Eat here now: 20 best Beijing restaurants

Eat here now: 20 best Beijing restaurants

In food-mad Beijing, the problem is too many choices, not too few. We narrow the field

No longer outshone by Shanghai or Hong Kong, Beijing is growing in gastronomic stature.

From high-end international dining to holes-in-the-wall showcasing China’s myriad regional styles, there’s an outstanding eatery for every budget.

iReport assignment: What are your favorite spots in Beijing?

Expensive

More than RMB250 ($40) per person, excluding drinks.

Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB)

Beijing's best restaurants -- Duck de ChineThe welcome bar at Temple Restaurant Beijing.

In the shadow of Zhizhusi, a hitherto forgotten Tibetan temple, this 120-seat restaurant is Beijing's hottest address for fine dining in a historic setting.

Standout dishes include a masterful double play of lobster and goose liver on toast, and grilled pigeon with ceps, smoked duck and truffle jus.

Weekend brunch (RMB350) comes with dainty house-baked pastries.

The Francophile cellar is skewed towards Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux (yes, they have vintage Chateau Lafite). Some of it is relatively affordable -- about a dozen bottles are priced under RMB300.

Temple Restaurant Beijing, Songzhusi Temple, 23 Shatan Bei Jie, near Wusi Da Jie; +86 10 8400 2232 

Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard

The Courtyard, with its famed perch overlooking the Forbidden City’s moat, has stumbled through several incarnations in recent years, but its fortunes look bright under the new stewardship of maverick British chef Brian McKenna, famed for his molecular tinkering.

There's also been a designer makeover from the team behind the W Hotel in New York.

Spoiler alert: diners brandish mini-garden forks and spades to tackle a fiendishly creative garden salad that at first sight appears to owe more to horticulture than gastronomy.

Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard, No. 95, Donghuamen St.; +86 (10) 6526 8883

Capital M

Beijing's best restaurants -- Capital MTerrace views across Tiananmen Square by night.

Capital M is Australian restaurateur Michelle Garnaut's Beijing flagship and every inch the equal to her Shanghai starlet, M on the Bund.

Dishes are big and bold, like M’s juicy suckling pig, the house-smoked Norwegian salmon and her signature slab of pavlova.

Embossed tableware, imported Nepalese rugs, VIP service and snazzy open fireplaces bring it all together in glamorous harmony.

And the view. Gazing out to the halls, towers and statues of Tiananmen Square can make anybody feel like a somebody.

Capital M, 3/F, 2 Qianmen Buxing Jie, near Xidamochang Jie; +86 (10) 6702 2727

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Maison Boulud

Beijing's best restaurants -- Maison BouludMaison Boulud's "DB Burger."

This branch of New York celeb chef Daniel Boulud’s culinary empire cooks the finest French-inspired fare in Beijing.

In a period mansion that served as the former U.S. legation, executive chef Brian Reimer turns out classics such as duck confit and escargot alongside new world imaginings like "baby pig" with daikon sauerkraut and apple coleslaw.

Weekend brunch carries the "DB Burger," a medium-rare Wagyu slab topped with truffles and braised short ribs. Service is exquisite to the finish -- complimentary petits fours of sugar-dusted madeleines round off each meal.

Maison Boulud, Ch'ien Men 23, 23 Qianmen Dong Da Jie, near Guangchang Dong Ce Lu; +86 (10) 6559 9200

Duck de Chine

Duck de Chine's aromatic duck skin.

In a city famed for roast duck, Duck de Chine, set in a chic refurbished factory complex, stands neck and feathers above the rest.

Having lived in Beijing for more than a decade, Hong Kong-born father-son chef team Peter and Wilson Lam formulated what they believe to be the perfect Peking duck: 43-days-old, two-kilogram birds roasted for a longer-than-usual 65 minutes over 40-year-old jujube wood. Carved up, dipped in a heavenly house-made hoisin sauce and rolled into gently steamed pancakes, the results are hard to refute.

Supporting dishes, mostly Cantonese, are very good, too.

Duck de Chine, 1949 The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Bei Lu, near Nansanlitun Lu;+86 (10) 6501 8881

Tiandi Yijia

A post-millenium take on imperial Chinese food.

The burly, Secret Service-like doormen and the choice location beside the Forbidden City lend this Chinese restaurant a VIP air; the prices do the rest.

Inside, it’s all fancy hardwood furniture, lion sculptures, tinkling water features and fawning service.

Chef Zhang Shaogang mixes classical Imperial-style techniques with unusual ingredient pairings for a uniquely contemporary Chinese experience.

The forward-thinking Beijinger puts a creative spin on old Beijing-style snacks, such as his petite take on shaobing (sesame pancake).

Tiandi yijia, 140 Nanchizi Dajie, west of Changpuhe Park; +86 (10) 8511 5556

Mio

Head chef Marco Calenzo, previously number two at London’s Michelin-starred Apsley's at the Lanesborough, had the task of designing a fine-dining Italian menu worthy of probably the glitziest restaurant interior in China.

