Beijing’s got thousands of Chinese restaurants serving up dozens of cuisines. We consulted experts, scanned popular websites and drew on our own years of dining experiences to assemble this list of 30 of the city’s best. Pick up a pair of chopsticks and dig in!
Everyone knows that Chuanban is the best place in town for a scorchingly authentic Sichuan feast, right? Wrong. Give the hype, the crowds, and the indifferent service at the Sichuan Provincial Representative Office a pass and check out its charming little cousin instead at the Chengdu Representative Office (成都驻京办餐厅). Don’t let the rather pedestrian décor deter you from tearing into Sichuan classics done right. A smoky, eye-watering bowl of dandan mian (¥4) is a prelude to a succulent, bubbling pot of shuizhu yu (¥32/jin). Even the much-derided expat favorite gongbao jiding (¥22) is worth a taste here. Fiery peppercorns pinging off of tender chicken remind you why the dish got so popular in the first place.
Find it: Shudu Hotel, 30 Shatan Houjie, 沙滩后街30号蜀都宾馆, Tel: 6403-4440 ext. 2241
Also try: Yuxin (渝信): A5 Xingfu Yicun Xili 幸福一村西里甲5号, Tel: 6415-8168
Best Local Legend
Guoyao Xiaoju (国肴小居) is a special place in such an ever-changing city. This restaurant, which specializes in Tang dynasty cuisine, has been standing in the same little hutong for 78 years. We love every bite of our visits here, and the restaurant is also a favorite of Beijing food writer Eileen Wen Mooney. We tried her recommendation, the rich soup with fish maw and conch (¥45), and thought it was quite bland until the owner advised us to enjoy it with the restaurant’s flowered tea. Sure enough, a sip of tea is all it takes to transform the soup’s creamy broth into a savory stew with a more potent seafood flavor. We also highly recommend the three colored tender bamboo shoots (¥15). Lightly doused in red chili oil, this dish boasts a great natural flavor and crunchy texture.
Find it: 58 Jiaodaokou Santiao, 交道口北三条58号 Tel: 6403-1940
Also try: Hua's Restaurant (花家怡园): 5 Dongzhimen Nei Dajie, 东直门内大街5号, Tel: 8407-8288
Best for Newbies
If we could have taken David Sedaris to Dintaifung on his recent visit, he might not have had such harsh words to say about Chinese food. The food here blows us away every time. It's simple, clean, healthy and wonderfully textured: the perfect introduction to Chinese cuisine for newcomers. Of course, the xiaolongbao (¥45) are the star of the show, but the vegetable dumplings (¥46), stuffed with tofu, mushrooms, spinach and glass noodles, are perfection. Our favorite dish, though, is the tossed bean curd with seaweed and bean sprouts (¥18), a delightfully crunchy, fresh cold dish that we could eat every day of the week. You’ll also find one of the most extensive dessert menus of any Chinese restaurant, with two whole pages of pastries and shaved ices. Great service and child-friendly, smoke-free facilities make this place a solid hit with the laowai crowd.
Find it: 24 Xinyuan Xili Zhongjie, 新源西里中街24号 Tel: 6462-4502
Also try: IFW: Lower Ground, Park Life, Beijing Yintai Center, 北京银泰中心地下一层, Tel: 8567-1838
Best Hole in the Wall
Don’t misunderstand us here: Najia Xiaoguan (那家小馆) is a hidden gem, not the dirt-encrusted, run-down kind of hole in the wall. However, its entrance is, quite literally, a hole in a wall—blink and you’ll miss it. And that would be a shame, because—as the nightly lines of eager diners attest—this restaurant delivers the goods. CW and Dianping commenters alike rave about the “crispy shrimp with unique flavor” (¥38), and rightly so. While we’re gobbling up our shrimp, we love to let our eyes wander around the restaurant’s interior, two floors wrapped around the airy, glassed-in courtyard of a restored siheyuan.
Find it: 10 Jianguomen Wai Dajie, 建国门外大街10号 Tel: 6567-3663
Also try: Lao Zhai Yuan (老宅院): 14 Liangguochang Hutong, Meishuguan Houjie, 美术馆后街亮果厂胡同14号, Tel: 6406-1843
Best Hot Pot
Northern hot pot may not offer the strong seasonings and spice of its Sichuan counterpart, but Nanmen Hot Pot (宏源南门涮肉城) draws the crowds by focusing instead on fresh ingredients that keep their natural integrity and flavor. Diners get individual cauldrons filled with a light soup garnished with a few scallions, goji berries, mushrooms and jujubes. The frozen lamb (¥15) from northwest Inner Mongolia offers a tender clean taste. Presentation here is also fun—the bean curd skin is served in a cute bow-tie bundle and the rainbow noodles (¥12) are a colorful assortment, with luscious soft texture.
