe with ricotta and tomato ragout that’s folded like an omelet rather than a traditional galette, or a nut cheese ice cream that comes partially melted, almost like a sweet soup. You may have to confirm your own reservation day of — and note that they’re taken only by phone. — S.L.
Ansel: This is my favorite restaurant. It’s almost like home cooking, with these old-school dishes you can’t find anywhere else — I get the veal brains [pictured above, at top right]. It’s about the simplicity and, more so, the quality of the ingredients: You really have to get them in France.
Rose: Raquel always has these Utah Beach oysters [also pictured above], with just a touch of Japanese vinegar — they’re amazing.
Since opening the tasting menu-focused Le Rigmarole in 2017, the married 30-something chefs Robert Compagnon and Jessica Yang — he’s French American and she’s Taiwanese American; they met while working at Guy Savoy — have consistently upended the city’s contemporary dining scene. It started with their eclectic omakase-style debut, blending binchotan-grilled dishes, fresh pastas and homemade ice cream, all paired with natural and biodynamic wines. Folderol followed next door (see No. 10) and, last fall, the duo went in another unexpected direction, opening a pizza pop-up led by the sourdough expert Dan Pearson. The couple asked the American baker, who had previously worked at Ten Belles in Paris and Panic bakery in Madrid, to take over their space while they adjusted to life with a second child. Pizza may seem like a departure from Compagnon and Yang’s cooking, but the philosophy has remained the same: Stay simple and seasonal, but push flavor to its maximum. In fact, the endive, bleu de chèvre and scamorza pizza, a heady standout on the winter menu, isn’t far from a grilled endive dish that Compagnon once served. May it follow Pearson wherever he goes next. — Lindsey Tramuta
10 Rue du Grand Prieuré, 11th Arrondissement.
Omar Koreitem: Moko and I are 10 years older than Robert and Jess, but we always say that we look up to them.
Greenspan: They’re so serious. I mean, they’re also lovely and funny, but they think about everything and test and test and test, and it shows in the food. I don’t think there’s another restaurant like Le Rigmarole in Paris: It’s so personal and idiosyncratic.
Koreitem: He’s going to be [making pizza] through the end of February, and then Le Rigmarole is going to come back. Dan really made [pizza] his own.
Greenspan: The endive with the blue goat cheese! He works so hard on the dough: One day, he uses five flours; one day, he uses six. But the [toppings are] like if you went to a restaurant and ordered a [plated] dish. He’s thought about it like a cook.
Maybe you don’t go to Paris to eat wings, but that might change after trying the chef Erica Paredes’s twice-fried chicken, which comes topped with one of three sauces: adobo, a balsamic, sugar and soy glaze topped with garlic yogurt (not much heat); the Patis Caramel, made from fish sauce (lip-tingling heat); and the Pinatubo, a spicy mango habanero option with chile oil and bird’s-eye chiles (full-mouth fire). At Paredes’s 33-seat restaurant, with its concrete walls and pink-and-gold accents, the wings come in either three- or five-piece portions and you’re instructed to eat with your hands. Paredes, who studied at Le Cordon Bleu and has been cooking in Paris for seven years — both for chefs like Joël Robuchon and at private homes — has taken the techniques she learned at school and infused them with the Filipino ingredients she knew from her upbringing in Manila. “The more I put myself into the food,” she says, “the more people liked it and the happier I was to cook.” — S.L.
41 Rue de Montreuil, 11th Arrondissement.
Moko Hirayama: Ethnic food in Paris is very, very lame. The spiciness is tamed. It’s adapted to cater to the French palate. But Erica sticks to her Filipino thing — she doesn’t care if she uses ketchup or canned [items] or some special vinegar: That’s the flavor.
Koreitem: It cannot be more fried than it is; it cannot be more chickeny than it is. …
Greenspan: And there’s a hot sauce with it. … And the place is just so cute … and the menu is fun.
