Photos by Diana Kuan
China’s capital has a long tradition of imperial cuisine, but most of the famous dishes of the olden days disappeared with the last emperor. Aside from Peking Duck, what else do Beijing’s kitchens have to offer? A lot!
Diana Kuan Bio
Brief bio, occupation: I am a freelance writer who has contributed to The Boston Globe, Food & Wine, TimeOut New York, World Hum, That’s Beijing, and Metro US.
Growing up 1) in a Chinese family and 2) with parents who ran a bakery naturally compelled me to become obsessed with food. After attending culinary school and working in a New York pastry kitchen, I realized my passion was in finding the stories behind the food we eat. Currently I am traveling, writing, and eating my way through China.
Length of time in Beijing: 1 year
Local Snacks/Street Food
All over Beijing you can find roujiamo, a delicious snack from Xi’an: rotisserie grilled pork stuffed into a pita-like bun with shredded vegetables and chili sauce. Jianbing, another Beijing favorite, is a thin egg crepe filled with scallions, hoisin sauce, chili sauce, and fried crisps. Malatang, which originated from Sichuan province, is a bubbling hot, spicy broth in which you choose your own skewers of shrimp, fish balls, beef tendon, tofu, or vegetables. Price? 3–10 RMB (US$0.42 to $1.42), seating not included.
Wangfujing Snack Street
Wangfujing Road east of Tiananmen Square, Dongcheng
1 Xiaoyou Hutong off Gulou Xidajie, Xicheng
Two noteworthy places collect a bunch of vendors in convenient clusters: Wangfujing Snack Street and Jiumen Xiaochi. The former, although a little touristy, is worth checking out for the meat skewers and suanlamian (sour and spicy noodles). The latter, located deep in a Houhai hutong, is a collection of 11 vendors housed in a courtyard restaurant, all selling traditional Beijing snacks.
49 Nanluoguxiang, Dongcheng
A tiny, family-run shop churning out nothing but nailao—a kind of custard made by baking milk and sugar with rice wine. The result is a light, refreshing snack that is sold by the bowl in flavors like strawberry, taro, hami melon, coffee, and peach.
Before the arrival of Coke, Arctic Soda was the soft drink of choice in China. We love the red and white silkscreened polar bear logo. You can still pick up a bottle of the orange-flavored drink in small convenience stores that line the hutongs.
Chinese Regional Food
As China’s capital, Beijing unsurprisingly draws migrants from around China, who bring with them their native cuisines.
5A Xingfu Yicun Xili, Chaoyang
One of my favorite Sichuan restaurants, located next to the Chang’an Grand Theater. You can spend a fortune on specialties like sea urchin and abalone, or have a feast of home-style favorites like mapo tofu and Kung Pao chicken for less than US$10.
20 Xi Dawanglu, Chaoyang
At the Shanxi-style Noodle Loft, you can watch chefs in the open kitchen work their magic stretching, shaping, swinging, and shaving noodles into vats of boiling water.
Din Tai Fung
Shin Kong Place 6th Floor, 87 Jianguolu, Chaoyang
Fans of xiaolongbao, soup dumplings of Shanghai and Jiangsu Province origin, should not miss Din Tai Fung. This xiaolongbao mecca dishes out dumplings with translucent skin and heavenly fillings, including the drool-worthy pork and crab variation.
16 Dongsanhuan Beilu in an alley behind the “La Popo” sign, Chaoyang
For a dining experience with an Olympics connection, look no further than Qu Nar, owned by artist and Bird’s Nest stadium designer Ai Weiwei. The restaurant, frequented by both tourists and Ai Weiwei’s artist friends, serves Zhejiang classics like prawns in Dragon’s Well tea.
Shin Kong Place 6th Floor, 87 Jianguolu, Chaoyang
For dessert, head over to Bellagio, right next door to the Shin Kong Place location of Din Tai Fung. The trendy Taiwanese restaurant offers a slew of shaved ice desserts, including one with kiwi shaved ice, fresh fruit, and kiwi ice cream.
South Silk Road**
19 Lotus Lane, Shichahai, Xicheng
South Silk Road features hearty Yunnan fare in the Houhai area like fried cheese, mashed potatoes, and even pickled pine needles. Try to go with a larger group so you can sample a lot of different things on their amazing menu.
5-15 Donzhimennei Dajie, Dongzhimen
Traktirr Pushkin, a favorite of workers from the nearby Russian Embassy, offers delicious borscht, beef stroganoff, and flavor-infused vodkas.
Comptoirs de France
East Lake Villa, 35 Dongzhimenwai Dajie, Dongcheng
Fancy French pastries? Comptoirs de France not only delivers buttery croissants and delectable chocolates, but also uses Chinese ingredients for treats like chocolate Sichuan pepper macaroons.
Eastern Inn Hotel 6th Floor, corner of Sanlitun Nanlu and Gongti Nanlu, Sanlitun.
For a nice spot to unwind with both great desserts and drinks, check out Q Bar in Sanlitun. The kitchen’s cream yogurt with rosemary wine reduction is fantastic, as are the bar’s repertoire of classic cocktails and original creations like the Absinthe Martini.
2 Xinyuan Xili Zhongjie Xindong Lu, Chaoyang
The fish at Yotsuba is some of the best we’ve ever tasted. It’s no surprise that the chef gets his fish flown in from Tokyo’s Tsujiki market daily. Reservations are mandatory—the dining room is the size of a Manhattan studio. Allow the affable master chef to guide you through a tasting of what he knows and loves best (just make sure he hits you with some of the o-toro).
Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant
11 Beixiangfeng, Zhengyi Road, Xuanwu
Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant
Nanxincang International Plaza
22 Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng
If it’s Peking Duck you crave, there are two standouts. Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant requires wandering through narrow hutongs to find, but your reward is a delicious and inexpensive duck feast in a courtyard garden. For a more decadent experience, head over to Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, known for its lean but juicy version of the Beijing classic. The decor is modern and upscale, and appetizers like spinach with wasabi and curried scallops will keep you sated until your duck arrives.
Liu Zhai Shifu**
8 Meishuguan and Dongdajie down a small alley opposite the Sanlian Bookstore, Dongcheng
The compact dining room of Liu Zhai Shifu is in a courtyard home that has been owned by the same family for more than a century. Some highlights: madoufu (pan fried fermented mung bean pulp), spicy lamb with cilantro and onion served in a skillet, dou miao (tender bean shoots), and house-made suanmei tang (sour plum juice). More courageous folk can sample the homemade alcohol stored in massive jars at the entrance.
** Indicate picks from our Beijing correspondents, Shu Hung and Joe Magliaro!