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A Taste of the Southwest: Finding Beijing’s Best Yunnan Restaurants

By Sarah Hansen , Add your comment Newsletter

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It doesn’t make sense to come to China and say: “Let’s go get some Chinese food”. Would you be referring to stir fry, hot pot, dim sum, street barbecue, noodles, or the growing variety of packaged snacks found in this vastly enormous nation? Being a giant country with different kinds of climate zones and people has its perks, delicious varieties of food being among the best of those. Food in China in its various forms can be absolutely delicious and one foreigner favorite is Yunnan cuisine.

Dishes from this province can be searingly spicy to the mouth without leaving that regrettable trail of painful burning down the esophagus and into the belly that may accompany some other regional offerings. Yunnanese spiciness is part of the flare. Presentation is also paid close attention to: from the arrangement of the food and color schemes to the decoration of the restaurant and the clothing worn by the staff.


The food typically looks bright and fresh; the décor is earthy and serene; and the servers wear rich garb, classic to particular minority groups from Yunnan. All these factors combine to separate Yunnan restaurants out as distinct from the pack of Beijing’s food scene. Customers should be prepared to pay higher prices than they might throw down at ‘that hole in the wall place down the street with the best noodles ever’, but will undoubtedly find the treat well worth it.

1) In & Out View In Map
The first time someone mentions this place you may find yourself recalling hamburgers, but get ready for a much posher experience than your everyday drive-thru might offer. This restaurant is in the heart of embassy land near Sanlitun, so of course it attracts quite a lot of foreigners. It’s also delicious, and the service in the multi-level space is impeccable. The simple off-white building remains unburdened by neon signs or employees hardened by the big city, but also sports a bit of a higher price than the ‘joint’ that you discovered near your apartment. Have a pleasant evening with obnoxiously delicious pineapple rice and cheese (!) slices that are supposed to be dipped in ground peppercorns.

Add: 1 Sanlitun Beixiaojie, Chaoyang District
Opening hours: Daily, 11:00-22:00
Tel: 010 8454 0086/6467 5235

2) Aimo Town View In Map
True, the servers at Aimo Town are not known for their bright and cheery attitudes, but if you can deal with brusque attitudes you can visit this trendy hutong Yunnan restaurant, conveniently located near all kinds of ever more popular nightlife, like live performances, craft beer, or more sedate lounging options. Aimo Town is decorated with some of the characteristically Yunnanese touches like wood, plants, and brocade. The upstairs open-air seating is enjoyable in fall and spring, and the fried potato and fried egg dishes are scrumptious.

Add: Bldg G, 46 Fangjia Hutong (just south of Guozijian Jie), Dongcheng District
地址:北京市东城区方家胡同46号艺术园区 (国子监南临) G座
Opening hours: Daily, 11:00-22:00
Tel: 010 6400 1725
3) Cha Hua Mei Zi Yunnan Canting  茶花妹子云南餐 View In Map
Found in a somewhat grittier, horn-honking area, this restaurant is a bit of a reprieve from the surrounding hustle and bustle but certainly not the place for a quiet getaway. Again, there are multiple levels and the upstairs is open-air and very attractive, though the tight spiral staircase might deter you from drinking any of the Yanjing. There’s a very friendly staff, and the long style tables available make it great for large groups. The natural design and vibe appropriately complement the uncomplicated but delicious dishes. A plate of mushrooms and walnuts along with the mint leaf salad are surprising favorites. Oh, and yes, they have stinky tofu, but it is fried and comes with a salty dipping sauce that leaves stinky tofu aficionados feeling bored and their less adventurous counterparts relieved (and full). 

Add: 109 Di’anmen Waidajie, Xicheng District, Beijing
地址:北京市西城区 地安门外大街109号
Tel: 010 8404 9397/139 1150 3580
Opening hours: 9:00-22:30

4) Middle 8thView In Map
This place is expensive and spicy but very good. Competing with In & Out with one location in Sanlitun , it is actually popular enough to have three branches across the city. The presentation of the food is beautiful but perhaps a bit over the top for some diners. Décor is uncharacteristically stark yet the waiting area provides free sweetened tea to the teeming hungry masses in winter, and the staff generally doesn’t need to be shouted at if you’re desiring some attention.

Also, on the unusual side, they have quite a drink list to off set your mouth-watering (and burning) meal. The ambiance is definitely on the finer side so sporting worn out jeans and a wrinkled shirt might make you feel a bit out of place. However, if you’re hell-bent on casual wear just savor the flavors and the beautiful presentation of the eggplant wrapped in banana leaves, for example, and forget the stares coming from the other guests.

Add: Zhongba Lou, Sanlitun Zhongjie, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Opening hours: Daily, 11:000-23:30
Tel: 010 6413 0629

5) Dali Courtyard View In Map
Do you want to feel cool? You won’t be the first foreigner to find this pricey charmer, but the management has perfected the feeling of special discovery. Being that special means that they require you to call ahead to make reservations and that you will need to bring a full wallet. It’s funny that ‘spice’ and ‘price’ rhyme because they go hand in hand here. The food from the fixed menu is excellent and authentic, but do be warned that a small fire might ignite right in your mouth. Spice lovers willing to splurge and looking for a truly unique experience should definitely make their way here.

Add:67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District, Beijing
地址:北京市东城区鼓楼东大街小经厂胡同67号, 大里院子
Opening hours: Daily, 10:00-21.30
Tel: 010 8404 1430

6) Southern Barbarian View In Map
Our last pick can be found on another trending hutong that mixes a fading way of life for hutong residents with the evolving popularity of various restaurants, cafes, and bars. This is yet another destination for many of the city’s youthful foreigners and delivers again and again with Yunnan classics as well as a proximity to one of Beijing’s bar meccas. Try their fried goat cheese or one of their refreshing cocktails from the bar.

Add: 107 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Opening hours: Daily, 11:00-23:00
Tel: 010 6401 3318

Honorable mentions:
Beijing actually  has too many Yunnanese restaurants to mention in one article but a few other restaurants that deserve a shout out are Dianke Dianlai by Chaoyang Nei with their mouth-watering set menu which features fresh ingredients flown in from Yunnan; Yun’er Town by Beiluoguxiang with its intimate roof top and simple, yet solid dishes; Little Yunnan near the National Art Museum of China with its little courtyard and signature dishes including fried goats cheese, pineapple fried rice, Dai spicy papaya fish and more.

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Keywords: Yunnan cuisine Beijing Beijing’s best Yunnan restaurants

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