You would think it would be easy to find a good croissant in Paris. Or a good baguette. But the discrepancies in quality from one Parisian bakery to another can be quite shocking. Below are some tips for ordering outside of the box, and a few dependable recommendations in the event that your local Parisian bakery does not dish up the croissant of your dreams.
Not many Americans know the joys of the amazing pain aux amandes, sometimes known as an almond croissant. Almond croissants are actually an ingenious way for a bakery to sell its leftovers. The almond croissant is a day-old croissant, split and filled with almond cream, topped with almonds and baked again. Trust me, however, this is no poor man's pastry. The almond croissant is sugary, buttery, crispy and beautiful. Depending on the bakery, the same method is sometimes used on old pain au chocolat, making an almond-chocolate croissant. Decadence.
One of the best all-around bakeries in central Paris is the Boulangerie Victor 1920, right near the Centre Georges-Pompidou (33 rue Rambuteau, 4th arrondissement). The breakfast viennoisserie are excellent. Pick the sinfully rich croissant au beurre over the regular croissant. (You are on vacation - bring on the butter!) Victor 1920 is also a great place to stop by for a quick take-away lunch on a sunny day. Instead of the usual sandwiches of tuna salad or ham and cheese that you find at most Parisian bakeries, Victor 1920 offers combinations like tandoori chicken, three kinds of goat cheese or salade niçoise all on expertly-executed baguette or country bread. For about 7 euro you can pick up a sandwich, a drink and a stellar dessert: the raspberry-pistachio tart is one of the most unforgettable pastries I've ever had.
Aside from the independent bakeries of Paris, which can be hit or miss, quite a few chains have opened up. Some are actually quite good. Eric Kayser is an award-winning French chain that first sprang up in Paris in 1996 and now has locations throughout Paris, in Lyon and internationally as far away as Japan (but not in the U.S. as of yet). With a consistent standard of quality, Eric Kayser is a great option if your closest independent boulangerie is just not that great.
Paul is the super-chain of French bakeries, but is great to know as locations can be found virtually anywhere in Paris (in the métro, at the Gare du Nord, at airports…) You can even find Paul in Florida! You can order a take-away coffee at Paul, which in France is not easy to find outside of Starbucks, and their pastries are in general quite decent. The superstar at Paul, however, is their pain aux lardons—bacon bread! The mini-size bacon bread costs around 60 euro cents and is two bites of smoky heaven. Pain aux lardons is a great savory breakfast option in a country that loves its sweets. Bon appétit!
Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill is a New York based event designer who has lived in Paris and London. She travels frequently, loves writing about her adventures and appreciates your comments! You can find Mary-Elizabeth on Twitter as @m_oneill_nyc.