The ‘Must Tries’ Series | A Five-Year Food Flashback!

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Five years ago, I started a series called “Must Tries“, where I asked restaurant and bar people not only for the top picks from their menus but also what they liked to eat and drink at other places. I’ve pasted a dozen of those 2011 posts below, although many people featured have since moved on. And I just restarted the series this week, with many “must tries” to come. You will be able to find them here.


Andy Bright | Union Bar & Grille [Bright is now in Hong Kong and Charlie S is managing Union]

What is the ‘must try’ food at Union?

Barbecued baby back ribs. They’re from a time-tested recipe and consistently good. [Pause] Juicy…

What is the ‘must try’ drink at Union?

From the the first of December to the thirty-first of December, one cocktail sold more than double any other: our Mojito. It’s damn good.

What are three ‘must try’ items at other places in Beijing?

The roast leg of mutton at the “roast leg of mutton restaurant“. The hot coals go in the middle of the table and the whole leg goes on a skewer and is ready to eat. You carve it as you go. Take some mint sauce with you.

The seafood at Mosto, especially the fish. It’s some of the best in Beijing

The bucket of fried rice at the Drum and Gong in Nanluoguxiang. It is literally a bucket of rice for a couple of kuai!

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Seth Grossman | Home Plate BBQ [Grossman has since escaped to New York]

What is the “must try” food at Home Plate BBQ?

The pulled pork sandwiches (rmb35). That’s our signature dish, and that’s what everyone gets, but when someone wants to try something else I recommend the fried okra (rmb25). No one else has it, it’s a real Southern dish, and we make ours from fresh okra.

What is the “must try” drink at Home Plate BBQ?

We have an extensive Bourbon collection, from Buffalo Trace to Noah’s Mill, but if I had to pick one whiskey I would go with High West Silver (rmb65). It’s a unaged clear whiskey and smells like vanilla.

What are three “must try” items at other bars and restaurants in Beijing?

The chicken Alfredo pizza roll at Kro’s Nest. Chock full of garlic. I love it.

The brunch at NOLA, for some great grits and biscuits. The thing I love is the big windows. My first time at NOLA was in the middle of a blizzard and I sat there at those windows.

The rmb10 taco deal at The Saddle Cantina.

Ah Jian | 2F [He now works at The Bar]

What is the ‘must try’ cocktail at 2F?

Some people like the Lemon Drop. It includes fresh lemon juice, vodka and a bit of sugar. The trick is to make it smooth and balanced. To make it very “Oh, yeah”. It’s difficult to find that balance.

What is the ‘must try’ whiskey?

Balvenie 15 Year. It’s not too smoky, not too light, and appeals to many people. I like it very much. If someone asks what is good, I recommend the Balvenie first. Then, I can see if the person prefers something smokier or lighter, and make more recommendations.

And beer?

Stella. In a bottle. No reason.

What are some ‘must tries’ at other places?

I like Glen. The cocktails, the whiskey — the bartender is very good. TwilightApothecary, Mao Mao Chong – I like them all for cocktails. And for beer, I like The Tree – it also has good bartenders and pizza!


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Eduardo Gutierrez & Mai Quant | Migas

What is the “must try” food at Migas?

Gutierrez: Our selection of homemade sausages–black, butifarra, and chorizo(RMB68). These are “must try” because we make them from scratch in the Migas kitchen. You can try the true flavor of Spanish sausages, made in China and finished in our Jospher charcoal oven.

What is the “must try” drink at Migas?

Quant: Cucumber Goes to Moscow (RMB70). This cocktail is a fresh and unique mix of ginger and cucumber with premium vodka.

What are three “must try” items at other venues in Beijing?

Both: Tendon noodles at Noodle Bar (面吧) in 1949.

Spicy fried crab with peanuts (xian la xie) at the fish market we visit on East Fourth Ring Road. You buy fresh crab at the market and then go upstairs where they cook it for you.

Falafel at Jerusalem on Sanlitun North.

Stephen Rocard & Stephanie Zhou | Mao Mao Chong [These guys are now based in Australia and Eric Liu now runs the bar]

What is the “must try” drink at Mao Mao Chong?

We have a few must tries at Mao Mao Chong but since it’s winter and bloody cold out we’ll suggest our Adult Chai (RMB40). Homemade chai spiced up with a naughty shot of Mao Mao Chong cinnamon infused vodka. You have to try it, it’s delicious. We infuse the vodka and make the chai blend ourselves. We don’t use packet chai or chai powder which is what makes it special.

What is the “must try” food at Mao Mao Chong?

