Cheap eats

The ciy's tastiest, most inexpensive bites.
Cheap eats
 
published on 31 Jan 2012


Under 100RMB for two people

 
 
Here you’ll find deliciously doughy Shanxi noodles – we recommend the steamed oat rings with lamb broth. Yes, the noodles are machine-made, but the joint is clean and just a short march from the Forbidden City. If you want to go luxe, some of the pricier Shanxi spreads will impress.
English menu.
 
 
Based in a brand new building, this canteen is so good that it’s almost worth signing up to BLCU just so you’ve got an excuse to go there every day. Happily, it’s open to everyone, and serves great grilled lamb skewers. We’d also recommend any of its laghmian noodles; these and other Xinjiang-style dishes come side-saddled with bowls of specially-made yoghurt. As this place shows, students may have few funds but that doesn’t mean they have no taste.
 


Those looking for a Korean resto near the LG Twin Towers could do a lot worse than here, where great city views and a beautiful interior compliment the 48RMB beef and kimchi stew, which bubbles away furiously and tastes even better than it looks.Alternatively, try the other sets, all of which will fill both your table and your stomach at bargain prices.
English menu.
 
 
Take a break from the bustle of Maliandao Tea Market at this humble family restaurant, which specialises in recipes from the famous, tea-producing Wuyi Mountains of Fujian province, and uses fresh produce hand-carried to Beijing. The sun gan shao rou (22RMB) is a delicious bamboo and red-cooked pork concoction, and the yutou si (18RMB) – hot and sour taro slivers stir-fried with cinnamon leaves and a dash of vinegar – is truly authentic.
No English menu.
 
 
This family-run restaurant has been going for 13 years now, and with good reason. The menu offers different dishes from those of similar restaurants, plus you can bag an entire duck for just 88RMB. The indoor courtyard setting, with its warm fires, brings added comfort to a noisy old hutong.
English menu.
 
Sunrise Noodle Restaurant (日出拉面)
 
This Japanese-owned ramen house (known locally as rishi lamian, ‘the Japanese noodle shop’) has options of thick or thin noodles and extra portions on the side. The Japanese wooden ladle helps you get a good, long slurp of rich broth. Creamy egg yolk, tender pork slices and side options like pickles complete the meal. Order a dish of gyoza if you need a little fried dumpling to round out your meal. As good as it gets.
English menu.
 
 
This is the newer of two restaurants with different names but the same menu and owner (the other is Guoqiao Mixian, just down the road). Here, tasty rice noodles are served up from a deep, hot broth. Guoqiao mixian, or ‘crossing the bridge noodles’, are often overrated, but this version is warming in winter. Or try the menu of regional specialities, mostly from Dali. Come for gongfu tea service and get buzzed on pu’er.
English menu.
 
 
Seek out this cosy dining room for some good provincial winter food, especially the muxurou (22RMB), named after the osmanthus blossoms this fluffy scrambled-egg dish resembles. And try a pot of Ningxia eight treasures tea (16RMB for two-to-four people; 26RMB for four-to-eight).
English menu.
 
 
In 798? Then walk through the tunnel of the UCCA entrance and keep going until you find Mian’s red and white sign that reads 麵. Inside, you can order a bowl of noodle soup flavoured with braised duck thigh (jiangzhi yatui mian) or the cabbage-and-pork classic suancai rousi mian.
No English menu.
 
 
With some of the best oat noodles outside of Shanxi, this fast-paced restaurant is worth checking out, especially those noodles with pork, lamb or the traditional seasoned black vinegar dip. An ideal light lunch if you’re in Qianmen.
No English menu.
 

Located in the Volkswagen HQ lobby but open to the public, Zest (pictured, top) is a fun, airy place to eat – especially if you like looking at cars. The cheery service and comfy seating make it a lot more homely than you might expect, and there’s a great selection of toasty paninis (we recommend the crispy bacon with Waldorf salad, walnuts and avocado) and Aussie-style meat pies.
English-only menu.
 


No matter what your taste is, you’ll find something to match your mood and hunger here. There’s something for everyone – the sweet options include Nutella and sliced banana, while savoury types can have ham and cheese – and those with the patience to comb the menu will be rewarded with a warm, golden crepe and a tasty filling.
English menu.
 
 
Now in its new location, this Japanese okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) house is hidden away in the hallways of an office building. Once found, it will reward you with a Kansai region speciality: a battered griddlecake loaded with shredded cabbage, strips of pork belly, magical sauces, mayonnaise and quivering bonito fish flakes, plus seaweed seasoning for that natural oomph. The Hiroshima style is packed with noodles. Nifty heated tables keep your cakes hot, and there’s a cool, oh-so-Japanese digital menu system. 
No English menu.
 
 
Unlucky for some? Not for us! For a cheap, filling and fast Vietnamese experience, head to this place for a basin of pho, which lacks the traditional herby accessories but is still absolutely worth trying. Wash it down with a bubble tea or finish with a thick and stouty-sweet Vietnamese coffee. A great place for pre-cinema grub or to shelter from the cold.
 
 
Fork out 40RMB for steamed, Beijing-style shaomai. Nothing to do with the Hong-Kong version, these sack-shaped wraps have their edges ruffled with round rolling pins before they are stuffed with pork and other fillings. If you want to splurge, the posher dining area upstairs has a longer menu.
No English menu.
 
