Beijing’s Best Restaurants

Beijing Squid
Fried Squid on Nanluoguxiang

I want to take a break from the normal law school/law firm day-to-day activities here in Beijing, China to provide you with some very valuable information.  The food!  It’s amazing and a major reason I was so excited to come to China.  I truly believe the best way to get to know a new place is to seek out the best food in that area.  In my experience, many agreements or disagreements can be settled over good food.  I have been fortunate to spend over two months in Beijing, a weekend in Shanghai, and four days in Tokyo and have found many great restaurants.  I have even contemplated writing a laowai’s guide to Beijing.  Stay tuned on that.  So, after many hours of exploration, here are some of my top places to get food in Beijing, Shanghai, and Tokyo.

Beijing Jianbing

Beijing is an excellent city for street food.  You can get nearly anything on a sidewalk or street corner.  The photo on the left is called “Ghost Street” and is about three city blocks long with restaurants open very late.  The popular item here is Sichuan crayfish from Huda Restaurant (there are many locations on this street).  People queue up for lengthy waits.  Restaurants provide those waiting outside on the sidewalk with seeds (similar to sunflower seeds) and many have televisions where everyone happily watches singing shows (like The Voice).  The photo on the right is jianbing.  This is a wildly popular breakfast item in Beijing and one of my personal favorites.  It’s like a crepe with spices and an egg (other things optional) inside.  It is amazing and I am shocked it hasn’t become more popular in America, yet.  Business opportunity, anyone?
Best Beijing RestaurantsThe Noodle Bar (far left): on the 5th floor inside the 3.3 Mall in the Sanlitun neighborhood.  This area is popular with Americans and other Western expats.  There are many luxury stores, restaurants, and bars.  Anyone visiting Beijing will end up in Sanlitun at least once.  The specialty at The Noodle Bar are hand-pulled noodles with eggplant, pictured here with an added egg.  Also included is a tofu dish with black eggs, a Sichuan beef dish (awesome), and to drink is plum juice (also awesome).  It’s an inexpensive, hidden gem in the heart of an otherwise luxurious area of Beijing.

Pang Mei Mian Zhaung (middle): located on Xiang’er Hutong (narrow alley), this Chongqing style noodle restaurant is the go-to spot for locals in the area.  The noodles are handmade and come with minced pork, Chinese greens and a starchy dry pea.  The chili oil is underneath and provides a numbing heat.  It’s very reasonably priced and a frequent stop on my way home after work.

Spice Spirit (far right): there are several branches of this Sichuan crayfish restaurant.  While studying at Peking University, some classmates and I went to the location in Haidian.  I thought I had a pretty good understanding of Chinese food prior to coming to Beijing, but had no idea how popular crayfish are.  I see them everywhere.  You wear gloves and will sweat a lot (its loaded with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorns).  We had a great meal and whether you find them at Spice Spirit or elsewhere, I highly recommend seeking out the spicy crayfish.
Zhang Mama

Featured here is my favorite restaurant in Beijing.  It’s called Zhang Mama and is located at 76 Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie.  Words are not going to do it justice.  This is truly one of the best Sichuan restaurants I’ve ever been to.  It’s always packed and buzzing with firey chilis and workers.  The best dishes are boboji (featured on the left).  It’s a cauldron of chili oil that you soak vegetables in.  It’s an appetizer that everyone must try.  However, my (hands down) favorite dish in Beijing is their huiguorou (double cooked pork).  Coincidentally, this was Chairman Mao’s favorite dish, too.  It has crispy bread underneath (similar to the crust on an American crab rangoon) and lots of chili oil.  It’s a work of art and only costs 28RMB (about $4.50).
Haidilao Hot Pot

Haidilao Hot Pot:  a very popular Sichuan hot pot option with many locations in Beijing.  I love hot pot.  This place does it very well.  Two broths (spicy and not spicy).  You can order an endless amount of things to cook in the hot pot.  The restaurant is known for outstanding hospitality, hip hop dancers who also make noodles, being open very late.  A trip to China without trying hot pot would be a major mistake.  There are many options, but Haidilao is a standout.

Shanghai xiaolongbao
Shanghai xiaolongbao at De Xin Guan

Several weeks ago I had a weekend off from class and decided to head down to Shanghai.  It’s known to be more Western-friendly than Beijing (both in terms of business and large expat community).  Unfortunately, I started a lengthy battle with food poisoning just before departing for this trip.  I didn’t get out in the city too much but I had to try xiaolongbao (soup dumplings).  This style of dumpling has a very thin exterior with soup and meat inside.  I used to get them at M Shanghai in Brooklyn often and needed to see how they compared.  In Shanghai, the most popular variety is crab.  I got to De Xin Guan too late in the afternoon and they were sold out.  I got pork and some soup (seaweed and egg).  It was about all my body could handle but well worth the trip.

Best Ramen in Tokyo
Best Ramen in Tokyo

Tokyo is a city I have wanted to visit for many years.  I got the chance a few weeks ago and took full advantage of its countless dining options.  Featured here are three different styles of ramen.

Ichiran (far left): this is a very popular ramen restaurant in the Shibuya neighborhood.  It’s a little touristy (long lines, many foreigners, etc.) but it was really good!  After waiting for nearly 45 minutes, I finally made it downstairs and ordered my ramen via the vending machine.  All ramen places I visited had this ordering method.  You put your money in, select what type of broth, noodles, toppings, etc. and it prints out a ticket.  You give the ticket to the ramen artist and they create your masterpiece.  At this restaurant, diners are seated in tiny booths with a window that opens to the kitchen.  It only opens when the workers bring you the food or if you push a silent bell.  The broth is king and this ramen was well worth the wait.

Unknown Name (center): I don’t have the name of this restaurant (it was only in Japanese).  This style is much different from the others in that it is loaded up with bean sprouts and garlic.  It features large cuts of pork (very tender).  The garlic was very strong but somehow worked out nicely with the broth.  A unique style that seemed popular with the blue collar crowd.

Afuri Ramen (far right): probably the best ramen I had during this week.  I arrived shortly after it opened and there was already several diners inside.  They were playing Action Bronson (loudly) as I walked in; I knew this place was special.  The broth here is more citrusy than other ramen restaurants.  I got spicy pork chop and soft boiled egg.  It was both spicy and citrusy!  I highly recommend checking out this area (Ebisu) and restaurant!