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Beijing - China
Beijing offers a staggering supply of places to eat, drink and be merry, and the number only continues to grow. As capitol, the cosmopolitan flavors available should not be shocking except to those who remember the days when choices were limited to incredibly sumptuous Peking duck banquets or greasy attempts at Western cookery. How times have changed.
Chinese cuisine is a regional affair. Southwestern Sichuanese food is notoriously spicy, Cantonese food includes dishes familiar to the west but best known for unusual ingredients combined in absolutely inspirational fashion. Northern Chinese cuisine includes Mongolian hotpot and plenty of lamb. Beijing specialties include imperial delicacies (think Peking duck) but also the everyday cuisine of the lao bai xing or regular folks not connected to the court. North China eats more wheat than rice, as is reflected in the delicious and cheap snacks widely available. Breakfast items such as dou zhi with you tiao, or warm fermented meng bean milk (not unlike soy milk) with an unsweetened Chinese style doughnut, also make an excellent midnight snack. Steamed baozi and jiaozi are two kinds of meat or vegetable dumplings within a doughy wrap. Chinese style crepes with scallions, or you bing are also a popular, widely available, and cheap.
If you are ready for a different flavor, there is not shortage of international cuisine from any part of the globe, including a number of cozy Western comfort food stops of increasing quality. Just about every kind of food in Asia is available, as is a great variety of Russian staples.
You will find most of the city's restaurants in east and central Beijing, in the Chao Yang and Dong Cheng districts, respectively. Due to the wealth on offer, it is not possible to cover them all here. However, the places in the following areas are highly recommended.
Chao Yang District
Anything you want to eat is found here. For Chinese cuisine try Green T. House, with its devotion to taking the culinary history of China to a new level. Craving Peking roast duck? Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant, with its long standing popularity, will surly provide you with the experience you seek. Chinese dumplings reach their height at Bao Yuan Jiaozi Wu. What about Japanese? Try Hatsune with its plethora of fresh sashimi and delectable rolls. There is also Brasserie Flo, the famous French restaurant which is as close to Paris as you can get in Beijing. An evening at Lan will not soon be forgotten with its scrumptious cuisine and decadent decor. Vegetarians will be delighted by the Lotus in Moonlight. The ultra hip can cool down over a shaved ice desert at Bellagio. It has been unofficially agreed that a visit to Taj Pavillion is an integral part of a journey through Beijing. Although the selection of native beer in China may be on the light side, good selections of Belgian beers can be found at both Tree and Schiller's. The truly chic martini lounge Centro is a place to see and be seen as well as enjoy a chocolate martini with some live jazz.
Chao Yang Park
This once humble park is rapidly becoming one of the hippest spots for dining and drinking. Beijing's favorite Italian restaurant, Annie's, can also be found here. For new interpretations on Chinese classics give the cozy Andie Anniang a try. If you prefer to participate in sport via the barstool, check out the Goose ‘n' Duck Pub. French inspired authentic Vietnamese has found a home at Muse. If you would like to sample an imperial style meal, reserve a private room at Summer House. Their meals fit budgets from affordable to royal, and are truly a one of a kind experience. The evening destination Ultra-i not only has regular events but also an interesting drinks menu.
San Li Tun
The cozy cafe in The Bookworm, offers delicious dining and excellent atmosphere for conversataion. Down the street from there you will find the intimate Golden Elephant, which serves well-prepared Indian and Thai food. For something more sophisticated try the award winning Morel's where you can get some of the best Belgian food and beer in town. If you are looking for upscale Thai cuisine, try Purple Haze, the much talked about restaurant and bar that has received honorable mention from several different Beijing city guides. A late night pizza carving will meet its match at the Kro's Nest. Any place on San Li Tun Bar Street is good for a drink, but for those who want more ambience with their beer, Havana Cafe is alive with Cuban rhythms and beats. Q Bar, the bar sporting Beijing's best cocktails, can also be found here. With so much to choose from picking the perfect drink is a difficult task so don't limit yourself to one. A drinking tour through San Li Tun is best ended at Rickshaw, where it does not matter the hour, breakfast is served all day. If you seek a place to dance and drink, VICS by the Workers Stadium offers patrons space to do both. Speaking of space, long time Beijing nightspot Public Space is still going strong.