Well, we only serve pizza and peanuts at Mao Mao Chong so let’s say pizza. Our favorite is the The Peasant Pizza (RMB60): tomato, mozzarella, roasted eggplant, pesto, and parmigiano. We keep it simple, use fresh ingredients, and put our heart and soul into all our pizzas.

What are three “must try” foods and drinks at other Beijing venues?

Xian Lao Man (Andingmennei Dajie) is where we always take our visitors for dumplings. The “fullest” and some of the best jiaozi in the Jing.

Capital M (Qianmen): Their pavlova is to die for. An iconic Australian dessert done to perfection.

Esquires Coffee (CityMall, Liangmaqiao): New Zealand coffee chain putting Starbucks to shame, though that’s not difficult. Great coffee and their hot white chocolate is worth a try. It’s become a regular stop for us on our way to Sanyuanli market.


Jeff Powell & Paul Mathew | Flamme [Powell is now at Frost and Mathew has relocated to Cambodia. Flamme also recently closed.]

What is the ‘must try’ beverage at Flamme?

Mathew: I would have said the Burnt Brandy and Peach Sour, but as good peaches are hard to come by at the moment, we’re making a Burnt Apple and Rum Sour. We caramelize apples by burning with dark rum in a pan, then shake up the resulting soft fruit with more rums, maple syrup, and fresh lemon juice. Having said that, we sell more Martinis than anything. There’s something about a Martini followed by a steak and a glass of red that just works well!

What is the ‘must try’ food at Flamme?

Powell: Aside from the obvious house steaks at Flamme, my must try would be any of the potato dishes. We grow a specific variety of potato from seed potatoes imported from Idaho a.k.a. “the potato state”. These potatoes are available nowhere else in China, or even in Asia, other than Flamme. I feel it is the care and attention paid to the basics that is what sets us apart.

What are three ‘must try’ items at other venues in Beijing?

Powell: The pork ribs at Yu Xin Cuan Cai.

The Tandoori chicken wrap at Element Fresh.

The fried chicken on Sundays at Apothecary.

Paul: Dealer’s choice at Twilight. They have so many great products behind the bar and they know what to do with them.

A whiskey at Atmosphere for the view looking out over the city.

A baijiu cocktail in the Bomb Shelter Bar of the Red Capital Residence for communist kitsch.


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Xiao Shuai | El Nido

What is the “must try” beer at El Nido?

BrewDog, with its unmistakeable “we don’t care if you drink this beer, we’re still fucking niubi” attitude. It’s a very interesting beer with an in-your-face attitude that will suit any old punk. Also, it tastes damn good. Price: rmb45 to rmb55.

What is the “must try” absinthe?

King of Spirits Absinthe — at 70 percent alcohol it is powerful. Not only is it a very rare absinthe in China but it is also rumored to be the absinthe with the highest ear-cutting potential. We like it. Price: rmb120 per glass.

What are three “must tries” at other places in Beijing?

I consider myself a quite simple man who likes simple things done well. Great Leap Brewery ales are a must try for anyone who fancies an authentic pint of ale. Afterwards I like to go for a late-night hamburger at diner The Box. If I am tired of the hustle and bustle of weekend life in Beijing, I like to go for a well-made cup of Lavazza at Waiting for Godot.

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Tobias Demker | Purple Haze

What is the “must try” food at Purple Haze?

The pan-fried crab cakes with mango salsa. It’s only served at Purple Haze Courtyard, but it’s a really good appetizer.

What is the “must try” drink at Purple Haze?

Vanilla Summer, a simple drink using vanilla vodka, apple juice and ginger Ale. Simple but good.

What are three “must tries” from other places in Beijing?

For Chinese food, 小炒牛肉 (quickly fried beef) at 相西土菜 (called Hot & Spicy Bar in English). This is a Hunan restaurant in the compound where I live. It serves this really spicy beef dish. In fact, it’s so spicy I can’t have it too often.

For Western food: I don’t know if they serve it at their new location but the suckling pig with cumin cream foam at Agua was to die for. Really tender with amazing flavors.

For drinks, I usually have wine or beer, but I had a really good martini at one of the Japanese joints. Might have been Ichikura. A martini mixed with pepper vodka, Tabasco and olives. Really good with some extra olives on the side. Obviously a lot of spice to this drink, so you might not want to have too many on one night.


Zach Lewison, Olaf Kristoffer Bauer & Martin Handley | Kro’s Nest [Le

What is the “must try” food at Kro’s Nest?

Handley: Pardon the Pesto pizza (medium RMB120, large RMB155).  Pesto sauce, smoked duck, mushrooms, and spinach. Great way to have duck on a pizza without making it. Has a Beijing focus like everyone else is doing these days.

