Are you wondering what to eat in Paris during your first trip to France’s City of Lights? Read on to discover thirteen must-eat Paris food favorites … and they’re all good!!
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.
We’ve traveled to Paris four times in the last year in our quest to sample the city’s best food. 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?
And, now, we’ve constructed this Quick Guide to help you navigate your own Paris food quest.
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 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 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.
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 the Steak with the largest bowl of Frites we’ve ever eaten.
Not to be confused with mushy coconut Macaroons commonly eaten during Passover seders in America, 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 40 best pastries in Paris.
Although we’ve eaten macarons around the world in cities as diverse as London and Tokyo, 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.
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 with Fromage. Try glorious raw milk cheeses like Brie de Meaux or Brie de Melun. Warning – the taste of authentic 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. Steak Tartare
Mindi loves Beef Tartare. She has ordered it at bouillons, bistros and wine bars. She has ordered it so much that this dish dominates our Paris photo library. That being said, Beef Tartare is so popular around Paris that variations of the famous raw meat concoction vary from restaurant to restaurant.
In a way, Beef 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.
Beef 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 since this is a Quick Guide and much of the bread’s history is sketchy at best – 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 or 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 Beef Tartare may be debatable, the origin of 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 classic French 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.
8. 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.
9. Jambon Buerre
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 Éclair 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.
11. 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.
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.
→ Discover 100 the best spots for drinking wine in Paris.
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.
Paris Quick 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.
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