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The past few years have been a renaissance for French pastry in New York. Not only are more shops serving better croissants, but ambitious upstarts like Dominique Ansel Bakery, Bien Cuit, and Lafayette have injected some much needed excitement into a pastry category that at times feels staid and dull.

This is great news for all kinds of pastry fans—all this competition has boosted both quality and creativity. But it's gotten near impossible to keep track of who makes the flakiest croissant, the softest brioche, and the crunchiest canele. And what if you're craving something esoteric, like the perfect kouign aman or the most whimsical religieuse? That's where this guide comes in.

Below you'll find our recommendations for the finest French-style pastry shops in the city, with notes on what they do best. Not all of these bakeries are French specialists, but they do offer at least three destination-worthy French items.

Almondine Bakery

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Best for: Croissants, macarons, mille-feuille, and fine desserts.

Almondine's pastry chef and owner Hervé Poussot worked at Le Bernardin and Payard, and is partly responsible for bringing French pastry to New York back in 2004. Ten years later he's kept the quality just as high, despite Hurricane Sandy totaling the DUMBO shop.

Almost everything is good here, from the viennoiserie to more elaborate pastries like macarons. The almond croissants are excellent and have an almost cult-like following. They're very well baked with distinctive deep dark brown color and an exterior crumb that crunches like puff pastry. They also contain a generous amount of frangipane filling. The mille-feuille is also special. The rectangular sheets of puff pastry look like they were cut with lasers and the custardy pastry cream is not too sweet and always flavorful.

Though not typically in the canon of French pastry, we'd be remiss not to mention Almondine's excellent chocolate chip cookies. These beauties have a crispy exterior, a slightly soft interior, and huge dark chocolate discs along with a hint of salt.

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Balthazar Bakery

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[Photograph: Kathy YL Chan]

Best for: Croissants, brioche, seasonal tarts, and puff pastry.

Balthazar's croissants are something of a New York institution. They're large but very light with just the right amount of air between their buttery layers. And with a large wholesale bakery in New Jersey, Balthazar churns out what may be the most consistent line of high-end viennoiserie in the city—almost exactly the same whether you buy them from the Spring Street storefront or one of the many coffee bars and restaurants that stock their items.

The seasonal tarts, such as fig or apple, are beautiful to look at (a great gift for any dinner host), feature perfectly ripe fruit, and are encased within buttery crust or base of puff pastry. And don't miss their Linzer tart—its concentrated berry flavor is unmatched.

On the sweeter side, try the profiteroles when they're available: tiny, perfectly baked choux pastry filled with vanilla pastry cream and dipped in caramel or chocolate. Chocolate lovers can't go wrong with the (expensive) classic flourless chocolate cake. It's just slightly denser than a soufflé but delivers the same dark chocolate flavor, and can easily be split between 2 or 3 people.

In the "less fussy" category, Balthazar's plain brioche, pain au raisin and palmiers are consistently fresh and perfect for a quick treat.

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Bien Cuit

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Best for: Croissants, tarts, and fine desserts.

This bakery is known for its spectacular bread, but if you haven't tried their croissants and dessert pastry you're missing out.

One look at Bien Cuit's croissants and you can tell these guys know what they're doing. The croissants have a unique dark brown crust that shows all of the wound layers of laminated dough. If it's available, I strongly recommend the crunchy multi-layered twice-baked chocolate-almond croissant. A croissant is split and filled with frangipane and dark chocolate, then baked and brushed with a mix of brandy and simple syrup. Smaller sweet items like the diamond-shaped chocolate chip shortbread cookies are also great for when you need a quick sugar fix.

For dessert for yourself or a gift to wow your dinner hosts, Bien Cuit's tarts (I recommend the dark chocolate) have a beautiful mirror-like finish and delicate buttery shells. They're expensive, and worth every penny. Finally, if you're in the mood for something decadent and showy, or need a flashy gift, try their St.Honore cake. Available in small and large sizes, these cakes feature multiple, pastry creme filled choux pastry on top of a pedestal of puff pastry.

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Bosie Tea Parlor

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Best for: Croissants, caneles, Paris-Brests, macarons, and fancy single-serving desserts.

Although Bosie calls itself a "Tea Parlor," pastry enthusiasts know it's one of the best places in Manhattan to score a wide variety of classic French desserts. Everything is baked daily by Dessert Professional Magazine Top 10 Pastry Chef award winner Damien Herrgott.