In the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel, Mio is quite a sight, but Calenzo’s innovative fare, like sea urchin spaghetti, foie gras cooked sous vide or simply the house-baked breads and wood-fired pizzas, holds up impeccably.

Mio, 48 LiangMaQiao Road; 100125 Chaoyang District, Beijing;+86 (10) 5695 8888

Aria

Beijing's best restaurants -- ariaAustralian Wagyu steak with foie gras, beetroot and ground coffee.

One of Beijing’s longest-lived fine dining institutions, Aria, in the China World Hotel, still has the kitchen smarts to impress.

Chef de cuisine David Pooley continues the fine work of previous kitchen star Mathew McCool with dishes such as chicken and corn soup with plump scallops, shavings of jamon iberico and a slowly melting quenelle of foie gras mousse.

The European restaurant's signature dish, "deconstructed" cheesecake, is equally exotic -- the crunch of pistachio soothed by a poached cheesecake cream, booze-infused strawberries and house-made caramel sorbet.

Aria, 2/F, China World Hotel, 1 Jianguomenwai Dajie, near Dongsanhuan Zhonglu; +86 (10) 6505 2266 ext. 36

Mid-range

Around RMB100-250 per person ($15-40), excluding drinks.

Da Dong

Da Dong does Peking duck for the 21st century.

The nightly queues outside this 4,500-square-meter restaurant are all about the duck, but there’s more to the menu than Beijing’s signature. About 200 more dishes, in fact, comprise chef and general manager Dong Zhenxiang’s “artistic conception of Chinese cuisine.”

A student of many culinary styles, Dong Zhenxiang is one of the most celebrated cooks in northern China, famed as much for his “super-lean roast duck” (less oily than the competition) as for his braised sea cucumber.

Many dishes feature showy flourishes -- "noodles" made of lobster meat, hollow globes of C02-filled ice, steaks blowtorched tableside -- you wonder how they can possibly manage in the kitchen. Well, it’s easy when you have 300 chefs.

Da Dong, 1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, near Dongmencang Hutong; +86 (10) 5169 0329

Najia Xiaoguan

Najia Xiaoguan showcases exotic Manchu cuisine.

Manchu royalty loved nothing more than a spot of hunting, so its no surprise that braised venison is the signature at Najia Xiaoguan, a showcase of China’s northeast Manchu minority cuisine.

Other unctuous meaty treats include salty duck -- a mound of shredded, smoky duck meat -- and some of the most gloriously fatty red-braised pork belly in town.

For a mid-range Chinese restaurant, the wine list is broad and reasonably priced. A combination of comfy surroundings (the chairs and tables are huge), good food, great service and low prices means the 110-seat restaurant packs out nightly.

Book ahead or join the lines.

Najia Xiaoguan, 10 Yonganli, Jianguomenwai Dajie, south of Xinhua Insurance Building; +86 (10) 6567 3663

King's Joy

It's appropriate that King’s Joy’s perch is close to Beijing’s still active Lama Temple, because chef Pan Jianjun is a former Buddhist disciple from a monastery in Jiangxi province.

His menu is a meat-free nirvana, using ingredients from organic farms around Beijing, and with a focus on nutrition and health as well as achieving a rarefied balance of taste, texture and looks.

Chef’s sautéed matsutake mushrooms with asparagus and gingko, eaten al fresco in King’s Joy’s idyllic courtyard, will convince even the most hardened carnivore.

King's Joy, 2 Wudaoying Hutong, Yonghegong, Dongcheng district; +86 (10) 5217 1900

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Lei Garden

Lei Garden dim sum, steamed to perfection.

This well-established Hong Kong brand is lauded for its pricey preparations of classic and modern Cantonese fare -- but most foodies in Beijing head over for its lunchtime dim sum.

From fluffy pork buns to dainty egg custard tarts, this chain restaurant serves some of the best dim sum outside Hong Kong or Guangzhou. Mains like the braised spareribs, lobster clay pot noodle or stir-fried oysters with XO sauce make the evening service worth a visit.

Prices are moderate if you eat family-style.

Lei Garden, 3/F, Jinbao Tower, 89 Jinbao Jie, near Dongsinan Dajie; C2-C3, Tower C Central International Trade Center, 6 Jian Guo Men Wain St., Chao Yang District, Beijing; +86 (10) 8522 1212

Din Tai Fung

The signature dish at this celebrated Taiwanese chain is its surgically precise xiaolongbao -- juicy soup dumplings wrapped expertly by hand and cooked in bamboo steamers.

Diners can choose between pork, seafood, crab or veggie fillings, or splash out on the pork with truffles variety –- pricey but delectable.

Accompanying dishes includes simple stir fries, noodles and rice, and sweet red-bean buns for dessert.

Din Tai Fung, 24 Xinyuan Xili Zhong Jie, Beijing; +86 (10) 6462 4502

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Susu

Hip hutong style at Susu Vietnamese restaurant.

Part of a growing trend of "hidden" hutong restaurants, this stylish courtyard eatery serves the best Vietnamese food in town.

