Afraid you’ll miss out on sampling China’s regional specialties because you only have time to visit Beijing? Worry no more.
Each of the provinces and many of China’s larger cities have offices in Beijing, complete with restaurants to cater to homesick officials. Tucked in nondescript hotels all around Beijing, these government-run restaurants offer reasonably-priced tastes of regional specialties that you would otherwise have to travel hundreds of miles for. Although the decor and service is typically lackluster (Inner Mongolian yurts aside), the restaurants are a great way to get out of the kungpao-chicken-and-dumplings rut. As always in China, you’ll have the best experience if you bring a big group along for the ride, so that you can sample as many dishes as possible.
Thanks to a friend who is on a quest to visit all of Beijing’s government restaurants, I’ve been to quite a few over the course of the past year. Quality and location-convenience varies, but all are worth exploring.
Chengdu: Less famous than the Sichuan provincial restaurant, the Chengdu restaurant inside the Shudu Hotel does excellent renditions of Sichuanese classics, from 水煮鱼 (fish cooked in spicy broth) to scrambled eggs with chilies. Compared to the other government restaurants, the atmosphere is practically intimate. It’s probably my favorite of all the government restaurants I’ve tried. Address: 蜀都宾馆, 成都市人民政府驻京办, 东城区沙滩后街30号
Chongqing: Chongqing is most famous for its hot pot, whose fiery red broth will leave your mouth numb. We ordered the 鸳鸯 (yuanyang) version, in which the pot is divided into two, with one half filled with a mild, non-spicy broth for when you can’t handle any more spice. Then you can fill the pot with your choice of meats, vegetables and many variations on tofu. Address: 重庆市人民政府驻京办, 重庆驻京办事处火锅厅, 朝阳区西坝河光熙门北里15号
Guangdong: Mediocre dim sum abounds in Beijing, so we were pleasantly surprised by this posh outpost of the Guangdong government. When we visited, the main restaurant was closed for a private event, so we didn’t get the traditional dim sum cart experience. It was also a little pricier than your average Beijing restaurant. Address: 广东省驻京办, 西城区西单横二条甲3号广州大厦5层
Guiyang: I was a bigger fan of this restaurant, representing the capital city of Guizhou Province, than my dining companions were. What can I say, all it took was the sticky rice cakes fried with strips of lean smoked ham (腊肉酸菜饵块粑) and I was a goner. The spicy-sour flavor that I think of as the signature of Guizhou cuisine was there in abundance. Address: 甲秀楼缘, 西城区西直门南小街国英园5号楼
Ordos, Inner Mongolia: I’m a little ashamed to admit that I had never heard of the city of Ordos until I visited their municipal office here in Beijing. I wasn’t even that excited to visit, since the food I ate in Mongolia proper was not all that inspiring. While I will never cultivate a taste for yak-butter tea, the municipal restaurant’s offerings were more delicious than I expected, particularly the grilled lamb ribs — yum! The Beijinger blog lists more recommended dishes. Address: 乳香飘飘, 东城区安定门外大街上龙北巷3号 (青年湖公园东门)
Western Hunan: Since I lived in Hunan for two years, I was extremely excited to check out the restaurant belonging to the Western Hunan regional office. The dry-pot bullfrog (干锅牛蛙) did not disappoint, but some of the simpler vegetable dishes that I ate on a near-daily basis in Hunan didn’t live up to my hopes. Address: 湘西土家族自治区驻京办, 西城区太平桥大街111号, 10th floor
Sichuan: The Sichuan provincial government restaurant, otherwise known as Chuan Ban, is perhaps the most well-known of the government restaurants, but I was mildly disappointed by the meal we had there last spring. We didn’t hit the long lines we had heard about, but we also didn’t get the amazing food we were promised. But maybe we were there on an off day — Beijing has too many good restaurants to return to a downer. Address: 四川省人民政府驻北京办事处,东城区建国门内贡院头条5号
Xinjiang: We frequented this restaurant during 2008, when I was studying Mandarin nearby, and I’ve been back a few times since. It’s often crowded and a little inconsistent, but I will always have a soft spot for the place where I was first introduced to the warm cumin-and-spice flavors
of Xinjiang food. Special shout out for the lamb fried with hunks of bread! Address: 新疆饭庄 乌鲁木齐驻京办事处, 西城区车工庄大街北里1号
Yunnan: Like Chuan Ban, Yunteng Shifu is on the map for Beijing’s expat foodies. Aside from purple pineapple rice, I have trouble getting excited about Yunnanese food, perhaps because mushrooms, a local specialty, leave me cold. But who can say no to fried cheese? Address: 云腾食府, 云南省驻京办, 崇文区花市北里东区7号楼
For a more comprehensive list, check out the list of provincial restaurants over at Eileen Eats.