We have a saying in my family: Every city has a Jewish quarter. My father insists on finding it, even if it's nothing more than a random old synagogue somewhere. And since Dad planned my first trip to Paris, it's no surprise that my introduction to the Marais was a Jewish one.
It's a legit Jewish quarter, and, to some extent, reflects the complex history of Jews in France: I remember, as we walked the narrow, cobblestoned streets with even narrower sidewalks that are the oldest part of the city, my father pointing out the bullet holes in the walls of the Goldenberg delicatessen on Rue des Rosiers, site of a deadly anti-Semitic attack in 1982. When we turned into the Place des Vosges and the sun bounced off the faded-to-pink red bricks on the facades of the early 17th-century houses that line the square, I held my breath and felt almost sorry, because I realized that no landmark in my hometown of New York City could ever compare.
I was 14 at the time, and I vowed to return to Paris as often as I could. It’s a promise I’ve kept. And I always go back to the Marais. In college it was where I met friends for falafel lunches on Sunday. Les hipsters were beginning to reclaim it even then, in the mid-90s; you’d see couples zipping through on their scooters, owning bedhead chic like only the French can, disembarking at cafes for late lunches, gathering on corners with wine glasses in hand. A few years later, gentrification was in full swing—Petit Bateau and A.P.C. had set up shop. When I went freelance and started going to Paris to write, I lived in the 3rd, in what’s known as the Haut Marais and is the older half of the zone. The apartment building I stayed in had two entrances: one on the busy Boulevard St.-Martin on the cusp of the 10th arrondissement, the other on the two-block-long, sleepy Rue Meslay, home to a row of discount shoe stores. Here, at the quarter’s northernmost seam, a trace of its proletarian disposition lingers, despite the encroaching, not-so-discreet charm of the bourgeoisie.
I went back to Paris in May, on vacation, and returned to the Marais like always, walking though the recently renovated Picasso Museum, lining up for the only crepes I’ve ever loved at Breizh Cafe, and basking in the rosy glow of the Place des Vosges. Here’s my culinary guide to the neighborhood; it draws on all of the versions of the Marais I have known in the hopes others might experience them all, too.
Haut Marais (3rd Arrondissement)
Breizh Café: If you were planning to stop on a street corner for a crepe because it’s a checklist item, keep walking. For the destination-worthy crepe experience, go to Breizh — and Breizh alone. You will taste a true Breton-style galette—a savory crepe made with buckwheat flour and the best butter on the planet, Bordier butter, from that same region. Breizh is an international chain of sorts, with locations in Japan and owner Bertrand Larcher’s native Brittany, but this was the original. The cafe’s straightforward formula is brilliant: crepes + oysters + cider. The galettes look like filigree—lacy, thin and crisp on the edges—and taste almost like roasted potatoes, with a toasty nuttiness. The simplest are the showstoppers. Expect a wait, but know it will be justified and that you might even want to come back the next day. There’s an épicerie next door that sells the caramel, the butter, and the buckwheat flour you just tasted, should you want to take it with you. 109 Rue Vieille du Temple, +33 1 42 72 13 77
Bob’s Kitchen: Healthy eating isn’t much of a priority when I’m in Paris, so I can’t tell you what to order. But you might like to know that lots of fashion-world disciples and wellness-minded gadabouts flock to this hub of vegetarian activity. It’s a breakfast-and-lunch establishment only. 74 Rue des Gravilliers, +33 9 52 55 11 66
Café Charlot: Do you have a breakfast meeting on your schedule? Need to get some work done? Feel like sitting down for a coffee and or writing some postcards (you should do this)? Need a reliable, perpetually buzzing place to convene for drinks? This is your all-purpose, quintessential contemporary French café. 38 Rue de Bretagne, +33 1 44 54 03 30
Chez L’Ami Louis: Mimi Sheraton has written about her willingness to "enplane" for a meal at this 92-year-old bistro, which the former New York Times restaurant critic cited as her "favorite restaurant in the world as I know it thus far" back in 2009. But Mimi did not have to tell me this, because I have had my own, in-house expert on dining since birth: my father. It was here that he introduced me to the pommes soufflés of his dreams. Can you imagine a fried potato, where, somehow, the starch becomes its own air-filled shell? It dissolves on your tongue, collapsing as the roof of your mouth comes down against its hot, fried paper-thin surface; poof, it’s gone. He insisted on the chicken too. Roasted in a wood-fired oven, that bird is so good, you can kiss your Zuni memories goodbye. The praise comes in cycles; sometimes everyone’s on the outs with Louis, and a couple of years later, it’s hot again. The truth is, it hasn’t changed. I really only want to go to this lovably unpolished, wood-paneled nook, with its red-and-white gingham window curtains, smell of long-cooked meat, and promises of thick slabs of foie gras terrine with Dad. I think you should go with your parents—or someone else’s parents—too. 32 Rue du Vertbois, +33 1 48 87 77 48
