Cheap eats: Gulou and Dongsi

Beijing's top chefs and restauranteurs share their favourite cheap eats

Chilli crab
Beijing's top chefs and restauranteurs share their favourite cheap eats in the Gulou and Dongsi area.

Gulou

Yaoji Chaogan

Critics' pick

Yuan Yuan, co-owner of Mercante, says: 'Yaoji Chaogan offers a wide range of old Beijing snacks, from breakfast until dinner. The food is of a consistently high quality and the service is fast – it’s the perfect neighbourhood spot for a quick break during the workday.'

Order this 'I like the small bowl of cold zhajiang mian (炸酱面; 12RMB); noodles served with a tasty thick sauce made from stir-fried ground pork and fermented soya bean paste. Other favourites of mine are the spring rolls (chunjuan, 春卷; 10RMB). The traditional chaogan (炒肝; large bowl 9RMB), a fried liver soup that the restaurant is named after, is also very good. My favourite dessert is the cup of delicate and light almond flavoured tofu (zi zhi xingren doufu, 自制杏仁豆腐; 8RMB).'

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311 Gulou Dong Dajie (Miyun county)

Pangmei Mianzhuang

This tiny joint on Xiang'er Hutong is normally overflowing with bustling business, and once you've sampled the Chongqing xiaomian, it's easy to see why. The mouth-coating properties of the chilli oil and thick salty broth help every slurp of noodles deliver as much tingly heat as possible, and the result is an almost overwhelming combination of flavours. Some crunchy dried peas and a splash of vinegar cut through the deluge.

Order this Xiaomian (10-12RMB) is the classic, but if you prefer something less spicy then go for the wanzamian (15-17RMB), which ditches the bath of chilli oil in place of a hearty mound of minced pork and beef. Cool off with a cup of homemade mung bean puree (8RMB).

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6 Xiang'er Hutong (Miyun county)

Zhang Mama (Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie)

This superb Sichuan restaurant is a huge local favourite. Flavours are big and prices are low. Expect to wait for a table at busy times – once you've sat down you can kill  time with a boboji (3RMB) a big cauldron of oil in which you can dip 1RMB self-service skewers of everything from chicken gristle to crunchy lotus root.

Order this The sweet, soy-vinegar zhong shuijiao dumplings (8RMB) are a tasty appetiser, while brave types should dare to try the tear-inducing shangxin liangfen (7RMB), rice noodles topped with extremely potent diced peppers. The reward is a layered, sour-spicy smoulder hot enough to purge your body of sin.

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76 Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie (Nanluoguxiang, Dongcheng)

Dongsi

Dongsi Chilli Crab (东四香辣蟹)

Critics' pick

Ignace Lecleir, proprietor at TRB Hutong restaurant, says: 'The crab is delicious and fresh, but they also have a range of other dishes that are very satisfying. It’s a clean, down-to-earth dining spot for a meal at a very reasonable price. Hidden away in an alley, it can be a little difficult to find, but this makes the environment all the more charming and tranquil. The menu is only in Chinese.'

Order this 'Go for the chilli crab (xianglaxie, 香辣蟹; 78RMB per jin for medium crabs, 118RMB per jin for large) the Chongqing boiled fish (chongqing shuizhuyu, 重庆水煮鱼; 36RMB per jin), or the spicy shrimp (xiangla penpenxia, 香辣盆盆虾; 68RMB).'

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46 Doufu Xiang

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