A pair of chefs from Saigon assemble pork spring rolls and zingy salads bursting with herby aromatics, like exotic fish mint and Asian basil.

On everyone’s table is the signature La Vong fish, a DIY dish of turmeric yellow fish fillets, glass noodles and bundles of fresh greens.

The nifty cocktail bar mixes themed libations, such as the Quiet American, a blend of whiskey, lemon, ginger and grapefruit bitters.

Susu, 10 Qianliang Hutong Xixiang, near Dafosi Dongjie; +86 (10) 8400 2699

Hatsune

California-style sushi rolls with a twist at Hatsune.

Pearlescent sashimi and inventive California rolls are served in a hip but pretension-free atmosphere in this long-time Beijing institution.

The dozens of unconventional, fusion-inspired sushi rolls are great fun, perfect with craft beers and an extensive sake selection.

The tempura is crisp, light and oil-free, There's also delicious grilled mackerel and plenty of salads and other Japanese snacks.

Hatsune, S8-30, Bldg. 8, Sanlitun Village South, 19 Sanlitun Lu, near Gongti Beilu; +86 (10) 6415 3939

Mercante

Bologna-based chef Omar Maseroli and his Chinese partner took a bold step with Mercante, opening a tiny, slow-food inspired Italian eatery in an ancient hutong alleyway far from Beijing’s established restaurant zones.

The result is a tiny slice of Italy in old Beijing, and a delightful secret everyone privvy to wants to share.

The rustic menu keeps it simple with house-made pasta with rabbit or duck ragu, ravioli, imported meats and cheese and fresh-baked foccacia, paired with a well priced list of Italian wines.

Mercante, 4 Fangzhuanchang Hutong, Dongcheng district, Beijing; +86 (10) 8402 5098

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Budget

Less than RMB100 ($15) per person, including drinks.

Haidilao

Spicy hot pot is one of Sichuan province’s most successful exports; Beijingers simply love eating by dunk and dip.

Haidilao, a Sichuan chain, goes the extra mile in the capital by offering astonishingly generous service on top of its fragrant bubbling broth.

Hot towels and free drink refills are par for the course, but there can’t be many restaurants in the world where you can get a complimentary manicure and fruit plate as you wait in line.

Haidilao, 2A Baijiazhuang Lu, Chaoyang district, Beijing; +86 (10) 6595 2982

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Chuan Ban

Sichuan-style spicy chicken. It's as hot as it looks.

With stodgy service and a canteen ambience, this 60-table Sichuan restaurant is a throwback to the old days of Chinese restaurants.

It is, however, affiliated with the Sichuan Provincial Government Office and therefore has some of the most authentically spicy fare in town.

Heavy on numbing Sichuan peppercorns, the dishes here, like "tingle-pepper chicken" and shuizhuyu (fish boiled in a spicy, oily broth), stand apart for their depth of flavor and use of imported ingredients from Sichuan.

You’ll have to line up during peak times, but turnover is brisk.

Chuan Ban, 5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie, near Chang'an Grand Theater; +86 (10) 6512 2277 ext. 6101

Mr. Shi’s Dumplings

Don’t forget to dip your dumplings in garlic vinegar.

Dumplings, the porky party pockets beloved by the Chinese, are wrapped fresh to order at this cheap and, thanks to the avuncular Mr. Shi, very cheerful eatery.

The "three-sided" fried dumplings (san mian jiao) resemble miniature, greasy tacos, held together by sheer juiciness. The boiled dumplings filled with beef and coriander or beef and celery are dangerously addictive when sloshed in the dipping sauce of garlic vinegar and chilli.

Mr. Shi's Dumplings, 74 Baochao Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, near Nanluogu Xiang; +86 (10) 8405 0399

Crescent Moon Muslim Restaurant

Xinjiang-style vegetable pie covered in fried lamb and onions.

This green and gold alleyway restaurant grills up some of the best dishes from China’s far northwest -- cumin-spiced lamb skewers, crispy nang breads, house-made yogurt, hand-pulled noodles and ornate pots of salty milk tea.

The hearty dapanji (big plate chicken) is chicken on the bone slow-cooked in a savory broth with potatoes, veggies and hand-pulled noodles; danxian subing kaorou is a crispy vegetable and egg pie, with a big mound of fried lamb and onions dumped on top.

Service is surly but efficient and the atmosphere is more refined than at typical Xinjiang joints.

Crescent Moon Muslim Restaurant, 16 Dongsi Liutiao, near Chaoyangmen Beixiaojie, +86 (10) 6400 5281

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What are your favorite Beijing restaurants?  Share your food tips in the comments box below. You can also submit photos and videos by checking out our latest Beijing iReport assignment

A food and travel specialist, Tom has munched his way through the capital’s best kaoyadian in search of the perfect Peking duck, journeyed along the former Silk Road to the distant sands of Kashgar, grappled a baby panda in Sichuan, and generally counted himself lucky for being witness to an era-defining period of Chinese history. He has written for The Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Fodor’s, Time Out and the South China Morning Postand blogs at www.tomfreelance.com.

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