It’s that time of year again where blogs, magazines, and other media publications start putting together their “Best of ____ 2012” end lists to sum up the year in review. And since my four months in Paris were the best of my 2012, I’m going to do a “Best of Paris 2012” of my favorite Parisian foods and restaurants.
So in no particular order…
–Best pizza: La Tavola, 8 rue de la Roquette, 75011
This place looks like a cheap and cheesy Italian restaurant, complete with red and white checkered tablecloths and a sign in red, white, and green—but its’ pizza is legit. Where else can you find a pizza with a fried egg?
I recommend the pizza with chorizo or merguez, two different types of spicy sausage. And there’s this olive-oil based chili sauce that really complements the pizza, which is cheesier than it is tomatoe-y. You get the fattiness of the cheese cut with the spiciness of the sauce, and the fried egg and thick crust is there to mop it all up.
Definitely get your own pizza, because you can eat it on your own and, more importantly, you’ll want to eat it on your own too.
–Best hot chocolate: Les Deux Magots, 6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés 75006
Hot chocolate or no hot chocolate, you should really try to visit Les Deux Magots, especially if you’re into the famed literary scene of Paris. Located in the fashionable Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, the café was the thinking and meeting place of a lot of great writers like Hemingway and Sartre & de Beauvoir, Les Deux Magots has such a good literary reputation that once a year it gives out the Deux Magots literary prize to a French novel.
But on to the actual restaurant. It’s in a beautiful Belle Epoque-era building, but it’s almost worth sitting outside on a sidewalk table to see the waiters in the stereotypical suit and long white apron getup dance in between pedestrians to take orders.
My dad took me here when he was in Paris, and I ordered the hot chocolate because it was freezing and we had been walking around all day. I didn’t know that I’d be ordering a melted chocolate bar, because that’s pretty much what I got. I was so surprised when I took my first sip—not only is the hot chocolate really rich and flavorful, but its’ consistency is also on par with a melted chocolate bar.
Also, I know that Angelina’s has a reputation of having great hot chocolate (with a not-so-great expensive cost). And it does, it totally does, but when I went to Angelina’s I ordered their famous hot chocolate and a Japanese cheesecake thing (basically lemon cream cheese on a thick biscuit covered in white chocolate with strawberry cream) and I felt like vomiting afterwards because the hot chocolate + pastry = stomach overload. So maybe there’s a bias and it was experience-based, but I’d still pick Les Deux Magot because you could sit outside and sip.
–Best typical French food: Robert et Louise, 64 Rue Vieille du Temple 75003 Paris
This is where I had my first boudin noir black blood sausage, my first rillette pork fat paté, and my first foie gras (the sandwich doesn’t count in my book because that was just foie gras on a baguette and now I know that’s not how you’re supposed to eat foie gras).
But the best typical French part about this restaurant is that there’s a huge open brick oven right there in the dining room—not even sectioned off from the tables that are like three feet away—that is surely breaking a bajillion American health codes. Who cares, though—like the honey badger, Robert et Louise doesn’t give a fuck. You don’t even mind waiting for your food because you get to watch the two cooks on duty carry the raw meat up the stairs and throw it in the oven and then cut it up and then put it on a plate.
In fact, watching the cooks is most of the fun. There really are only two chefs—one sous-chef and one head chef, I guess. But from what I could see, there’s one guy that’s in charge of the meat and one guy that’s in charge of everything else, like the salad and potatoes.
This is a nice place to get the French experience, so you might as well go all out for your meal. When I went with my dad and step-mom, we each ordered an appetizer, so we got to split the blood sausage, the rillette, and foie gras (served with American toast and an orange marmalade that really complimented the fattiness of the foie gras, especially when paired with the sweet white wine that comes with the foie gras). Plus, you get a basket of nice, thick pieces of French baguette that you can watch the waiter cut in the tiny makeshift kitchen.
For the main course, I got duck confit and my dad and step-mom split the beef ribs for two. You get baked potatoes with herbs de Provence and a clean salad with a typical French salad dressing (which, coincidentally, is nothing like the disgusting French dressing in America). Everything is simple—no ornamentation, no fancy positioning on a fancy plate, no random dribbles of some sauce, no uneatable piece of green leaves. It is literally meat and potatoes and you wouldn’t want it any other way here.
Unless you want to sit at the communal table, I’d recommend getting a reservation here, especially if you’re going on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night. There are two main dining rushes—7 and 9 p.m.—but if you go before or after you might be okay. And if you buy the cheapest “dumb” phone like I did—30 euros for a phone that looks like it came straight out of 2003—be prepared to have the cute guy (the grandson of Robert and Louise, we think) laugh at your little phone, but in a cute way.