Koreitem: She was selling fried chicken from home during the pandemic, and I think that was a really big hit. Even before she had a restaurant, she was gaining a following for it on Instagram.
At Claire Damon’s two boutiques, sculptural creations gleam in the display case. The desserts are elegant in form and often crafted around each season’s bounty of fresh fruit — the chef grew up on an orchard in Auvergne — which she uses only at their peak. As such, the selections change every few weeks: poached pear tarts in autumn (pictured above), say, or peach and cherry ones in summer. Her modern approach is similar to that of a perfumer in that she arranges notes in layers; winter’s Absolu Citron is creamy and tangy, featuring olive oil-infused meringue beneath a lemony custard, with a swipe of concentrated Corsican lemon gel on top. Damon is well on her way to building an empire like that of her mentor, Pierre Hermé (see No. 11), but she considers herself, first and foremost, a pastry chef. — K.M.
63 Boulevard Pasteur, 15th Arrondissement;89 Rue du Bac, Seventh Arrondissement.
Greenspan: Her flavors are clear and delicate. Everything looks refined and elegant. Whatever fruit tart she does in season is worth getting.
At first glance, the offerings at this frilly haute glacerie with pale pink banquettes and tropical motifs appear incongruously austere: two pristine lemon halves; a single neon green lime, served with a spoon in a dainty metal coupelle. Concealed inside the rind, however, is a scoop of bright sorbet. These are fruits givrés, an elevated take on a retro summertime treat that was first popularized in southern Italy; the owners, Marie-Laure Pollet and Ollivia Berdah, who opened the salon in 2018, were inspired by the sorbet-stuffed citrus fruits of their childhood, a 1980s supermarket freezer-aisle favorite. Here, the three dozen or so chilled fruits on the menu are all natural, the sorbet made from fresh pulp or flesh blended with mineral water and organic cane sugar. Crowd pleasers include passion fruit and verbena-infused lemon, plus grand centerpieces, like the cacao pod with a dinner party’s worth of dark chocolate-and-cacao nib sorbet inside, and seasonal specials, such as late summer’s wild peaches or winter’s clementines, an effective 9 euro antidote to Parisian grisaille. — Z.P.
Rose: I had this for New Year’s Eve and it was just amazing sorbet. And these kinds of fruits givrés are [always] pretty and refreshing after a meal.
“Those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell,” Marcel Proust famously wrote in “In Search of Lost Time” (1913), turning the French confection into a stand-in for the pleasures of memory. For François Perret, the head pastry chef of the Ritz Paris since 2015, it was inconceivable not to summon Proust when he began developing the hotel’s afternoon tea, hosted in a salon that bears the author’s name. Once Perret settled on the format, full of traditions from his childhood in eastern France like petits fours and chocolate-covered biscuits, the madeleine emerged as an obvious focal point — and then became the emblem of Le Comptoir, the hotel’s pastry shop, which opened in 2021. “The madeleine is beautiful, luscious and wonderfully nostalgic. But most important, it’s versatile,” he says. With a shape that takes more inspiration from the fleur-de-lis than the usual seashell, his glazed madeleines come in seven permanent flavors, including caramel, chocolate, raspberry and passion fruit, and then get tweaked further for special occasions (speculoos in December, white chocolate coconut for Easter). Each is generously filled with candied or puréed fruit, silky caramel or dark chocolate ganache, which helps them stay unexpectedly supple and lends surprising heft. As Perret says, “They’re pure, regressive indulgence.” — L.T.
Greenspan: The Ritz is the Ritz; the pastry shop you can just breeze into when you’ve come from the gym. They’re really creative — a lovely reading of madeleines: filled in the center and glazed. François is very playful. What he does is whimsical and has real flavor. He thinks like a child in terms of pastry, but his skill and craftsmanship are incredible.