Jian Guo Men Wai & Ri Tan
From fast food to fine dining, this area has it all. Naturally, you will find the standard Pizza Hut, McDonald's and Starbucks franchises. For those who want more variety, Mexican Wave, an expat favorite, serves decent Tex-Mex. For Chinese food at affordable prices and in a romantic courtyard atmosphere, the Xi He Ya Ju Restaurant near Ri Tan Park is an excellent choice. Also located near the park is the fabulous Schindler's Tankstelle, a which serves delicious cold beers and tasty German food you won't get anywhere else. If you are craving wood-fired pizza, then Adria is the spot to head towards. Tradition and comfort are taken to new heights at Xiao Wang's, where classic Northern Chinese flavor dominates the menu.
Northeast Third Ring Road
This area is renowned for its plentiful restaurants. For those who crave Thai but are on a budget, the Asian Star is a good bet. You can also sample a variety of Chinese, Indian and Malaysian dishes here. For American food with hearty servings, the Hard Rock Cafe and T.G.I. Fridays are hard to beat. For something out of the ordinary try Whale Inside for a meal in the dark! The fabulous Zeta Bar is a fashionable stop, although a quick drop in can turn into a whole evening.
Dong Cheng District
With many different styles of restaurants from east to west, this part of town is yet another of Beijing's culinary treasures. For classic and delicious Chinese fare order yourself a hot pot at Ding Ding Xiang. Their sesame sauce will be hard to forget. Looking for a place to take a date? Head over to the famed CourtYard Restaurant, for exotic cuisine and romantic ambiance. Rain Club offers fresh cuisine straight from their own garden made to order while Waiting for Godot is a cafe and meeting ground only possible in Beijing. For dinner accompanied by Beijing style live theater head to East is Red for a musical supper. Within the twists and turns of the hutongs here, folks on foot often find themselves at Pass By Bar for either a meal or a drink. With an extended library of titles and a lovely courtyard, it is easy to see why.
Wang Fu Jing
Dining in Wang Fu Jing is akin to shopping here, with the high class selection, everything looks fabulous, but after awhile, it also begins to look the same. Several of the hotels have restaurants with excellent reputations and well known chefs. Jing in the Peninsula is just one example. If you are feeling adventurous, you are in for a treat at the Dong An Night Market, where traditional night market foods (i.e., fried or grilled and eaten off a kebab stick) are served up every night. This may be your best chance to try garlic fried scorpion, or indulge in chili covered grasshoppers with a chaser of roasted squid. Not feeling THAT adventurous? Then try the sweat pasty desert served from a dragon kettle.
Xi Dan & Xuan Wu
For Peking Duck, you cannot go wrong at any one of the Quan Ju De Roast Duck Restaurant branches in the city. But for sheer opulence, try the flagship branch on Qian Men Avenue. For a total tea experience accompanied by healthy organic food try out Geng Xiang Shi Fu. Jin Yang Restaurant offers a unique dining experience as the restaurant is over 100 years old, an elegant rarity in Beijing.
Xi Cheng and Hou Hai
Lotus Lane at the entrance to Hou Hai sports an ever changing make up of small restaurants and bars. Some of the music venues here are the best places to hear live music in Beijing. Within the immediate area are also some of Beijing's oldest and most reputed restaurants, such as Hong Bin Lou, at over 100 years old and serving traditional Hui cuisine, it is not to be missed. The Beijing opera star Mei Lan Fang used to live here, and his home is now the excellent Mei Mansion restaurant, serving imperial style cuisine. Zhejiang cuisine reaches inspirational levels at Kong Yi Ji. A dinner here may inspire you to rethink your travel plans and dip down to see the southern province that inspired the food. If you are looking for a more quiet location on your night out, try Taozhi Yaoyao for a special spot with a particularly traditional feeling. Another peaceful spot that is also quite social is found at Shui Bar. Guangfuguan Greenhouse was originally a Taoist temple complex. As a bar and music spot, it is especially wonderful on a warm summer evening.
Hai Dian District
To fit the student budget, there are many cheap "hole-in-the-wall" style establishments that serve some of the best Chinese food in town. Wu Dao Kou, known as Korea Town, has many small, authentic Korean restaurants catering to the large, Korean student population. If you want to eat like the locals and love Korean barbecue, Han Na Shan is an absolute must. For those seeking an exciting and non-traditionalist dining affair, a trip to Blu Lobster is in order. The cook's innovative style will have you eating combinations you have never tried before including hot rice with cold ice cream. Vegetarians can eat to their hearts content at Buddhist-run Still Thoughts. To try unique regional cuisine from Shandong head to Feng Ze Yuan Fanzhuang. For an extra treat reserve one of their 17 private rooms for a party. Old school and always open, Lush is a bar, a 24 hour restaurant, a music venue, and just about anything else you might want it to be, just as long as you ask. Part of the punk legend of Beijing, D-22 serves up plenty to drink.