Expert recommendations for the best places to eat in four price ranges: budget ($), moderate ($$), expensive ($$$), and luxury ($$$$)
Qing Tang Fu
"Large selection of Shaanxi-style garlic and vinegar noodles, and the specialty expats call the ‘Chinese burger'—juicy mutton shreds in a warm bun."—Wendy Mock, former editor, City Weekend Magazine, a biweekly listings magazine. Laid-back place with low oak tables and Shaanxi folk art. Buns from $1, noodles $2-4. 69 Chaoyangmennei Nanxiao Jie; tel. 86 10 6559 8135.
Nan Xiao Jie Mian Shi Dian
You can find jian bing, Beijing's beloved, multi-textured breakfast at vendors in any hutong, or on the back of roving bicycle kitchens, for about 12 cents. This storefront vendor has some of the city's best. 3 Meiwu Bujie Hutong at Chaoyangmennei Nanxiaojie; tel. 86 10 6523 0538.
Wangfujing Jie "Snack Street"
"Street food runs the gamut from banal (noodles, lamb kebabs) to intensely weird (scorpions on a stick)."—Dan Ouyang, brand manager, City Weekend Magazine. Clean pedestrian plaza is a culinary map of China, from remote Xinjiang to Sichuan to Macau. Most dishes $1-3. Near Oriental Plaza Mall, Wangfujing.
"It's easy to while away an afternoon here Web surfing and people-watching. Packed on weekends."—Dan Ouyang. Great breakfasts, some of Beijing's best coffee. Frequent book and poetry readings, wine tastings, and open mic night. 4 Nansanlitun Lu; tel. 86 10 6586 9507. www.beijingbookworm.com
Ding Ding Xiang
"Iffy service and silly policies, but the heavenly mushroom stock makes it worth the trip."—Leon Lee, former managing editor, That's Beijing. Beijing's most popular hotpot chain offers sparkling fresh cuts of beef, lamb, and mutton to cook in a tabletop wok, and thick sesame sauce for dipping. 14 Dong Zhi Men Wai Dong Jie; tel. 86 10 6417 2546.
Dadong Kaoya (Peking Duck) Dian
"The duck here—served traditionally in several stages—eclipses that of Beijing's more well-known Peking duck restaurants."—Fuchsia Dunlop, author, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from the Hunan Province. Flavorful duck and fresh, crepe-like pancakes served with traditional fixings, including mashed garlic and granulated sugar (dip crisp skin into sugar). Rooms tend to fill up early; call ahead. 3 Tuanjie Hu Beikou; tel. 86 10 6582 2892.
"The rich and memorable fare of the waterbound Hakkas in a spot that could be a lakeside Qing dynasty home—minus the crowds."—Wendy Mock. Wildly popular restaurant, specializing in Hakka cuisine, worthwhile for its succulent seafood—from paper-wrapped fish to salt-baked shrimp, served in a pail. Southeast bank of Qian Hai; tel. 86 10 6404 2259 (no sign on door).
Three Guizhou Men
"Not for the weak-stomached or weak-hearted. Cooks boil carp alive before your eyes to 'ensure freshness' in the signature Sour Fish Soup. If the menu says spicy, take their word for it."—Dan Ouyang. Kitsch-cute interior and 24-hour opening belie serious cuisine from Guizhou, a little-known culinary region. Tastebud extremes of sour, spicy, and salty will make your eyes water. 3 Guanghua Xili, Jianguomenwai Jie; tel. 86 10 6507 9738.
Modern European cuisine with a global twist. Try pan-seared barramundi, aged Australian beef fillet, or chaud froid of veal. Plush dining room, live jazz. Shangri-La China World Hotel, 1 Jianguomenwai Dajie; tel. 86 10 6505 2266. www.shangri-la.com
"Real Malay food in an artsy hutong pad."—Patrick Pearce, Beijing filmmaker. Sophisticated dining utilizes small rooms in a traditional courtyard home to create intimate spaces. Tip: for bigger parties (10-12), reserve the private room, where you'll sit on pillows on the floor. 43 Doufu Chi Hutong; tel. 86 10 6400 4875.
Li Family Restaurant (Li Jia Cai)
Any prix-fixe menu you pick (200-600 RMB/person) results in a parade of exquisite, creative, fresh, and subtly flavored dishes, such as tempura scallops, tofu with minced crab, miniature sweet and sour pork chops, and fresh bamboo shoots. 11 Yanfang Hutong, Deshengmen Neidajie; tel. 86 10 6618 0107.
Lai Jin Yu Xuan
"Elaborate banquets inspired by the classic Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber."—Heidi Leigh Johansen, editor, Fodor's Beijing. Shan Tao made sharp, amusing observations about the feudal hierarchy in 18th-century China. This elite, two-story restaurant, overlooking a pond and a willow tree, is just the place to ponder them. Call to book a banquet. Inside Zhongshan Park, on the west side of the Forbidden City; tel. 86 10 6605 6676.
Made in China
Updated, healthy twists on classic Beifang (northern regional) cuisine, with open kitchen. Beijing's most typical dishes—roast duck, noodles, and dumplings (made here before your eyes)—all excel. Reservations recommended. Grand Hyatt Beijing, 1 Dongchang'an Jie; tel. 86 10 8518 1234. www.beijing.grand.hyatt.com
"Refined dim sum and fabulous steamed pork buns."—Heidi Leigh Johansen. Inlaid with rescued hutong bricks, this ultra-luxe restaurant serves some of the city's best Cantonese food: meaty (and expensive) shark's fin soup, chewy sautéed abalone, crisp taro spring rolls, moist pork buns. The Peninsula Beijing, 8 Goldfish Lane; tel. 86 10 8516 2888. http://beijing.peninsula.com
The city's leading modern Chinese restaurant, with three show kitchens, a well-stocked wine cellar, and dishes such as shellfish and papaya bisque, confit salmon, and citrus-scented spa cheesecake. Call ahead. The Peninsula Beijing; 8 Jinyu Hutong; tel. 86 10 6523 0175. http://beijing.peninsula.com
Despite the odd name, this is a serious Sichuanese restaurant—meaning you might want the chef to tone down the "numb hot" spices typical of that region. Wonderful imperial atmosphere, overlooking tree-filled courtyard. Reservations required. 14 Banchang Hutong, Kuanjie; tel. 86 10 6400 3736.
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