My dad used to come here all the time, I guess, when he lived here—and more telling, this is where he would bring people who were visiting France, so they could get the real experience. His frequent appearance, coupled with his obvious Americanness, made him memorable in the eyes of the current proprietor François, who is the son-in-law of Robert et Louise. Robert et Louise’s daughter, my dad says, used to make the desserts but I’m not sure if she does now; I am sure that she remembered my dad and step-mom because she waved and smiled and said “Bonsoir” to them when she walked by. François definitely remembered my dad, even saying that it’s been a while since he was there. He came and talked to us at our table, but he did that for all of the guests.
François is a character. He sits at the bar all night manning the phone and drinking rosé. My dad said that he first talked to François one night when they were at a table for four and it suddenly got really busy, so the two of them told their waiter they could have their after-dinner coffee at the bar—which put them in François’s eyesight and good graces. He bought them each a glass of wine as a thank-you gift and they started talking from there.
And when my dad took me here, he made sure to send François a glass of his favorite rosé as a thank-you. When François noticed the glass—and that we were leaving—he got up and gave my dad the traditional bises, which was kind of funny to see because François is this big, balding French guy who looks really intimidating. My dad introduced me (in English) as his daughter and said I was studying abroad in Paris for another month, which made François really smile and ask me (in French) if I knew French and that I should come back and drink a glass of wine with him and practice my French. Where else are you going to have a restaurant owner say that to you? It’s been two weeks and I haven’t gone back there yet, but I might—if only because François told me “I am going to do the bises with you” in French as a warning, so I loooooooooooved that (those are not sarcastic “o”s, those are sincere “os”s btw).
–Best duck: La Fée Verte, 108 Rue de la Roquette 75011
I went to La Fée Verte because a former co-worker of my dad recommended it for us to all meet up. The name is literally translated to “The Green Fairy” and both the French and English versions are of the nickname for absinthe, because this is an absinthe bar. But unlike the absinthe bar that I’ve written so much about, this is a restaurant AND an absinthe bar, and the food is just as out-of-this-world as the absinthe. I’m assuming this because I didn’t drink absinthe here, but I did ask where they buy their absinthe; the bartender gave me the business card of the absinthe bar (Vert des Absinthes located right in the Marais) and I ended up going there and buying two bottles of absinthe for my dad to bring home for me.
Anyway, everyone but my dad ordered the parmentier de canard (he ordered a hamburger and got mocked by his former colleagues), but everyone at the table loved it. Parmentier is the name of the guy who popularized the potato as a major source of food in Europe—he even has his own Metro station in the cool Oberkampf area where there is literally a statue of him with a potato—and that works because this dish is basically a mound of mashed potatoes on top of a mound of shredded confit de canard.
Can you just imagine how fabulously fatty and rich that would be? It was heavenly. I wish I was eating some now. I can’t find the menu online but I’m pretty sure this was an expensive dish for my student budget (not that it mattered the night I ordered it since my dad was paying). It would be worth scrimping just to justify eating this luxurious dish.
P.S. You might notice that this is on the same street—Rue de la Roquette—as the “Best Pizza” place, La Tavola. Rue de la Roquette is this long straightshoot of a street that has a lot of great restaurants, many of them ethnic, and it’s a great place to walk down if you’re hungry but not sure what you’re in the mood for.
–Best French Onion Soup: Aux Anysetiers Du Roy, 61, rue Saint-Louis en L’Ile, 75004
This place is also the unofficial runner-up for best traditional French cuisine. But I love it so much, I just had to include it on this list. It’s so traditional French, its’ name is actually written in Middle Ages French and not modern French—it’s called “the ancestors of the king” but “roy” is the Middle Ages French version of “roi” for “king.”
When I went here with my dad, we ordered the French onion soup as an appetizer and it was so filling I would have been completely content with asking for the check afterwards. It’s French onion soup, but it’s French French onion soup and not the Americanized version of the meal. You get all of the typical French onion soup parts—broth, bread, cheese—but they’re each in separate bowls. You don’t get the queasy thick cheese layer, but instead you get a bowl of broth with a bowl of shredded cheese an a bowl of bread croutons and you get to make your own French onion soup.
The difference in preparation technique is extraordinary. You don’t get like seven spoonfulls of cheese and then the rest is just the broth; you’re in control of the cheese, so you can have the cheese and bread and soup in perfect proportions. Before I came here, I had never had French onion soup like this—and now that I’ve been, I’m not sure I’ll be able to order a typical French onion soup ever again.
