A low-key Hunanese restaurant in the lively Sanlitun district near the city center, run by mega-restaurateur Alan Wong, Karaiya — despite its name — tones down the fiery chile character of Hunan cuisine at least a little. Nonetheless, serious food lovers find their way here for the spicy marinated pork ribs, double-chile-flavor steamed fish, and immense flame-baked prawns, among other dishes.
S10-30 Sanlitun Village, 19 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang district
Gao Ming Jun, a popular Taiwanese pop singer, is the man behind this Chaoyang district hot spot, where Beijing's gilded youth comes to lounge around the interior palm trees for top-notch Guizhou, Guangxi, and Yunnan cuisine. Goat cheese (a Yunnan specialty) with fava beans, grilled perch with leeks, seafood soup with lemongrass and lime leaves, and a succulent steamed fish head that gets high marks from connoisseurs are among the dishes served.
21B Beitucheng Dong Lu Chaoyang district
Bao Yuan has long had a good name among expats for quality dumplings at affordable prices. The modest interior, with photos of dishes, tiled walls, and paper lanterns, doesn't hint at the quality of the textured, juicy dumplings that diners order in plates of six. Kids and photographers alike can play around with mixing and matching colored dumplings, choosing wrappers dyed with carrots, tomatoes, purple cabbage, and spinach, while furtively glancing around to spot well-known diplomats grabbing lunch (including, in one instance, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew).
6 Maizidian Jie, Chaoyang district
As its name might suggest, this place was opened by three friends from Guizhou Province, in southwestern China, to serve traditional dishes from their home region. This spicy, sour cuisine is a favorite of both tourists and locals, not to mention the post-clubbing crowd too lazy to battle hoards of people at other late-night places. Dishes range from sour fish soup to "Beef on fire," pieces of beef placed on chives over burning charcoal and seasoned with ground chiles.
39 E 3rd Ring Road Middle, Chaoyang
This old-school hot pot establishment is one of Beijing's hidden gems, a casual hot spot for diners craving lamb and soup in the winter months. The imperial red-and-gold theme may come off as dated, but hand-cut Mongolian lamb, fatty beef, and other meats, served in individual copper pots are top quality, making this a destination especially popular with expats and out-of-towners.
38 Di'anmen Inner St, Xicheng
Since 2004, the chefs at My Humble House have been pushing the boundaries of Chinese fusion cuisine. A stylish, artsy dining room built around a pool, My Humble House serves neo-classic Chinese dishes that aren’t humble in presentation or price — such delights as oatmeal-crusted wasabi prawns; pan-fried foie gras with Chinese mushrooms and abalone jam; and wok-fried beef tenderloin with black pepper.
1 E Chang'an Ave, Dongcheng
Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard is chef Brian McKenna’s latest venture and revamp of the once-respected The Courtyard restaurant that for years was the European restaurant in Beijing. McKenna has revived the beleaguered and beloved restaurant adjacent to the Forbidden City with an intimate, stylish, nine-table dining room that overlooks the Forbidden City’s moat. Many of the dishes are inspired from French, Italian, Spanish, and British dishes infused with Asian ingredients and flavors. The 12-course daily-changing tasting menu is the ideal way to sample McKenna’s mastery. It may include rump and neck of Australian lamb with egg yolk, potato fondant, and basil cream; and poached trout salad with avocado and seafood salad and lemon yogurt.
No.95, Donghuamen Street
For years, Hatsune has been the go-to place for California-style rolls and sushi in Beijing. While the basic premise of the menu is familiar to fans of American-style sushi rolls, it has elevated the status of its proprietor Alan Wong, who has gone onto open a handful of Japanese restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai. While the minimalistic Guanghua Lu outpost is the original location for Wong’s neo-Classic Japanese fare, the outpost in Sanlitun Village South is a livelier option. Grab a seat at the bar adorned with taiko drums and sip sake while tucking into rolls like the Motorola (raw and cooked tuna, crabmeat, avocado, and roe) and Butterfly roll (eel, crab roe, avocado and shrimp).