Head straight for their crunchy, beautifully caramelized canele—which we recently named among the four best in New York. If you desire something more substantial, try their beautiful lemony tart citron with torched Italian meringue on top. Chocoholics should try the chocolate eclipse pastry with fleur de sel, caramel ganache, dark chocolate sabayon—all on top of a dark chocolate cookie. And hazelnut lovers would be remiss to ignore the Paris-Brest, a ring of crisp choux pastry filled with luscious, intensely flavored hazelnut buttercream—the best of its kind in the city.

Bosie's macarons, rated third in our citywide taste test, are always reliable and flavors change seasonally. And don't miss Bosie's buttery, flaky croissants. They're baked only once in the morning, so head there early for your best shot at scoring one.

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Bouchon Bakery

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Best for: Croissants, kouign amanns, tarts, fine desserts, and cookies.

With two locations in dessert-deprived Midtown, Bouchon Bakery offers meticulously executed classic French pastry alongside some decidedly non-French—but fun—interpretations of iconic American sweets. On the classic side, don't miss their kouign-amann with its sweet and crunchy caramelized crust. Their buttery pain au chocolat and croissants are stunning—huge and airy—but most unique is a croissant filled with tart raspberry jam and a smear of almond paste. Crunchy mini-canele are expensive but worth it if you're a fan, and many of the daily items on the counter, such as their plain brioche, are also excellent.

But Bouchon's best offerings might be the (expensive) fancy desserts: elaborate verrines and parfaits, and seasonal tarts in fruit and dark chocolate flavors. They're all made with a meticulous attention to detail, the kind you expect to find at a fine dining restaurant, not a neighborhood pastry shop.

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Breads Bakery

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Best for: Croissants, caneles, and tarts.

Though not technically a French bakery, Breads sells at least three categories of finely executed French pastry in addition to their superb baguettes. Plus, everything is baked throughout the day in ovens that are about 50 feet from the counter. Their popular canele is sweet, aromatic, and always fresh. Copious use of real vanilla beans make this tiny treat a special experience.

Though many visit Breads for their chocolate babka, the viennoisorie selections—though pricey—are also worth a look. Their almond croissant is well baked and offers myriad layers of extra-crunchy laminated dough. Their rich, buttery, chocolate croissant separates itself from the pack with the use of a nice high quality dark chocolate. Like the canele, there are multiple bakings of croissants throughout the day.

Their range of seasonal fruit tarts are always oven-fresh and crusts are buttery, supple, and maybe a bit too easy to enjoy. Order one made with a fruit currently in season as Breads gets their produce straight from the nearby Union Square Farmer's Market. Recent favorites include pear, raspberry, and mixed berry tarts.

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Cannelle Patisserie

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Best for: Caneles, puff pastry, pear tarts, and apple turnovers.

Adventurous pastry lovers travel from near and far to this excellent French bakery in a Queens strip mall, and with good reason. Not only does it offer great desserts, but it does so at half the price of comparable bakeries in Manhattan.

On weekends, no matter what else you order, try at least one of their crunchy, custardy canele for only $2 (they cost $3 or more in Manhattan). Fall-friendly desserts like apple turnovers and pear tarts are other can't miss items. The turnover's puff pastry comes with beautiful thin layers and a shiny egg wash finish.

All of Cannelle's viennoiserie items are worth a look, and the buttery, flaky croissants and pain au chocolate go for just $1.70 and $1.90 respectively. Richer items like a chocolate praline (chocolate lover's dream filled with dark chocolate ganache and crunchy puffed rice) and an airy St. Honoré (two stacked cream puffs coated with a caramelized sugar glaze) dare you to pass them up.

It's certainly the best French bakery in Queens, but there's much to love if you're coming from another borough as well.

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Ceci-Cela

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Best for: Croissants and fruit tarts.

Ceci-Cela is best known for their excellent croissants (which are sold throughout the city at Joe the Art of Coffee, among others). But their almond croissants may be their top offering. They have a well-baked exterior layer with flat slivers of toasted almonds, and a slightly moist interior with just the right amount of aromatic frangipane filling.

You should also try their beautiful and delicious mixed fruit tarts. Don't be turned off by the shiny glaze on top, the fruit is always perfectly ripe and the custard below has just the right amount of sweetness. Chocolate lovers should try the dark chocolate mousse cake—it's rich, but immensely satisfying and perfect to share.

