2,000 City Weekend Beijing readers voted for their favorite Beijing restaurants. These are YOUR winners.
By Juliana Loh and Manuela Zoninsein
MOST CREATIVE: Tao
This chic Mediterranean bistro updates its menu weekly, working with fresh seasonal ingredients that fire the chef’s creative juices. The sharp black-and-white décor perfectly compliments Tao’s cutting-edge flavors. BEI and Blu Lobster took a backseat in this competition, but given the tight economic environment, it makes sense that people would look toward Tao’s resourcefulness for inspiration.
BEST CANTONESE / DIM SUM: Din Tai Feng
Twenty years after the The New York Times rated it among the 10 best restaurants in the world, Din Tai Feng continues to lure hungry diners with its melt-in-your-mouth xiaolongbao soup dumplings. While the chain continues to expand its global reach, in Beijing, it holds down this number-one spot for the third year in a row.
BEST CHINESE: South Beauty
Attracting nearly a third of your votes, South Beauty emerged the decisive winner in this category. Given that our capital city isn’t lacking in choices for Chinese cuisine, it’s clear that this local chain’s stellar service and delectable Sichuan flavors have conquered the hearts and taste buds of locals and laowais alike. It seems, you just can’t get enough of South’s succulent giant prawns.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT: Mosto
From Alameda to Salt to Mosto, Beijing’s Latin flavors consistenly win top marks from readers. In 2008, SALT took home Best New Restaurant at our Readers’ Choice Awards. This year, Mosto’s contemporary Mediterranean-European menu, peppered with Chef Daniel Urdañeta’s Venezuelan fuego, dominated the New Restaurant category (no doubt thanks to its juicy beef tenderloin)—even outperforming restaurants with Michelin-starred big wigs at the helm.
MOST ROMANTIC: The Courtyard
Long before he spearheaded Ch’ienmen 23 and Shanghai’s Three on the Bund, China’s King of High Culture, Handel Lee, created The Courtyard. Reputed as one of Beijing’s top upscale fusion restaurants and lauded for its extensive wine list, The Courtyard continues to reign today—as a romantic respite. Seats along the Forbidden City moat provide unparalleled views of the former imperial domain, something newer eateries simply can’t compete with. (China Grill, eat your heart out.) As far as fusion cooking is concerned, it’s more yin-and-yang than East-meets-West: dishes are either Chinese or foreign, never truly integrating. The Courtyard easily won the hearts of our readers—perhaps due to its noble heritage, or perhaps because this is the spot where so many of our readers have won another’s heart. Guests may have to fork over a princely sum for such regal treatment, but then your date will know you can afford to live like a king.
BEST VALUE: Alameda
Let’s face it, when times were good, we all got used to living luxuriously. Fortunately, at Alameda we can still afford to. Its lunch is a majestic mouthful of Brazilian flavors, ringing in at just ¥60 for two courses. As CW user Rachels puts it, “The Lunch Rapido satisfies both the budget-conscious diner and the lover of haute cuisine.” Here, you don’t have to choose between tasty and thrifty.
BEST PIZZA: The Tree
This comforting tavern, known for home-baked, wood-fired pizzas, has sunk its roots deep into Beijing, dominating the Best Pizza category for its third year in a row. Casually decorated like a Belgian inn, The Tree is a favorite among boisterous groups and loners alike. The fruit-flavored Belgian ales are perfect for washing down The Tree’s classic pepperoni pie.
BEST FRENCH: Maison Boulud
This sublime restaurant has been making waves in Beijing’s five-star dining scene since it opened last August. As Daniel Boulud’s first foray into the Far East, the proof is in the pudding that the renowned two-star Michelin chef triumphs in all corners of the world. Boulud is committed to the Beijing namesake and makes regular visits to inject new inspiration and culinary alchemy into the menu. Per your votes, Maison Boulud knocked Le Petit Gourmand off last year’s pedestal and Jaan followed not too far behind. Given the breadth of restaurants serving quality French cuisine in Beijing—from casual bistros and brasseries to sophisticated fine dining establishments—this coup d’état underscores our readers’ preference for high-end gastronomy. Economic crisis be damned: Beijing diners like it haute.
BEST ITALIAN: Ristorante Sadler
Beijing may love Italian food, but there are only a few stellar Italian eateries, so in this category, readers knew their favorites, and competition was fierce. Ultimately, the namesake of two-star Michelin chef, Claudio Sadler, squeezed by with a single vote to triumph over La Dolce Vita. “Great place to dine,” is how user Emiaglaia sums it up. Perhaps it’s due to the equal parts tender-yet-toasty veal Milanese. Sadler hails from Milan, after all.
