A jianbing stand
Jianbing (fried pancakes) and hot soy milk is the most popular grab-and-go breakfast in Beijing. They’re almost exclusively sold by food trolleys near metro stations and disappear before 9 a.m. You can spot them by the pizza-size pancake hot plate and aluminum soy milk samovar. Da Hua Jianbing, inside a grocery shop and mapped below, is notable for its double-egg-bacon-and-cheese version and opens at 6.
BTW: Vendors won’t speak English, but you can point to order. Typical options are an extra egg (jia dan), crunchy crackers (baocui), cilantro (xiangcai) and hot sauce (jia la). Choose the dark brown pancake mix for the wholemeal deluxe version.
21 Beijianzi Alley, Beijing, China
There Will Be Bread
Run by a female travel writer, this tiny local cafe is nerdy about its bread and pastries. Some people stay here for hours to wait for fresh-out-of-the-oven pretzel balls and cinnamon rolls. The cafe is also a meeting place for local creatives; if you’re lucky, you will be serenaded by a customer-organized brass band.
BTW: They don’t sell sandwiches, but people do buy hams from the butcher next door to make their own.
55-5i Xingfucun Middle Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
For security reasons as well as for elegance, the buildings around Tiananmen Square have a height restriction. This makes the rooftop Muji Diner a rare place to take in the view over an affordable, healthy lunch. There are plenty of vegetarian options at this diner, which sits atop China’s first Muji Hotel (a foray into lodging for the minimalist housewares brand founded in 1980). The accommodation can only be booked through their website and is in extremely high demand.
BTW: Try the deep-fried lotus root balls, which are stuffed with shrimp.
4F, MUJI Hotel, Meishi Road, Xicheng District, Beijing, China
Qing Yi Cao Yuan
A meat lover’s heaven. Mongolian hot pot arrived in Beijing with Kublai Khan’s army and has remained a local favorite for more than 800 years. This Mongolian hot-pot joint is not near any tourist spot, and is almost deliberately not Instagrammable, but it might just be the best place to dip hand-cut mutton into a bubbling clear broth. There is no English menu, so you’ll need a translation app handy.
BTW: If you’re short on time, order their signature mutton noodle (Yangrou Cuanmian). Their noodles are handmade and their chile sauce is fresh-sizzled.
G22, Shunmai Jinzuan International Business Center, Bakeyang West St, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China
Lao Chuan Ban
As Sichuan cuisine wins over foodies across the world, in China, it has firmly settled in as the most popular eat-out choice. One explanation: The numbing peppercorns it’s famous for trigger your brain to release joy juice (endorphins), so office workers enjoy a brief respite from their PowerPoint problems over mapo tofu. If you are not visiting Sichuan on your China trip, you must visit this old Chuan Ban restaurant on the ground floor of the province’s liaison office in the Jianguomen area. Be prepared to queue unless you arrive before 6 p.m. This is the gold standard in town for good ol’ spicy food.
BTW: Check out Fuchsia Dunlop’s “The Food of Sichuan” from your local library and note everything you want to try before coming here.
Sichuan Provincial Government Restaurant, Gongyuan 1st Alley, Chaoyangmen, Dongcheng, Beijing, China
Da Dong Roast Duck
Confucius says: When in Peking, eat duck. In less than 10 years, Da Dong has unseated numerous grandes dames of the roast-duck houses to become the go-to place for Peking duck (the rumor is that the ducks nowadays are actually of British import). On last count, there are more than a dozen Da Dong locations in town. The Nanxincang branch’s is between Dongsi and Sanlitun, and probably more convenient for people using this guide. Reserve ahead.
BTW: To be a purist, your first bite should be just a piece of duck skin tossed in the sugar dish provided. For the full experience, close your eyes as it nears your mouth.
1-2F Nanxincang Commercial Building, 22 Dongsi Shitiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China
Jin Ding Xuan
Chinese people tend to have dinner at 6 p.m. so it’s not easy to eat after 9. Jin Ding Xuan is open 24/7 and serves food from all regions of China but is known for its cheerful Cantonese dim sum at a great bargain. It occupies three floors and has a traditional lanterned Chinese facade. Expect to meet young people, especially getting a bite after clubbing or after having watched European soccer matches on TV.
BTW: Order a suanmei tang, or sour plum drink, with your food. It is the Beijing way.
77 Hepingli West Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China
Yan whiskey bar
Yan is the name for old Beijing — and this speakeasy, to the south of Tiananmen Square in a renovated courtyard. It’s meticulously designed, impeccably stocked and known by very few people, including the neighbors. The owners built it as a private members-only club but changed their mind. Although the setting is Chinese, the drinks are Scottish-American and the service is, some would say, Japanese-style (that is to say discreet, knowledgeable and proud). The staff speak English.
BTW: You will probably recognize the number “2” on their otherwise illuminated Chinese door sign. Ring the bell before 2 a.m. and wait to be let in. They don’t have a cocktail menu. Describe what you want, and they will make it.
2 Yanjia Hutong, Xicheng District, Beijing, China