Head’s up: the soup was 9 euros, and like I said, it’s totally a meal on its’ own even though it’s listed as an appetizer.
–Best Bar Areas: Rue de Lappe, Bastille; Rue des Lombards, Châtlet; Rue Mouffetard, Place Monge; Rue Oberkampf, Parmentier
There are two things you should note about that superlative. One: it is not just one bar, but bar areas. Two: it is not just one bar area, but many.
That’s because for me, the best way to meet French people was at a bar. My program was only for American students, so you were kind of on your own to meet French people to talk to; there was a “conversation buddy” program with a French fashion school down the street, but I don’t think anyone actually met up with their conversation buddy outside of the first required meeting.
Now, granted, my host family had someone sleeping at our house every week so I really got to meet French people. But most of these people were old artists who would just ask me basic questions and then be really artsy whenever I tried to talk to them (example: “How are you?” “Fantastic because I am going to go take pictures of Père Lachaise in the rain.”). So going out and meeting French people was really a big deal for me and my friends and the best way to do that was to go to a bar and just strike up a conversation (or let them hear you speaking English and have them strike up a conversation with you).
So here we go—
–Rue de Lappe, Bastille: This is the tiniest of all of the streets I’ve listed, but what it lacks in width it definitely makes up for in number of bars. There are so many packed on this street that every bar is tiny, which is fine because everyone just orders a drink in the bar of their choosing and then goes outside on the cobblestone street to smoke and chat. It’s funny because I’ve walked by this street during the day (it’s right before that Rue du Roquette that I’ve mentioned twice now in this post) and no one’s there and every bar is closed, but this bar really comes alive at night.
–Rue des Lombards, Châtlet: This is a little piéton, or pedestrian-only, street—which is good if you plan on doing some heavy drinking. A lot of the bars on this little street are open later than the Metro, so you have to be mindful of the time if you plan on staying out late here or be prepared to fight for a taxi in the wee hours of the morning. I first heard about this place because of the Hide Out, a great dive-bar with a dungeon-esque dance floor. But all of the bars in this little area are great, cheap, and open late.
–Rue Mouffetard, Quartier Latin: My friend Lilly lived right off of this street, so that was why she always tried to get us to go here for a night out. But we kept going because it’s such a great cobblestone street with a bunch of bars. This is somewhere that’s actually open during the day, too—there are a bunch of specialty foods shops towards the bottom of the street. It’s funny because at the top, it’s mostly bars, but as you keep walking down you see more fromageries and boulangeries and patisseries and butcher shops. So I love this street in the day and in the night—plus, it spawns the streets that Hemingway and Orwell respectively lived on during their stays in Paris.
There’s one bar, The Wall, that’s always bumping. Its’ name comes from the Pink Floyd album, and the font on the sign mimics the font of the album cover. They play great music here—one time it was three Beatles songs in a row—but it can be kind of hard to hear it sometimes because it gets so packed, despite the hoards of French people smoking outside on the sidewalk. Another great bar here is The Fifth Bar, which is where you can go if you miss playing beer pong and are sad because you haven’t seen a plastic red cup in weeks. We went here with a French friend one time and saw how terrible the French are at playing beer pong. It’s 15 euros for a pitcher and you have to ask for extra cups, but if you’re feeling homesick for the shitty college drinking game this is the place to go.
–Rue Oberkampf, Parmentier: Beware, becasuse this is the real Oberkampf “bobo” hipster area, and not the area that’s at the Oberkampf Metro stop. We learned this the hard way one frustrating night. But once you finally arrive on this street, you’re going to want to stay here for a while. It’s bar after bar after bar—and not even that, but it’s theme bar after theme bar after theme bar. Want to go to a pirate bar? Bar Les Pirates is what you’ll want to seek. Want to spend the night drinking piña coladas and listening to the Beach Boys? My Woodie’s is the place to be. Plus, the streets going off of Rue Oberkampf are full of good bars too; it’s where you’ll find La Cantada II, aka the absinthe bar I’m always blogging about.
