Are you wondering what to eat in Paris during your first trip to France’s City of Lights? Read on to discover 23 must-eat Paris food favorites … and they’re all divine!!
Paris is magical.
This is a universal truth. The capital of France is a city of art, a city of humanity and a city of thought.
And all of these elements are manifested in the city’s food. Paris has it all – classic bistros, gastronomic dining temples, legendary pastry shops, specialty coffee cafes and cutting edge wine bars. It truly is one of the world’s greatest food cities.
It was no sacrifice for us to travel to Paris four times in one year in a quest to sample the city’s best food. Now that the pandemic has (hopefully) ended, we’ve returned and did it again.
To us, Paris is more than just a great city in which to dine. To us, Paris is an obsession manifested in some of the finest flavors on the planet.
But, with limited time, how do you taste it all? To answer this question, we’ve constructed this Paris food guide to help you navigate your own Paris food quest.
Table of Contents
- Paris Food Favorites
- 1. Croissants
- 2. Steak-Frites (Steak & Fries)
- 3. Macarons
- 4. Fromage (Cheese)
- 5. Michelin Starred Dining
- 6. Steak Tartare
- 7. Baguettes
- 8. Paris-Brest
- 9. Soupe l’Oignon (Onion Soup)
- 10. Crêpes
- 11. Jambon Buerre (Ham & Butter Sandwiches)
- 12. Éclairs
- 13. Escargots (Snails)
- 14. Huîtres (Oysters)
- 15. Baba au Rhum
- 16. Brasseries
- 17. Bistros
- 18. Bouillon
- 19. Brunch
- 20. Asian Food
- 21. Chocolate
- 22. Wine
- 23. Specialty Coffee
Paris Food Favorites
Let’s face it, you could take a walking food tour from Sacre Coeur to the bottom of the 13th Arrondissement and never taste all the food in Paris. But, if you approach the city armed with this quick guide, you’ll have an idea of what to eat in Paris and where to eat it.
Paris is a deep dive, a mission we gladly climb into again and again as part of our obsession to find the finest food in the world. We recommend that you start your culinary exploration with the following Paris food favorites:
France, like Japan, is a land of refinement. Many of the great culinary items we associate with France, from cassoulet to frites to macarons, trace their origins to another place.
Croissants are so symbolic of French culture that most people would never guess that their origin is Viennese. But, even with that origin, France has refined the crescent-shaped pastry to the point that Croissants are now synonymous with Paris and the other way around.
Great croissants look beautiful with exteriors that exhibit precise craftsmanship involved in the lamination process (where butter is folded into the dough creating ‘infinite layers’ of pastry). The best ones have a shattering, delicate, caramelized exterior and a soft buttery interior.
2. Steak-Frites (Steak & Fries)
Some historians credit Steak-Frites to Belgium and, considering that we can trace the roots of cut and fried potatoes to France’s neighbor to the North, that makes sense. In fact, many people consider Steak-Frites to be Belgium’s national dish.
With apologies to our readers in Brussels, we consider Steak-Frites to be distinctively Parisian and one of the best ways to enjoy a dinner celebration in Paris. Except for diet-challenged people (i.e. vegans, vegetarians and the like), this is a dish that does not discriminate.
Eating Steak-Frites in Paris can be an epic experience. Bistrot Paul Bert serves large cuts of meat for two while La Bourse et La Vie beautifully cooks gorgeous entrecôte (strip steak) medium-rare and serves its steaks with the largest bowls of fries we’ve ever eaten.
Not to be confused with mushy coconut macaroons commonly eaten during Passover seders in America, France’s macarons are fancified sandwich cookies baked with ingredients like egg whites, sugar and almond flour. Some bakers add vivid food coloring to create virtual macaron rainbows.
Ironically, Parisians may not have originally invented the French macaron. That honor apparently goes to Renaissance bakers in Italy. However, it’s fair to recognize world-renowned Parisian bakeries like Ladurée and Pierre Hermé for perfecting the petite treat and turning it into a global phenomenon.
Discover the best pastries in Paris.
