{restaurants} An Extremely Quick and Incomplete Guide To Eating in Beijing, China

An alternate, and probably more accurate title for this blog post might be “let me write down some good things I ate and drank in Beijing before I forget where they are or what they are called or how much they cost.” But hey, with 20 million people and a sprawl that’s not to be believed, maybe this will help you navigate the massive metropolis a teeny tiny bit. We ate a lot of things, and these were the definite standouts.


#701 at S Silk Road, on Lotus Lane in Houhai
How to get there: get a subway or taxi to the gateway to the Houhai Lakes area. Walk through the pedestrian gate and veer left. It’s about halfway down and it’s all glass and stuff. The exact address is 51-8 Di’anmen Xidajie, and the phone number is 86-10-6615-5515.
So this is primarily a restaurant with Yunnan food, from SW China. It seems like it’s going to be a tourist trap but then it’s not, also it was recommended to us by Chinese people who go there. It’s all glassy and modern with a weirdly rendered waterfall that flows under the glass stairs, which I think is supposed to look classy but it’s kind of odd. The menu is huge, and funny. Like, they have wikipedia on their menu. Somehow they translated a type of mushroom into the word “wikipedia” and it’s all over the place. Anyway the best thing was #701 which was something like beef braised in pu’er tea leaves and it was super tasty beef in a rich sauce that was so good I dipped my rice bowl into it to get sauce on it and made a huge mess and embarrassed myself, I’m sure. Lunch for 2 people was around US$25.

Lamb “pancake” at Made In China, in the Grand Hyatt Beijing
How to get there: tell the taxi “GRAND HYATT”
One day we went all fancy shmancy and ate at a restaurant in the Grand Hyatt. I had read that the chef was a native Beijinger and an up-and-coming young guy on the culinary scene, so I wanted to check it out. Also, the kitchen is totally incorporated into the restaurant, surrounded by glass, so you can see everything that’s going on. We sat at a counter in front of a glass wall and got to watch a guy preparing the homemade dumplings and potstickers. The overall design of the restaurant was fun and fabulous as well. All of the food we had there was pretty fabulous but the standout was this thing they called a pancake which was really like 2 thin discs of fried dough that sandwiched a spicy, sort of curried Middle-Eastern-tasting mixture of ground lamb. I felt like I could have eaten about a hundred of them, given enough time. The restaurant was insanely expensive by Chinese standards, as we ended up dropping around US$100 on lunch for 2 people. Still, if you don’t want to spend the big bucks then just go, drink water, and eat some pancakes at the very least.

Hot Chocolate at Panjiayuan Market
How to get there: tell the taxi “Panjiayuan” pronounced “pahn-jaw-yoo-AHN” but where you say all the syllables together fast and kind of loud and with a lot of false confidence
I don’t think it’s just because it was 17 degrees and windy that day at the market, the hot chocolate from the vendor guy was damn good. He made it in a fancy Italian-looking espresso machine and it was chocolatey and foamy like a latte. It was surprisingly very expensive for China, like US$4 for a cup. I failed to take a photo of the momentous occasion but you probably know what hot chocolate in a paper cup looks like.

Pizza and Beer at The Tree, in Sanlitun area
How to get there: get to the Sanlitun bar street area, and ask people. The address is technically 43 Bei San Li Tun but be careful because all the streets in that area are like, something+San Li Tun. If you see Poachers, it’s kind of like behind that, around the corner to the left.
They call it The Secret Tree with good reason. It’s crazy hard to find. We were lucky enough to stumble upon their sister restaurant, called Nearby The Tree, and when we asked where the Tree was, a guy working there actually put on his coat and led us through the maze of hutong alleyways to show us where it was. So they say the pizza is the best in Beijing, which isn’t saying much- it’s not great, but it’s fine and a nice respite from, you know, Chinese food. More exciting is the extensive Belgian beer list, so welcome in the land of watery Yanjing beer and essentially no wine or liquor (unless you want to break the bank) and the warm and cozy nature of the place itself, with its mix of Chinese hipsters, families, and ex-pats of all ages. Pizza and a bunch of Belgian draft beers was around US$30 for 2 people.

The very secret entrance to the elusive Secret Tree.