–Best Macaron: Maison de Collette, 100, rue Montorgueil 75002
This whole street, rue Montorgueil, is five minutes away from my school, but even if it wasn’t within walking distance it’d be worth going to. This is another piéton area, which means that it’s cute and small and has a cobblestone street. Plus, there’s a lot of diversity here, which means one day I can have Thai and the next Indian and the next French and still walk the same five minutes each way. But the best is dessert. The macarons are bigger than your average macarons and also less expensive—less than 3 euros for a macaron the size of the palm of your hand. Plus, there are really interesting macaron flavors too. Like, I’m obsessed with everything cassis, mostly because there isn’t any cassis in America (cassis is like a fruit that’s half blackberry, half red currents). And they have cassis macarons at this place! It’s the only time I’ve seen it. Same with the praline macaron. I’m really into pralines, since it’s not a flavor I have easy access to in the states. There were even little chunks of pralines in the cookie part! Mmmm… There are many different flavors of macarons, and they are all the perfect combination of cake and crème, of crunch and frosting, of price and taste.
–Best cake: Berko, 31 rue Lepic, Quartier Lepic-Abbesses, 75018 Paris
I’ve already waxed poetic about this cheesecake. But now that I’ve tried the regular cheesecake, the white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, the regular cheesecake with fresh fruit, and the Mars bar cheesecake—I’ve gotta tell ya, the regular cheesecake is my favorite.
My friend Lily and I have it nailed down: it’s the crust. It’s not a regular cheesecake crust, but it’s more like a condensed carrot cake of a crust. It’s kind of like a reverse carrot cake, where there’s more cream cheese and less spice cake. And it’s scrumptious, obviously.
–Best chocolate: Leonidas chocolates (locations vary)
I would feel like a smuck for recommending a Belgian chocolatier on my best-of Paris list, but the chocolate is so gobble-worthy I don’t even care.
There’s a backstory to this. Even before my dad moved to Paris and he was just doing a lot of European business trips, one thing he would always do is bring home a big gold box of Leonidas white chocolates. But it had been a while since that happened, and I got ridiculously, childishly excited when I saw the royal-looking Leonidas symbol from two blocks away and dragged my friends to the store.
All of their chocolates are delicious, but the white chocolate ones take the cake, so to speak. I’m a white chocolate kind of girl to begin with, but these white chocolates are converters. A lot of the Leonidas chocolates feature pralines or hazlenuts, but those nuts combined with the white chocolate is a whole other taste experience I have yet to find in the States.
These are expensive, to be fair. You can get a small box of maybe 15 chocolates for 10 euros. But they’re worth it. Just be sure to ration yourself off of chocolates or you’ll go through a whole box in four days like I did.
And if you’re getting them as a gift, like I did for my mom (the third-biggest size of box) or for my host daughter (smallest box), then make sure you get it wrapped. Or, if you want to treat yourself, you can get it wrapped too.
–Best frites: De Clercq, les Rois de la Frite. 169 rue Montmartre 75002
This is another example of a Belgian takeover, but I think it’s okay in this case because French fries technically are in Belgian. And it’s awfully cocky to have “the kings of the fry” as part of your company name, but De Clercq has earned their crown, in my opinion.
This particular De Clercq is a five-minute walk away from my school, and a cold winter day it’s so pleasing to eat a handful of hot French fries on the way to the center. This is a tiny little pop-up of a restaurant, and it’s so packed during the lunch rush hour that it’s not even worth standing up or sitting down to eat inside, even if there are specially-made counters with holes to put your cornet, or rolled-paper cone, of fries.
Their burgers are pretty good, but you need to come here for the fries. True, you can get a burger, a small drink, and a medium cornet of fries for under 7 euros. But the fries are really the best part. They’re thick and have some potato-ness to them, but the exterior is fried and crispy so that you get the best of both worlds—mushy and crunch—of all things French fries.
–Best cookies: Scoop Me a Cookie,4 rue du Pas de la Mule
I never thought of myself as a cookie snob before coming to Paris. Yes, I preferred the homemade kind to the store-bought kind, but a cookie is a cookie so even the bad ones are good. Or so I thought.
You’ll see a lot of cookies in Paris, but you won’t see a lot of thick, fluffy ones. Even the best patisseries with the prettiest little desserts and macarons only have flat, crunchy-looking cookies that aren’t visually appeasing.
This is the exact opposite of Scoop Me a Cookie, which is located inside of a chocolatier shop, Josephine Vannier, by Place des Vosges. I first noticed this shop with my dad because there were a lot of funky creations, like mugs and plates and little shoes, made out of chocolate. But what made us actually go inside the shop were the cookies. Oh, the cookies.
