Beyond the duck: 20 best Beijing restaurants
Beijing hums with the steam and sizzle of 70,000 restaurants showcasing the country's best regional cooking. Diners can eat their way through China without leaving the capital city.
Every type of classic Chinese food is represented in Beijing, from Chongqing-style spicy hot pot joints to holes-in the-wall selling mutton skewers made by Xinjiang natives.
The city's fine dining scene is also experiencing a boom, attracting celebrity restaurateurs such as Daniel Boulud, and giving rise to a generation of maverick contemporary chefs.
Here's our list of 20 of Beijing's best eateries to match every budget.
More than RMB 250 per person, excluding drinks.
Duck de Chine (全鸭季)
In a city famed for roast duck, Duck de Chine stands neck and feathers above the rest.
Having lived in Beijing for almost 11 years, 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.
Slices of duck are dipped in the housemade hoisin sauce and folded into gently steamed pancakes. The results are hard to refute. Supporting dishes, mostly Cantonese, are very good too.
The 150-seat restaurant is part of a discreetly upscale lifestyle complex set in a refurbished factory -- the attached Bollinger bar gives an indication of its target crowd.
Available between 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., the daily half-price dim sum deal is great value.
1949 The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Bei Lu, near Nansanlitun Lu 工体北路4号院1949内, 近南三里屯路, +86 10 6501 8881, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Tiandi Yijia (天地一家)
The burly secret-service-like doormen and its choice to perch beside the Forbidden City lends this Chinese restaurant a VIP air. The prices do the rest.
Inside, it’s all lovely hardwood furniture, lion sculptures, tinkling water features and rather snooty service.
Contemporary Chinese fare mixes classical Imperial-style techniques and out-there ingredients in the 1,700-square-meter, two-story restaurant.
Chef Zhang Shaogang (张少刚) is a rarity among local cooks. The forward-thinking Beijinger puts a creative spin on old Beijing-style snacks, such as miniature shaobing (sesame pancake).
Make sure you also try Zhang's foie gras with sake.
140 Nanchizi Dajie, west of Changpuhe Park 南池子大街140号, 菖蒲河公园西侧, +86 10 8511 5556, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB)
In the shadow of the ancient and hitherto forgotten Tibetan temple, Zhizhusi (智珠寺), the 120-seat French restaurant is Beijing's new address for fine dining in a historic setting.
Highlight 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 (RMB 350) is replete 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 RMB 300.
Songzhusi Temple, 23 Shatan Bei Jie, near Wusi Da Jie, 沙滩北街23号嵩祝寺, 近五四大街, +86 10 8400 2232, lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Monday-Friday); dinner:6 p.m.-10 p.m. (Monday-Saturday); weekend brunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., www.temple-restaurant.com
Capital M (前门M餐厅)
Dishes are big, bold and likeable, such as M’s ever-so-juicy suckling pig, the house-smoked Norwegian salmon, and her signature slab of pavlova.
The embossed tableware, imported Nepalese rugs, VIP service and snazzy open fireplaces all convene in harmony.
And the view. Gazing out to the halls, towers and statues of Tiananmen Square … it’ll make anybody feel like a somebody.
3/F, 2 Qianmen Buxing Jie, near Xidamochang Jie 前门步行街2号3层, 近西打磨厂街, +86 10 6702 2727, lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner: 6:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., www.capital-m-beijing.com
Maison Boulud (布鲁宫法餐厅)
This 80-seat branch of New York celeb chef Daniel Boulud’s culinary empire cooks the finest French-inspired fare in Beijing.
French classics like duck confit and escargot are complemented by new world imaginings such as "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.
Located in the former U.S. legation, the building itself is worth a trip. The two-story mansion served as the former U.S. Embassy to China in the late Qing Dynasty, Dalai Lama's Beijing residence from 1951-1959, and the secret meeting venue between Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai in 1971.
Ch'ien Men 23, 23 Qianmen Dong Da Jie, near Guangchang Dong Ce Lu 前门东大街23号, 近广场东侧路, +86 10 6559 9200, lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Monday-Friday); dinner: 6 p.m.-10 p.m. (daily); weekend brunch: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., www.danielnyc.com
Oz-born chef Matthew McCool has infused a dash of devil-may-care flair into this 80-seat, fine dining restaurant in the China World Hotel.
With stints in London at Chez Bruce and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze under his toque, here is a cook clearly delighted to be let loose.
His chicken and corn soup cradles 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 playful -- the crunch of pistachio soothed by a poached cheesecake cream, booze-infused strawberries and house-made caramel sorbet.