Although we’ve eaten macarons around the world, we’ve eaten our favorite macarons in Paris. And the best part? With so many shops in arrondissements all over the city, a food traveler is never far from the best macarons in Paris.
You’ll want to eat as many macarons in Paris at bakeries like Jean-Paul Hevin, Laudurée and Pierre Hermé as possible for ‘research’ purposes. You can even take your ‘research’ to the next level by taking a macaron baking class. And, if you’re an over-achiever, you can try exotic flavors like yuzu and wasabi at Sadaharu Aoki.
4. Fromage (Cheese)
Ahhh fromage!! Cheese is one of the great wonders of the food world and, in our opinion, the best of it is found in France with Paris at the epicenter.
There’s no doubt that fromagers sell some of the best cheese in France. The greatest varieties of the stuff include luscious creamy goat cheeses from nearby Île de France, stinky wheels of Abby Cheeses like Époisses from Burgundy, salty tongue-piercing blues from Roquefort and sweet mountain cheeses like Comté and Beaufort from the Alps.
In lieu of serious dinner plans, there’s nothing better to eat in Paris than a crunchy baguette stuffed with cheese. Try glorious raw milk cheeses like Brie de Meaux or Brie de Melun. Warning – the taste of French Brie blows away versions sold outside of France and will turn you into a French cheese snob.
When you eat out, a restaurant cheese course is something to savor. You may want to schedule a special wine and cheese lunch for a fun cheese experience. Can you also enjoy fromage as a dessert substitute? We say yes!!
5. Michelin Starred Dining
Paris doesn’t have the most Michelin-starred restaurants within its border. That honor goes to Tokyo with its more than 200 starred restaurants. However, Paris is no slouch with more than 100 starred restaurants.
Dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris is a special experience that requires advance reservations. Some of the more formal restaurants have internationally acclaimed French chefs like Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard. Others offer a more casual atmosphere in both style and substance. One, Le Jules Verne, is literally located inside the Eiffel Tower.
After dining at three one-starred Michelin restaurants (Frenchie, Le Rigmarole and Septime) as well as one three-starred Michelin Restaurant (L’Arpège), we highly recommend the expenditure for those with the means, interest and time.
6. Steak Tartare
Mindi loves Steak Tartare. She has ordered it at bouillons, bistros and wine bars. She has ordered it so many times that this dish dominates our Paris photo library. That being said, Steak Tartare is so popular around Paris that variations of the famous raw meat concoction vary from restaurant to restaurant.
In a way, Steak Tartare is the haiku of the Parisian bistro. The dish has a number of compulsory complementary ingredients including, but not limited to, capers, shallots, raw egg and diced cornichons.
Steak Tartare may be simple, but it’s never the same from one kitchen to the next. Chefs at Bistrot Paul Bert mix ground beef with the above-mentioned ingredients. Over at La Bourse et la Vie, chefs compose raw beef into a coarse mosaic disc above the standard melange of tartare accouterments.
Some trace the dish’s name to the tartars, who, in a fun legend, brought the idea of grinding meat to Europe. Others trace the dish to what Escoffier named “Beefsteack à la Americaine” or “Beefsteack à la Tartare”, with tartare referring to the combination of complementary ingredients (mentioned above) as opposed to the mayonnaise-based tartar sauce frequently paired with seafood in America.
Over time, the long, thin, crusty baguette has become a symbol of Paris. Marked by its versatility and popularity, the French Baguette has a story that reflects modern French history.
Scholars trace the development of the baguette, which essentially translates to stick, over the course of 200 years – all the way from the French Revolution to the Industrial Revolution. We won’t recount it here but suffice it to say that the baguette’s emergence can be credited to advancements in technology and how that technology influenced culture.
History aside, there’s nothing like biting into a great baguette with a crunchy crust that yields to a flavorful crumb. You can learn all about baguettes during a behind-the-scenes boulangerie tour or you can educate yourself by eating lots of baguettes in Paris.
When buying a baguette, look for the words baguette tradition, l’ancienne and campagne. These words usually mean that the baguettes are baked by hand, using natural leavening methods (think sourdough).
While the origins of foods like croissants, baguettes and steak tartare may be debatable, the origin of the Paris-Brest, Paris’ eponymous pastry is well documented.