2/F, Heqiao Bldg C, 8A Guanghua Lu, Chaoyang District
Sichuan-born chef Huang Chao opened Transit in 2002, but it burned down in 2006, just as it was hitting its stride. Loyal followers of the chef’s unique brand of modern Sichuan cooking kept their fingers crossed, and in 2011, Transit reopened, picking up right where it left off, and is now regarded as one of Beijing’s best in the Sichuan style — a serious game-changer in the city's international dining scene — perfecting the old standards but not afraid to give them a unique twist. Dan dan mian, a wheat noodle dish with a porky, spicy broth, is livened up by a wedge of Meyer lemon. A giant, chile-coated prawn is served in its shell alongside asparagus and chocolate sauce. Spicy, sticky pork spareribs are coated in seasoned sticky rice. Your mouth might be on fire after a meal at Transit, but it’s not a meal you’re likely to forget any time soon.
N4-36, Third Floor, The Village North, Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District
In a hutong (alleyway) northeast of the ancient Qianmen gate is the humble home of some of Beijing’s best Peking duck. The tiny family-run restaurant serves duck in many forms, including the bird's gizzard and intestines, but the signature dish of the Chinese capital is the signature dish here. The slow-roasted duck is served with scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce, to be wrapped in steamed pancake by each diner. To make sure you get this classic dish, order it when you reserve your table.
11 Beixiangfeng Hutong, Dongcheng
Grab a seat at Noodle Loft’s bar to catch a glimpse of the knife-wielding noodle masters who expertly slice, dice, and hand-pull noodles of all shapes and sizes at lightning speed before tossing them into pots of boiling water. The chewy Shanxi noodles are shaken into bowls and diners top them with savory broths and toppings like scrambled eggs stewed with tomatoes, mushrooms, vinegar, hot oil, cilantro, and bean sprouts at the soup bar.
3 Guangshun N St, Chaoyang
Alameda is a great place to go when you're looking for something a little different in Beijing. On a clear day, light pours in through the glass walls and ceilings. Although it's billed as Brazilian, the menu wanders a bit off the beaten path and perhaps is more accurately described as Mediterranean with American West Coast influences. Once the food arrives, however, diners won't really care what category it fits into. Don't miss the pan-fried snapper with salsa verde and the risotto of the day.
Nali Mall Sanlitun Beijie (bet. Sanlitun Xiliujie & Sanlitun Xiwujie)
Southern Barbarian is a hot spot for Yunnan cuisine. The owner, Feng Jianwen, is passionate about bringing the flavors of his home province to life, with dishes like "Crossing the Bridge" Noodles, spicy garlic chicken wings, and potato pancakes. Diners feel welcome in the warm and inviting interior, which showcases photography from some of China's best photographers and videographers.
107 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng district
Located steps from the bars and clubs of the Sanlitun neighborhood, Bellagio serves consistently noteworthy Taiwanese fare to club-goers and culinary fans alike. The coolness factor extends from the sleek banquettes and décor and chicly coifed waitstaff, in identical haircuts and uniforms, to the latest glossy fashion magazines strewn about and the pulsating Euro-club music piped through the dining room. Part of a chain of Taiwanese cafés, Bellagio serves savory home-style Taiwanese staples like fried tofu, stewed minced pork over rice, three-cup chicken, and fragrant sausage, as well as sweet treats like foot-high mounds of shaved ice topped with brown sugar syrup, condensed milk, beans, and fruit — all on offer until 4 a.m. daily.
6 Gongti Xilu, Chaoyang District
Long known as Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant, this popular establishment has been rebranded as DaDong, and the focus of the menu has shifted away from duck to a more creative pan-Chinese menu said to use "the classical literature, pottery and porcelain, painting and calligraphy to express the artistic conception of dish [sic]." Expect such things as double-boiled lily bulbs with rose jelly, spicy turtle soup Sichuan style, braised abalone with Chinese yam and truffle sauce, and salt-baked cod with potherb mustard — as well as the establishment's former namesake, still as good as ever. Live entertainment and intriguing décor help make this a special place.
