4446 Sanlitun Bar Street (behind Nali Market)
Tel: 86 10 6417 8084
Market-fresh cuisine, a casual, airy dining room, and friendly service keep this place continually abuzz with foreign and Chinese customers. Chef Vivi Goncalves's two-course, daily changing prix fixe menus fuse the flavors of her native Brazil with European and Chinese accents. The result: inventive dishes such as roasted baby pumpkin filled with coconut milk–poached shrimp, and filet mignon enhanced with Szechuan peppercorns. Reservations are a good idea.
3/F Nali Patio
81 Sanlitun Lu
Tel: 86 10 5208 6040
Max Levy, the U.S.-born, Japanese-trained chef behind Beijing's Bei, the sleek mod-Asian restaurant at the Opposite House, shows his Big Easy roots with his latest project. Apothecary is one part cocktail bar, one part down-home eatery, serving classic tipples alongside fried favorites. China Poblano chef José Andrés, who stumbled upon Levy's casual joint in Beijing's Chaoyang while researching his own new restaurant, reports, "Levy is an American from New Orleans, now cooking in Beijing." Translation: Expect plenty of andouille, tasso ham, and gumbo to go with your Sazerac (entrées, $9-$30).
Must eat: Fried chicken dinners on Sundays.
Chef Max Levy's favorite new restaurant: Howard Ino's Uo Kura, Shanghai
35 Di'anmen Xijie
Tel: 86 10 6405 6666
Old Beijing–style fare is dished up at this humble paper-napkin-and-disposable-chopsticks spot. As the name implies, it's not for the carb-conscious: Large bowls of zhajiang mian—doughy hand-pulled noodles topped with a salty bean and pork sauce and served with savory pork-and-leek dumplings—are the main draw here. This is hearty, traditional food, designed to fill up tummies and ward off the sharp northern wind. Service can be gruff, but cheap prices and the authenticity make it perfect for a fast lunch. There's no English menu, so either ask for the signature dish, or point to what people are eating at other tables.
6 Gongti Xilu
Tel: 86 10 6551 3533
Beijing's beautiful hipsters head here for casually elegant Taiwanese and Szechuan fare. Located near mega-nightclub Babyface and open till 4 a.m., it's popular for late-night feasts. A perennial standout is the Taiwanese dòufù bao, a savory mixture of ground pork, tofu strips, and sliced leeks, served in a sizzling stone pot. The laziji—tender morsels of chicken in a bright nest of chili peppers—is another sure bet. Desserts appear otherworldly, particularly the zonghe baobing, a mountain of shaved ice piled high with sweet red beans, condensed milk, tapioca pearls, sago chunks, and canned fruit cocktail (trust us, it tastes better than it sounds).
29 Zizhuyuan Road
Tel: 86 10 6841 2211 ext. 6727
Michelin-starred Irish-born chef Brian McKenna, who opened Gordon Ramsay's Verre restaurant in Dubai, brought his scientific brand of gastronomy to Beijing in 2007 and hasn't looked back. A paid-up member of the El Bulli generation, McKenna experiments with strong flavors and presents his cuisine with style and humor. Standout dishes include a cappuccino of curried sweet potato purée with Asian vegetables, and crab tempura with risotto, avocado ice cream and lemongrass bubbles. Although the location is inauspicious, at the Shangri-La hotel in the western suburbs, this really is world-class prix fixe dining. The garrulous McKenna also spends time working the dining room, and loves to spin a culinary yarn or two.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays, 5 pm to 1 am.
67 Xiaojingchang Lane
Tel: 86 10 8404 1430
This small hutong restaurant is a hidden gem. Tucked down a narrow alley in a converted house, it serves home-cooked treats from southwest Yunnan province. The small wooden-floor restaurant opens out onto a delightful tree-filled patio bordered by an Imperial-style concrete wall. It's a particularly romantic setting on summer evenings. The set menu changes daily and features a range of Yunnanese specialties, including a sweetly spicy dish of fried dark mushrooms, chicken with red peppers, and a mixed green salad with cucumber and strawberries. The combination of rich rustic flavors and back-lane setting creates one of Beijing's most atmospheric dining experiences.
Open daily from 11 am to 9 pm.
Yuanjia International Apartments, 2nd floor
14 Dongzhong Jie
Tel: 86 10 6417 9289
Hot pot is a must in Beijing, even in summer (what else are industrial-strength air conditioners for?). And there's no better place to try it than this restaurant, with its swinging '60s decor and white pleather banquettes. The individual hot pots here are do-it-yourself affairs: You're served paper-thin slices of beef or lamb, which you simmer in a bubbling vat of broth and then swirl in a rich sesame sauce. An assortment of vegetables and delectable sesame-encrusted shao bing buns round out a meal that's hot, steamy, and raucous—just the way Beijingers like it. No reservations.