Bauer: Rocky Road Rice Krispy Pie (RMB45). Desserts are a new thing for us and this one is awesome. Sometimes one or two go missing. Trust me, I know where they went.

Lewison: Fried artichokes (RMB38). There is something about fried food that is salty, sour, and crispy. Best app we have.

What is the “must try” drink at Kro’s Nest?

Handley: Beach Baby Bushwhacker (RMB50).  Rum, Kahlua, and chocolate sauce. Since Zach and I are both from coastal cities in Florida, this is a homage to our state.

Bauer: The Flaming Kro (RMB50).  Beer, Amaretto, and 151 rum. This is our house drink. It’s a spin off of The Flaming Moe from The Simpsons, except ours is better and won’t burn our bar down… I hope.

Lewison: Root beer float (RMB25). A&W root beer with ice cream: takes me back to when I was little Zach, spending summers playing baseball and not having to worry about running kitchens in Beijing.

What are your “must try” foods and drinks at other venues?


Handley: Big bottles of Yanjing! Nothing connects you better to Beijing than drinking these on the busy streets and watching the city pass you by.

Bauer: Tap water, my house.  I work every day all day, so having a glass of water at my house is always going to be my go to drink.

Lewison: Gin and tonic at Fubar. I use to hate gin and tonic, Chad [Lager] changed me on this. I will never drink one outside of Fubar unless Chad is there by chance and makes it. That’s how devoted I am to it.


Handley: New York strip with mushroom sauce at Chef Too. Billy [Bolton] knows his steak, and this is a simple dish made perfect. Can’t beat it.

Bauer: The falafel from Dareen coffeeKarim [Aljaddi] has the best in town: he sells me coffee, so with every order I try to work in a falafel.

Lewison: Hot dog at No More Bunz. I moved from Dongzhimen to Lido last year and the only thing I regret is not being able to walk to work and stop by for the American hot dog.

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Leo Li | Village Cafe [Li is now at East Hotel]

What is the “must try” food at Village Café?

Teriyaki salmon with steamed Asian greens and jasmine rice (RNB88). This classic Japanese dish is a popular one. Chef Gan infuses his fish stock with a light soy sauce to give this dish a lingering taste. It compliments the richness of the salmon. Of course guests should also try our new set dinner: RMB128 for three courses plus a glass of wine or beer. We change the menu every other week.

What is the “must try” drink at Village Cafe?

The Village Café spicy Bloody Mary (RMB60). A classic cocktail, The Bloody Mary is a perfect starter drink for weekend brunch. Ours is spicy with balanced acidity and a slight saltiness to give you all the kick you need to start your day.

What are three “must try” items at other venues in Beijing?

The noodles with beef tripe at The Noodle Bar [in 1949: The Hidden City].

Stonefish [板岩烤鱼] at Middle 8th [Yunnan restaurant].

Dim sum at Din Tai Fung.

Sasha Unkovic | Kiosk [Unkovic has since closed this legendary spot]

What is the “must try” food at Kiosk?

The grilled chicken sandwich (rmb31). It includes fresh, not frozen, chicken breast, original Hormel bacon, onions, cheese and homemade marinated peppers — spicy or non-spicy– in a grilled baguette.

What is the “must try” drink at Kiosk?

The gin tonic (rmb35). I don’t skimp on the gin and I add a lot of lime.

What are three “must try” items at other bars and restaurants in Beijing?

The Long Island Iced Tea at Jazz-Ya. For me, this is the only real Long Island Iced Tea in Beijing because they make in a proper traditional way and haven’t changed it for 15 years. We should respect that.

The sirloin steak — the “Eve cut” — at Morel’s across from Workers Stadium. I think this is the best, and best-value, steak in Beijing. It is the right size — not too big and not too small — and there is a wide range of sauces, including the best Bearnaise sauce. You can choose from mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or fries.

Finally, he is not a drink or food, but I also want to mention Andy Bright of Union Bar & Grille as a third good thing about the bar and restaurant business in Beijing. He really knows how to run the business but he’s still “real”. There are many professional managers in Beijing who would score a “ten” but they don’t provide a personal connection like Andy.

Lee Mitchell | The Brick [Mitchell is now in the UK]

What is the “must try” drink at The Brick?

That would be The Terminator, a double Long Island topped with cider and beer, served by the pint, and priced at RMB88 (RMB60 during happy hour). Why? It’sfour drinks in one but it tastes like fruit juice and is very well balanced and effective!

What is the “must try” food at The Brick?