Fromagerie Jouannault: There are a few other contenders for cheese in this neighborhood, but this one speaks to me because of its proximity to the Marché des Enfants Rouges, and its father-daughter ownership. Either of the Jouannaults—père or fille—will help you choose your wedge, and they’ve never steered me wrong. 39 Rue de Bretagne, +33 1 42 78 52 61
Marché des Enfants Rouges: Welcome to Paris’s oldest covered market (it turned 400 last year!). Its name translates to Market of the Red Children, a reference to an orphanage whose young wards wore red uniforms. It’s easy to miss both of its entrances—the main one on Rue de Bretagne, the other on Rue Charlot. Keep your eyes peeled for the green metal gate. Once inside, do a lap or two to check out all the options—there are stalls for every mood. I went through a merguez phase that had me returning, numerous times a week, to the Moroccan vendor, Traiteur Marocain, for a mountain of couscous with that smoky lamb sausage atop it. When I overdosed on the merguez, I’d stop by the produce seller who presses fresh juice and does healthy salads. You’ll notice the Japanese purveyor Chez Taeko is a big draw; get in line if you’re in a bento frame of mind. Each stall has its own seating, and you’re meant to perch accordingly. 39 Rue de Bretagne
Le Used Book Café: Part of the next generation of "concept" stores, Merci launched its charm offensive on the border of the 3rd and 9th arrondissements in 2009. The multi-storied venue is always good for a walk-through, whether you’re a clotheshorse, into Paola Navone glassware, or just like being surrounded by pretty things. But it’s the café next door that I plan my visit around. It’s lined with bookshelves and you’re encouraged, as you sip a late-morning coffee and down a scone or tartine, to pull a volume off the shelf and get lost in its pages. 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, +33 1 42 77 00 33
Pain de Sucre: This is some next-level patisserie shit. A cream puff is never just a cream puff. Everything is intricate and layered: each domed bombe, square-shaped tarte, stuffed bread, personal baba au rhum, and gateau slab has multiple textures, colors, and flavors. A tiny masterpiece, every one. 14 Rue Rambuteau, +33 1 45 74 68 92
Pasta Linea: I know you came to this city for its bistros—gastro-, neo-, post-, post-ironic, retro-, or whatever iteration is having its moment. You came for your country paté, your foie gras terrine, your croissants and steak frites or tartare, your poulet rôti and macaron, your salmon and sorrel and towering soufflé. So why would you want to visit this tiny Italian café with its generous portions of pasta handmade with organic flour; its regional cheeses, salumi, and wines; and its burrata near-to-bursting with cream? Why, because you’re going to need a break from all that other stuff. I promise. 9 Rue de Turenne, 33 1 42 77 62 54
Café La Perle: Where all the cute French boys are. I don’t know why. They just are—in their appropriately Franco-skinny jeans and narrow-cut sweaters, with their cultivated insouciance, tousled hair and shadowy scruff. It’s where Romain Duris and his doppelgangers would hang out (Romain, where’d you go, though?). After John Galliano spewed his drunken anti-semitic rage at a (probably cute) couple having drinks there, the café became slightly less unassuming, for a time. But I think the people have calmed down and realized there’s really nothing to see here, folks, except for the hotties. 78 Rue Vieille du Temple, +33 1 42 72 69 93
[My Own Private Bar]: This is one of my favorite bars in Paris, but there’s a catch. You can only access it if you’re staying at the Petit Moulin, the small, whimsically outfitted hotel designed by Christian LaCroix on the premises of an old boulangerie. (Would now be the wrong time to tell you I wondered, for longer than anyone should, if he was affiliated with that trendy brand of sparkling water?) If you happen to be staying there (it’s adorable) or if you happen to know someone who is staying there, you can park yourself in that quiet, cozy, no-fuss "honesty bar" (keep tabs on your tab and pay accordingly) for as long as you like. Perfect for a tryst, it’s also a solid option if you want to catch up with someone you haven’t seen for ages, or need a moment to yourself, with wine. 29/31 Rue de Poitou, +33 1 42 74 10 10
Poilâne: Should you go to the O.G. Poilâne across the Seine, on the Left Bank’s Rue du Cherche-Midi? Yes. That’s where I went, frequently, for les punitions (the barely-sweet, shatteringly crisp, crimped shortbread discs—sandwich them with jam if you think of it) and apple turnovers and, obviously, the signature miche. But a few years ago, a satellite came to the 3rd Arrondissement, and it made things a lot more convenient. So, once you’ve made the necessary pilgrimage to the flagship, do stop in. Why wouldn’t you? It’s Poilâne. 38 Rue Debelleyme, +33 1 44 61 83 39
Tout Autour du Pain: When I first discovered this boulangerie, it was called 134 RdT, an abbreviated version of its address—134 Rue de Turenne, which made it easy to remember. Last year, it changed its name. Thank goodness it did not change hands or inventory. Baker Benjamin Turquier’s baguettes have been singled out as one of the top ten in Paris three times already, and his butter croissant received similar acclaim; he’s one of those culinary unicorns who can do both pastry and bread. Double up! 134 Rue de Turenne, +33 1 42 78 04 72