Find it: 9 Ritan Donglu, 日坛东路9号, Tel: 8562-8899
Also try: Hai Di Lao: A2 Baijiazhuang Lu, 白家庄路甲二号, Tel: 6595-0079
In & Out (一坐一忘) is a top pick for Chinese and expat foodies alike, and it's packed every night of the week. You’ll find quality ingredients flown in from Yunnan, like specialty tofu from Shiping County, or the divine mushrooms in the "five colored huzhang black mushrooms" (¥78). The spicy tilapia is also one of the best Yunnan roast fish dishes in the capital, and we can never get enough of the perfect balance of spice and sourness in the Lijiang black bean jelly (¥22). Best of all, the restaurant excels in consistency, so we’re treated to the same tastes we love on every one of our (frequent) visits. In & Out also boasts very friendly staff, and a pleasant Southeast Asian style décor to fit with the restaurant’s Lijiang theme.
Find it: 1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie, 三里屯北小街1号 Tel: 8454-0086, 6467-5235
Also try: Yunteng Binguan (云腾宾馆餐厅): Bldg 7, Donghuashibeili East, 东花市北里东区7号楼, Tel: 6711-3322 ext. 7116
Best in a Hutong
Given its location (huddled in a hutong just to the northwest of Nanluoguxiang) Dali Renjia (大理人家) still flies lower on most expats’ radars than it should. It’s Yunnan food, which means bright, bold, straightforward flavors. The mi-xian (rice noodles, ¥12) here are a must. They’re served up with a hot sauce, lime and cucumber. Toss them together for a perfect summer concoction. Their "black dragon pool" diced beef (¥46) is seared just right. Compared to the other restaurants on this list, Dali Renjia’s just a baby. It still hasn’t celebrated its first year. Here’s hoping it sticks around for that birthday and many more to come.
Find it: 80 Baochao Hutong, 宝钞胡同80号 Tel: 158-1039-2366
Also try: Trainspotting (猜火车): 46 Fangjia Hutong,
方家胡同46号, Tel: 6406-0658
Da Gui (大贵) serves traditional Guizhou dishes that can be hard to find anywhere else in Beijing. The sour fish soup (¥26/pot, ¥68/fish) is addictive, with its refreshing, tangy, tart broth, and you can choose to turn it into a hot pot-style dish by ordering extra add-ins. The house specialty ribs (¥78) are a plateful of delicate meat that slides off the bones, perfectly topped with a collection of Chinese pickles, red peppers, black beans, peanuts and green onion. The deep-fried sticky rice balls (¥28) stuffed with red bean paste also combine strong flavors with their scrumptious sweet interior and savory crunchy exterior.
Find it: 69 Daxing Hutong, Jiaodaokou, 大兴胡同69号 Tel: 6407-1800
Also try: Three Guizhou Men (三个贵州人): 0717, Bldg 7, Jianwai SOHO, 39 East Third Ring Middle Rd, 东三环中路39号建外SOHO东区7号楼0717室, Tel: 5869-0598
Hunanren agree: Xianxiangji (鲜湘记) offers the most authentic, traditional Hunan dishes in the city. Many restaurants combine Sichuan and Hunan food together, but while they’re both spicy, the Hunan spice is unique for its delayed kick. Expect to wait a few moments for the rush of piquant that makes your tongue tingle, unlike the immediate prickly sting of Sichuan peppercorns. Xianxiangji’s dishes are mostly made with the customary red and green chili peppers that are cooked with the dish or sprinkled raw as a garnish. The fish head (¥88) is the main attraction on the menu, which can be made with red peppers, green peppers or both. The spicy fried beef (¥42) also caught our taste buds with firm slivers of fiery beef mixed with garlic, scallions and peppers.
Find it: 31 Tonghuihe Beilu, Outer East Third Ring Rd, 东三环外通惠河北路31号, Tel: 6567-9818
Also try: Ji Xiang Niao Xiang Cai (吉祥鸟湘菜): Bldg 201, 103 Chaoyangmen Wai Dajie Jixiang Li, 朝阳门外大街吉祥里103号201楼 Tel: 6552-2856
Best of Everything
We tried Xiao Yu Shan (小渔山) at the urging of Badr Benjelloun, proprietor of the excellent blog Beijing Daze. His claim? That there’s no place in Beijing that skips as easily between China’s major cuisines. Sichuan, Hunan, Guangdong, Beijing, Shanghai: you name it, this place does it well. Our repast at this Guijie mainstay was skewed toward Sichuan—a fragrant mala xiangguo (¥56) and glistening plate of kung pao shrimp (¥36) shared the table with an order of steamed pork and glutinous rice (¥42). But the classic Beijing dish jingjiang rousi (pork tenderloin in a thickened soy sauce, ¥26) was handled with equally delightful aplomb. For maximum enjoyment, come with a big, loud group and order with abandon.
