The Chinese culinary scene is a beast, and its breadth and depth are difficult to fathom for outsiders. Over the centuries, each corner of the country developed its own creative dishes based on local ingredients, defining and refining long-held food and beverage traditions.

Beijing draws people from around the country, making the city a smorgasbord of China’s diverse delicacies. Come hungry, because there’s simply too many restaurants and dishes to enjoy in China’s capital city.

Sanlitun

Moka Bros $ — This health-conscious, trendy spot is a great place for freshly pressed juice, smoothies, and wildly creative salad bowls. The Sanlitun location has a huge, colorful wall mural and outside seating. If you want to spend more time seeing the SLT neighborhood, this cafe-style place is a good choice, thanks to fast service and simple dishes.

Location: Sanlitun North Street #81 Nali Patio 1st floor, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

M小买 $ — A cozy Japanese restaurant on the ground floor of the Sanlitun SOHO complex where all the dishes are delicious. While the portions are modest, the freshness and flavor shine through. You can find a bit of everything here, including sushi, rice bowls, noodles, and curry. It’s a popular spot for office workers, so the lunch hour is particularly busy. Go either before or after normal lunch hours for a more relaxed experience.

Location: Sanlitun SOHO complex at Gongren Tiyuchang (Worker’s Stadium) North Road #8, basement floor, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Fragrant Orchid Ramen 香兰拉面 $$ — Perfectly boiled soft-yolk eggs, pan-fried gyoza, and belly-warming pork broth ramen make this place a solid choice if ramen is your thing. The decor of minimalist furniture, track lighting, and a large hanging installation of garishly pink fabric flowers adds a bit of ambiance.

Location: Sanlitun South Road #1, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Biteapitta $ — This long-time expat favorite is known for fresh ingredients and great prices. The dishes are authentic Middle Eastern, and whatever you get, be sure to order the house-pickled vegetables. Located on the second floor above what used to be Sanlitun’s most raucous bar street, the venue has the feeling of a casual, neighborhood diner.

Location: Bldg 43 Sanlitun (2/F Tongli Studio (next to Cheers), Dōng zhí mén, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Home Plate BBQ $$ — This sprawling, smoke-infused barbecue joint specializes in dishes inspired by the Southern US and celebrates all that is delicious about long-smoked meat. The succulent brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, and barbecue chicken are all good. All the mains are complimented by a decent offering of sides, the most popular of which are sautéed collard greens. Come dine here if you find yourself in Sanlitun after a long day of touring and are craving a taste of home.

Location: 35 Xiaoyun Rd, SanYuan Qiao, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Tuanjiehu

Makye Ame Tibetan Dancing Restaurant $$ — Although it may be difficult for most foreigners to travel to Tibet, you can be transported to one of Earth’s most alluring places through its cuisine. Just opposite the north side of Tuanjiehu (“Reunion Pond”), Makye Ame Tibetan Dancing Restaurant offers something special. The decor features heavy use of golden yellow, intricate woodwork; copper prayer wheels; and stately furniture. Try classic Tibetan dishes like boiled mutton or cumin roasted ribs, and wash it down with savory, buttery yak milk tea. Admire the staff’s vibrantly colored clothing, brought straight from the province, as well as the regular dance performances.

Location: Baijiazhuang East No. 23, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Dashilar/Qianmen

Haidilao $$ — Eating here is just plain fun. The food is great and you feel happy when you leave. It opened in 1994 with a focus on the spicy cuisine of Sichuan province, and this hot pot chain now serves as an industry-loved treasure that sets the bar for service standards in restaurants. Upon entering, you’re greeted by multiple staff. Cross your fingers that you have to wait for a table, as that’s when you can take advantage of the free manicures, shoe shines, board games, and other inventive ways to make waiting fly by. Be sure to order the hand-pulled noodles, as they are delivered by a man who whips the strings around in midair before delivering them to the boiling pot in the middle of the table while fun techno music blares from a little speaker attached to his belt.

Location: Chongwenmen Outer Avenue #3 New World Shopping Center fifth floor, Beijing Shi, China

Suzuki Dining Hall $$ — Clean, minimalist Japanese fare served in a super stylish dining room, and the staff is friendly and quick. If it’s the weekend, making a reservation is advisable; this place is always hopping.

Location: Yangmeizhu Diagonal Street #10, Beijing Shi, China

Photo: Chubykin Arkady/Shutterstock

Li Qun Roast Duck $$ — Family owned and operated, this is one of the most interesting ways to enjoy the lauded delicacy of Peking duck. In operation for over two decades, the restaurant is still in its original location and is built into the converted hutong residence of founder Zhang Liqun. The Qing dynasty courtyard home is over 100 years old and can fit only 12 tables. It may not be as elegant as some other roast duck purveyors, but the homey feeling just adds to the atmosphere. And while many restaurants have given up on using the traditional method of roasting duck and switched to electric or gas, Liqun still burns wood to roast. The timber of jujube and apricot trees is thought to impart a special sweetness.

Location: 11 Beixiangfeng Hutong, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

Meeting Someone $$ — Western cuisine with an Eastern twist. Pause briefly in the mirrored infinity corridor, which serves as the Instagram-worthy entrance to this chic, multi-floored restaurant. This leads you to a small bar room where the staff can whip up a range of cocktails. Even if you’re not meeting someone, this is a cool spot for a nightcap after eating in the modest-sized dining area attached to the bar.

