Cheap eats in Beijing
- Recommended for:
- Food and Drink, Budget
Avoid being ripped off in soulless tourist restaurants - instead, take the time to seek out Beijing's best eateries
One piece of advice everyone should bear in mind when visiting Beijing is that the smarter-looking restaurant is not always where you'll get the best food. OK, that could apply in most cities of the world, but here in particular some of the best food comes from some of the grimiest looking places.
Many places I went to I cannot possibly mention, due to their having no noticeable name. There are many small restaurants like this, particularly in the hutong districts, and they almost always serve amazing food. So give them a try. In the meantime, here are some great places to fill your face, each one personally tried, tested and recommended by myself and my palate.
For a good mix of well-priced food and drink, head to Nan Luo Gou Xiang, a hutong street filled with elegantly shabby, bohemian-type bars and eateries. The offerings range from fast food to sophisticated menus. Saveurs de Coree (at number 29) has beautiful Korean architecture and food. Zha Zha cafe (no 101) and La Boheme are both lovely bars that also do food. You could stick to Tsing Tao beer, but why not enjoy a few flaming shots or cocktails? (I wouldn't suggest Chinese wine by the way. It's sour and funny-tasting. If you need vino, choose an import.) Drum and Gong Fusion restaurant (no 102) is great for Sichuan and Yunnan food; authentic Chinese with some real spice! There's even a good chippy down here as well: Fish Nation, at 31 Jiaodaokou.
Adventurous eaters will spend hours happily wandering around Donghua Yeshi Night Market, known as the 'Street of Small Eats' - just point at a skewer of random meat (or offal!) and give it a try.
San Li Tun is one of Beijing's most popular tourist and ex-pat areas, with plenty of well-off, trendy Chinese hanging out here, too. There are lots of cafes and restaurants dotted around, notably The Tree (43 Bei Sanlitun Nan), which sells pizza almost as good as anything from Italy, along with world beers. But at night the main attractions are the heaving bars and nightclubs, where being a Westerner doesn't mark you out as anything special. The Poacher's Inn (no 43) is one of the best known. It's loud, smoky, and very full. Be prepared, though: because so many relatively wealthy people flock here, so too do beggars. Whether you give or not is up to you, but if you do, you attract more and things quickly become quite overwhelming.
Fancy Western food? Even noodles can get tiresome, and often the most homesick part of your body will be your tastebuds. Head to the Houhai area to find Hutong Pizza (Yinding Qiao Hutong 9). It's a lovely little place with fish swimming around in ornamental ponds as you walk in. The pizzas are incredible. They're square not round, but so what? Starters such as potato skins aren't as exciting though, so save room and go straight for mains.
Grandma's Kitchen makes you feel you're back home, with steaks, mashed potatoes, creamy mushroom soup and apple pie. The decor is kitschy-cute; like something out of The Waltons, with striped wallpaper and checked tablecloths. Best of all, there are four branches, so your stomach's never far from a fill of the Western world, even when in Beijing.
Where to stay
Peking International Youth Hostel
5 Beichizi Ertiao, Beichizi Dajie, Dong Cheng District
This courtyard-style building, with friendly common room, is decorated like a cosy traditional Chinese home. It’s a stone’s throw from the historic centre of Beijing. Within five minutes' walk you can be at the Forbidden City; 10 minutes and you'll be at Tiananmen Square. Private rooms are available, with private bathroom facilities. Chinese and Western food served. Bike hire available and trips to tourist attractions can be booked at reception.
Double Happiness Beijing Courtyard Hotel
No 37 Dogsisitiao, Beijing 10010
A small but beautiful hotel, worth paying a bit more for. The Wedding Suite has a handmade wooden bed that is more than 100 years old and the room itself is stunning, in traditional Chinese style. You'll feel you're in a glamorous film. The other rooms are all lovely, too, as are the bar, restaurant (Chinese and Western) and courtyard. The name says it all really.
Hua Feng International Hostel
No 15 Jiaodaokou Street Dong Cheng District
Swankier than most hostels - in the reception area, at least - this is another friendly place to lay your head. You're guaranteed to meet plenty of other travellers here, so beware: if you don't like joining in the whole 'backpacker community' thing, you might want to avoid this place. Facilities include bike hire, restaurant and bar, internet access and a common room.
Where to eat
Find the four branches of Grandma's Kitchen at:
47-2 Nanchizi Street
11 Xiushui South Street
B/0103 Jianwai Soho, 39 3rd East Ring Road
Fifth floor, Wudaokou U-Center, 28 Chengfu Road, Haidian District