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food / travel

Gùsto! How, What, Where Locals Eat (& Drink) In Beijing

Hiked the Great Wall? Walked the hundreds of stairs up the Temple of Heaven? Looks like you need a drink.

Gùsto! How, What, Where Locals Eat (& Drink) In Beijing
Michelle Courtois

BEIJING — Hiked the Great Wall? Walked the hundreds of stairs up the Temple of Heaven? Looks like you need a drink. Or maybe you're hungry?

There are 9 million bicycles in this giant city – and walking through the streets, it feels like there might be just as many exciting restaurants, bars and cafes to try. Here’s a guide to a day of eating and drinking all around the beautiful city of Beijing, with inside tips on where the locals go.

Breakfast: Jianbing

This street treat has been a part of China’s history for thousands of years. There are even songs and poetry about people’s love for jianbing dating back 5000 years.

Jianbing is a thin, savory, crepe-like food topped with egg, spices, chives, spring onions, fried wonton and sauces, as well as meat or chili sauce. The pancakes are cooked on the spot right in front of you and will cost you no more than $2.

You can find a jianbing street food stand in the mornings on most Beijing streets, often near shops, universities and metro stations. Below are a couple of popular ones locals adore.

  • Jianbing stand by Tianzhu Gardens in Shunyi (顺义区天竺花园)
  • Jianbing stand by BLCU in Haidian (北京语言大学)

Snack: Drinks and treats at Regain Element

Iced milk tea is a local staple, and in Beijing, it’s an absolute must-have.

Regain Element is a rooftop restaurant and bar with a wide array of beverages, snacks and desserts. This isn’t a typical rooftop bar: it is located in the iconic, and lesser-known, Wudaoying Hutong. The views are of a gorgeous typical Chinese hutong, and a few temples nearby – the unique backdrop of ancient roads and temples make this a special spot for a bite.

Their apple pie has a Chinese twist and is very popular among visitors. Their beers, coffees and teas are also highly recommended.

Lunch: Hot Pot at Haidilao

Image of hot pot at Haidilao

Haidilao hot pot


Hot Pot is a traditional Chinese food with strong cultural significance that has been enjoyed for over 5000 years.

There are many different types of hotpots: Sichuan is notoriously spicy and Mongolian typically has more lamb, while Yunnan has more vegetables. The Haidilao restaurant chain features dishes from all over China, involving a wide range of broth flavors, meats, sauces and vegetables.

It’s a cultural experience to eat hot pot. You order your broth (choose from spicy Sichuan, bone broth, vegetable, chicken or many more), then order your meats, vegetables and other ingredients that cook in the hot pot. You make your own sauce (there’s many ingredients to use, such as soy sauce, sesame oil, tahini, peanut sauce, garlic, herbs and more). Finally, you can cook your items in the broth, dip them in your sauce and dig in.

Afternoon Tea: Liuxianguan Teahouse

Chinese people love tea, so much so that they have made an art out of making and drinking it. Tea can be drunk at any time during the day, but is more often enjoyed after a meal, to aid in digestion.

They have more than 40 different types of tea

Just a few steps away from the Lama Temple and the Temple of Confucius, this teahouse is located on one of the oldest streets of Beijing. They have more than 40 different types of tea, all presented in an artistic performance prior to tasting.

Dinner: Peking Duck at Da Dong in Wangfujing

You’ve seen Tiananmen Square, you’ve walked through the bustling streets of Wangfujing, shopped at the sky-high stores – maybe you’ve even been convinced to try a deep fried scorpion?

Along this exciting street lies a glamorous restaurant selling one of Beijing’s highest-quality Peking ducks. Da Dong is a restaurant that cuts up the freshly roasted Peking duck for you, right at the table. The duck is eaten traditionally with thin savory crepes, thinly sliced cucumber and hoisin sauce.

There are numerous other delicious items on the menu, grilled fish, vegetable noodles, spicy roasted vegetables, fried shrimp, and more traditional Chinese foods. But the Peking duck remains the most popular dish by far.

Spotlight: Beijing's Zha Jiang Mian noodles

One cannot go to Beijing and not try the most iconic noodle dish, Zha Jiang Mian. The dish comprises a salty, bolognese-like sauce, made from dried yellow soybean paste, hoisin or bean sauce, a plethora of spices and herbs, and either fried pork, vegetables or tofu. The sauce is placed on top of freshly made noodles along with blanched or raw crunchy vegetables – often cucumbers, sprouts, radishes or edamame beans.

There are many theories and tales about when the dish was created, but the most likely is that it became popular during the later years of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) in Beijing. In a hotel in Beijing’s Dongcheng district, a chef had a special noodle dish in the summer called “cold meat noodles,” which became a hit among locals in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The dish was simple and easy to make, but adored by many. During the famine and crisis in 1958, the dish was not as popular, as there was no flour to make the noodles. But in 1962, after China recovered, the dish was back and even more popular than ever.

Today, you can walk into any noodle shop in Beijing and see that the first item on the menu will always be Zha Jiang Mian – don’t leave Beijing without giving it a try.

Dessert: Holiland

If you are ever invited to a birthday party in Beijing, a wedding or basically any event that could involve cake, chances are, it’s from Holiland.

Holiland has iconic cakes and desserts that fuse Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French techniques and flavors. Among locals, the most popular, according to Sohu, are the half-baked cheesecake and the honey cake.

In Beijing, you’re never far from a Holiland. Here are a few addresses of some of the biggest and best in the city.

Drinks: Infusion Room in Sanlitun

A cozy bar nested in the hip, modern “night out” area of Beijing. Infusion room was created by Paul Su, a Chinese mixologist with a passion for creating unique cocktails.

Based on answers to a few questions, they’ll make a personalized cocktail just for you.

Paul has a few cocktails on the menu, but the mixologists mostly create new cocktails for each customer based on their likes and personality. Test it out by going in and chatting with one of the bartenders – based on a few answers to their questions, they’ll make a personalized cocktail just for you.

The cocktails have an exciting Chinese twist, highlighting local alcohol, flavors and juices. One must-try item is the “Chengdu” cocktail, which contains fermented bamboo juice, Suze, gin, white chocolate and a bamboo leaf.

Must-have experience: KTV

Karaoke TV (KTV) rooms are a unique experience loved by Beijing locals, who often spend their Friday nights partying in a KTV room with their friends.

Get started by booking a private room. There are hundreds of themes to choose from – Hello Kitty and the Avengers to Moulin Rouge and more – and the rooms are fitted out with comfortable sofas, microphones, mini stages, giant speakers and a huge TV screen.

The rooms are booked by the hour, so you can sing your heart out and play as many songs as you’d like – choosing from thousands of songs in English and Chinese, and enjoy snacks and drinks. There are many KTV bars to choose from, but one popular spot is located in Sanlitun Tai Koo Lee.

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