Famed pastry chef Louis Durand invented the wheel-shaped dessert, a combination of praline cream (usually made with hazelnuts, almonds or a combination of both) sandwiched between layers of nut covered choux pastry, in 1910 to celebrate the long-distance Paris to Brest to Paris bicycle race.
There are lots of good versions of this dessert around Paris. The better ones have slightly crunchy layers with a filling that, while creamy, has a slightly granular crunch and noticeable nutty flavor.
Discover more French pastries and desserts to eat in Paris.
Bistrot Paul Bert, which serves one of the best versions of this dessert (along with a certain degree of Parisian attitude) lists the dish on its English menu as Choux Pastry with Praline Cream. Don’t be misled by the translation or the fact that the servers are typically too annoyed to give an explanation of the dessert for foreign (i.e. American) tourists who are Parisian pastry ignorant.
9. Soupe l’Oignon (Onion Soup)
One of the hallmarks of great French cuisine is how recipes ‘stretch’ ingredients – taking ingredients that cooks have in their kitchens and making a meal out of them. Nothing is more illustrative of this tenet than French Onion Soup.
Discover more of the best soups in the world.
Some of the origins of the humble onion soup date back thousands of years, and it’s easy to understand Soupe l’Oignon‘s place on the Parisian table. Ingredients like onions, broth, cheese and bread are inexpensive in France, making it easy to feed a hungry family on a winter day without spending a lot of money.
Eating Soupe l’Oignon may be one of the more touristic things to do in Paris and, without doubt, this is a soup that’s readily available throughout the world. However, no other dish will place you in touch with some of the simpler roots (pardon the pun) of French cuisine than eating Soupe l’Oignon in a traditional Paris bistro.
Leave the fantasy of buying crêpes from Paris street vendors to Emily and other fictional characters. Those sugary concoctions aren’t worth the handful of euros that they cost. In fact, they turned one of us off crépes for years. Instead, eat real-deal crêpes at Breizh Café.
Like many popular Paris dishes, crêpes didn’t originate in Paris. In this case, Brittany gets credit for creating both sweet and savory crêpes before sharing them with the world. While sweet crêpes are more globally ubiquitous, savory galettes made with buckwheat flour and stuffed with wholesome ingredients like eggs and cheese are a must eat eat in Paris.
Pro Tip – Pair your galette with cider for the full Paris crêpe experience.
Where to Eat Authentic Crêpes in Paris
11. Jambon Buerre (Ham & Butter Sandwiches)
Despite the global fame of Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame sandwiches, the Jambon Beurre is a more elemental sandwich – a melange of essential French ingredients that presents a simple culinary and cultural picture.
This sandwich is a combination of three things that the French do well. To prepare a Jambon Beurre, cooks encase simple, high quality boiled ham in a crunchy baguette and add a layer of some of the finest butter in the world.
When it comes to cheap eats in Paris, the Jambon Beurre, which generally costs about €5 for a sandwich, fits the bill. Be sure to consider variations topped with French cheese like Gruyere or Comté.
Named after the French word for flash of lightning, a traditional éclair is a long, narrow choux pastry filled with cream and topped with fondant icing. However, modern Paris bakers have elevated éclairs by adding tasty filling and colorful toppings.
Unlike the macaron, there’s no dispute that the French invented the éclair. Food historians track the first éclairs back to the 19th century, though the originating chef is unclear.
Regardless of which French baker originally invented the éclair, there’s no debate that Paris bakers like Christophe Adam have made this old pastry relevant and fun at Fauchon and L’Éclair de Génie.
13. Escargots (Snails)
Proving that escargots aren’t exclusive to Burgundy, it’s easy to find escargot at bistros, bouillons and brasseries throughout Paris. While some spots like to put their own spin on the spiral gastropod, the traditional Burgundian preparation involves copious amounts of butter, garlic and parsley.
These ingredients are important since the chewy gastropods fully absorb the flavors of the sauce. In other words, you’ll love escargots if you love butter and garlic. Plus, its fun to eat the “slippery little suckers” just so long as you don’t fling one across the room like Julia Roberts did in Pretty Woman.