Find it: 195 Dongzhimen Inner Street, 东直门内大街195号 Tel: 6401-9899
Also try: Xiao Wang Fu (小王府): Inside Ritan Park, 日坛公园内, Tel: 8561-7859
An internet search for the city’s best beggar’s chicken is sure to turn up Wumingju (无名居), a classy restaurant that’s famous for their rendition of this imperial dish. The chicken (¥180) is stuffed with earthy mushrooms, wrapped in lotus leaves, then sheathed with mud clay and baked. You have to call in one day in advance to reserve this delicacy, but it’s well worth it. The meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and absorbs a rustic aromatic flavor from the lotus leaves. Other dishes also stand out: the meatball consommé (¥38) is made with a light and fluffy meatball stuffed with water chestnuts and served in a simple savory broth. The bullfrog (¥88) casserole, a gentle ginger and garlic savory stir-fry, is also highly appetizing.
Find it: 32 Zaoying Beilu, Maizidian Jie, 麦子店街枣营北里32号, Tel: 6502-1568
Also try: Waipo Jia (外婆家): B1/F, Beijing International Bldg, 18A Zhongguancun Nan Dajie,
中关村南大街甲18号北京国际大厦B1楼, Tel: 6215-6325
At a recent dinner, four editors from three of Beijing’s English-language magazines were asked their favorite restaurant for Beijing duck. The answer was unanimous: Duck de Chine. The duck here is tender and crisp-skinned, served with a uniquely delicious dipping sauce that combines peanut and sesame sauces. And 1949’s restaurant doesn’t just serve the capital’s best kaoya (¥228 plus 10 percent surcharge)—they also boast some of Beijing’s tastiest dim sum, which is half price at lunchtime. For dinner, this place, with its excellent service and ambiance, is a worthy splurge. It’s no surprise that reservations are a must, even on a Monday night. We look forward to the opening of a second Duck de Chine on Jinbao Street in the near future.
Find it: 1949-The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Beilu, 工体北路4号院, Tel: 6501-8881
Also try: Made in China: 1/F, Grand Hyatt Beijing, 1 Dongchang'anjie, 东长安街1号东方君悦大酒店1层, Tel: 8518-1234 ext. 3608
Hengshan Hui (衡山汇), a favorite of our Hong Kong friends, is a big step above your average Cantonese wannabe joint, offering good service and exceptional southern staples. The roast duck (¥42-188) is spot on—juicy, tender and aromatic, served with a sweet mustard sauce. The crispy skin and soft chewy meat is made just the way Guangdong natives like it. The selection of seafood is quite good, and is cooked using traditional methods. We recommend getting the turbot fish (¥138) cooked qingzheng-style. It’s steamed in a delectable light soy and oil sauce, and also gets an A for authenticity. The shrimp dumplings (¥28) here are also bigger and tastier than most dim sum joints in Beijing.
Find it: 1/F, Kerry EAS Logistics Building, 21 Xiaoyun Lu 霄云路21号嘉里大通附楼1楼, Tel: 6466-1211
Also try: Xinghe (盈和茶餐厅): 128 Gulou Dong Dajie, 鼓楼东大街128号 Tel: 6402-6596
Best Silk Road Stopoff
Sure, it’s a little out of the way. But short of actually hopping a four-hour flight, the Kashgar Representative Office (喀什饭庄) is as authentic a Xinjiang meal as you’re going to sink your teeth into this side of the Taklamakan. Conceptually, they’re not breaking any new ground here. But holy cow, do they know their lamb. Tenderly roasted yangrouchuan’r (¥10) the size of your forearm are lapped up alongside shoals of fried lamb chop (¥88). Try dipping your mutton in a refreshing bath of cool, creamy yogurt (¥6). By the time we polished off a couple of delicious meat-filled dumplings (¥3), we were feeling a little stuffed ourselves.
Find it: 60 Pen’er Hutong, 盆儿胡同60号新疆喀什地区行署驻京联络处, Tel: 6358-2243
Also try: Crescent Moon: 16 Dongsi Liutiao, 东四六条16号, Tel: 6400-5281
CW’s been recommending Qin Tang Fu (秦唐府) for many a moon now. There is no place in the city of Beijing where we’d rather eat on a windswept autumn evening. Qin Tang Fu specializes in Shaanxi comfort food, the kind we got addicted to prowling the streets of Xi’an. The roujiamo (¥7) here are nearly perfect; but, then again, so is almost everything else on the menu. The yangrou paomo (¥20) practically define the word “hearty,” while the dumplings of the suantang shuijiao (¥20) float in a tongue-tingling broth that makes this one of our favorite spots in the city.
Find it: 69 Chaoyangmen South Alley, 朝阳门内南小街69号 Tel: 6559-8135
Also try: Yellow River Shaanxi Noodles (黄河水陕西小吃): 6 Workers Stadium East Side 工人体育场东门内6号, Tel: 5842-6260