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Dominique Ansel Bakery

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Best for: Kouign amanns, caneles, apple tartes tatin, fine desserts and novelty desserts.

Although most famous for creating the Cronut (and other whimsical treats like the cookie shot), Dominique Ansel offers a wide selection of excellent classic French pastries. One of his best items—and what you should order instead of a Cronut or anything else—is the Breton kouign amman--or "DKA", a dense, flaky pastry resplendent with butter and coated in a crackly sugar crust. (Ask nicely and they'll fill it with ice cream for you.)

Speaking of caramelized pastry, the bakery's canele, also one of the city's best, are superb. And like the kouign amann, the canele are baked multiple times throughout the day for guaranteed freshness. The apple tarte tatin—a single-serving round of crust topped with an inch-thick ring of deeply caramelized apple—keeps the theme going.

Despite his newfound success, Ansel doesn't rest on his laurels; the bakery rolls out five to ten new pastries every two months or so, and a few join the permanent menu. None seem more French than the seasonal religieuse, usually creatively decorated to reflect a theme or holiday. These showy treats feature choux pastry puffs filled with two different types of pastry cream. Finally, peanut butter lovers won't want to miss the Paris-New York, a take on the classic Paris-Brest pastry but with peanut butter, chocolate, and caramel between rings of choux pastry.

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Du Jour Bakery

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[Photograph: Niko Triantafillou]

Best for: Puff pastry, croissants, and tarts.

Although not yet two-years-old, Du Jour Bakery in Park Slope already has a loyal following of locals who come for the excellent baked goods and comfortable setting. The bakery was founded by two experienced pastry chefs who have worked in some of the best kitchens in New York. Head straight for any item—savory or sweet—that's made with their unique, destination-worthy puff pastry. The crisp, buttery layers in their mushroom tart with caramelized onions offers an immensely satisfying crunch.

The fine dining pedigree of the chefs is also evident in their beautiful dark chocolate and salted caramel tarts. They both feature a sable breton crust that's buttery and just firm enough to hold things together. Though not at all French, the bakery's filled bombolini are perhaps their biggest crowd pleaser. Fried throughout the day for freshness and filled with vanilla pastry cream or simply dusted with sugar, there's a reason some count them among the city's best doughnuts.

The main dining room has seating for breakfast, brunch, and lunch, and there's a pleasant outdoor space in back. This is the neighborhood bakery you always wanted.

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Epicerie Boulud

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Best for: Croissants, eclairs, canele, and fancy desserts.

Almost no one has a wider selection of French bakery classics than Epicerie Boulud. And nearly everything here is excellent, from their crunchy palmiers to their large buttery pain au chocolat. But there are some true standouts, like a beautifully caramelized canele and a light and buttery croissant.

For something more substantial, head over to the refrigerated pastry case. Start with the precision-executed mini-tarts, especially those made with seasonal fruit. Also: eclairs! The classic fillings are all here, but the coffee version is exceptional.

If you happen to visit in January, seek out their rich, layered, frangipane-filled king cake (also known as galette de roi)—it's one of the best versions I've had. (And in December, splurge on a bouche de Noel.)

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Francois Payard Bakery and Payard Patisserie

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[Photograph: Alice Gao]

Best for: Croissants, eclairs, macarons, tarts, fine desserts, and anything chocolate.

When Francois Payard re-opened his Upper East Side patisserie two years ago, the leading pastry trade magazine Dessert Professional, ran the headline: "Return of the King." When it comes to high-end French pastry, it's hard to find anyone on Payard's level. There are too many good items to list them all, but here are some favorites.

Chocolate lovers will be in heaven at Payard, but they'll have to make some difficult decisions. A great starting point is the classic Louvre—one of Payard's oldest and most popular pastries. It features chocolate mousse, hazelnut mousse, and a crunchy hazelnut dacquoise cake. (As an added bonus, you can see your reflection in its shiny, dark chocolate finish.)

The George V. also has beautiful glacage work and contains a rich, dark chocolate cake, light vanilla mousse, salted caramel, and roasted peanuts. Fans of coffee-flavored pastry should try the opera cake, with its sumptuous layers of almond sponge soaked with coffee syrup, milk chocolate ganache, and buttercream.

