As a foreigner in China, it can sometimes be intimidating to try something you’ve never heard of in a restaurant you’ve never been to. Some dishes may look great in the menu photos, but you might not want to take risk without knowing what you’re in for. Fortunately, there are several Chinese restaurant franchises that provide a gateway into new cuisines and guarantee quality wherever you find them. Below is a list of some of my favorite Chinese restaurant chains in the Middle Kingdom.
Known for: China’s Number-One Hot Pot
When it comes to dining experiences in China, few beat gathering around a hot pot with friends and boiling juicy cuts of meat and fresh vegetables in a spicy broth. This relaxed and communal event invites good conversation and is more of a social activity than a meal.
Those seeking a superior hot pot experience or who simply don’t know where to start absolutely must try Hai Di Lao. Originating from Sichuan province, the restaurant chain stocks all the ingredients and broths needed for a memorable first hot pot experience.
Where Hai Di Lao really excels, however, is its service. In a country where wait staff tend to be a bit blunt, Hai Di Lao puts a real emphasis on attention to detail and making the customer feel special. From patiently guiding newbies through the menu, to providing a toy set to keep younger diners entertained, to giving out complimentary stock of the hot pot you had so you can cook your own at home, the highly trained team can’t be faulted on their customer service.
Such is the popularity of Hai Di Lao that it’s not uncommon to see large queues outside their restaurants in evenings and on weekends. However, Hai Di Lao also goes a step further for their waiting diners. Many outlets have outside seating and offer board games, snacks, tea, and even manicures!
Known for: A High-Class Trip Through Sichuan Cuisine
Got family coming to see you in China or need to entertain foreign clients? Looking to give them a taste of one of China’s “great eight cuisines” and want to make a strong first impression? Then South Beauty is the Chinese restaurant franchise for you.
The strangely-named chain is renowned across China. The classic décor, attentive service, and cultural performances here make diners feel like they’re getting some real bang for their buck.
The menu has a strong Sichuan influence, and while there are many fantastic Sichuan restaurants across China, few present their food so stylishly. If you’re looking for some tips on standout dishes, I recommend the Spicy Stone-grilled Beef, Crystal Shrimp, and Kung Pao Chicken.
First impressions are important. With South Beauty, newcomers to dining in China will be suitably blown away by the service, decor and, most importantly, the food.
Known for: A Taste of Xinjiang Culture
Getting to know Chinese food is a journey like few others. There are so many cuisines, so many variations, and so many dishes to try. Every province has its own flavors, textures, and personality. Of all the different styles, perhaps the most distinct is Xinjiang cuisine.
Typical Xinjiang dishes include roasted mutton, kebabs, and roasted fish, with an obvious lack of pork due to the large Muslim population in the province. You can find small “hole-in-the-wall’ restaurants serving these dishes all over China, but for a truly special taste of Xinjiang, head to Chapter 1001.
This Chinese chain restaurant understands that Xinjiang cuisine is more than just its food. It’s the people, the music, and the history. When you enter one of their restaurants, you feel instantly transported Xinjiang, from the way the walls are decorated to the way the staff is dressed.
If you’re lucky, you’ll catch one of the nightly shows, where performers dance through the restaurants and in-between tables to give diners an unforgettable experience.
Known for: A Gateway into Cantonese Cuisine
Many foreigners know some version of Cantonese cuisine from their experiences of Chinese food in their home countries. A large number of the early emmigrants from China originated from Hong Kong and Guangdong, bringing with them their style of cooking. That being said, it’s unlikely China newbies have ever had Cantonese cuisine as it was meant to be served.
Firstly, it’s worth noting that if you happen to be living in or visiting Hong Kong or Guangdong, you owe it to yourself to try as many local Cantonese restaurants as possible. If you find yourself elsewhere in Mainland China, however, Tai Hing has you covered.
Tai Hing started out as a Siu Mei (roasted meat) restaurant in 1989. Now it’s a massive franchise that can be found all over China. Among the must-try dishes are the 5-Star Roast Pork, Supreme Roast Goose, Sweet & Sour Pork, and, Western favorite Fried Beef with Broccoli.
Known for: Taiwanese Soup Dumplings
Last, but not least, is Din Tai Fung. Founded in 1958 and now with locations all over the world, this Taiwanese brand is probably the most famous on the list. Din Tai Fung has picked up a number of Michelin stars over the years, and any lover of Chinese cuisine should have this chain on their foodie hit list.
Although originating in Taiwan, the food served here is not exclusively Taiwanese. The signature dishes are the Xiao Long Bao soup dumplings, which come in a variety of flavors, including Kurobuta Pork, Crab, and Truffle. Also be sure to try their Shumai and Wontons.
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Keywords: Chinese restaurant chains
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