Ice cream and wine are unlikely bedfellows, but the two come together harmoniously at Folderol, Compagnon and Yang’s cave à vin, which is next door to Le Rigmarole (see No. 5). The couple took a gamble on the pairing when they opened at the end of 2020 — not only because of pandemic-related restrictions (service was initially to-go only) but also because of a local culture that rarely succumbs to the joy of a few scoops of ice cream after a long day. And yet their selection of small-batch, hard-packed ice creams and sorbets — which might include cold brew (using beans from Fjord in Germany, known for its light, balanced roast) or sesame brownie or banana crème crue, depending on the week — swiftly conquered any doubts. Two years on, an intergenerational group of regulars spill onto the street, many enjoying generous portions of olive oil ice cream, a signature flavor. Sourced from a family-run purveyor in Tuscany, the oil is balanced and fruity, with a rich, almost creamy texture. “My family has been going to the same place since I was a kid, so I know the producer well,” says Compagnon. “It’s perfect for seasoning and finishing, and perfect for ice cream.” — L.T.
10 Rue du Grand Prieuré, 11th Arrondissement.
Hirayama: There’s good old American ice cream, and there is the kind of ice cream you find at fancy restaurants, no matter where you are [in the world]. Neither is perfect: too sweet or, at the Michelin places, lacking in flavor. Jess’s is the [right] in-between.
Greenspan: Ice cream is interesting. There’s a boom going on in Paris right now. Here, the flavors are always true: That’s what coffee tastes like, that’s what olive oil tastes like. It’s hard to make good ice cream because cold reduces flavor. Plus the place is fun.
Pierre Hermé, France’s best-known pastry chef, first learned to make macarons as a teenage apprentice in the 1970s at Lenôtre, then the country’s pre-eminent temple of patisserie. But it wasn’t until he took over the pastry operation at Fauchon in the 1980s that he made a name for himself by reinventing classic recipes and playing with unconventional flavors, like rose, which he discovered via Bulgarian cooking back when the flower didn’t yet have a role in French confections. Finding novel ways to use it became an obsession, one that followed him to Ladurée, where he overhauled the business and established the macaron as the ultimate expression of Parisian taste before launching his namesake empire in 2001. The Ispahan, his flavor creation that appears in a collection of desserts, including his trademark bite-size macarons, is the result of years of experimentation: The filling of floral rose and sweet lychee cream is offset by the bright acidity of raspberry jelly, all combined within a rose-flavored shell that’s yielding yet crunchy. Hermé has since become known for other iconic flavors — such as the Mogador, blending milk chocolate and passion fruit — but none has inspired as many imitators as the Ispahan. — L.T.
Ansel: The first time I had Ispahan was when Pierre opened his shop in the early 2000s. The combination of those three flavors — it stops you and makes you think because of the contrast of flavors and textures in your mouth.
Greenspan: Full disclosure: I worked with Pierre on two cookbooks. But that basic combination of rose, lychee and raspberry was new — and it’s got to be good if a million other places are doing it now. It’s so easy to forget people who really made changes in food because we’ve [become] so used to them.
Ansel: Dishes like this, which you remember for the rest of your life — you don’t get that many. For me, that Ispahan flavor: It’s Paris.
This mainstay has been serving scallops crudo and salmon tartare, the latter of which it claims to have invented, to dignitaries and celebrities since 1967. Former patrons include President François Mitterrand, who went there weekly, and the Yves Saint Laurent co-founder and C.E.O. Pierre Bergé. Today, this Left Bank institution is run by Dominique Minchelli, the 57-year-old son of the founder, Jean Minchelli. The seafaring theme starts outside with the building’s “Love Boat”-esque facade and porthole door, with a seafood-only menu that includes wild fish caught from small boats in the local Atlantic waters. Generous starters include paper-thin sliced sea bass carpaccio meant to be eaten on garlic and thyme toast, and one “essential” main, as the menu calls it, is the John Dory fish smothered in a vodka and butter sauce. It’s offered “rosé à l’arête,” or cooked for one minute under the grill, then finished in hot Beillevaire butter from Charente-Maritime, and served alongside a scoop of Italian black rice. The eight or so diminutive cutlets are plated to look like a flower. — S.L.