If chocolate's not your thing, seek out one of the fruit-based seasonal verrines. This parfait style dessert in a glass features some type of perfectly ripe fruit and might contain any number of layers of pastry cream, chocolate or vanilla mousse, and perhaps some cubes of almond sponge. Trust your gut and just pick a fruit you enjoy.

You can't discuss Payard and not mention his superb viennoiserie items—especially his standard-setting almond croissant. Despite increased competition from the likes of Bien Cuit, Runner and Stone, Lafayette Bakery and others, many believe it's still the best in the city. The exterior crumb features a beautiful well-baked crust and a light coating of almonds. Inside, the moderately sweetened almond paste and vanilla bean have the perfect aroma and flavor. Once you take a bite, it's hard to stop to eating.

Payard's macarons have always been excellent, but in the last few years they've gotten even better and more consistent (perhaps due to increased competition). The real pro move is to get a macaron ice cream sandwich, a novelty sweet that's more than the sum of its parts.

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Ladurée Soho

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[Photograph: Kathy YL Chan]

Best for: Macarons, fine desserts, and caneles.

When Ladurée, the global purveyor of fine macarons, opened their Soho location, they also began offering a new line of excellent French pastries that are made in-house right here in New York. But recommendations for Laduree have to start with their macarons, generally recognized as the best in New York despite being flown in from Monaco every day. The shells are always light and their fillings are more flavorful than the competition. Fans of softer-shelled (Pierre Herme-style) macarons are the only people who may not swoon over these.

For something really showy (and French), try Laduree's excellent religieuse pastry. The choux is crisp and eggy and the pastry cream inside is not overly sweet. They also bake a very good canele with a crisp exterior and custardy interior.

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Lady M Cake Boutique

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[Photograph: Alice Gao]

Best for: Mille crêpe cake and eclairs.

Lady M Confections isn't exactly a French bakery or patisserie—it's really more of a French cake shop that also sells a few individual pastries—but what it does sell is definitely destination-worthy. They're most famous for their sublime mille crêpe cake that's made with over 20 layers of thin, soft crêpes. The cake, which has earned a huge following inspiring imitators across the city's restaurants and bakeries, is available in a multitude of flavors including chocolate, lemon, and green tea. These cakes, though pricy, never disappoint and are available by the slice and as an entire cake.

Their éclairs (I like the green tea) feature an exacting attention to detail, and the filling—though still a classic pastry cream—is only lightly sweetened. Additionally, their petit chocolate individual cakes, when available, are a chocolate lover's fantasy. They're rich with a very dark chocolate flavor that reminds me of a good dark chocolate souffle.

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Lafayette Bakery

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Best for: Croissants, eclairs, canele, tarts, and cookies.

Lafayette is the most visually striking bakeries on this list, with tall vaulted ceilings and rustic wooden racks of baguettes. It also has three can't miss categories of sweets.

The first is Lafayette's entire selection of viennoiserie items. Look for the "Croissant Du Jour" like the superb crunchy banana chocolate coconut croissant. If that day's special croissant doesn't sound like your thing, grab a fresh pain au chocolate. After biting through the slightly crispy, buttery layers, you'll be rewarded with a ribbon of decidedly high-end dark chocolate.

The tarts and eclairs are both quite special and are baked throughout the day by pastry chef Jennifer Yee. Yee's creative eclairs have developed a following among New York pastry enthusiasts for their meticulous execution with a touch of creative whimsy. Every flavor—housed in a perfectly uniform tube of choux pastry—is good, but seek out the butterscotch coffee and the key lime pie with a torched meringue top.

In the tart category we like the alternating mousse layers and cocoa nib crunch inside the accrue de caramel tart. Lafayette's cookies, mini-canele and macarons are also excellent and are baked throughout the day for consistent freshness.

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Maison Kayser

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[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Best for: Croissants, eclairs, and seasonal desserts.

Famous for their excellent bread (especially baguettes) this global chain will surprise you with their consistency. Their croissants, baked multiple times a day, are all very good, but their almond croissant is by far the best. It features a great frangipane filling with a very strong almond flavor. Some of this delicious almond paste is applied to the outside prior to baking, resulting in a sweet, crunchy almond and vanilla crust.

Kaiser also has some surprisingly adventurous seasonal pastry, like the barely sweet pumpkin Paris-Brest, available in the fall. Rather than a traditional pastry cream or whipped cream it uses something closer to a sweetened purée of pumpkin. Their pretty apple tart, available in large and small sizes, is also very nice. It features soft but not mushy apples that are laid out in classic, paper-thin slices. This is definite host-gift material.

