Worth the wait: We braved the queues at 7 cult Beijing food spots

Try out these Beijing crowd favourites

Gulou Mantou. Photos: Annabelle Lim & Chong Yun Xin
While Beijing's no stranger to swanky bars and high-end restaurants, there's often nothing more satisfying than classic street food for when you need on-the-go gratification. The next time hunger strikes, do as the locals do and check out these brilliant neighbourhood spots. Just be prepared for a wait – though luckily there’s no flavour enhancer like anticipation, right?

Baoruimending Roubing (宝瑞门钉肉饼店)

Almost the literal definition of a hole in the wall, this cosy eatery is tucked away in the corner of a construction site. Without any prominent signage, it can be hard to spot both the store and the long, ever-present queue that snakes out from its front entrance. It's also recently shifted away from its usual spot, the resilient bun slingers seemingly engaging in (and winning) a round of musical premises with authorities. 

Arriving after the lunch rush still sees a queue of at least 20 minutes, followed by another ten waiting for food to arrive. Packed to the brim with locals squeezed between wooden tables and stools, everyone's here for one thing, and one thing only – Baoruimending's (in)famous roubing. These meat buns (5RMB each) are, without exaggeration, the size of baseballs. Stuffed with beef mince and spring onions then encased in dough, these roubing are pan-fried to crisp, golden brown perfection. Flavoursome and, dare we say it, moist, be careful not to get scalded by the piping hot juice that oozes out when you take a bite – dip them into vinegar (optional) to help cut through the richness of the meat. It’s no wonder locals leave the shop carrying bags full of these buns, so be prepared to wait, no matter what time of day.

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59-2 Chaoyangmen Bei Xiaojie (Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng)

Chongqing Laojie Xiaomian (重庆老街小面)

Located just five minutes away from Andingmen station lies this Chongqing noodle speciality shop. Like all the other spots on this list, it’s unassuming, so make sure you keep your eyes peeled as you walk down Andingmennei Dajie. Chongqing Laojie Xiaomian sells a variety of spicy noodles – from soup to dry options – but the real house favourite is ganban wanzamian (干拌碗杂面).

Priced at 16RMB for a small bowl and 20RMB for a large, these dry noodles feature thin, alkaline noodles (resulting in a pleasingly chewy texture) topped with chickpeas, pork mince and spring onion. To thoroughly enjoy these noodles, mix them well, getting all of the chilli sauce that’s hidden at the bottom of the bowl. The chickpea topping, though, is the true knockout. Cooked down to almost a mush, it still retains its shape and form, resulting in a creamy texture that lends a nice richness to this bowl of spicy, addictively chewy noodles. There’s also a meatless version that’s simply called dry mixed noodles (ganbanmian, 干拌面). Piece of advice? Start with mild spice and ease your way up the spice levels. Never underestimate Chongqing spice.

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103 Andingmennei Dajie (Beixinqiao, Dongcheng)

Dahua Jianbing (大华煎饼)

Located in the hutongs, this iconic, long-time favourite is truly a cut above other jianbing vendors. Its shop sign simply involves a printed piece of paper stuck on a glass display, though the winding queue is enough of an obvious sign of where it's located. Locals, in particular, rave about Dahua's baocui (薄脆) – that crispy fried cracker that goes inside each jianbing. And without a doubt, that truly is the star of the show. Light and crispy, Dahua's baocui helps create the perfect mouthful. 

The signature option here is the double egg jianbing (8RMB), including all your classic toppings like spring onion, coriander and fermented bean sauce. If you’re feeling particularly indulgent (or hungover), the supreme combo jianbing (20RMB) is also definitely worth a try. Featuring all the same toppings of the double egg jianbing plus cheese slices and bacon, it's good. Very good. We'd tell you that the cheese adds to the overall savouriness of the jianbing while the bacon adds a lovely textural element, but we probably don't need to. It's jianbing, with cheese and bacon. 