Peking/Beijing Duck at a Chinese place that translates to “Daily Food and Beijing Duck Restaurant”, address unknown and stuff only in Chinese symbols, in the CBD
How to get there: ask a bilingual person to look it up for you and write down the address in Chinese so you can give it to a taxi driver.
I know, lame details on this one but our Chinese friends took us here so what can I tell you. If you can figure out how to find it, though, the menu has pictures so you can just point to the waiter what you want. The portions are huge and the Beijing duck was fabulous. As well, there was fish poached in oil and Sichuan peppercorn, which has the effect of numbing your mouth as if you swished with Vicks Vaporub. The place was hopping, a big, noisy, brightly lit room full of Chinese families celebrating New Years Eve, and our hosts said it was because it serves very good quality food at low prices. Dinner for 5 which was really like dinner for 10 because we took MORE than half the food home, plus a bunch of beers, was only around US$30. Also, remember that in Beijing they have never called it Peking Duck because they have never called Beijing Peking, only Westerners called it that. So they call it Beijing Duck, not Peking Duck.

Whiskey at the Owl Bar
How to get there: it’s in the hutong area so kind of confusing but if you follow these simple directions it should work. If you are standing in front of the Drum and Bell Towers facing them, with the Drum in front, and the Bell behind it, enter the area and pass both towers so that you are to the right of the towers. Where the street ends after the Bell tower, turn right onto Doufuchi Hutong (no sign though, I think), take your second left, then your second right, and you will hit it shortly. It’s on the corner. These are like little alleyways so it’s not that far.
This was a day that was so fun, but so cold, that we actually got the bright idea to stop in this random bar and take a shot of whiskey. Seriously. At like 3 PM. Then, as sometimes random places are, the place was amazing. On a corner in a tiny 800-year-old Beijing neighborhood, you walk into a bar where a guy is playing Resident Evil on his Wii and there are Bing Crosby Christmas carols on the soundtrack. He clearly loves America and he is eager, and kind, although his English is poor. You are alone drinking your giant shot of whiskey (about a double shot of Johnnie Walker Black Label, US$4.50) and as you leave, happy to have warmed up your insides and your outsides, he thrusts a box of markers at you. He wants you to write a message, as countless others have adorned his walls with messages and pictures in every language. Fabulous.

“Rural food” lunch at a tiny hut near the Great Wall
How to get there: befriend native Beijingers, spend time building a relationship and hosting them in your own city, and then one day visit them and ask them if something of this nature is possible, and hope that they are willing to try and make it happen for you.
Again, our Chinese friends took us to this place. If you can call it a place. I’m actually not telling you about this to be helpful, just to share an incredible food and culture experience with you. Basically we wanted to go to the Great Wall and they didn’t want us to subject us to the touristy pieces of the wall that are open to everyone, so they took us to a little tiny town that was buffeted on each side by the Great Wall. We climbed a little dirt trail and our friends chatted with a woman in a shack, asking her if it was OK to enter this part of the Wall, since the families that live here are meant to act as guardians of this section of the wall. She agreed and apparently our hosts also arranged for her to cook for us when we were done hiking. After an incredibly serene and moving 3 hour hike up and down a long section of the Great Wall of China, completely alone but for the 5 in our little group, we were tired and freezing as the weather was around 5 or 10 degrees with galeforce winds the whole time. Now let me tell you, when they told us we would have “rural food” my expectations were not high. I thought, OK, this will probably be pretty gross and served in a cold place. But upon entering the shack post-hike, everyone took off their shoes and stripped off heavy coats, hats, scarves, and gloves and sat on a large kang, which took up at least half of the room. A kang is actually a sort of old-fashioned big flat stone bed that is heated from below with a fire, so it’s warm and toasty to sit on it. After drinking some tea and relaxing a bit, copious amounts of delicious farm-fresh food started appearing. We had been warned that this was peasant food, but if that’s peasant food then I’ll gladly become a peasant. OK maybe not because the “bathroom” was a freezing cold brick shack with no walls with a hole in the ground but still the food was ridiculously good. Fresh whole chicken with Sichuan peppercorn and star anise, plump rice with eggs, battered pepper leaves, and best of all green beans with tiny pieces of pork sausage, ginger, and garlic. I’m dreaming of it right now! My only sadness was that my Dad wasn’t there with me as he would have certainly loved to experience that particular dish, as it was similar to his favorite Hunan dish, which is spicy beans with ham. Lunch for 5 was around US$20. Leaving us plenty of extra dough to sneak in a Chinese foot massage (around US$4.50) before dinner!

All of the food and kang magic happened in that little tiny hut. And just to give you an idea of the view from aforementioned hut…shaZAAM!


Hooters, just kidding, of course we did not eat there, but can you believe they have Hooters in Beijing?!?!?!

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