BEST AMERICAN: All-Star Sports Bar and Grill
No surprise that the city’s best burgers, according to our survey, are served at the capital’s best American restaurant (though we do reject the notion that American food can be summed up by meat patties alone). One CW user, Blade, was overcome with nostalgia: “The food is so authentically American that it truly hits the spot.”
BEST KOREAN: Gaon
The large Korean expat community living in Beijing gave big-ups to Gaon in this new category. Arranged according to a minimalist design, Gaon’s sensational organic-only dishes (like the divine abalone with pork and the melt-in-your-mouth stewed beef) are hearty and flavorful. The low-key décor lets the Korean cuisine take the spotlight.
BEST MEXICAN / TEX-MEX: Saddle Cantina
Always packed on the weekends, Saddle Cantina probably didn’t need a poll to know it was our readers’ favorite. Saddle’s rooftop patio is always packed with night-time fiestas thanks to tasty Tex-Mex and margaritas so potent that they deserve a warning label.
BEST JAPANESE: Hatsune Just as Phelps swam to repeat gold medals last summer, Hatsune and its creative California-style Japanese cuisine have swallowed this category, winning the title for three years running. CW user Michael points to “the interesting variety and texture,” raving about the “best rolls in town,” among which the “Moto Roll Ah” and “Una Ten” are highly recommended. A new outlet just opened in The Village means Alan Wong’s masterpieces are even more convenient.
BEST INDIAN: Ganges
This Indian eatery made a name for itself in Beijing by serving up a menu of authentic flavors at modest prices amidst colorful, Bollywood-themed décor. Caffeinated, a regular commenter on our website, sums it up well: “Delicious Indian cuisine, from the curries to the garlic naan. The price is reasonable and the staff are ultra friendly.”
CHEF OF THE YEAR: Jordi Valles of Agua
Hailing from Barcelona, this Catalán took the top spot with nearly 40 percent of all votes. Chef Jordi’s dishes are impeccably executed, and he makes a genuine effort to meet and greet guests. He gladly gives recommendations and tweaks dishes to suit different palates. If his food doesn’t charm you, he certainly will.
BEST MIDDLE EASTERN: 1,001 Nights
Last year’s runner up, 1,001 Nights knocked Rumi into second this year, heating up a Gongti Beilu feud that has no end in sight. The regular clientele of Middle Eastern expats delights in the nightly belly dancing performances, a fair accompaniment to the fantastic food. Lamb and chicken kebabs are top picks, along with the city’s one-of-a-kind spicy pita bread.
BEST BURGER: All-Star Sports Bar and Grill
Burger joints have been popping up like Major League Baseball steroid allegations this past year, and the newly competitive landscape has forced meat patty purveyors to bring out their A-game. The debate over best burger continues to sizzle, but for this round, more than a quarter of the voters gave All-Star Sports Bar and Grill a decisive nod. Something about the American joint’s 65 plasma screens, stellar sound system and sports video games might add to the appeal, though we’ve been told by native Californian friends that this sports fan oasis serves the next best thing to In-N-Out’s revered classic. What is certain, despite the hemming and hawing, is that scarfing down a burger during the wee morning hours after clubbing is as American as apple pie.
BEST BUFFET: Matsuko
This unexpected win suggests that readers are seeking true value for their money by hitting the all-you-can-eat buffet tables. Last year’s winner, Guantanamera, closed late last year, leaving Matsuko to rake in the votes. In addition to the Japanese favorites, unlimited Asahi beer or soft drinks and the free plate of sashimi keep the customers spinning through the doors.
BEST WI-FI: The Bookworm
For three straight years, The Bookworm has dominated this one. Sure, lots of places have great Wi-Fi, but only at the Bookworm can you pen your next novel, term paper or blog post in the company of two dozen other mobile nomads. Powerful Wi-Fi, an incredible authors series and jam-packed quiz nights make this the perfect spot for the information generation.
BEST STEAK: Chef Too
As last year’s Best American winner, Chef Too continues to garner accolades for its steak, burgers and brunches. This time, the Chaoyang restaurant’s simple take on quality meat has risen above the rest of the menu. Always one of the most buzzed eateries, Chef Too’s online reviews are adoring and effusive. Says Gmilam: “I’m thankful for Chef Billy and his greatness.”
