When it comes to food, Beijingers love to eat. And rightfully so, as Beijing showcases the best of Chinese cuisine, from the iconic homegrown Peking Duck and surprising local favourites like pork wrapped in tofu skin, to popular dishes that have been adopted from its neighbours, be it cumin lamb skewers from Mongolia or numbing Sichuan-style hotpot. Locals know what they like and they’re unfazed by mammoth lines and mediocre service, so be prepared for that as you eat your way through the capital. Here is our guide to Beijing restaurants and must-eats!
Want to sit back and relax whilst discovering the best Beijing food? Watch our video on the must-eat Beijing snacks and check out more episodes of Hawker Style, our original travel videos series exploring street food from across the globe.
MR SHI’S DUMPLINGS (老石饺子)
English address:74 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng
Chinese address: 东城区宝钞胡同74号
Nearest subway: Shichahai Station
The made-to-order dumplings offered at this modestly sized eatery tucked away in a quiet hutong satisfies cravings for locals and foreign newbies alike. Get a mix of fried and boiled dumplings so you can sample the wide range of fresh fillings encased by different textures. The skin on the boiled variety is delicate and just the right amount of chewiness and the fried ones are served piping hot and golden brown with a satisfying crunch as you bite in. You have the usual suspects like pork and chives but why not give beef and shiitake mushrooms a go? Instead of reaching for the soy sauce, do what the locals do and dip your dumplings in vinegar. The acidity curbs the strong flavours of the meat, making it that much easier to eat a few more (but as if we needed an excuse).
WALK IT OFF: Continue down the hutong and go see the famous Drum and Bell Tower right around the corner.
ZHANG MAMA (张妈妈特色川味馆)
English address:76 Jiaodaokou South Street, Dongcheng
Chinese address: 东城区交道口南大街76号
Nearest subway: Andingmen Station
One of the nicer Beijing restaurants and the second location of Zhang Mama is a Sichuan favourite amongst the locals. English is non-existent here but once you overcome the challenge by grabbing hold of English-speaking locals to help you order (and never letting them go), you’re in for a treat. It seems a giant pot of brewing Sichuan chilli broth is the way to go, where you can grab skewers of tofu, vegetables and meat from the fridge at CNY1 each. Dip and simmer them in the pot and try to not burn off your tongue before your mains arrive.
IT’S GETTING HOT HOT HOT: Don’t underestimate the power of tiny Sichuan peppercorns. The heat may not be instant but when it hits you, it hits you like a truck.
English address: 8/F, Tianyingtai Department Store, 88 Wangfujing Dajie, Dongcheng
Nearest subway: Dengshikou Station
A hotpot chain that specialises in the numbing Sichuan variety and has locations scattered all over Beijing. Use the touchscreen to order your combination of soup bases and make sure to order noodles to watch it being pulled right at your table. They speak English (kind of) and will even peel your prawns for all you lazy diners out there.
DADONG ROAST DUCK (北京大董烤鸭店)
English address: 5/F, Jinbaohui Shopping Center, 88 Jinbao Jie, Dongcheng
Chinese address: 东城区金宝街88号金宝汇购物中心5楼(近王府饭店)
Nearest subway: Dongsishitiao Station
The ubiquitous dish by arguably one of China’s top chefs, Dong Zhenxiang. Enough said. Don’t let the blue mood lighting of a third-grade nightclub put you off, this is the place for the best open fire roast duck in Beijing.
Per piece, per person, per dish descriptions in English don’t help as you flick through the mammoth menu. Luckily, pictures scattered about in no particular order will give you a general idea of what you might like. A total of eight condiments accompany each person as you wrap delicious pieces of Peking Duck carved right at your table. You’ll notice a few quirks with local diners, such as those who order their desserts well ahead of time but have no need to rush. Take your time devouring the best Peking Duck you will ever have…in…your…life.
DALI COURTYARD (大里院子)
English address: 67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Dongcheng
Chinese address: 东城区鼓楼东大街小经厂胡同67号
Nearest subway: Shichahai Station
Nestled away in the expat hipster-friendly Xiaojingchang hutong is Dali Courtyard, an award-winning Beijing restaurant that specialises in Yunnan cuisine, a relatively underrated province in the south. The region is known for growing their own mushrooms and variety of natural herbs, so the menuless offerings are very much inspired by these ingredients and whatever else the chef found freshest in the market on the day. Each diner is served a fixed banquet for CNY150 so speak up about your allergies beforehand, otherwise sit back in the open courtyard and enjoy as the food keeps rolling out. The menu changes everyday, but includes specialities like grilled chilli fish (filleted at your table), Yunnan dumplings and spicy stir-fried mushrooms. Always try to book ahead if you don’t want to be waiting in line.
JIN DING XUAN (金鼎轩酒楼)
English address: 77 Hepingli Xijie, Dongcheng
Chinese address: 东城区和平里西街77号
Nearest subway: Yonghegong (Lama Temple) Station
Jin Ding Xuan is the mother of all dim sum (yum cha) joints in Beijing. Settle your cravings for Cantonese at this three-storey mega restaurant just behind Lama Temple. Grab a ticket and try your luck listening out for your number in Mandarin. Specialities include all your favourites like chicken feet, xiao mai and steamed Chinese broccoli, but if you’re feeling homesick you can always order the sweet and sour pork or lemon chicken.
ARMS WIDE OPEN: This place is open 24 hours. Get your ticket to a discounted late night feast in the early hours of the (next) morning.
English address:N4-36, 3/F, Taikoo Li North, Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang
Chinese address:朝阳区三里屯路三里屯Village北区 N4-36三层
Nearest subway: Tuanjiehu or Agricultural Exhibition Centre Station
An upmarket, modern Sichuan restaurant located in the heart of expat central, Sanlitun. Rub shoulders with Beijing’s elite shoppers as you try the cold Sichuan chicken starter and mapo tofu based on the chef’s very own family recipe. Prices are higher than street vendors that offer similar dishes for a fraction of the price but the quality of the food is up there.
Chances are, you’re going to be wandering around the streets of Beijing longer than anticipated (i.e. getting lost) and you’re going to be feeling peckish. Join the Beijingers as they get their favourite snacks out on the street to fuel them throughout the day.
Jianbing is a staple local breakfast. It’s essentially a savoury crepe filled with egg, chilli, shallots, fried dough and hoisin sauce. It’s made fresh to order in the many street carts and hole in the wall vendors, and is handed over in a little plastic bag. Dig in straightaway while it’s served piping hot and the crunch game is strong.
WANGFUJING STREET FOOD
This famous street serves up a smorgasbord of the weird and the wonderful. Whatever fantasies you had of daring to try deep fried scorpions and stinky tofu can be realised here. Other more welcoming options include your standard xiao mai, lamb skewers doused in cumin (a local favourite) and candied fruits on a stick for those with a sweet tooth.
We feature a lot of the restaurants and snacks mentioned in this guide in The Gweilo and Hawker Style series. For more of our favourite Beijing restaurants and must-eats check out our Foursquare list below.
Writer: Louise Yoo
Photographer: Louise Yoo