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Their Little Paris

Down six winding flights of stairs, across the street, and onto rue Faidherbe, the quartier’s main thoroughfare—with its poppy-themed florist, organic and biodynamic market, local post office, and neighborhood record shop—I take a quick left on the narrow, cobblestoned rue du Dahomey and another onto rue Saint-Bernard. I could do the four-minute walk in this far east section of the 11th arrondissement—my home for the past two years—with my eyes closed and still land precisely on the chocolate-meets-caramelizing-onions-scented doorstop of 5 rue Saint-Bernard.

It’s 8:30 a.m., and the gate in front of the seafoam green facade of Mokonuts is only halfway lifted, but that doesn’t stop passersby from ducking under it to see about some coffee or a cookie. This 24-seat local favorite calls itself a “café and bakery” on its sign, but it is so much more than that. Almost immediately, I’m welcomed by a familiar call: “Hiieeeee, Sara.”

Run by husband-and-wife team Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem, Mokonuts is the quirkily named, out-of-the-way spot in Paris—ahead of even the established French bread bakeries like Du Pain et Des Idées or praised macaron meccas like Pierre Hermé—where I tell everyone who visits the city to go. “But don’t be picky,” I encourage them. The menu, influenced by Middle Eastern, French, and American cooking, is delicious, but it’s no steak frites joint, and the options are limited. “Oh, and make reservations for lunch.” The tiny, sunlit dining room does only one formal seating, from noon to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. (Though rumor has it they might be opening for dinner soon.)

Moko and Omar are among Paris’ growing community of international chefs laying claim to the City of Light. Moko, 46, who was born in Japan and raised in the United States, was a labor negotiator before getting into the restaurant business 10 years ago. And Lebanonborn, France-raised Omar, 44, was a liaison for the Yankees who claims that, up until the year 2000, he “couldn’t even cook an egg.”

“It’s just because I had exposure,” says Moko, quick to come to Omar’s defense about his late-blooming kitchen skills. She grew up in San Francisco with a mother whose passion was French pastry, and Moko was, therefore, “making cream puffs at, like, 10.” Today, her crispy-on-the-outside, doughy-on-the-inside cookies, hand-rolled with deeply flavorful ingredients such as Italian hazelnuts or 70 percent German dark chocolate, are gaining a reputation for being the best in town, while Omar’s savory dishes—like creamy labneh whipped with minerally, fruity olive oil from Puglia and sprinkled with za’atar—cause even the French

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