BEST SUNDAY BRUNCH: Senses at The Westin Financial Street
Last year’s champ does it again, raking in a quarter of reader votes. Formerly named the Bubbly brunch, Senses recently received a gourmet reboot with the introduction of its inspiRED brunch, an even larger buffet with Champagnes, fine wines and incredibly innovative food stations. Among its divinely decadent cakes, pastries and candies, the giant strawberry mille feuille left us speechless. User Fenners88 sums it up: “This is a wonderland of culinary delights.”
BEST FAMILY RESTAURANT: Blue Frog
Two Shanghai upstarts—Blue Frog and Element Fresh—nabbed top spots for family-style service, leaving last year’s winner, Annie’s, in the dust. Blue Frog, with less than one year in the capital, is a newcomer that consistently bowls the parents over. The chain boasts two branches in Beijing—one in Sanlitun and a second in Europlaza out in Shunyi—though the latter focuses more on American classics and offers twice the burger choices of the former. We’re guessing the kid’s playroom in Shunyi, along with an outstanding brownie rendition, doesn’t hurt parents’ preferences—especially if this allows them to eat their salads and Tex-Mex specialties in peace. We’re still scratching our heads, however, as to how Shanghai’s cut-throat culture produced such kid-friendly chains. Maybe the daily buy-one-get-one-free happy hour quiets dad’s nerves?
BEST THAI: Purple Haze
Whether this Thai classic serves the best Thai food in town or the owners are slipping addictive narcotics into the curry has yet to be explained. But one thing is for sure: Beijing’s foodies can’t get enough. Purple Haze has swept this category three years in a row. For user Pulpo, the reason is simple: “Purple Haze serves the best Thai food in town! The papaya salad, the tom yam kung and the curries are … just like in Thailand. The food is always fresh, tasty and consistent in quality.” Still not ready to believe in Purple Haze’s spicy voodoo? You need to taste the tangy Thai orange chicken. In a recent Dish column, City Weekend dining columnist Emma Starks investigated where Beijing’s top chefs eat. We were little surprised when Readers’ Choice for Chef of the Year, Agua restaurant’s Jordi Valles, put Purple Haze atop his favorites list.
BEST HOT POT: Little Sheep
Move over, Haidilao, you’ve been ousted by the unstoppable chain Little Sheep, which took home top honors with nearly a third of readers’ votes. Boasting 18 chains on our website alone, this hot pot spot is winning fans across the capital (and the planet) with loads of flavorful meat at modest prices that others simply can’t match.
BEST SERVICE: Agua
CW site user Intensebreeze writes, “The staff here treats you as someone very special.” Pulpo agrees, recounting, “The staff gave us a warm welcome when we got off the taxi and accompanied us to the restaurant on the second floor.” Seems nearly everyone who voted had a similar experience: Agua came out on top with a convincing 339 votes.
BEST WINE SELECTION: Domus
Sleek and minimal, Domus ousted long-time wine heavyweight Aria from the top spot, attracting a quarter of your votes. This world-class watering hole is testimony to the massive makeover Beijing underwent preparing for the Olympics. Minotti furniture, understated lighting and tasty tapas bites: everything, including the wine list, is confident and classy here.
BEST BEIJING DUCK: Da Dong
For the second year in a row, Da Dong takes home the title, which could have something to do with its claim to be lower in calories than the competitors. (Though the succulent bird meat left skeptics of more than just a few of us.) The restaurant’s newest branch in the Nanxincang complex, especially its second floor, comes heaped with praise for décor and ambience. What has changed since we collected votes in 2008 is that readers were more willing to venture out and taste newcomers like Duck de Chine and Made in China. Old-timer Quan Ju De also made a come-back. Last year Da Dong took home a whopping 40 percent of the popular vote. This year, they squeaked by with 23.7 percent. Regardless, the double-D remains synonymous with Beijing kaoya.
RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR: AGUA
“Finally, a restaurant where everything fits together: the food, service, ambiance, tablewear and value for money,” writes user Pablo, and other voters agreed, helping Agua rise above the competition. This new kid on the block is helmed by award-winning Spaniard, Chef Jordi Valles, who can’t produce his famous torrija dessert fast enough to sate the sweet-toothed romantics who come for “dinner in beautiful surroundings.” With a new terrace open, Agua is sure to be this summer’s hot spot.