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21 Beijianzi Xiang (Beixinqiao, Dongcheng)

Date Cake King (枣糕王)

Formerly located right near Wudaokou station, queues for this beloved cake were once a familiar sight on Wudaokou's main drag. Though now relocated to a slightly more protected spot a few metres away, the long queues still remain the same, stretching out to the street at practically all hours of the day.

Similar to a sponge cake, these fluffy, moreish cubes are made with real dates and contain just the right amount of sweetness. What’s more, Date Cake King’s got a buy more, get more policy, offering a free 250g for every 500g of cake purchased. At 11RMB for 750g, the cake here is quite literally sold in paper sacks – and is worth every second of your time spent waiting in line to get it. In fact, these cakes have amassed such a large following that they’ve opened two other outlets, another one in Wudaokou in the Lotus Building and another in Xidan, though the queues are still as long as ever.

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29 Wudaokou Chengfulu (Wudaokou, Haidian)

Gulou Mantou (鼓楼馒头店)

Frequented largely by lao Beijingers, Gulou Mantou has definitely been given the stamp of approval by locals. Mantou (馒头) – a cloud-like steamed bun – varies from the softer and fluffier buns found in restaurants to firmer and denser versions made for the working man’s lunch. Gulou Mantou specialises in the latter, its hearty buns steamed in giant metal baskets. With plain mantou starting at just 1.2RMB, it’s no surprise why this spot is widely considered an institution. They also do a red bean (2.5RMB) and a brown sugar version (2RMB), in which their giant portions and generous fillings make for the ideal walk-and-go breakfast food. As one wise old Beijinger standing in line succinctly put, 'It’s good'.

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139 Guloudong Dajie (Nanluoguxiang, Dongcheng)

Jinchengfu Jiaozi 金盛福饺子

Tucked away in a corner of a supermarket is this humble little store selling a variety of dumplings. About a ten-minute walk from the nearest subway station, Jinchengfu is nestled between construction work and residential estates, making it a neighbourhood crowd favourite.

The dumplings here are jam-packed with filling and come in 12 different varieties to choose from (though by dinner, most flavours will have sold out). A generous meaty mix is wrapped in a thin dumpling skin that falls halfway between the thicker dough found at most dumpling places and a wonton wrapper, creating a shiny, translucent exterior once boiled. Flavours range from traditional pork with leek and Chinese cabbage, to the slightly more obscure chicken with wood ear mushrooms and pork with carrots and corn. Like most dumpling spots, Jinchengfu prices their dumplings by the half kilo (500g), making it roughly 15RMB for ten dumplings.

There’s no seating area in the store, so either get your jiaozi raw and cook them when you’re back home (a popular choice among those who frequent the shop), or eat them like us, standing up and hunched over whatever counter space is available.

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2 Weigongcun Lu (Haidian, Haidian)

Xisi Baozi Pu 西四包子铺

Xisi Baozi is an old Beijing classic. Having been around for decades, Xisi stays true to tradition, making their buns entirely by hand and steaming them in traditional wooden steamer baskets. Their classic pork buns mixed with leeks are a definite must-try. They’ve got that succulent juicy filling we all love, and an exceptionally thin skin that makes for the perfect meat-to-bun ratio.

Xisi Baozi sells their buns by liang (两), with each liang getting you three buns priced at 6RMB. Worry not vegetarians, Xisi Baozi also has meatless options, which alternate regularly. When we went, it was zucchini and egg baozi, perfectly seasoned and an absolute stunner. If you really want to go all out for that classic baozi pairing, do as Beijingers do and order yourself a bowl of chaogan (炒干), a thick, starchy stew made of pig’s livers and intestines, boiled for hours and seasoned with a combination of garlic, vinegar and soy sauce (9RMB for a small bowl and 18RMB for a large).

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31-24 Xishenku Dajie (Houhai, Xicheng)

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  • 4 out of 5 stars