Rose: It’s really expensive, but a beautiful place, and the fish is … wow. From the carpaccio of sea bass to the scallops au naturel to the lobster spaghetti: For good fish, you’ve got to pay the price, [and] Le Duc’s the place to go.
Lahmacun can be many things — a starter, a late-night snack or a to-go sidewalk lunch. At Le Paradis, a Kurdish eatery in the 11th, the wisp-thin homemade flatbread is covered with a peppery blend of freshly ground beef and lamb, minced veggies, herbs and spices. It comes with fresh shredded lettuce, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, which are meant to be rolled up inside, like a charred, crispy wrap, then doused in lemon juice. Like everything else on the laminated menu at this takeout counter, it’s made to order, hot and fresh. Customers linger, transfixed and impatient, as the Kurdish cook Cennet Bayhan moves around her tiny kitchen, sliding disks of homemade dough in and out of the narrow electric-oven slots, flipping meat skewers on the smoky grill and pulling handfuls of potatoes from giant yogurt containers. For many years, Bayhan could be found in the same spot, dispensing French crepes. After being forced to close in 2017 because of a leak, she decided to reopen with classic street-food recipes collected from her relatives in Turkey, where she grew up. — Z.P.
239 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 11th Arrondissement.
Hirayama: One of our staff members had a passion for lahmacun: He would go all over town, and he found this one that happened to be near where Omar and I live. He was like, “You have to try it,” and it was so true. We just love the story, the lady, the fact of its existence.
Koreitem: She makes them one by one — when you order three, you wait 20 minutes. But it’s worth it. I wish more people knew about her: I don’t want it to close!
At this pristine bistro on a calm square in the Seventh Arrondissement steps away from the Palais Bourbon, the chef Jean Sévègnes renders exquisite dishes with an unpretentious and light touch. Arrive at the beginning of the lunch or dinner service and he’ll likely take your order himself before retreating to the kitchen, where he works alone, creating quintessential French starters: duck foie gras with Menton lemon chutney; a distinguished oeuf mayo; boudin noir served cold and fresh, typical of the southwest, where Sévègnes is from. If it’s in season, just order the coquilles Saint Jacques, which taste as delicate and precious as they look. Along the grooves of the fan-shaped shells, there’s buttery pomme duchesse piped into crisp, frilly peaks, encircling the nutty, tender scallops, fresh from Dieppe, Normandy, which sit above a silky mushroom and scallop beard fumet and are tinged with poppy red Espelette pepper. Roxane Sévègnes, the chef’s wife and co-owner of the restaurant, presides over the front of house and tends to each of the dozen or so tables with unfussy generosity. If you become a regular, she may even set your place with a wooden napkin ring inscribed with your first name and initial. — Z.P.
Rose: I want to honor the work of Chef Sévègnes: He makes those supertraditional bourgeois dishes so well.
Greenspan: The last time I was at Bistrot Paul Bert [see No. 22], which was in December, Bertrand [the owner] said to me, “Have you been to Café des Ministères? You must go!” I couldn’t get a table.
Koreitem: It’s important to mention places like this because that’s one thing we’re really missing in Paris: classic food. That’s what I crave; that’s what I want to eat.
Greenspan: Paris is changing — the diversity, the new cuisines, different kinds of food. But it’s true, [it’s become] hard to find traditional, good French food, [even if] that’s still what people want.
Tourists love the city’s ornate tea salons, but Carette, which first opened in the 1920s on the Place du Trocadéro, is where the locals go. The original one (there are now three), redecorated by Hubert de Givenchy 20 years ago, is dressed in pink salmon marble, brass accents, chocolate velvet curtains and Art Deco chandeliers. The room is lively, with neighbors taking their morning coffee or collecting their viennoiserie, mesdames lingering over brunch and children eyeing decadent desserts like the Paris-Carette (the maison’s version of a Paris-Brest). The molten hot chocolate, dark and unctuous, is served in an antique floral porcelain set alongside Chantilly cream. And the oversize palmier, with its browned butter and caramelized edges, is undeniably the city’s best — perfectly flaky and sticky to the touch, made like this since 1927. In the back corner, a portrait of Madame Carette watches over the room, as if to ensure that no detail’s overlooked. — K.M.