L’As du Fallafel: Faites attention! Two valuable pieces of advice lie ahead. Just because you are in the center of the Jewish Quarter and there are Stars of David wherever you turn, do not assume that any place you walk into for falafel is going to be THE place. So don’t be willy-nilly about it. When you get here, to the right spot, order the special falafel sandwich topped with that divine, crisp-skinned, tender-fleshed eggplant. It used to be you could ask for extra aubergine to pile on, but they discontinued that practice. I found a workaround. Among the menu’s entrées (that’s what the French call appetizers) is eggplant sautéed in lots of oil with onions and tomatoes. Order one of these and spoon that eggplant onto your sandwich, as an added garnish. 34 Rue des Rosiers, +33 1 48 87 63 60
Camille: When Americans envision the quintessential Parisian café, what they’re imagining is something close to this red awning-ed venue, complete with outdoor tables and woven chairs. Ça, c’est typique! The food isn’t going to blow your mind, but it’s consistent, and most important, you can have it on Sunday and Monday, when most of the restaurants in this neighborhood are closed. Steak tartare for dinner is my go-to here. 24 Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, +33 1 42 72 20 50
Carette: Carette opened in 1927 on the Place du Trocadéro, and it’s as picturesque as ever and still bustling. A newer location arrived a few years ago on the Place des Vosges, Paris’s oldest square. If you are a pastry-chaser, you will come here for a palmier, which happens to be my very favorite baked good on the planet, and theirs is a perfect specimen. You can sit down and enjoy it with a hot beverage, or find a free bench in the park and eat your buttery, flaky, caramelized viennoiserie while you watch the children play, the young lovers canoodle, the old folks reminisce... and the dogs do their business. Okay, maybe not. 25 Place des Vosges, +33 1 48 87 94 07
Chez Omar: If only Americans had imported the French-Algerian brasserie along with—or instead of?—its purely French counterpart… Well, actually they have, but that doesn’t make it any less of a treat to visit the Parisian prototype. A longtime gathering place for fashionistas, this winningly worn standby still draws its fair share of couture worshippers. Loyalists come back for steak au poivre or couscous with méchoui d’agneau. You’ll want to do the same, and it’s open on Sunday and Monday nights, which is useful information to have. 47 Rue de Bretagne, +33 9 86 39 91 14
Claude Colliot: He is the best with the sweetbreads. No, really, I think about them a lot. It’s not like I’m always eating sweetbreads, either. He’s a self-taught genius (as in, at age seven, when he wanted cake, he simply made one, from scratch, without a recipe or any instruction from an adult), and chefs like Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse tried to hire him to head up their kitchens. Claude held out for a place of his own. It paid off. His wife, Chantal, who runs the front of house, is an ace on wine. In the tranquil, candlelit room, you might spot a beautiful person or two—Sofia Coppola is a former client from Colliot’s catering days (he cooked for her on the set of Marie Antoinette), Quentin Tarantino is a fan, and Marion Cotillard is a close friend—but you’ll be discreet about it, as befits the tenor of the place. 40 Rue des Blancs-Manteaux, +33 1 42 71 55 45
Mariage Frères: This is where tea drinkers are born. Even if you think you don’t want to buy anything, you must promise to smell a few different varietals, just for the magical experience of sticking your nose into a huge tin and being transported, via inhalation, to another world. Start with Imperial Wedding, a gateway drug with its chocolate and caramel notes, and then follow your nose from there. There are black teas with blue orchids, green teas with roses, rooibos with bourbon and vanilla. Purchases aside, you will be better for having breathed them in. 30 Rue du Bourg-Tibourg, +33 1 42 72 28 11
Pierre Hermé: À mon avis, Hermé is the greatest living pastry chef. His shops around the city are numerous, and the first, on the Rue Bonaparte in the 6th, has my heart. But his seasonal tarts and macarons, and even his chocolate, are too good to pass up if you happen to be strolling by another location. The flavor combinations will mess with your head, in all the right ways. 18 Rue Sainte-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie, +33 1 43 54 47 77
Pozzetto: People will tell you that Berthillon is the best—and obligatory—place to have ice cream in Paris. They’re not exactly wrong. It’s an institution, and definitely the yardstick against which other French ice cream should be measured. But I’d argue Pozzetto is better, even though if we’re being technical here this is gelato, not ice cream. Run by a Sicilian family, it’s a detour-worthy, mom-and-pop gem. The pistachio is made with Sicilian pistacchi, and if you don’t get a scoop of it, you’re an idiot. 39 Rue du Roi-de-Sicile, +33 1 42 77 08 64 [There’s a newer second branch of Pozzetto nearby in the Haut Marais too, at 16 Rue Vieille du Temple]
La Belle Hortense: It’s a bookstore… and it’s a bar. You can pull a new or rare title (or bottle) off the shelf and dive in. Many of the bound releases are art-focused and the space is used for exhibitions, so artsy types are likely to rub shoulders with their literary counterparts here. If you get hungry, you can go across the street to Au Petit Fer à Cheval, a tiny bistro established over a century ago and now under the same ownership as the bookstore. The endearingly threadbare restaurant contains one of the smallest bars in Paris, and it’s fittingly horseshoe-shaped. I’d always rather be reading, so you’ll find me where the pages are. 31 Rue Vieille du Temple, +33 1 48 04 71 60