14. Huîtres (Oysters)
Pairing oysters with white wine is one of the great pleasures to experience in Paris which is ironic since oysters aren’t exactly local to the city. However, since many of the world’s best oysters are harvested in French spots like Brittany and Normandy, it only makes sense that many of the tastiest sea critters would make their way to Paris.
Called huîtres in French, these salt-water bivalve mollusks are typically shucked onsite and served atop ice. We like to season a dozen oysters with fresh lemon juice, mignonette sauce and tabasco (Hey, we’re American!) before we use tiny forks to pry them out of their shells. Adding the condiments is part of the fun as is the slurping.
15. Baba au Rhum
A French dessert with Polish ties, baba au rhum is a Paris dessert favorite at classic restaurants like Bistrot Paul Bert and Le Train Bleu. However, food travelers will want to take their quest for the best baba au rhum to Stohrer.
Historical records credit Nicolas Stohrer, King Louis XV’s pastry chef, with developing the definitive baba au rhum recipe back in the 18th century. His self-named pâtisserie Stohrer sells the liquor-soaked cake today, both in its classic iteration with candied fruit as well as in seasonal varieties.
Some trace the roots of the modern brasserie to Alsatians who were fleeing the Franco-Prussian war in the mid 19th century. Those Alsatians, with a homeland skirting the German-French border, brought their beer culture to Paris. Brasseries began in Paris as simple beer halls and then grew, along with Beau Arts Parisian culture, to become the opulent dining rooms that dot every neighborhood of Paris today.
The French word brasserie literally translates to beer hall or brewery in French.
So what is a brasserie? Most brasseries are large, ornate restaurants with simple menus featuring classic French dishes. Many consider Bofinger to be the first of its kind. According to noted author Daniel Young, it’s the first restaurant in Paris to serve draft beer and charcuterie. Today, Grand Brasseries or Brasseries du Luxe have evolved to serve towers of raw seafood as well as Côte de Beouf and Soupe l’Oignon. Of course, since the brasserie concept started in Alsace, Choucroute Garnie is a staple on many brasserie menus.
Brasseries have become a controversial topic in the food community. Large restaurant organizations have assumed ownership of many of these restaurants and critics have complained that the food doesn’t match the grandeur of their legendary dining spaces. But brasseries like legendary Le Dôme in Montparnasse and Au Pied de Cochon near Les Halles are still worth checking out. We recently dined at neo-brasserie Lazare which we enjoyed. We may even try Bofinger, which has been maligned by critics in recent years, and form our own opinions.
As opposed to brasseries, the story of bistros is far more colorful and complicated.
Bistros are comparatively less polished with worn walls, tight seating and, sometimes, just a few tables. They’re intimate places where you can spend an evening engaging in conversation with friends while enjoying a more personal food experience. In a way, the modern bistro may be the most imitated restaurant model in the world.
Tracing back to wine merchants, Parisian bistros have evolved from working class wine taverns to dining experiences featuring intricately prepared food by world class chefs. We’re not sure why but blackboard menus seem to play a role in many of Paris’ best bistro dining rooms. Many also feature zinc (or tin) lined bars doling out drinks served to thirsty seated diners.
The range of traditional and modern bistros in today’s Paris is vast. Many traditional bistros, like Chez Georges and Chez Denise, feature traditional specialties like Pâte en Croute, Salad Lyonnaise and Blanquette de Veau while modern bistros like Bistrot Paul Bert and La Bourse et la Vie offer new interpretations of Parisian classics. Then there are the neo-bistros like Le Chateaubriand and Septime which execute highly gastronomic concepts in intimate, informal bistro settings.
The openness to new concepts makes France, and Paris in particular, one of our favorite places to dine. In that sense, the bistro may be an old bottle but it’s always welcoming new wine.
Experiencing our first bouillon meal at Bouillon Pigalle in 2019 was a revelation. Its menu, filled with tasty, highly affordable dishes, opened our eyes to the bouillon concept and inspired us to dine at two more – Bouillon Julien and Bouillon Chartier. But what is a bouillon and why do we like the concept so much?