Greenspan: A friend of mine [recently] chose Carette for lunch — it’s very, you know, tea salony. But that palmier — Omar, it looks almost like your [headphones]. It was huge, and thicker than I normally would expect a palmier to be, and it was baked all the way through, which can be [difficult] when you have something with that many layers, and yet it stayed crisp.
A pithivier is an arcane 18th-century French dish that purportedly originated in a town of the same name, near Orleans, where bakers would enclose almond cream between two layers of decadent puff pastry to create sweet shareable pies. But it’s the Tokyo-born chef Sota Atsumi who’s become pithivier’s truest disciple: Last decade, when he ran the kitchen at Clown Bar — a kooky, forward-thinking bistro founded in 1907, so named because it’s two doors down from the baroque Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione, where the circus still performs — many diners would sit down and immediately ask for his savory individual-size meat pies, which took 30 minutes to cook. Three years ago, Atsumi and his wife, Akiko Atsumi, opened their own restaurant, Maison Sota, inside a terra-cotta-tiled, gabled-roof building that looks, as the name suggests, like it could be the couple’s own home. For both lunch and dinner, the chef creates experimental tasting menus that draw from Sota’s Japanese heritage as much as from the farmers upon whom he relies. If you’re lucky, there might be pithivier (like duck, pictured above) on the menu; if not, you’ll still eat very well. — K.S.
Koreitem: There are to this day two meals I’ve had in Paris that I will never forget. One was at L’Arpège in 2005, and Moko and I promised that we would never go back so we could keep that memory untarnished. The second was [from] Sota when he worked at Clown Bar. The pithivier, which blew my mind, was Dover sole and foie gras, cooked inside puff pastry. I spoke to Sota about this pithivier many years later, and he told me, “Oh, I just did [that combination] once.”
Greenspan: He [has done] it with pigeon, and it’s phenomenal.
Koreitem: And he still does it [at Maison Sota], especially during game season. But Sota’s food doesn’t stop at pithivier — he’s my favorite chef in Paris.
Repartir en roulant — that’s what happens after a meal at this 30-seat bistro near the Gare du Nord: Leave by rolling home. While the pan-fried housemade sausage, a blend of pork shoulder and rib fat flavored with fennel and rosemary, stands out among the menu’s many hearty dishes, the mashed potatoes it sits upon are hardly an afterthought, nor is the sweet, tangy jus poured on top. Similar in texture to Jöel Robuchon’s famous potato purée — thanks to the 500 grams of Charentes-Poitou butter that the chef, Thomas Brachet, uses per kilo of skin-on, boiled-then-hand-ground Agata and Pompadour spuds — the dish is best enjoyed with one of the natural wines displayed along the back wall. According to Brachet, who’s owned the restaurant since 2016, the goal is for diners “to meet someone, be positive, maybe get a little drunk.” — S.L.
136 Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 10th Arrondissement.
Hirayama: The chef is younger, and he’s [adding] delight to all these classic dishes. It’s literally pork sausage and potato purée: You eat them together and you’re in heaven.
Koreitem: It’s actually a piece of art.
The mill on a ledge above the bakers’ counter is impossible to miss; indeed, its steady grind of rare, artisanal flours — and the metronomic clack-clack it produces — often lulls customers into a moment of morning contemplation. As hypnotic as it is functional, the flour production at Les Copains du Faubourg speaks to the baker Gérald Auvrez’s ambition to bring hyperlocality to baking. Since taking over the storefront a half-decade ago, he’s begun sourcing wheat from several different regional farms, with, he says, “the idea to make our bread as winemakers make wine — to present a terroir.” The crusty, pointed baguettes and cinnamon-laden chaussons aux pommes exemplify this mission, but it’s the more experimental seigle feuilleté — a puffy pastry that tastes (and looks) like a mix between a croissant and a small loaf of bread, made from a half-wheat, half-rye blend — that’s truly unexpected. — K.M.
