One of the best ways to understand a place – its history, people and geography – is to eat your way through it. Here are 16 of the best restaurants in Beijing that will help you do just that.
Beijing is a paradise for foodies. The capital offers the culinary curious almost every provincial cuisine in China, from Xinjiang chuan’r (skewers) to Sichuanese hotpot. Here is just a small selection of Beijing’s best restaurants, proving that the city’s cuisine is more than just peking roast duck (though it has that too).
Jubaoyuan Hot Pot Restaurant
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Beijingers love to eat hotpot, and there’s no better place to do it than Jubaoyuan. It’s such an institution that the restaurant has to limit the number of sesame buns that each customer can buy. A staple winter ritual, hotpot is a DIY-eating experience where patrons place raw ingredients into a pot of simmering broth, before dipping them in a sauce made from sesame paste (the preferred dip of northerners). Hotpot is something best eaten in parties of four or more – more people mean more plates of thinly sliced mutton, beef and heaps of fresh vegetables. Queues can often stretch down the entirety of Niujie Street, so try to come between mealtimes.
Qing-Feng, a stuffed bun shop, has remained a firm favourite among Beijing residents since its opening in 1948. The interiors are simple, and the service is hands off. However, the main attraction here is the steamed dumplings, which are stuffed with a range of fillings from juicy pork and fennel to egg and chives. Come in the morning and you’ll be treated to a hearty breakfast menu, replete with millet porridge and fried dough sticks. Fun fact: Chinese president Xi Jinping once ordered the ¥21 (£2.40) bun set from the Yuetan branch. If you love dumplings, check out our list of the best dim sum restaurants in Beijing or our guide to the different types of dumplings.
Haiwanju is a traditional Beijing restaurant chain that is most famous for its deliciously chewy zhajiangmian (noodles with soybean paste) and the selection of vegetable side dishes that come with it. Other must-try dishes include the deep-fried starch chips and the peking shredded pork. Come with an appetite as portions are big – Haiwanju translates to “house of king-size bowls.” But don’t expect to have a romantic candlelit dinner with your beau; the atmosphere is rowdy with visitors greeted loudly upon entry and exit. It doesn’t get any more local than that. There are tons of great noodle places, so check out our guide on the best noodle restaurants in Beijing.
Yuebin lays claim to being the country’s first privately owned restaurant. Since opening in 1980, this tiny hutong hideaway has remained a local favourite thanks to its affordable yet flavoursome fare. The restaurant specialises in traditional Chinese homestyle dishes, like wok-fried tofu and cabbage rolls. It’s nothing fancy, but for those craving a slice of old Beijing, Yuebin is a must-visit. It’s a great pit stop if you want to fuel up before heading into the labyrinthine state-funded monolith that is The National Art Museum of China.
This chain restaurant specialises in Beijing cuisine and is a current favourite among the local people. Its claim to fame is its immaculate and thoughtful presentation. The crispy-skinned peking duck comes inscribed with a character of your choosing, and the special fried rice is in the form of “honeycomb” coal and lit at the table. The decor is suitably old Beijing and reflects the food’s authenticity. Read our article on dishes you must try on your visit to Beijing.
Eating at Haidilao is just plain fun. The food is great, and you feel happy when you leave. First opened in 1994 in the spicy Sichuan province, this hotpot chain is a national (soon to become international) treasure. It sets a high bar for service standards in restaurants. Cross your fingers that you have to wait for a table, as that’s when you can take advantage of the free manicures, shoe shines and board games. If you only order one thing, go for the hand-pulled noodles, which are delivered by a “dancing noodle man” who whips the strings around in mid-air before dropping them into the boiling pot in the middle of the table. The branch in Chaoyang is one of the more conveniently located venues.
In modern-day Beijing, Najia Restaurant is as close to imperial-style dining as you can get. This extravagant style of cooking was popularised during the Qing Dynasty by the last emperors of China, who were famous for throwing lavish three-day banquets. The decor reflects the elegance of this era, from the carefully chosen furnishings to the birds chirping in cages. Najia’s most notable dishes include the crispy-skin prawns and the eight-banner eggplant – a cold appetiser of salted and pickled aubergines named after the eight military divisions of the Manchurian army.
