One of the many thrills of living in Beijing (as I did from 2008 to 2010) was that you could eat amazing food with very little effort and find dishes from every corner of China. The country’s regional specialties are distinct and diverse, from the sizzling lamb kebabs of the northwest to pineapple fried rice found in the areas near Southeast Asia – and you only need a subway pass to taste it all. Here’s our guide to tasting your way around China while staying in the capital city.
Restaurant Luxing Riji Yunnan Style Restaurant
46-48 Zhonglouwan Hutong (in an alley just southeast off of the Bell Tower, formerly a restaurant called Hani Gejiu), Dongcheng District
On a recent return visit to Beijing, I went to this colourful and cosy spot by the Bell Tower twice in a week – and could have returned a few more times to pick among the dozens of dishes. Yunnan’s food is a bold mix of spicy, sweet and sour that, owing to the province’s location bordering Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar, has more in common with Southeast Asian food than other regional cuisines. First-timers can acquaint themselves with classics from across the province: grilled tilapia to be dipped in spicy vinegar, many preparations of wild mushrooms, a rice-noodle soup called crossing-the-bridge noodles, fried goat cheese, scrambled eggs with jasmine flowers, and the sweet and savoury pineapple fried rice. Best of all, if the options are too overwhelming, the restaurant will create a tasting menu for you.
Restaurant Crescent Moon
16 Dongsi Liutiao (off Chaonei Beixiaojie), Dongcheng District
Down an alleyway near Dongsishitiao, the airy and bright Crescent Moon specializes in the cuisine of China’s Uighur ethnic minority, a Muslim population concentrated mostly in the northwestern border province of Xinjiang. Try lamb kebabs, pulled noodles, flatbread, and for a group, big-plate chicken (da pan ji) – a massive serving of spicy chicken and potatoes with thick noodles piled on later to soak up the fiery sauce. Homey and friendly, the all-Uighur staff wears traditional clothing, and on a recent visit, the resident tabby occupied the table across from me.
Restaurant Taste of Dadong
Parkview Green, Unit LG2-11, 9 Dongdaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District
‘Beijing duck for one’ sounds like the saddest phrase ever, but I found myself Googling just that when none of my expat friends seemed interested in revisiting the local delicacy: duck roasted for hours to achieve a crispy skin and served with thin pancakes, cucumber, and plum sauce. Taste of Dadong – the more casual outpost of roast-duck behemoth Da Dong and set in Parkview Green, an over-the-top mall and art museum complex – came through with a combo made for solo diners that consists of an appetizer, soup, half a roast duck and dessert. As your server will likely remind you, the first step should be to take a piece of the melt-in-your-mouth golden skin and dip it in a bit of sugar to make the bite extra decadent – the way the emperors apparently preferred it.
Restaurant Chuan Ban
5 Gongyuan Toutiao (in an alley north of Jianguomennei Dajie), Dongcheng District
Every Chinese province has a government office in Beijing with a restaurant attached, and the one for food-crazed Sichuan is unsurprisingly excellent, sprawling across several rooms and floors in a fairly sterile office building. A longstanding institution that rightfully gets included in every guidebook, this is the spot to try the central province’s signature mala (spicy and numbing) cuisine, such as fish in spicy oil (shuizhuyu), twice-cooked pork (huiguorou), and mapo tofu.
Restaurant Jin Ding Xuan
77 Hepingli Xi Jie (you will see it), Dongcheng District
This dim-sum emporium is multi-story, open 24 hours and wreathed in red lanterns – so not subtle at all. But the food, much of it based on dim sum found in Hong Kong and Guangdong (AKA Canton), is consistently excellent for late-night binges or refueling after a trans-Pacific flight (it happens to be the site of my first meal the night I moved to Beijing). Try the barbecue pork buns, all manner of dumplings, radish cakes, and rice wrapped in lotus leaves.
Restaurant Three Guizhou Men
Solana Mall, 6 Chaoyang Gongyuan Lu, Chaoyang District
Opened more than a decade ago by three contemporary artists who wanted to feature the cuisine of their home province, Three Guizhou Men specialises in the spicy and sour cuisine of southwestern Guizhou. Pick dishes like beef on fire (served on a bed of charcoal), pork ribs seasoned with chili and fermented black beans, and the classic sour fish soup. The restaurant’s Solana Mall location is filled with with striking art and sculpture – and check out the chunky hammered silver jewelry, made by the province’s Miao minority, on the waitstaff.