We can’t do food for another week or so due to refitting the kitchen, so I would say the best food now is cold tomato soup with double vodka, steak sauce, tabasco, olives, and pickles. You’ll find it on the menu under Bloody Mary (RMB60; RMB45 during happy hour). The Brick is a bar, not a restaurant, so when I do get food back on it will be burritos and fries all the way! [What, no more donkey pizza? – Ed.] However, the chuanr (BBQ) we get in from across the street is first rate –  check out the wings and the scallops, both are awesome!

What are three “must try” items at other venues in Beijing, not including ones you are involved with?

The beef carpaccio at Saffron is one of the best I’ve ever had. I’m a chef by trade and I have worked and eaten in some of the best restaurants and hotels across Europe and beyond. Saffron is great because it is so rustic and natural. It reminds me of the small bars we used to go to in Spain, Portugal and the south of France. Very small simple places with great food.

Hatsune—everything. But if i had to choose one item, then probably the “motorolla” roll. Great sauce, soft then crunchy texture, good value.

Finally, the Italian BMT on parmesan oregano bread with southwest sauce from Subway. I work anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day and I rarely get a chance to stop to eat so grabbing a foot long from Subway and eating on the run is a regular occurrence for me. I eat there three days a week, same thing every time. Love it. (It beats the shit out of McDonald’s and KFC any day.)!

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Will Yorke | The Vineyard Cafe

What is the “must try” food at The Vineyard Cafe?

Mediterranean Pizza: Pretty conservative name but about eight years ago I put roasted aubergine and courgette slices, feta, basil pesto, mozzarella and salami (pepperoni) on a thin crust pizza base with tomato sauce and I still love it, especially with Tabasco sauce.

What is the “must try” drink at The Vineyard Cafe?

We have been doing cocktail training at the Vineyard Café for the last few Mondays and someone asked about a kamikaze shot. We made one to see what is was about and discovered it was better as a cocktail in a martini glass, and there is a nice lime presence with the vodka, fresh lime juice, Cointreau, and preserved lime juice mixed on ice. I think it is perfect to prevent scurvy. So much so that considering we thought the name kamikaze was really a crap name for a drink, and considering my training session on the treatment of scurvy in British naval recruits in 18th century Britain, which the staff attended with rapture, we decided to rechristen the drink “Limey Lady”.

What is the “must try” wine at The Vineyard Cafe?

Got in a nice new Albarino – very fresh. It’s like sticking your tongue in the Atlantic while facing a north-westerly breeze.

What are three “must try” items at other venues in Beijing?

On my way home there is a Beijing Lu Zhu 卤煮 place which also does good La Mian 拉面 and 刀削面 Dao Xiao Mian (the knife cut noodles.) I am a big fan of Dao Xiao Mian. The vibe is interesting as it is a wide mix of mainly Beijing residents ranging from couples coming in to get to know each other over a bowl of soy sauce stewed inner bits and blue uniformed taxi drivers with the name of their company stitched on the chest thinning their blood with the unpeeled garlic bulbs on the table amongst the metal pot of chilly and jug of vinegar. 141 Bei Si Da Jie.

I really don’t get out much, but for a “Sichuan cuisine a’ la Beijing” option theNo. 1 Wang Jing courtyard is always interesting. The 水煮鱼 fish in oil must have better options in the city, but in the warm period it is a place which is interesting because it is a slice of China embedded by a slip road on the east 5th ring road.

Many Monday evenings we are at our friend Toshi’s place “Suzumei”. I never used to eat raw fish before here, but I was enlightened here and their sashimi can be very satisfying for an essential oils fix.

King-tai ChowSaveurs de Coree

What is the must try starter at Saveurs de Coree?

Our sauteed tofu. It’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with our special onion sauce. It’s extremely simple and takes five minutes to prepare. It’s tasty and full of protein and vinegar, which are good for the body. The onion sauce is very yummy. I like the combination of crispiness and the sour bite.

What is the must try main?

It’d be boring to say bibimbap but it’s good because we use fantastic local organic rice, from Heilongjnang, and fresh veggies with our homemade sauce. We have three sauces–a mild sauce, which is principally fermented bean paste (doenjang), a mildly spicy sauce with red pepper paste (kochujang), and then the hardcore spicy one.

What is the must try drink?

Our house-infused pomegranate soju. It’s got this sour edge and it’s purely Korean. The whole concept is from Korea, it’s popular there. Our customers like it.

What are a few must tries at other places?

Mao Mao Chong: I like the cheese pizza, it’s lovely. Simple but extremely tasty. Some of the best pizza I have ever had,  really.

The Box: I lived in Montreal before and being able to have poutine a few minutes away from the door is good.

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