Location: Yangmeizhu Diagonal Street #99, Beijing Shi, China

798 District

Photo: Green Cow City Cafe/Facebook

Green Cow Cafe $ — The rare true farm-to-table restaurant in Beijing, Green Cow Cafe is known for its amazing brunch and bagels. Try the fresh toast or any egg dish, and take a couple of bagels to go. To further add to the restaurant’s healthy credentials, it operates a community supported agriculture program where fresh, organic vegetables from the farm are delivered to Beijingers. Even the bathroom is ecologically aware. Its location is a little tricky to find for the first time, as the venue is located behind a large metal door off of a crowded street.

Location: #13 JiuxianqiaoSanjiefang, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China Beijing 10016

Yi House $$ — Housed in a four-star contemporary hotel, Yi House’s Mediterranean-Asian fusion dishes offer something distinct. The menu has a variety of seafood offerings, including lobster, scallops, and many kinds of fish. The ambiance is classy, with gray walls, track lighting, and dark-colored furniture. The vibe is consistent through the spacious dining area, bar, and patio. Yi House is more suitable for couples or solo travelers, rather than families with kids.

Location: 2 Jiuxianqiao Rd, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Time Zone 8 $$ — Conveniently located directly opposite of the UCCA gallery (recognized as 798’s preeminent gallery), this spot does double time and offers two full menus: one Western, one Japanese. In operation for over 10 years — not an easy feat in Beijing’s dining scene — it takes pride in being the city’s sole “dual concept restaurant” with two separate kitchens, independent supply chains, menus, and chef teams.

Location: Jiuxianqiao Road #4 798 District, Chaoyang Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100096

Gulou

Photo: The Orchid Hotel/Facebook

Toast at The Orchid $$ — Set in a long-running hutong hotel, Toast offers small plates of Mediterranean fare. Like the hotel’s aesthetics, the space balances simplicity, comfort, and elegance. Portions are tapas-sized, and sharing is encouraged. The price point is reasonable given the nice decor, good location, and the richness of flavor. Staying true to MENA culinary traditions, the strongest dishes are often made with lamb. Be sure to also try the couscous and hummus.

Location: Gulou East Main Avenue Baochao Hutong #65, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100007

Dali Courtyard $$ — Located just off the main strip of the trendy Gulou neighborhood, this Yunnan restaurant is an oasis of calm. White walls, simple woodwork, and plants abound. The menu is vegetarian-friendly, and the dishes tend to be light — think steamed fish, rice, and vegetables in lotus leaves, and chilled tofu noodles.

Location: Xiaojingguang Hutong #67, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100007

Mr. Shi’s Dumplings $ — In operation since 2008, this casual spot makes mouth-watering dumplings. The traditionally round and boiled dumplings are popular, but also on offer are mini taco-style fried dumplings along with some other classic, basic Chinese dishes. The interior is kid friendly, with patrons invited to use color markers to draw on white walls.

Location: 74 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100007

Mercante $ — A popular and simple Italian restaurant tucked away in a hutong alley. The ambiance is casual and the space holds just eight small tables. The chef hails from northern Italy, and the pasta dishes are the most popular. The wine list (all from Italy) also gets high marks.

Location: 4 Fangzhuanchang Hutong, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China, 100007

Hepingli

Jindingxuan $ — The multi-floor, brightly lit, and ever welcoming Jingdingxuan offers a lively dining experience. This 24-hour chain restaurant is always bustling and its menus are the stuff of dreams — everything looks and is delicious. Jindingxuan prepares Cantonese food (from the Guangzhou province in the south, formerly known as Canton), so many of the dishes are steamed in bamboo baskets. Some portions are tapas-style, and others are heartier. It also has decent Chinese desserts, like black sesame paste soup and sweet egg yolk buns.

Location: 77 Hepingli Xijie, East District Beijing Shi, China, 100007

Beijing’s best street markets

Photo: LR-PHOTO/Shutterstock

Wangfujing Snack Street — A street with a long history (one of the oldest streets in Beijing, in fact), Wangfujing Snack Street is in Dongcheng District and attracts tourists and locals alike both day and night. The narrow street is lined with vendors hawking the familiar (like pineapple steamed rice, grilled squid, fruit on a stick, etc.) as well as snacks that are unfamiliar to Westerners (like scorpions and seahorses on a stick). In between the stalls selling desserts and blown sugar confections, you’ll find souvenir stands just in case you’re looking to take home something a little more permanent than a delicious food memory.

Niujie Mosque Snack Street — Head to Xicheng for a different type of street market than the ones you’ll find in the rest of the city. The Niujie Mosque Snack Street gets its name from the Niujie Mosque, which was built in 996 AD and is Beijing’s oldest mosque. This is your best place to plop down and enjoy a halal meal or swing by for a quick snack.

Photo: LR-PHOTO/Shutterstock

Beijing Old Station Food Street — Another street that’s packed with food stalls and people displaying their wares. The Beijing Old Station Food Street is in Xicheng District, and the focus here is, as the name implies, on all things food. You’ll find intriguing delicacies (such as scorpions skewered live, fried seahorses, and fried spiders) and comfortable dishes like chicken over rice and red beans. The prices of pretty much all of the food, both prepared and uncooked, are cheaper than what you’ll find in a supermarket, and the experience itself is far and away more interesting than strolling comparably predictable supermarket aisles.

Jingshen Seafood Market — This three-story market is everything a seafood lover could ask for: wholesale fresh seafood (fish, crab, shellfish, whatever you want) on the first floor, dried seafood on the second floor, and chefs on the third floor who can cook your recent purchase however you want it (Guangdong, Fujian, Dalian styles — the list goes on). It’s a working seafood market with people buying wholesale, so expect some hustle and bustle. Even those adverse to crowds should consider a visit, however, because there’s nothing else like it in Beijing.