2/F, China World Hotel, 1 Jianguomenwai Dajie, near Dongsanhuan Zhonglu 建国门外大街1号中国大饭店2楼, 近东三环中路, +86 10 6505 2266 ext. 36, lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Monday-Friday); dinner:5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. (Monday-Sunday), www.shangri-la.com
Find creative north Asian fare mixing kaiseke-inspired Japanese dishes, along with Korean and Chinese elements in this 18-table diner. The fusion restaurant also serves some of Beijing's finest sashimi.
Its signature dishes include blackened pork belly with miso, maki rolls of eel and foie gras, and delicate salads of wild herbs.
The menu carries recommended sake pairings, or you could venture off-piste with more exotic elixirs, including Mongolian horse milk liquor.
B1/F, The Opposite House, 11 Sanlitun Lu, near Dongzhimenwai Dajie 三里屯路11号瑜舍地下1层, 近东直门外大街, +86 10 6417 6688, 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m., www.theoppositehouse.com
Around RMB 100-250 per person, excluding drinks.
Da Dong (大董烤鸭店)
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, comprising chef and general manager Dong Zhenxiang’s (董振祥) artistic conception of Chinese cuisine.
The restaurant also has possibly the thickest menu on the planet.
A student of many culinary styles, Da Dong (or "Big Dong" as Dong Zhenxiang is known to the diners) 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, cracking globes of ice, steaks blowtorched tableside -- you wonder how they can possibly manage in the kitchen. Well, it’s easy when you have 300 chefs.
1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, near Dongmencang Hutong 东四十条甲22号南新仓商务大厦1-2楼, 近东门仓胡同, +86 10 5169 0329, 11 a.m.-midnight
Najia Xiaoguan (那家小馆)
The Manchu loved their game and braised venison is the signature at Najia Xiaoguan, where the food of the minority folks from China’s far northeast is featured.
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. Cold weather food at its most cuddly.
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 and low prices means the 110-seat restaurant packs out nightly. Book ahead or join the queues.
10 Yonganli, Jianguomenwai Dajie, south of Xinhua Insurance Building 建国门外大街永安里10号, 新华保险大厦南侧, +86 10 6567 3663, 11:30 a.m.-9:45 p.m.
Pure Lotus Vegetarian (净心莲)
Buddhist disciples operate this serene restaurant where abstinence from vegetables is an art form.
Servers sprinkle rose water on your hands on entry. It's a spa-like touch soon spoiled by an order of the marvelously "meaty" tofu spare ribs.
The restaurant uses mainly soy protein to mimic the texture of all kinds of meat. And surely some kind of arcane alchemy is at work, because the "fish" here looks and tastes remarkably, well, fishy.
Vegetarians can even sample a meatless take on Beijing’s signature roast duck, pancakes and all.
Tongguang Da Sha, 12 Nongzhanguan Nanlu, near Changhong Bridge 农展馆南路12号通广大厦院内, 近长虹桥, +86 10 6592 3627, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Lei Garden (利苑酒家)
The Hong Kong-based brand is known for its 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 with two or three other people; otherwise, bring a credit card.
3/F, Jinbao Tower, 89 Jinbao Jie, near Dongsinan Dajie 金宝街89号金宝大厦3楼, 近东四南大街, +86 10 8522 1212, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m.
This hard-to-find, 50-seat courtyard restaurant serves the best Vietnamese food in town.
A duo of chefs from Saigon assembles 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.
A nifty cocktail bar mixes themed libations, such as the Quiet American, a blend of whiskey, lemon, ginger and grapefruit bitters.
10 Qianliang Hutong Xixiang, near Dafosi Dongjie 钱粮胡同西巷10号, 近大佛寺东街, +86 10 8400 2699, lunch: 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; afternoon tea: 2:30-5:30 p.m.; dinner: 5:30-10 p.m.
Pearlescent sashimi and inventive California rolls are served in a hip but largely free-of-pretension atmosphere in this long-time Beijing institution.
Raw fish aficionados probably won’t find their nirvana, but the dozens of unconventional, fusion-inspired sushi rolls are great fun, perfectly washed-down with craft beers and an extensive sake selection.
Take your pick from tempura that’s crisp, light and oil-free, delicious grilled mackerel and plenty of salads and other Japanese snacks.
S8-30, Bldg. 8, Sanlitun Village South, 19 Sanlitun Lu, near Gongti Beilu 三路屯路19号三里屯Village南区8号楼S8-30号 , 近工体北路, +86 10 6415 3939, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
Under RMB 100 per person, including drinks.
Chuan Ban (川办餐厅)
With stodgy service and a canteen ambience, this 60-table, Sichuan restaurant is a throwback to the (good?) old days of Chinese restaurants. Think bright lights, big round tables and little decoration.