1 East Chang An Avenue
Tel: 86 10 8518 1234
Northern China's rough-and-ready flavors are the focus at this restaurant in the Grand Hyatt hotel. The red-and-black dining room feels very "new Beijing"—modern, moneyed, slightly showy—and has a bustling open kitchen where chefs whisk Peking ducks in and out of a wood-burning oven. The roasted birds are the showstoppers here; try the succulent meat rolled into delicate pancakes. Other favorites include delicate pork-and-leek dumplings, and sautéed beef tenderloin with green chiles. Be sure to book in advance—and reserve your Peking duck at the same time (it can take almost two hours to cook).
24 Daxiangfeng Hutong
Tel: 86 10 6612 6847
Step into 1930s elegance at this impeccably restored courtyard restaurant, inspired by the great Peking opera star Mei Lanfang (a man who specialized in women's roles). The entire sensory experience here is dramatic: The series of rooms is filled with antique furniture and opera memorabilia, including one of Mei Lanfang's dramatic hand-embroidered costumes; the service is dignified and attentive; and the high, swaying notes of Peking opera (recordings of the master's great performances) drift through the dining areas. In fact, the only part of dining here that you may find less than completely dazzling is the prix fixe menu; it features the light, low-salt cuisine developed by Mei Lanfang in order to maintain his girlish figure. The flavors of dishes like shrimp with water chestnuts, steamed fish, and stir-fried celery and lily root are, therefore, very subtle—not quite as rich as the rest of the experience here. Reservations are recommended.
Tongguang Building, Zhongguo Wenlianyuan
12 Nongzhanguan Road
Tel: 86 10 6592 3627
Entering Pure Lotus is like stumbling into a pleasantly surreal dream world. The nondescript parking lot entrance is disconcerting until smiling robed guides lead you to the back door. Once inside, the subtly lit dining room blends the mysticism of a Tibetan monastery with the lemongrass scent and lilac-and-grass-green aesthetics of a deluxe spa. It's enigmatically beautiful, and the inventively presented gourmet vegetarian cuisine reaches the same high standard as the decor. Menu picks include organic mushroom dumplings that melt in the mouth and sautéd lotus Artemisia with mushrooms, which is pure veggie nirvana. A kitschy soundtrack of monks chanting covers of Losing My Religion and Tears in Heaven adds an extra sense of levity.
Open daily from 11 am to 10:30 pm.
3/F Park Life Tower
2 Jianguomenwai Avenue
Tel: 86 10 8517 2033
Garrulous Irishman Brian McKenna cut his culinary teeth with Gordon Ramsay and is now cooking up his own brand of contemporary cuisine. After a molecular-infused stint across town at Blu Lobster, McKenna opened the whimsical 150-seat Room Beijing, featuring art exhibits, a bright-pink library, a resident DJ, and visiting wine experts. The menu spans myriad Euro-Asian influences, ranging from sweet-and-sour pig cheeks with rice noodles to a 42-ingredient salad and pot-roasted black cod with spicy coconut milk. Most dishes are served in small, medium, or large portions, accommodating both family-style sharing and individual dining.—Gary Bowerman
Open Sundays through Wednesdays 11 am to 1:30 am, Thursdays through Saturdays 11 am to 1:30 am.
5 Jianguomen Gongyuan Toutiao
Tel: 86 10 6512 2277
Packed with red-faced patrons eating lip-tingling fare, this restaurant—which is indeed operated by the Sichuan provincial government and staffed solely by Sichuan locals—is worth seeking out. The decor—if fluorescent lights and linoleum floors can be considered decor—may scream "state-owned," but the kitchen's skillful blend of chile peppers and numbing Sichuan peppercorns makes for some unforgettably spicy meals. Among the best dishes are shuizhuyu—filleted grass carp delicately poached in fragrant oil—and dandan mian, slender noodles tossed with chili oil and ground pork. If your heat tolerance is low, go for the yuxiang rousi: strips of pork in a sweet, savory, only slightly spicy sauce.
18A Dafosi Dongjie
Tel: 86 10 6400 8941
Owned by Buddhists, this brightly lit, sparklingly clean restaurant serves flavorful dishes, all made without meat, onions, garlic, or leeks (the last three are considered stimulants in Buddhist culture, and not very conducive to "still thoughts"). Mock meats like shredded "pork" in a rich, savory sauce, Beijing roast "duck," tangy lemon "chicken," are especially delicious—and guilt-free.
23A Jinrong Jie Beijing (Financial Street)
Tel: 86 10 8808 8828
Having wowed diners with his "New Shanghainese" cuisine at Three on the Bund, chef Jereme Leung has expanded his Chinese fine-dining concept to the capital. The sumptuous dining room, dressed in royal blue and black, with polished wood floors and a silvery-sky ceiling, occupies a beautifully redesigned siheyuan courtyard home, surrounded by the glassy sky towers of Beijing's new Financial District, west of Tiananmen Square. Leung is adding a contemporary élan to traditional Beijing dishes, with exotic reworkings such as crispy duck with five-spiced goose liver mousse, and fresh mango and jellyfish salad marinated in sweet vinegar. There are several private rooms for tête-à-tête dining and a spacious courtyard terrace. An impeccably dressed black-themed lounge bar on the upper floor perfectly crosses new Beijing chic with esoteric clubbiness.
Open daily from 11 am to 10:30 pm.