Despite their recent popularity with both budget diners and gourmands, bouillons are the opposite of trendy. The genre actually dates back to the mid 19th century! More than a century ago, working class diners would order bowls of bouillon at bouillons as well as reasonably priced dishes like Oeufs Mayonnaise, escargots and beef tartare.
We found the three bouillons we visited to have their own charms but they all had one thing in common – affordability – and not just by Paris standards. Bouillons are affordable by (almost) any standard which adds to their charm.
Some Paris bruncheries specialize in American food favorites like Pancakes and French Toast while others serve French Rolled Omelettes and Croque Monsieurs. Then there are the ones that serve cuisines more commonly eaten in Asia or Africa. The very best ones serve specialty coffee drinks in addition to food.
If you’re starving or on a budget, you can get the biggest bang for your euro at all-you-eat brunch buffets. We prefer less-is-more Paris brunch options. It’s not that we’re rich – rather, we like to save room for pastries later in the day.
20. Asian Food
The love affair between France and Japan is legendary but, in reality, this type of reciprocal passion applies to other Asian countries too.
During our travels, we couldn’t help but notice France’s culinary influences in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam. We’ve also noticed the reverse influence in Paris where down-and-dirty eateries serve heaping bowls of Pho and more upscale Asian restaurants construct multi-course meals.
While restaurants like Double Dragon and Le Rigmarole fuse different Asian cuisines and incorporate French cooking techniques, others like Kodawari Ramen stay true to their roots. We’d be happy to eat Asian food in Paris every day of the week. Okay, maybe every other day.
Worthy Asian Restaurants in Paris
Cheval d’Or (Fusion), Double Dragon (fusion), Kodawari Ramen (Japanese Ramen), Le Rigmarole (Fusion), Ravioli Chinois Nord-Est (Chinese Dumplings), Sadaharu Aoki (Japanese pastries), Song Huong (Vietnamese Pho) and STREET Bangkok Fry & Beer (Thai Street Food)
When the first world explorers brought chocolate back to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, France may not have been the first country exposed to the magical concoction. But, like most foods, the French refined the brown confection to a high level of luxury.
You can find chocolate shops are all over Paris. We recommend taking a formal chocolate tour or doing your own self-guided exploration starting with Jacques Genin and Jean-Charles Rochoux.
Master chocolatier Jacques Genin fills his chocolates with a range of exotic flavors like Sichuan pepper, coriander, bergamot and tonka bean as well as popular favorites like Madagascar vanilla and caramel. Jean-Charles Rochoux creates a range of chocolate treats including cocoa powder dusted truffles along with a variety of special sculpted creations and bars.
With regions like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône Valley and Alsace in its borders, France is an undisputed leader in the global wine arena. French wines rival, and many times surpass, vintages produced around the world from South Africa to New Zealand. Red, white and rosé – it’s all produced in France and it’s all potently potable.
Visitors to Paris have access to a cornucopia of French wine all over the city from neighborhood grocery stores to chic wine bars. Less expensive than wine sold in the U.S., French wine is as accessible as it is plentiful.
Start your Paris wine tour in Montmartre where you can tour a Paris winery and then continue sipping at wine bars throughout the city. You can visit a different wine bar every day during your trip if that’s your thing. True confession – that’s our thing too.
23. Specialty Coffee
More than a decade in the making, the Paris specialty coffee scene is percolating at full blast. While established roasters like La Brûlerie de Belleville and Lomi fuel the city, a new breed of baristas is breathing fresh life into Parisian coffee cups.
This obsessed French city doesn’t mess around when it comes to the art of cuisine and, finally, coffee is no exception to this rule. Flat whites and matcha lattes are now as accessible as the muddy water we used to drink at Paris cafes.
Even stalwarts like Shakespeare & Company Cafe are now serving specialty coffee. This doesn’t mean that the city still doesn’t have touristic, overpriced cafes. The trick is knowing where to go for the good stuff.
Where to Drink Specialty Coffee in Paris
We profile more than a dozen of the best specialty coffee shop in our comprensive Paris coffee shop guide.
Useful Paris Facts
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
Original Publication Date: February 7, 2020
Republish Date: March 9, 2022