Tucked behind the Bastille in Paris' 12th arrondissement is one of my favorite neighborhoods. Anchored by a sprawling market, the quartier d'Aligre is a working-class neighborhood well known for its great food.
Any visit to the quartier should begin at Blé Sucre (7 rue Antoine Vollon, 12th arrondissement). Fabrice Le Bourdat, in his former life, was pastry chef at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bristol. He gave that up to open his own shop, and now rises every morning at 2 to make his famous millefeuille and iced madeleines for late morning customers. While Fabrice toils below in the basement kitchen, his cheerful wife Céline will help you choose between a buttery croissant or white chocolate brioche. She can also pull an espresso to give you energy for the shopping to come. If you can't make it for breakfast, stop in for an afternoon break. A cone of homemade salted butter caramel ice cream is a heavenly treat, particularly if it's eaten in the tree-filled Square Trousseau across the street.
A few blocks from the Blé Sucre is the bustling Marché d'Aligre. The outdoor market (place d'Aligre, 12th arrondissement) operates Tuesday–Saturday until 1:00 p.m. and until 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. Reasonable prices and an eastern Paris location ensure that you'll catch a glimpse of "real" working class Parisian families going about their shopping. In addition to the produce, you'll also find stalls selling trinkets, cheap clothing, and household goods. Looming to the east of the outdoor market is the covered Marché Beauveau. This classic building houses additional fish and meat stalls, along with one of my favorites for food gifts: Sur les Quais. The shelves of this small store are piled high with jars and tubes that can be tucked easily into the bottom of a suitcase. I'm a fan of the mustard flavored with truffle and piment d'espelette, and I also love their selection of high-end olive oils. This and the other shops inside the covered market are open until 7:30 p.m., but most take a lunch break from 1:00–4:00 p.m. Like the outdoor market, the Marché Beauveau is closed on Monday.
A few steps from the place d'Aligre is your destination for post-market recovery, Le Baron Rouge (1 rue Thophile Roussel, 12th arrondissment). During the cold months this wine bar is a destination for oyster eaters, but it's packed year-round with those who come after shopping for un petit rouge. There's something delicious about drinking a glass of red at noon with the locals and their grocery bags. You can eat oysters (during the season) here, or order a plate of charcuterie. I recommend saving your appetite, however, for the kitchen down the street
La Gazzetta (29 rue de Cotte, 12th arrondissement, 011-33/1-43-47-47-05) is the perfect way to cap off a hedonistic morning in the quartier d'Aligre. This well-known foodie address has a remarkable lunch menu with two courses for 16€ ($20). Chef Peter Nilsson's first course is a collection of three small and yummy plates, and there are vegetarian options among the mains. Beyond the food, the space itself is beautiful, with classic tiled floors and a polished bar area where you finish with an Illy coffee, read a selection of newspapers, and, if you're lucky, pet one of the local dogs who sometimes stop in to say hello.