Kayser's king cake (also known as "Galette de Roi ") is only available in January. It features a light exterior crust similar to a well-executed turnover and has a sweet almond paste filling. Order it.

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Mille-Feuille

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[Photograph: Courtesy of Mille-Feuille]

Best for: Croissants, puff pastry, macarons, and mille-feuille.

It's easy to miss the original location of this small, low-ceilinged bakery in the West Village (they now also have a location on the Upper West Side). But it's worth seeking out, because Mille-Feuille bakes some of the best croissants and puff pastry around. If it's available, order one of their excellent raspberry almond croissants, which feature house-made raspberry jam and rich frangipane filling. Their macarons, which were ranked just outside the top three in our citywide tasting, are also worth exploring, especially the caramel or salted caramel.

Mille-Feuille is also, unsurprisingly, known for their namesake pastry. In fact, it's one of pastry chef Olivier Dessyn's specialties, with beautiful crunchy sable layers and flavored buttercream and pastry cream. I like the chocolate, but others may prefer custardy vanilla bean or pistachio.

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Petrossian

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[Photograph: Kathy YL Chan]

Best for: Apple turnovers, croissants, and tarts.

Kathy YL Chan, Serious Eats's dedicated dessert correspondent of five years, was a huge fan of Petrossian, so if my word isn't good enough for you, take hers too.

Their croissants, one of our favorites in the city, are characterized by a particularly flaky dough. Eat their perfect plain croissant with some berry preserves for best results. If you're in the mood for something more involved, try the excellent almond or crunchy pistachio croissant. The latter is filled with chopped pistachios, almond paste, and apricot preserves.

On first glance, Petrossian's fruit-filled tarts don't look like much, but they're buttery and have a soft crumb (the mixed berry is the best). I also highly recommend the apple turnovers. They don't have the light flaky crust of, say, Cannelle Patisserie's, but their buttery, flaky crust and perfectly cooked apples make them a keeper.

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Runner and Stone

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[Photograph: Niko Triantafillou]

Best for: Apple turnovers, croissants, and caneles.

Runner and Stone in Gowanus is known for baking superb bread, but they've slowly been adding to their repertoire of classic pastry. Though their menu in this area is smaller than most on this list, the three items below are all in the mix for the best of New York.

Their canele (available on weekends only) with its distinctive matte finish is a must-eat, by far the city's crunchiest. Their chocolate almond croissant is also an unusually crunchy frangipane-filled treat that's worth a special trip. Finally, Runner and Stone's apple turnover is as tasty on the inside as it is beautiful on the outside. The strikingly pretty pastry, with its shiny egg-washed finish, features light, flaky layers of puff pastry and a perfectly cooked apple filling that's not too sweet. The only better apple turnover I've had is at Cannelle Patisserie in Jackson Heights.

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related venues
Ladurée 398 W Broadway, New York, NY
Maison Kayser 1800 Broadway, New York, NY
Maison Kayser 921 Broadway, New York, NY
Lady M Cake Boutique 36 W 40th St, New York, NY
Lafayette 380 Lafayette St, New York, NY
Francois Payard Patisserie 1293 3rd Ave., New York, NY
Breads Bakery 18 E 16th St, New York, NY
Du Jour Bakery 365 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Runner & Stone 285 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Lady M Cake Boutique 1 West 59th Street, New York, NY
Maison Kayser 1294 Third Avenue, New York, NY
Dominique Ansel Bakery 189 Spring St, New York, NY
Francois Payard Bakery 210 Murray St, New York, NY
Bien Cuit 120 Smith St, Brooklyn, NY
Mille-Feuille 552 Laguardia Pl, New York, NY
Epicerie Boulud 1900 Broadway, New York, NY
Bouchon Bakery 1 Rockefeller Plz, New York, NY
Bosie Tea Parlor 10 Morton St, New York, NY
Francois Payard Bakery 116 W Houston St., New York, NY
Cannelle Patisserie 75-59 31st Ave, East Elmhurst, NY
Petrossian Boutique & Cafe 911 7th Ave, New York, NY
Lady M Cake Boutique 41 E 78th St, New York, NY
Bouchon Bakery 10 Columbus Cir, Fl 3, New York, NY
Ceci-Cela 55 Spring St, New York, NY
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