 
It’s easy to walk past this neat little hutong hole, but if you do you’ll miss out on some great hot wings. As well as a roof terrace, the restaurant is comprised of two separate shops, side by side, that have identical opening hours. Stash your swag in the flip-top basket seats and try one of the four levels of hot wings, even the least of which has kick. Icy salads will cool you, though they drown in dressing.
No English menu.
 
 
This Taiwanese legend from Ximending in Taipei has been dishing out house specialities by the bowl since 1975 and now boasts numerous branches worldwide. In Taiwan, diners at Ay-Chung eat while standing; it’s just as popular here, but, happily, there is room to sit. Down a bowl of thin, silky rice flour noodles with a thickened sauce that contains bonito, parsley, basil and intestines for a mere 22RMB. Other Taiwanese must-haves are a damned good stinky tofu and fried pork rib over rice.
English menu.
 

Under 50RMB for two people

 
 
We’ve nicknamed these re gan mian (hot and dry noodles) ‘evil noodles’ because they’re devilishly good and hellish to locate. This Wuhan husband and wife team are both reclusive and revered, so much so that they usually sell out within three hours of their 5pm opening time. Go early and be patient – you’ll most likely find a knowing crowd waiting ahead of you. Go for the veg or beef (the vendors’ beliefs preclude pork dishes).
No English menu.
 


The varied menu at this charming little jiaozi place holds a host of treats with endless imaginative fillings. You can even choose your own wrappings, from natural ones to those coloured with tie-dye-style streaks using purple potatoes, carrots and spinach. Other dishes are available, but they’re not as fun!
English menu.
 
 
This local fast-food restaurant bears an uncanny resemblance to US Tex-Mex chain Chipotle. The food is good, though the owner, a young Canadian fresh from uni, is still working through the Dekinks, most obviously a lack of pork products on the menu. Avocado Tree has attracted a hungry international college crowd that’s homesick for wraps, chips and fresh, chunky guacamole, but – as the menu shows – they plan to add teriyaki chicken and rice, and other Asian dishes to their roster in coming months.
English menu.
 
 
Hungry and poor in Sanlitun? Worry not: the friendly and clean Babaiwan will feed you well with a large and varied menu, including no less than seven types of beef offered with noodles or rice. Each set costs 18-26RMB and comes with a bowl of broth, a small cold dish and friendly, fast service.
English menu.
 
 
If you’re hankering for dumplings in Dongcheng but don’t have much cash, then the Xian Lao Man chain is your friend. At around 8RMB per order, the wide range of dumplings, including shrimp and Japanese tofu as well as carrot, coriander and tofu, can be yours. Sweet-toothed folks might want to investigate the chicken wings glazed in cola.
No English menu.
 
 
This newly opened family stand near the National Art Museum of China serves up gorgeous Shandong-style jianbing. The feathery light wrapper is skilfully scraped up, painted with sauces and filled with a crisp wafer, fried lettuce and the usual suspects, resulting in a jianbing that’s tougher and lighter than the Tianjin style we’re used to.
No English menu.
 
Lao Mao Jia (老猫家)
 
Is there anything more satisfying on an empty belly than a tasty roujiamo? We think not – and of the city’s pork ’n’ bun providers, Lao Mao Jia is probably one of the best. The delicacies are cooked Shanxi-style, with carrots and red peppers, and are less greasy than most found in Beijing. They’re a little spicy and a little salty, and entirely worth checking out.
No English menu.
 
 


Yaoji Chaogan rocketed to fame this year when US vice president Joe Biden stopped by for a meal, but people have been ordering here for over 30 years. The two connected buildings have different starting and ending times but the same menu. Come for a local breakfast of fermented douzhi to see whether you’re strong enough to be a true local, or have a small bowl of zhajiang mian, the dish Biden had: local noodles topped with a porky bean sauce, pink radish, crisp cucumber and soybeans. The house special is chaogan, a beloved, thick livery stew with pig intestines.
No English menu.
 
 
Come out of exit A at Zhangzizhonglu subway station and you’ll find a strip of shops. Skip the fish-ball place and take the door to its right to find walls of graffiti and a fantastic malatang restaurant. It might lack the spicy fire of traditional street fare, but this store’s food is delicious all the same. A chilled case holds fresher items while a wall of noodles, including instant ramen packs, is yours for the picking. Fresh sesame paste with a few nutty bits of seed and a drizzle of oil are the best company for this light indoor escape.
No English menu.
 

If you find the Din Tai Fung chain a little too pricey, head to Long Table, a new small food court in the basement of China World Shopping Mall, and look for the bamboo baskets. Forget the rest of the menu and focus on the cheap xiao long bao – juicy soup dumplings with delicate skins.
 
English menu.
 
 
Squeezed in-between a  dumpling stand and a regular restaurant, this tiny hole-in-the-wall lives up to its name by serving the titular xiang su jirou juan, the bastard offspring of a doughy roubing and buffalo wings. Just 5RMB will net you a wrap (pictured) containing the usual spicy sauces, lettuce and a handful of fried chicken.
No English menu.
 
 
This fast food chain is so cheap, decent and popular that it has 83 locations in the city. The location near Chaoyang Park runs the commissary kitchen, in which raw ingredients are both cooked to eat and partially prepared, ready for finishing at the other branches. The menu board changes daily as items are slowly sold out. Come here for breakfast and try the warm soy milk buns or crullers.
No English menu.
 
 
This restaurant has a wide range of zhou, otherwise known as congee, including a Korean version and a sweet bean option, so all tastes should be covered. Inexpensive Cantonese dim sum, stews and cold vegetable dishes are also good for the palate and kind to the wallet.
English menu.

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