My Polish cousins Asia and Ola and their friend Agnieszka visited this past week, and I got some flak from Asia for failing to update this blog. Guilty as charged, I'm afraid. And since most recent-ish posts have been catching up on past travels, I figured it was time to turn my attention to Beijing for once. I fancy myself a pretty good Beijing tour guide, especially when it comes to food, so I decided to share where I took my cousins for dinner while they were in town, as well as some other picks for impressing visitors with Beijing's culinary wonders.
Noodle Bar: On the day they arrived, we started with a low-key dinner at Noodle Bar, in the 1949 complex. The place is casual, but still in a sleek factory conversion that makes Beijing look cool/posh. Watching the cooks hand-pull noodles is good fun, and their delicious beef brisket noodle soup never gets old. Plus, if there is energy left to spare after dinner, there's Sanlitun.
Jin Ding Xuan: I won't pretend this is the best dim sum in Beijing, but at least the Lama Temple location is a great value--very solid favorites for very little money. Also, when planning a day, it's perfect--we saw the Lama Temple, took a walk in Ditan Park (watching the old people doing awesome old people park activities), ate here, and then strolled down the incredibly rapidly gentrified Wudaoying Hutong, stopping in cute shops along the way. When we felt like a break, we drank crisp white wine on the beautiful rooftop at Argos, a Greek restaurant.
Chengdu Representative Office Restaurant (Chengdu Bingguan): All of the provinces and some large cities have offices in Beijing to represent their governments to the central government, and they have their own restaurants serving their cuisine. It's old hat among Beijing foodies to visit the Sichuan Provincial Office restaurant (Chuan Ban), and the food is not bad, but the lines are less cool. The much less-well-known Chengdu office restaurant has, in my opinion, even better food, and NO LINE EVER. Bonus Beijing magic trick: it's around the corner from the very posh Temple Restaurant, which has Beijing's most exquisite setting in a renovated temple complex. Take visitors around the corner for some fancy drinks, either sitting inside and chatting with the fantastic bartender or wandering the temple grounds by moonlight, drink in hand, admiring the beautiful people through the huge picture windows. And at the end, have the staff call you a cab home!
Peking Duck Private Kitchen: If your crew is on a budget, this is excellent Peking duck at lower prices (and with less snottiness) than Duck de Chine or some of the other better-known players (though they have raised prices lately). The duck is delicious--the chef used to work in the kitchen at Dadong, one of the big duck restaurant chains in town.
Crescent Moon: The best Xinjiang food in town, in my humble opinion. Come for the meat kebabs, the meat cooked with cut up spiced nan, the meat dumplings, and the meat served with egg-stuffed bread; stay for the occasional fireworks when the temperamental Uighur owner decides to start screaming at someone. Bonus Beijing tip: no bathroom at the restaurant, and the ones in the surrounding hutongs are grim and have no stalls (the whole people-staring-at-foreigners thing becomes all the more awkward in this situation). Walk two hutongs up to Slow Boat Brewery Taproom for some craft beer and a clean toilet.
Baoyuan Dumplings: I used to feel like I was the only person who didn't take visitors here. But this time I relented and decided to give it another try. In the past, I felt like their dumplings were actually sort of dull, but their non-dumpling dishes were outstanding... sort of weird, given their focus. This time, however, I was overall very happy with everything we got. We weren't feeling drinks afterward, but if you are, hidden Japanese izakaya/wine bar Vin Vie is right around the corner.
Southern Barbarian: This was the only place this week I took visitors that I hadn't previously tried myself (though James had). The gamble paid off--the Yunnan food was delicious, and the setting was really nice (excellent bathroom, also). Add in warm service and an excellent drinks list, and this is perfect Friday-night-out Chinese food. Our after-dinner bar pick was Amilal, though Modernista was super close to the restaurant (however, it was rejected due to lack of bathroom).
Of course, Yunnan cuisine is really popular in Beijing right now, and other options abound. Two others I consider visitor-worthy: Dali Courtyard (nice setting, less sleek but more cozy--but you get less choice of what to eat as it's chef's choice) and Lost Heaven (Yunnan food goes glam in the Ch'ianmen 23 complex).
Other good picks for showing visitors all Beijing has to offer: Haidilao (hot pot is good fun, but not great for summer); Din Tai Fung (my cousins were going to Shanghai next, so I figured they could get their soup dumplings there); Susu (not Chinese, but the hutong conversion is so great, and there is magic in showing up at an unmarked door in a dark alleyway and going inside to such a beautiful space); Capital M (again, not Chinese, and kind of expensive, but such great views--I love to precede any visits to the Forbidden City with brunch there, after which you can march up Tiananmen Square to the Gate of Heavenly Peace); and the fantabulous Black Sesame Kitchen (also out of the price range we were aiming for with this visit, and requires reservations a month in advance, but this is a dining experience unlike anything else I've ever tried).
Now go eat!