237 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, 11th Arrondissement.
Hirayama: When I first came to Paris [13 years ago], I felt every bakery was great … but it turns out most places are not good or bad. Since then, I’ve become very skeptical. But this guy took over [our] neighborhood bakery, and he doesn’t want it to be just a regular boulangerie; he wants to go from grain to end product. The seigle feuilleté is something he developed in New York, when he was working with Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
Koreitem: He’s sort of the new kid on the block. He mills his own flour, which is quite surprising. His croissant is one of the best I’ve had. But the seigle feuilleté is unique [because] of the rye.
At Le Négus, the shiro wat — a traditional Ethiopian chickpea stew — starts not in the kitchen but rather at the baggage claim at Charles de Gaulle airport, where the restaurant’s owner, Sisay Mehabie, regularly collects suitcases packed with shiro powder made by his mother-in-law in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The vivid orange mix of sun-dried chickpeas, garlic, roux, holy basil and smoky, sweet brown chile is then transformed by Mehabie’s wife, Sitina Mehabie, into a velvety, clarified butter-enriched soup, redolent with earthy flavor and heat. As an accompaniment to the kaleidoscopic sharing platters that fill each table, the shiro wat comes in a steaming cast-iron pot alongside extra injera, the satisfyingly sour, spongy flatbread, folded and stacked like linen napkins. With its walls covered in goatskin paintings, Amharic alphabet charts, family photos and depictions of events in French Ethiopian diplomatic history, Le Négus looks like a colorful classroom. Mehabie, the self-appointed teacher, takes this role seriously, initiating dinner with the gursha, a traditional act of hospitality that involves feeding each guest a bite of their meal. A final ceremony concludes the night: Coffee — fruity, rich and aromatic — is poured out at the table from a long-necked clay brewing pot in a cloud of frankincense and myrrh. — Z.P.
52 Rue de Montreuil, 11th Arrondissement.
Hirayama: I didn’t want to put it on the list — I want to keep the best secrets for just me and my friends. It’s run by a couple, and they’ve been here for a long time. The chef is so proud of his culture, and he’s really trying to convey it. So it’s a whole experience, beyond the fact that it’s delicious. You can’t move once you sit — and they don’t offer a lot of wine choices, but they have good beer — and you feel the warmth.
Koreitem: Whenever we have a craving for something good and comforting, this is where we eat. On your next trip to Paris, I encourage you to go. Every person I’ve told about this place has become obsessed with it — including Robert from Le Rigmarole.
After a visit to Hanoi, Vietnam, for the 1902 World’s Fair, the mononymous food critic Curnonsky, known as France’s Prince of Gastronomy, wrote that if Asian cuisine were paired with French wine, it would be the best combination in the world, a declaration that the Vietnamese chef Robert Vifian, now in his 70s, has taken as creed. At Tan Dinh, an unassuming spot on a side street behind the Musée d’Orsay, Vifian and his brother, Freddy, serve 20 or so Vietnamese dishes, many of which are riffs on traditional and family recipes. They’re all meant to be paired with wines from their deep cellar, which is especially rich in rare vintages of Bordeaux and Bourgogne (be sure to ask for the chef’s wine list). Dishes like the smoked goose ravioli — which are more like dumplings stuffed with wood ear mushrooms, fowl and diced onion, akin to Vietnamese bánh cuốn — haven’t changed since the late 1970s, when the siblings took over the restaurant from their mother. — K.M.