Leaving China without lu chuan’r(eating skewers) is the culinary equivalent of skipping the Great Wall. Although chuan’r originates from China’s Xinjiang region, Beijing residents love to spend evenings chatting over a pile of meat skewers and beer. You’ll find chuan’r stands dotted around almost every neighbourhood, and while you could probably take your pick from any street-side operation and have a good time, Judian Chuanba is one of the more established brands. This chain of restaurants exists in solid brick-and-mortar locations across Beijing and can be found through signage which reads, “聚点串吧”.
Yanjing Wangjing Xiaoyao is a chain of chuan bars, famed for its pig kidney skewers. It found a way to remove the pungent odour of the offal, making it more palatable and easier to eat. This especially excites customers who subscribe to the traditional-Chinese-medicine belief that eating kidneys can improve vitality. Don’t confuse this chain with Wangjing Xiaoyao; due to patent conflicts, this particular restaurant added the word “Yanjing” to their name as a reference to the brand’s founding father, Mr Zu, who wore glasses.
Xiao Lao Man is known for its dumplings, which come in 25 different varieties including classics such as lamb and chives, egg and carrot, and veg and cilantro. You can easily fill up on dumplings alone, but if you’re after something a bit more substantial, then go for the shredded potatoes or kung pao chicken. The service is, well, serviceable, but what it lacks in over-enthusiastic waitstaff, it more than makes up for in the quality of the food.
Peking duck should be as high up on the Beijing bucket list as the Forbidden Palace. And the best place to try this iconic dish is at Li Qun Roast Duck Restaurant. Run by the same father-daughter pair for over two decades, the restaurant is still in its original location, the former hutong home of founder Mr Zhang Liqun. The 100-year-old Qing Dynasty property can only fit 12 tables, so long wait times are to be expected. However, the wait is worth it. While the roast duck should definitely be on your ticket, the spicy duck gizzards and intestines are also a popular choice among local people.
Green Cow City Cafe is renowned for its authentic bagels and for serving one of the best brunches in Beijing. As one of the few farm-to-table establishments in Beijing, it also operates a CSA (community supported agriculture) programme, delivering fresh, organic vegetables from the farm directly to people’s homes. Its location makes it a little tricky to find for the first time, as the venue is located behind a large metal door, off a crowded commercial street.
Beijing food is not just limited to peking duck. The city is also famous for its street food, and the best place to try all of it at once is at Huguosi Hutong Snack Street. This renowned snack bar was first founded in the 1950s when the government assembled several popular street-food vendors at temple fairs and created one incredible snack bar on Huguosi Street. It’s a great place to fill up on a variety of small bites on a budget.
Vegetarian-friendly options are difficult to find in China, making King’s Joy a rare vegetarian oasis. It offers flavourful vegetable-based plates as well as creative mock-meat dishes. Even the common carnivore will delight in the delicate presentation and peaceful surrounds. The restaurant sits beside a beautifully restored courtyard that looks out onto a bamboo grove. Chefs in pure white work hurriedly but quietly to plate dishes that are as aesthetically pleasing as they are delicious, earning this establishment a place in La Liste’s 10 best restaurants in the world.
Decades before China’s economic boom, the Moscow Restaurant (nicknamed “Lao Mo” by local people) was considered a highly prestigious experience. Opened in 1945, this spot was deemed the best Western restaurant in Beijing. Even by today’s standards, the opulent dining hall is an impressive space to dine in, especially to the accompaniment of live music performances. The food is a checklist of all the Russian classics – think borscht, chicken kiev and beef stroganoff.
Bistrot B, the French restaurant at Rosewood Hotel, provides its guests with a haven away from the frenetic pace of the city. Its head chef Jarrod Verbiak, is the student of world-famous chef Daniel Boulud. Like his teacher, Verbiak believes in the significance of sourcing local ingredients. It’s one of the relatively few restaurants in Beijing that comes equipped with an extensive wine cellar. It also offers a must-try cocktail called the Peking Paloma made with tequila, grapefruit and Sichuan prickly ash.