It is, however, affiliated with the Sichuan Provincial Government Office and therefore boasts 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 probably have to queue during peak times, but turnover is fairly brisk.
5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie, near Chang'an Grand Theater 建国门内大街贡院头条5号, 近长安大戏院, +86 10 6512 2277 ext. 6101, 10:40 a.m.-2 p.m.; 4:50 p.m.-9:30 p.m.
Haney Restaurant (哈尼个旧云南餐吧)
Yunnan food in Beijing tends to be gimmicky and overpriced, but this 300-square-meter home-style hutong joint is neither.
Staples like niurou mixian (rice noodle soup with beef) are excellent; other dishes make wonderful use of exotic edibles, like banana flowers and taro buds.
Chicken is served in many ways: marinated, wrapped and grilled in banana leaves (xiangye bao ji); crunchy cartilage deep-fried with sesame seeds (xiangcui zhangzhongbao); or stewed in a pungent broth soured with pickled bamboo (suansun zhuji).
Wash it all down with imported Dali beer or a few cups of tart plum wine -- at about 20 percent alcohol it packs quite a punch.
107 Baochao Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, near Nanluogu Xiang 鼓楼东大街宝钞胡同107号, 近南锣鼓巷, +86 10 6401 3318, 11 a.m.-midnight
Mr. Shi’s Dumplings (老石饺子馆)
Dumplings, the porky party pockets beloved by the Chinese, are wrapped fresh to order here, available in dozens of varieties, either boiled or fried.
The "three-sided" fried dumplings (san mian jiao) resemble miniature, greasy tacos, held together by sheer juiciness.
Try the beef and coriander or beef and celery, sloshed in the dipping sauce of garlic vinegar and chilli. Dangerously addictive.
A good balance of locals and outsiders, coupled with the affable Beijing-native laoban Mr. Shi (always keen to flex his near-incomprehensible English) lends this 9-table eatery a homely, neighborhood atmosphere.
74 Baochao Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, near Nanluogu Xiang 鼓楼东大街宝钞胡同74号, 近南锣鼓巷, +86 10 8405 0399, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Crescent Moon Muslim Restaurant (弯弯月亮穆斯林餐厅)
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, homemade yogurt, hand-pulled noodles and ornate pots of salty milk tea.
Try the hearty dapanji (big plate chicken), which is chicken on the bone slow-cooked in a savory broth with potatoes, veggies and hand-pulled noodles; or the danxian subing kaorou, 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.
16 Dongsi Liutiao, near Chaoyangmen Beixiaojie 东四六条16号, 近朝阳门北小街, +86 10 6400 5281, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Vineyard Café (葡萄院儿)
Run by Englishman Will Yorke, this bright, sunny café is just the place to refuel after a morning exploring the Lama and Confucius Temples nearby.
Hearty English breakfasts starring real British "bangers," wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and homemade quiche, fresh juices and the best Bloody Mary in town make for one of Beijing’s most agreeable (and affordable) western-style brunches.
A cozy home-from-home for Dongcheng District’s chattering classes, it's usually packed on weekend afternoons, so booking ahead is recommended.
31 Wudaoying Hutong, near Yonghegong Dajie 五道营胡同31号, 近雍和宫大街, +86 10 6402 7961, Tuesday-Sunday: 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Little Sheep (小肥羊)
Hot pot (huo guo) is a winter ritual for Beijingers, and it’s nothing like what they serve in Lancashire, England.
There are thousands of hot pot restaurants around town, but the Little Sheep chain is clean, well-run and reliable.
Diners choose from a menu of chopped root veggies, greens, noodles, tofu and meat that is sliced wafer-thin, then they cook the food themselves in a bubbling tabletop cauldron of spicy soup.
Edibles are then dunked in a thick sesame sauce before eating. It’s a delicious and sociable way of dining and meals can last for hours.
209 Dongzhimennei Dajie, near Dongnei Xiaojie 东直门内大街209号, 近东内小街, +86 10 8400 1669, 9:30 a.m.-5 a.m.
Xi'an Qishan Mian (秦俑岐山面)
This rustic, noodle-centric restaurant showcases the best eats of Shaanxi Province.
Try the youpoche mian -- chewy, belt-like noodles made on site and simply dressed with chilli paste, garlic and an invigorating splash (po) of hot oil.
Despite a prime perch close by the Yonghegong Lama Temple, the manager, a gruff Shaanxi native, keeps prices low and refuses to pander to fads or fashions.
Rou jia mo (braised pork in toasted flat bread) are delicious and filling, and be sure to sample a bowl of yangrou paomo -- a warming lamb stew thickened with bread.
32 Yonghegong Dajie, south of Lama Temple 雍和宫大街32号, 雍和宫南侧, +86 10 8402 3859, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.