Every food lover travels differently, but all of us prioritize our appetites. Here’s how one gourmand lets the stars (literally!) guide her around Paris.
Look at my phone, at the map of Paris, and see how it glows gold. Zoom in, and the constellations fragment into distinct stars denoting bistros, cafes, patisseries, and fromageries.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans visiting the City of Light this year, I suggest this way of illuminating your path. It’s so tempting to keep your data on and your and wi-fi connected, posting every beautiful thing you see to social media, but there’s another way to do Paris—or anyplace you visit—that will keep you well-fed, help you live in the moment, and keep your phone battery from dying.
Simply star the places you want to visit—for steak frites, for coffee, for macarons, for wine, for oysters—on a google map in advance of your trip, then wander among the stars blindly, not knowing where you’re headed. When you arrive, eat what you’ve found. It’s like a scavenger’s hunt for snacks.
If you’re a flexible eater who gets as excited about Vietnamese phở as you do about oysters on the half shell, and you’re open to mini-meals, you’ll eat well. Carry a baguette and cheese in case spots are unexpectedly closed, and pack your best walking shoes, and you should be pleasantly surprised in your rambles. Paris is a food town, after all. By doing your homework ahead of time, you’ll know know where to pick up a gorgeous tartes aux pommes just before you walk to Notre-Dame (Poilâne) or where to get pretty pistachio eclairs right by your flat (Tholoniat), or where there’s a lemon tart (Hugo & Victor) that will destroy all other lemon tarts for you forever and that’s OK.
The trick with this method is to do your research in advance. There are plenty of great resources—Paris by Mouth, Le Fooding, The New York Times, Travel + Leisure (for whom, full disclosure, I’m a contributor), and this tasty Eater list. I tend to primarily follow recommendations from locals, such as fabulous baker Dorie Greenspan, writer David Lebovitz, and cook Rebekah Peppler.
The fine print, as those who have been to Paris know, is that you should make reservations for dinner. It’s fine to cancel them that day, but—particularly during August and over the winter holiday break—you’ll find that websites aren’t always updated, restaurants might be unexpectedly closed, and even though you spy a ton of empty tables, the restaurant is “fully reserved.” It’s absolutely possible to eat a subpar meal in Paris. (I did, on Christmas night a few years ago, and I don’t recommend it.)
Definitely stop in a few places that aren’t on your list, especially those recommended by locals, but otherwise, follow the stars! Don’t check whether you’re wandering to sweets or savories, coffee or cheese: Just enjoy whatever you find when you get there. (It’s what I’ll be doing on my upcoming trip, too!)
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.