1-2/F, Nanxincang International Plaza, 22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District
This hard-to-find courtyard restaurant, owned by a Chinese life coach, Amy Li, and her American journalist husband, Jonathan Ansfield of The New York Times, features fresh, innovative, beautifully presented Vietnamese cuisine served in a wood-beamed house dating back a century and a half. Must-try offerings include the make-your-own spring rolls, the banh mi sandwiches, the caramelized clay pot fish, and the fried sea crabs. The waitstaff comes around to assist and show you how to eat the dishes properly.
10 Qianliang Hutong Xixiang (near Dafosi Dongjie)
A small outdoor restaurant in a traditional siheyuan (courtyard-style home) serving light, mushroom-filled Yunnan cuisine, Dali Courtyard offers multi-course fixed-price meals — there's no written menu — featuring such dishes as spicy stir-fried mushrooms, Yunnan-style tofu with green onion and red chile, mint and tofu-skin salad, spicy Yunnan-style dumplings, and fried chicken with lemongrass and chiles. Reserve well in advance for a spot on the candlelit terrace overlooking a small pond.
67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulou Dong Dajie
While Capital M offers what might just be the most iconic view of the Chinese capital — the terrace overlooks the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square — its cuisine is sophisticated modern European. Showing stylistic affinity to its sister restaurants, M at the Fringe in Hong Kong and M on the Bund in Shanghai, Capital M presents a seasonally changing menu that includes signature dishes like crispy suckling pig, house-smoked salmon, slowly baked salt-encased leg of lamb, and Pavlova.
3/F, No.2 Qianmen Pedestrian Street
Temple Restaurant is housed in the Temple Hotel, itself occupying a former factory compound that includes an ancient Buddhist Tibetan temple. Where workers once produced black-and-white TV sets surrounded by propaganda from the Cultural Revolution, there is now a sleek, modern dining room serving European fare. Owner Ignace Lecleir, who opened Daniel Boulud’s first restaurant in Beijing in 2008, and chef Zak El Hamdou, a veteran of La Tante Claire, Pierre Koffmann's now-closed Michelin three-star in London, collaborated to create the innovative fare here. A typical four-course tasting menu might include sherry-infused beef consommé with smoked chestnut tortellini; duck liver terrine with red wine macaroons and pistachio dust; olive oil-poached black cod with bagna cauda sauce, black truffle crust, and shallot confit; and dacquoise with Caraïbe chocolate and hazelnuts.
23 Shatan N St, Dongcheng
Artists, models, and the like dine and sip at this ultramodern retreat in Beijing’s Sanlitun bar area, owned by JinR, a Beijing musician, designer, music, and tea (T.?) connoisseur. The décor is so stunning that JinR’s Green T. House has spawned a small empire including furnishings, housewares, and a bathhouse and spa. But lest you think this is yet another hip tea shop, Green T. House also serves excellent seasonal "New China T. Cuisine," which includes many dishes incorporating tea, for instance Autumn Story Black T. Rice and roast lamb with oolong tea leaves. Needless to say, there is also an encyclopedic range of teas to be enjoyed on the side.
6 Gongti Xilu (bet. Gongti Beilu & Gongti Nanlu)
No trip to Beijing is complete without Peking duck, sliced table-side and served with scallions, cucumbers, and hoisin sauce, to be wrapped in a palm-sized crëpe-like wrapper — and Duck de Chine has one of the best renditions. Located in a former factory, Duck de Chine features a dining room built around a central courtyard with three ovens, in which the ducks are slow-roasted. In addition to the essential Peking duck, Duck de Chine has a menu of French-style duck dishes — and pours Bollinger champagne.
1949 The Hidden City, Courtyard 4, Gongti Bei Lu