60 Rue de Verneuil, Seventh Arrondissement.
Rose: It’s been there for 45 years, I think. The brothers are still [running it]. The interesting thing is that they have the most amazing wine list but they don’t give it to you unless you specifically ask. When they were young, they told me, their parents bought them an apartment, but the brothers sold it so they could buy wine. And those dumplings: so fresh and delicious.
Claiming nearly the entire side of a small street just off the historic Place de la Bastille, this bilevel brasserie with Alsatian roots dates back to 1864. Once you step through the wooden revolving door, you’re transported to a bygone era where servers wear ties and carry metal trays on their shoulders as they bring out cumin-flecked sauerkraut and towering platters of fruits de mer. The cuisine is classic and the atmosphere somewhat kitschy, complete with the sound of clanging silverware and giant, wedding-worthy floral arrangements throughout the Art Nouveau space. Reserve ahead for a table under the domed stained-glass atrium, although the other cozy rooms across both floors all feature similar setups, with leather banquettes, wooden bistro chairs and white tablecloths. At 46 euros, the sole meunière, accompanied by the city’s creamiest whipped potatoes, is great to share between two people. First the fish is brought out whole for inspection, then it’s carefully filleted back in the kitchen before being plated with parsley and lemon wedges. It’s ideal for a date, particularly when followed by profiteroles for dessert. — S.L.
5-7 Rue de la Bastille, Fourth Arrondissement.
Greenspan: It’s a dish I adore; my husband orders it without fail at Paul Bert [see No. 22].
Koreitem: The reason I have Bofinger on the list is not the sole meunière alone but the experience of going there, which is special. We’ve made a tradition of taking our two girls there for Christmas — they can order whatever they want.
Even in the contemporary dining paradise that is the 11th Arrondissement, it’s impossible to deny the appeal of an old-school French bistro. Bistrot Paul Bert has long been adored by locals and discerning tourists, who compete for seats in its three bustling dining areas. (If you can’t get in, the owner, Bertrand Auboyneau, who’s run it with his wife, Gwenaëlle, since 1997, also has a seafood outpost, a wine bar and another restaurant on the same street.) Carnivore-friendly standards include foie gras, beef carpaccio, roast pigeon, steak tartare, sole meunière and, of course, the beloved steak au poivre. The French classic, updated by the chef Thierry Laurent, who’s worked here for more than 20 years, is a vehicle for the aromatic Sarawak black pepper from Malaysia, which lends crunch and woody flavor to the filet of beef. It also adds a satisfying, earthy kick to the sauce: a pool of heavy cream, enlivened by the roughly crushed peppercorns and an Armagnac flambé, so thick that it bunches and pleats when pushed across the plate. — Z.P.
18 Rue Paul Bert, 11th Arrondissement.
Hirayama: We have enormous respect for the owner, Bertrand, who settled in the 11th when it was clearly not hip. He’s still the godfather, the one to represent all the restaurants in the area. At Paul Bert, it’s about comfort — the service, the food that’s kind of typical but well done, the history of the area and of the French bistro itself.
Koreitem: After the [original Covid-19] confinement in Paris, when restaurants were shut for three [or so] months, our first outing was at Paul Bert, and I ordered the steak au poivre, and it was just the most exquisite thing I’d ever had in my life. It should never change.
Greenspan: You can’t reserve a table online, and that makes it a little harder for some people. But I think he really cares about keeping these dishes alive and vibrant and real.
A word of warning greets would-be diners on the Amarante website: Are you and the restaurant mutually compatible? Do you have the same likes (butter, not-overcooked meat and fish) and dislikes (elaborately plated dishes, Coca-Cola)? If it’s a match, email or text the chef Christophe Philippe’s cell any time of day to arrange your next visit. Here, the décor is understated — red faux-leather banquettes, menus in a generic font straight out of a desktop inkjet printer — as is the ethos of the kitchen, which makes use of many off-cuts, from brains to caul fat, and forgoes all spices except for salt and pepper. Everything revolves around primary ingredients: unembellished, deboned pig’s trotter, simultaneously gelatinous and crunchy; buttery foraged escargots; and, best of all, veal sweetbreads, which are first prepared sous-vide and then cooked on a plancha beneath a cloche, their crispy, bronzed exterior giving way to milky richness inside. The more decadent the main, the simpler the side: This one’s accompanied by satiny potato purée, and the sauce comes from one of two pots in which the week’s bones simmer all day and night. It’s not exactly a fire hazard, as Chef Philippe lives down the hall. — Z.P.
