It’s a common scenario: Your parents are coming to visit and their dining preferences are unadventurous, to say the least. So where on earth do you take them? Having entertained many guests over the years, we’ve put together a guide to non-adventurous hutong dining for the parental units. Don’t worry, we did include a few more exciting options because you have to challenge them a little!
The first day (or the unadventurous)
Mr. Shi’s Dumplings and standard foreigner-friendly fare served in a clean environment are made even more accessible by the English menus and foreigner-focused staff. Their branches throughout the city also make for a good option for those parents daring enough to wander the mean streets of Beijing by themselves while you’re at work.
Xian Lao Man
Another great place to send or take your parents for its wide-ranging menu (that is also available in English but may be slightly intimidating for its small writing and extensive options). While the staff here don’t speak English and are in fact often quite surely given that their average age is around 15 years old, the food is very good and very foreigner-friendly If worst comes to worst, there are always others foreigners around that can help you order. Expect a short queue during peak lunch and dinner times.
This trendy Hunan eatery spans two floors and offers a great introduction to regional dining for parents. The English, picture-heavy menu, clean surroundings, and occasionally English-capable staff make for a good bet for people who are new to China or are still working through that initial culture shock. Given that they serve Hunan cuisine, expect the dishes to be spicy but not too spicy.
After the first day (or for the slightly more adventurous)
Spring Trees (Andingmen location)
Spring Trees presents a clean eating environment for the slightly more adventurous (it even has tablecloths!), but the menu is a little less attuned to foreign tastebuds, providing a more authentic spin on Sichuan cuisine. That being said, the food here is not overly spicy and chili can be avoided altogether depending on what you order. However, we do recommend the mapo doufu, of course, and the dandan noodles. The staff here are also notably some of the friendliest we’ve encountered in Beijing.
Jindingxuan (Ditan location)
For a taste of Southern Chinese food, we recommend the infamous 24-hour, bustling four floors of Jindingxuan. While very clean and easily accessible because of its English picture menus, the queuing outside and the raucous atmosphere indoors might be a turn-off for someone who has only been in China for a day. Still, Jindingxuan provides an unmatched experience for anyone wanting to eat cheap dim sum coupled with the excitement that comes from true mayhemic Chinese hospitality. Bonus: throw your parents into the deep end with an order of chicken feet.
Baron Rozi (Dongsishitiao location)
Slightly outside of the hutongs, near Dongsishitiao, is Baron Rozi Xinjiang Cuisine, one of the city’s newer Xinjiang restaurants. Try the dapanji (pictured above) and of course, a great rendition of the city’s ubiquitous lamb chuan’r. The Uyghur entertainment of dancing and music makes Baron Rozi the perfect place to bring visitors, and the palatial surroundings don’t hurt when you’ve got fussy parents in tow.
The last night (or for the adventurous)
A Sichuan mainstay for those of us living in or frequenting the Andingmen area, Zhang Mama can be a bit of an attack on the senses with lots of smells, tastes, and general over-stimulation (think screaming). Expect a long queue and no English menu, but the restaurant will give your parents a good introduction to Sichuan cuisine if they’re not fortunate enough to be traveling south.
Lamb spine hot pot
Offering exactly what the name suggests, lamb spine hot pot is really tasty and if your parents can get over the initial “wait, what?” it is worth taking them to. There’s one over on 21 Cheniandian Hutong, or if you’re in the Wangfujing area try 101 Baofang Hutong.
“Baby poo dumplings”
Located opposite the branch of Mr. Shi’s Dumplings on Cheniandian Hutong, this restaurant actually serves up superior dumplings than Mr. Shi’s. The catch? The staff definitely don’t speak English and you’ll have to navigate a Chinglish menu, and most “interesting” of all, multiple the Beijinger staffers have seen the owners’ baby do a number one or a number two in the restaurant at some point in time. Is the risk worth delicious dumplings at much lower prices than Mr. Shi’s? That’s your call.
Photos: Dianping, Margaux Schreurs