Beijing's Best New Chinese Restaurants / by Thomas O'Malley

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Eaters! The 5th edition of the Fodor’s Guide To Beijing has now hit the shelves. I donned bib and chopsticks to update the Restaurants and Hotels sections, culling the old or unworthy and adding a slew of the new and overlooked. Here's a selection of Beijing's best new (or newly included) Chinese restaurants lifted directly from the book, for your perusing pleasure.

DEYUAN ROAST DUCK, 57 DASHILAN XIJIE

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This unsung Peking duck restaurant deserves a wider following. A typically lively dining room packs in locals for its traditional take on the capital’s signature quacker, which is roasted over fruit wood, carved tableside, and sold at a price that ought to make the bigger restaurants like Quanjude and Bianyifang blush. Beijing’s ruling triumvirate of traditional meat (mutton, duck, donkey) comes in many tasty forms here, and there are a wealth of appealing stir-fries and dry pot dishes that use beef, bacon, shrimp, tofu, and country vegetables. Only about a decade old and with no “time-honored” status to fall back on, Deyuan simply cooks great food at great prices.

HANI GEJU, 48 ZHONGLOUWAN HUTONG

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A stone’s throw from the Bell Tower, this cozy Yunnan restaurant boasts a trimmed down menu of southwest Chinese fare, such as authentic Bai-minority goat cheese with bacon (smoked in-house), fluffy-centered potato balls with an addictively crisp coating, zingy mint salads, and delicate rice noodle dishes. The emphasis here is on organic sourcing, moderate seasoning, and no MSG. Innovative taster platters at lunchtime means you can sample their best dishes in mini, single-serving portions. After your meal, take a stroll through the surrounding warren of hutong alleyways, some of the most atmospheric in the city.

KING'S JOY, 2 WUDAOYING HUTONG

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The chefs at this elegantly upscale vegetarian restaurant enact miracles with tofu, mushroom, and wheat gluten. Try the sweet and sour “ribs” made from lotus root, then the rich and earthy basil-braised eggplant, and finish with glutinous rice tarts (ai wo wo) filled with sweet red bean paste and crunchy walnuts. The building, designed to resemble Beijing's traditional quadrangle courtyards (siheyuan), is enhanced by views of the Lama Temple across the street, as well as the crisp white tablecloths, fresh orchids, and harp performances inside.

KYLIN PRIVATE KITCHEN, 6 QILIN BEI HUTONG

The sky-lit, plant-strewn interior of this small hidden gem is a pleasant spot to linger over the excellent contemporary Chinese food, which often blends various styles and techniques. A highlight of the compact menu is the zhiguo (“paper pot”) dishes, featuring fragrant shrimp or green beans served in a Japanese-style paper pot over a flame. Most diners order the zijiangyu, an aromatic fish stew cooked with chillis, purple ginger and fresh Sichuan peppercorns: choose from three types of fish and three levels of spiciness. The restaurant is in a narrow alley that once housed Imperial midwives during the Ming Dynasty.

SIJI MINFU, 32 DENGSHIKOU XIJIE

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Here’s a rare thing: a local restaurant chain that insists on seasonality and says no to MSG. Folks line up out the door for the Peking duck, expertly roasted so that the skin shatters while the flesh remains unctuously tender. Also popular is the zhajiang main, Beijing’s austere signature dish of chewy wheat noodles topped with a rich meat sauce and crunchy vegetable accompaniments. A traditional dessert platter includes wandouhuang, a dense, sweet cake made from white peas, and ludagun (literally "rolling donkey"), a sticky rice cake so named because its dusting of soybean flour resembles a donkey that has rolled on the ground.

PRIVATE KITCHEN NO. 44, 70 DENSHENGMEN NEI DAJIE

"Farm to table" is the creed at this peaceful Guizhou-style restaurant west of Houhai Lake. Dishes like braised pork ribs and sticky rice wrapped in bamboo, stir-fried "country-style" vegetables rich with the sour-sharp tang of fermented bamboo, and even the house-made ice cream all use ingredients from the owner's own farms and small holdings on the outskirts of the city. Beyond an admirable commitment to sourcing, it's the little touches that make this eatery shine, such as complimentary tastings of homemade rice-wine tasters infused with rose petals and organic honey.

JING YAA TANG, 11 SANLITUN LU

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In the belly of the Opposite House hotel, this high-end Peking duck restaurant gently guides laowai (foreigners) through the crowd-pleasing hits of Chinese cuisine. A glassed-in kitchen, raised above the main dining room like a stage, reveals chefs slinging bronzed birds out of a blazing brick oven. The molasses-skinned duck is some of the best in town, and the accompaniments, like molecule-thin pancakes and a rich sauce infused with dates, completes a classy package. Accompanying dishes read like a roll call of Chinese family favorites, from mildly spiced kung pao chicken to Cantonese clay-pot fish, though the Taiwanese-style “three-cup” cod with basil ought to wow even the more seasoned palates. Save room for the delectable dan ta—Macau-style mini custard tarts.