Rose: It’s crispy but soft inside. The thing is, in France, if you [source from] the right places, the products are just so good. You don’t have to do too much to them.
At the chef Giovanni Passerini’s original restaurant, the trippa alla Romana are always available, even when not listed on the menu. This is offal for nonbelievers, a parade of textures — sponge, honeycomb, mille-feuille, wrinkles, coral — sliced into small pieces. Topped by bright and tangy tomato sauce and ribbons of mint crisscrossing through Pecorino Romano, the tripes are nourishing and tender. It’s one of only a few sacrosanct recipes at this handsome corner spot, where most plates reference the Roman chef’s transalpine heritage without too much fuss. Next door is Pastificio Passerini, which makes some of the best pasta in France. And by the end of dinner service, you may find the chef playing guitar across the street at the twinkling Passerina wine bar, which was opened by his wife and business partner, Justine Passerini, last year. “Everything that should be precise is precise,” the chef says, “and everything else is festive chaos.” — Z.P.
65 Rue Traversière, 12th Arrondissement.
Koreitem: Moko and I go to the same places [over and over], where we know we’re going to eat well, where we’ll never be disappointed. Some of them are expected, in a way: I mentioned Passerini. But their trippa alla Romana is one thing we always go for. We love tripe, and he just does it to perfection, being that he’s Roman.
Passage des Panoramas is thought to be the oldest of the city’s atmospheric covered shopping arcades. Inside, near a stamp shop and a duck-and-champagne restaurant, is the intimate bistro Racines, pleasantly moody even at lunch, aglow with votive candles and bathed in pale skylight-filtered sun. The vitello tonnato — the only dish that has continuously been on the menu since the Sardinian chef Simone Tondo and his wife, Stefania Melis, relaunched the restaurant in 2017 — embodies the polished, unpretentious bistrosteria style that Tondo has helped popularize. His take on the simple, cold Piedmontese classic is prettier than most, with rosy pink veal slices carved from the open-kitchen counter. The tonnato sauce, king of the pantry, is made with jarred albacore tuna, petite Pantelleria capers and Sicilian anchovies — all preserved in olive oil, some of which is later drizzled on top. For dessert, linger over a tiramisù or panna cotta or simply wait for the complimentary cream puff brought out on a doily-lined silver dish at the end of the meal. — Z.P.
8 Passage des Panoramas, Second District.
Hirayama: It’s just so [expletive] delicious. Even in Italy, it’s not as good. I don’t know what he does.
If there’s anything uniting the selections above, it’s the high-quality agricultural products and purveyors to which Parisians have enviable access. And while fruits, vegetables and calves’ livers may be difficult to smuggle internationally, every panelist agreed that you can — and should — pack a few treats in your carry-on. “Obviously, butter in France is one of the most exciting things,” says Rose, alluding to the array of cultured options available at good grocers in town (don’t forget an ice pack). “You need a great cheese on this list,” Greenspan says. “An aged Comté or a perfectly ripe, raw milk Mont d’Or that’s so runny you can only serve it with a spoon.” For the dairy averse, or those who don’t want to risk confiscation at customs, Greenspan recommends sweets. “Mazet is an old candy company — from 1636,” she says. “It’s being brought into the 21st century, and the pralines are good.” Or just go to Hirayama and Koreitem’s Mokonuts for lunch and leave with some extra cookies — in flavors like chocochunk, miso and sesame or black olives and white chocolate (pictured above) — which others concur would have made the top 25 had the rules allowed. — K.S.
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