An Introduction to Beijing Dining

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An Introduction to Beijing Dining
As China's capital and a global business hub, Beijing offers travelers a wealth of dining choices that span an impressive array of regional and international cuisines.
Photo by Holly Chiu
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    Legendary Peking Duck
    Known for its succulent, crisp skin, the iconic Peking duck is the dish that Beijing does best. The city's flagship duck restaurants have perfected and preserved their recipes for centuries; Quanjude, one of Beijing's most popular duck chains, first opened its doors in 1864. Though newer on the scene, Dadong Roast Duck has an equally loyal following, perhaps due to its leaner meat and elaborate side dishes. Also of note is Jing Yaa Tang, an upscale duck eatery inside the Opposite House, a boutique hotel in the center of the Sanlitun shopping district.
    Photo by Holly Chiu
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    Dining on Dumplings
    The simplicity of dumplings—essentially minced meat wrapped in dough—belies the rich and flavorful experience of eating these little culinary delights. Though the variations are numerous, dumplings are usually filled with pork. Xiaolongbao, Shanghai-style dumplings that are now popular throughout China, are steamed and filled with soup broth. Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain once named by The New York Times as one of the world's ten best restaurants, has several locations in Beijing that serve up xiaolongbao by the basketful. Mr. Shi's Dumplings is a popular location for Beijing's traditional take on the dish, which omits the soupy filling.
    Photo by Matt Long
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    Upscale International
    Though Beijing has long been renowned for its local cuisine, its high-end international eateries have only recently begun to garner the attention of foodies abroad. While the influx of foreign chefs with Michelin Star credentials has increased the quality and variety of the food on the plate, it's often the atmosphere of these restaurants that pushes reviews into the stratosphere. Temple Restaurant Beijing is an upscale eatery located in a 600-year-old Buddhist temple, while Capital M, an offshoot of Shanghai's swanky M on the Bund, overlooks Beijing's ancient front gate.
    Photo courtesy of Capital M
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    Extravagant Imperial Cuisine
    While in Beijing, take the opportunity to dine like the emperors of old. Imperial cuisine was known for using the only finest and rarest of ingredients in exceedingly complex dishes. It's hard to say if any of Beijing's modern restaurants measure up to the imperial kitchens of antiquity, but they do cook up unique and tasty fare. Najia Xiaoguan, a quaint, family-owned restaurant opened by the grandson of a Qing emperor’s doctor, has popular dishes derived from the Golden Soup Bible, the doctor's book of healthy recipes for the emperor. Fangshan in Beihai Park is also known for its authentic imperial feasts.
    Photo by Su-Lin Lee
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    Get Hooked on Hotpot
    Among locals, few dining experiences are more popular than the fondue style of eating known as hotpot. Slices of mutton, beef, veggies, and—if you're feeling adventurous—various other rarer creatures or components are served raw alongside a roiling pot of richly-flavored broth. The most popular style of hotpot hails from the southwestern province of Sichuan, and features a fiery broth of peppers and mouth-numbing peppercorns. HaiDiLao Hotpot, Beijing's most popular hotpot chain, has numerous locations scattered throughout the city. For a more down-home meal of mutton hotpot in the Qing Dynasty style, Man Fu Lou is the local favorite.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Hip Hutong Bars
    Beijing's gradually dwindling hutongs (ancient alleyways) have become prized locations for a growing number of stylish-yet-unpretentious pubs that blend into the ancient architecture. The most noteworthy of these venues can be found between the Houhai area and the Lama Temple, tucked away in the maze of alleyways that branch off the Gulou Dongdajie thoroughfare. Most of the bars are small, with some taking their quaintness to an extreme. 12SQM Bar has grown slightly beyond its original tiny footprint, yet it's still one of the coziest nightspots in town. Noteworthy standouts in the area include Amilal and Great Leap, Beijing's first craft brewery.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Sample China's Regional Specialities
    If you don't have time to eat your way across China, don't worry—most of the country's best dishes can be sampled without leaving Beijing. The southern province of Yunnan melds Chinese cooking with the lemongrass flavors of Southeast Asia, making it one of the most popular regional cuisines among foreigners living in Beijing. Dali Courtyard in the Gulou area offers a nightly set menu that is an excellent introduction to Yunnan's specialty dishes. If spicy food appeals to you, Sichuan province is credited with serving up China's most fiery foods. Chuan Jing Ban Canting is run by the Sichuan government, lending some authority to its authenticity as one of the city's most popular Sichuanese eateries.
    Photo by Sara Melvin
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    High-Class Cocktails
    If you're looking for a sleek venue for drinks, Beijing has a multitude of high-end bars where you can sip in style. The highest cocktail lounge in Beijing is Atmosphere, which is perched at the 80th floor of the China World Summit Wing, overlooking the cityscape with towering floor-to-ceiling windows. The Park Hyatt's China Bar sits at an only slightly lower altitude, 65 floors above street level. For a focus on drinks rather than scenery, try one of Beijing's low-key Japanese whiskey bars, such as Ichikura, a speakeasy-style watering hole hidden in the side of the Chaoyang Theater.
    Photo courtesy of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
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    Foreign Comfort Food
    Chinese food is delicious and diverse, yet even so, you may want a taste of home during your trip. Luckily, both the number and the quality of Beijing's foreign restaurants have risen rapidly in the last few years. Today you can get authentic American-style barbecue at Home Plate, deep-dish pizza at Kro's Nest, or a Cobb salad at Element Fresh. The Great Leap brewpub in Sanlitun offers some of the city's best burgers, served up with pints of their homemade ales. Beijing also has multiple venues serving authentic food from Europe and Latin America. One of the standouts is Caribeño, a Cuban restaurant and occasional salsa club.
    Photo courtesy of Great Leap Brewing