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