It’s hard for me to look at friends’ Instagram accounts in the US and not start to water at the mouth over their photos of Five Guys burgers. Meanwhile, I know my British counterparts cry themselves to sleep at night due to the lack of Nando’s chicken in their lives. But you needn’t cast jealous stares back home so often, as there are some excellent Western restaurant chains in China already. Here, I talk you though some of my favorites. I hope you’re not hungry!
Great for: Shake Shack-style burgers and fries
Finding a good, cheap burger in China. It sounds simple enough, but in fact it can drive a good man insane. While back in the States, foodies tuck into awesome and affordable burgers and fries at Shake Shack and Five Guys, us foreigners in China are shamefully stuck in line at KFC or secretly ordering McDonald’s delivery if we’re unwilling to spend upwards of RMB80 on a burger. I’m here to tell you that Hotties can save you from your shame.
Hotties is currently winning over burger lovers across China, one super-fast order at a time. Originating in Shenzhen, the burger chain is now well-known across the country for its juicy patties and toasted buns, which are just so much better than any fast food burger has a right to be. With decent fries and other sides too, Hotties is really hot stuff.
Coming in at the same price as KFC or McDonalds, Hotties is on top when it comes to China’s fast food offerings. In fact, I’m going to put my neck out and say that Hotties burgers are even better than some of the so-called “gourmet” options that China has to offer. It’s no surprise then that the brand has already expanded to seven locations in Shenzhen as well as to other major Chinese cities.
Great for: Fresh meals and healthy drinks
The longest-running of the franchises on this list, it would be a disservice to categorize Element Fresh as an up-and-coming brand; it has very much already arrived. With over 30 branches across China, Element Fresh can be found in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Chengdu, and Tianjin.
With an emphasis on tasty, healthy meals, Element Fresh has become a haven for foodies and fitness fanatics alike. The restaurant is synonymous with fresh salads, health-conscious main dishes, and amazing fruit smoothies. If you find yourself in an unfamiliar city or lacking inspiration for dinner, Element Fresh is always a safe bet for a quality meal.
Great for: Coffee and snacks that have Starbucks worried
Starbucks’ apparent quest for world domination showed no signs of slowing down when they entered the Chinese domestic market. The coffee chain is now about as prevalent as McDonalds and KFC, with stores seemingly in every mall, airport, and train station. It looked like no-one was going to be able to stand up to the American giant in China. That was until Luckin Coffee burst onto the scene.
Luckin Coffee opened its first store in Beijing in 2017, and today has more than 1,600 locations across the country and a ridiculous valuation of over USD2 billion. To say that Starbucks has some competition is an understatement.
And it’s a meteoric rise that’s well deserved. In a short period of time, Luckin Coffee has managed to build a swift and convenient service of coffee, tea, sandwiches and snacks that are arguably the match of their American rival.
What’s more, they’re currently cheaper than Starbucks. As this almost certainly won’t be the case if and when Luckin Coffee has more of a market share, you should make the most of it while you can.
Great for: Pizza and dumpling fusion that’s as good as it sounds
Baozi and pizza are two foods that are scientifically proven to be absolutely amazing. So when some geniuses decided to combine the two together to make Baozza, it was a match made in foodie heaven.
The fusion concept is as straightforward as it sounds. Baozza combines the best from the West and the East in a cheesy Italian pizza snack that’s shaped and steamed just like traditional Chinese bao. The tantalizing flavors on offer include Margherita, Meat Lover, BBQ Chicken, and Hawaiian Jalapeno.
Baozza locations can be found in Beijing and Shanghai. For the rest of us, Baozza delivers all over China, so you can have a supply of the world’s most awesome comfort food in your freezer at all times. At their current rate of expansion, however, it probably won’t be long until you see a little Baozza shop near you.
Great for: The best of the DIY salad scene
A few years ago, DIY salad shops started to appear in China, offering customers a chance to make their own salads with fresh and healthy ingredients. They were a godsend for foreigners in China suddenly finding themselves getting fat on noodles and dumplings.
The problem is that the market quickly became flooded with knock-off shops looking to make a quick buck from the DIY salad trend. Combine any adjective with the word “salad” and the likelihood is that there’s a DIY salad shop with that name in China. Many of these places, however, serve questionably-sourced ingredients with weird sauces in illogical combos.
While there’s now a number of DIY salad shops in China that know what they’re doing, Sexy Salad is one of the most consistent and reliable. Calling anything salad-related “sexy” is a bold claim, but Sexy Salad arguably lives up to it’s name with their well balanced meals, proper ingredients, and competitive pricing.
You’ll find Sexy Salad outlets in many major Chinese cities. So, next time you’re looking for a healthy option for your office lunch, do your thighs a favor and search for Sexy Salad on your delivery app.
Great for: Build your own pizzas with unlimited toppings
Sometimes you come across a concept that’s so simple, yet so brilliant. There are few concepts more simple or more brilliant than The Pizza Factory’s Build Your Own Pizza (with unlimited toppings).
Simply chose between a 10” and 12” pizza and then select from the 32 toppings available. Yes, you can choose as many as you want. And yes, that means you can pick all 32 if you wish, all for the same price. They also serve great sides, including lip-smacking marinated chicken wings and chunky fries.
The Pizza Factory rather fittingly started off in the manufacturing capital of China that is Guangdong province. They opened their first two stores in Guangzhou, with others following shortly after in Shenzhen and Beijing. With an amazing concept and professional execution, expect The Pizza Factory to cause an industrial revolution across the rest of China in the near future.
Great for: Amazing cocktails and cool vibes
When it comes to going out for a drink in China, it can sometimes feel like a tossup between an expat pub and a Chinese nightclub. The pub can be fine for a few drinks and maybe some live sports, but there comes a point in the evening when you want to move on to somewhere a little more lively. While Chinese clubs could potentially be the answer, the music is often not to Western tastes and the alcohol is sometimes suspect. Enter the Revolucion cocktail bar.
Revolucion prides itself on its signature cocktails, shaken and stirred by bartenders from all over the world who really know what they’re doing. Throw in a dimly-lit and fashionable décor, and it’s no surprise that Revolucion cocktail bars always seem to attract the hippest crowd in whatever city you’re lucky enough to find them.
Luck aside, Revolucion cocktail bars can currently be found in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen, and Chengdu. There’s also one in Bangkok, so don’t be surprised if you see a Revolucion on your doorstep soon. Viva la Revolucion!
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Keywords: Western restaurant chains in China
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