These were the thickest, gooiest cookies I’d ever seen in person. They were the kind of cookies Pillsbury or Toll House wish they could feature in their TV commercials. Somehow, the cookies were huge, the size of a hand, but they still retained height and volume as well as width—they didn’t flatten out during the baking process, and for that I am very thankful. Maybe that’s why it’s called “Scoop Me a Cookie” because they must use an ice cream scoop or something to make the perfectly-sized cookie dough ball.
The names are just as sweet as the cookies. I ordered a “Moi Tarzan, Toi Jane” cookie with dark chocolate and dried bananas. So where else are you going to get a Tarzan-referencing cookie with bananas? Exactly.
Even when the cookies aren’t straight out of the oven, they’re still really soft, almost a little too soft in the middle. But the best part is the chocolate—whether it’s a cookie with white, milk, or dark chocolate, the pieces of the chocolate are going to be the size of melting chocolate pieces and not chocolate chips.
The cookies are 3,10 euros, but you’ve never had a cookie like this, ever. If you end up getting homesick for regular cookies, this is the place to go to get your fix. Just beware because then you might end up getting homesick for these cookies, which I totally will be.
–Best outdoor market: Marché Bastille, bd Richard Lenoir 75011
I’m spoiled because this is right around where my dad used to live, so it was always a thing on Sundays to go to the Marché Bastille and buy all of our fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and breads. And the first Sunday of my Paris, I told my friends about this place and I was able to give them their first taste of an open-air market, or un marché de plein air.
The Bastille market takes up a whole block, with rows and rows of different vendors. You’ve got your fish vendors, your cheese vendors, your bread vendors, and your produce vendors. But there’s also ethnic tents of Chinese, Lebanese, Créole, and Italian takeout, plus the roasted chicken stands where chickens are roasted on rotating sticks and the juice drips down onto the baked potatoes lying at the bottom of the oven. Suck it, Boston Market—the Bastille market wins hands down, even if there isn’t any cornbread.
This market isn’t just for food either: plastic jewelry, leather wallets and coin purses, hats, scarves, cooking wear, African masks, clothes … there’s even a stand that literally only sells stereotypical striped French shirts.
Everything is very cheap here, because the food is usually so fresh you have to eat it either that day or the next. I struggled with this in the beginning when I would buy my fruit here and open the refrigerator the next day only to see it spoiled.
I think it’s unofficially open from some ridiculously early Sunday morning time to like three p.m., but you want to get here early. Not just to buy the food first, but to beat the crowds. Most of the Parisians in the area flock here for their food and you really do have to fight for space and attention.
The market can be a little intimidating, with the amount of people and the vendors all yelling their prices, trying to entice you to look at them so that when you do they can offer you a slice of pineapple or a tomato or whatever they’re selling. You can get a lot of samples this way, if you try hard enough. Plus, you can buy a baguette and just kind of nibble while you figure out what to get. It’s the best.
For pictures, click the link up top.
–Best crêpe: Crêpe stand at marché Bastille, bd Richard Lenoir 75011
I tried really hard to find the name of this stand, but I just couldn’t. Guess this just means you have to go to the Bastille market then, ehhhh?
There’s only one crêpe stand there, so you’ll know where it is (it’s usually on the right side of the market if you’re standing with your back to the Bastille tower). It usually has the longest line or biggest crowd out of all of the little tents at the market, and the crêpes make it obvious why.
Like most crêpe stands, this offers sweet, or sucre, and savory, or salé. But the offerings are more diverse than what you will normally find.
The sweet crêpes range from your ordinary sugar, jam, Nutella, or fruit-and-Nutella, but it also features crème and caramel. A caramel and banana crêpe!! Can you even imagine? It really puts the sucre into the sucre crêpe.
Likewise, the savory ones have the usual cheese, egg, meat components, but there’s a lot of variation. For starters, you can get crêpes with goat cheese here, which I haven’t seen anywhere else. And the meat is much more varied too thanks to the different types of sausage and fish. You can get a salmon, chive, and goat cheese crepe here, which sounds like a restaurant plate that you can eat in your hands at a food truck price.
I like coming to this stand in the middle of my usual marché Bastille routine because you can sit on a bench and relax and people-watch the poor sods stuck in the lines you were just in. Plus, it’s the perfect breakfast sandwich in a country where the idea of a breakfast sandwich isn’t really all there. I got a egg, cheese, and saucission crêpe one late morning after a late night, and the crêpe guy literally took a whole sausage and cut it into pieces before placing it on the crêpe. It was exactly what I needed and cemented the idea that these crêpes are exactly what I need whenever I go to the marché Bastille.
Aaaand …. that’s it! Let me know if you have any recommendations or categories!