Bijing's Best Cafes: from delightful outdoor seating to simple menus and fantastic views

Some of the best outdoor cafes in China are in Beijing. The winter weather is so foul and the sky so grey and polluted in winter than when spring and summer finally roll around the residents come out of their homes like bears from hibernation and they stay outdoors until the weather turns on them once again.

Around Lake Hou Hai, Nuage is one of the best restaurants with a view. You can sit outside or enjoy the view through the giant windows. With Vietnamese cafe-style decor and seating, you're sure to find both food and atmosphere that you enjoy at this old-style eatery on the lake.

For a lighter, more Italian option, head to Le Cafe Igosso for some of the best Italian cafe-style dining in the city. proportions are small enough for lunch or big enough for dinner coupled with a desert, and for those eager to take in the city's vibe and do some people-watching the windows make this an ideal cafe for lounging.

Chef Too, The Courtyard and La Taverne are all amazing Western and fusion-style restaurants with cafe vibes, outdoor seating and lighter menu options. You'll find the menus slightly more expensive than average but the decor, outdoor areas and options make up for the elevated costs.

For Chinese cafes, head to Made in China, a local favorite, Dao or Green T. House. All of these offer small servings for lunch, a cafe vibe with Chinese characteristics, and another opportunity to experience the local cuisine culture.


Grandma's Kitchen
Photo courtesy of Beijing Haze

A must for homesick Westerners who are craving authentic American meals and atmosphere. It's all here: Philadelphia cheesecake, blueberry pancakes, hamburgers, fries, pizza and more. In 2007, "That's Beijing" readers awarded Grandma's Kitchen as Best Brunch and Best Family Meal.

Local Expert tip: During lunch and dinner hours, the place can get quite busy. Eat during off hours here for optimal ambiance.

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Ever heard of Taoist cuisine? Well, apparently, the Zhengyi school of Taoism in Sichuan province created vegetarian dishes for longevity and virility. Now they have brought the mystic recipes to Beijing. Set inside an old archway, you'll find a Taoist prayer hall where set meals are served (150 CNY). The meal includes fresh dumplings, red bean rolls, medicinal herbs and ... liver and pork dishes!

Local Expert tip: A romantic, delightful cafe with a Taoist vibe. Arrive early for dinner and bring a date!

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La Taverne

If you are looking for a modest French bistro, cozy and inexpensive, then La Taverne will be the one. Dishes are generally not as rich and creamy as at other French restaurants in Beijing. Recommendations include the pan-fried sea bass, the fondue, and the cold cuts and cheeses. Reasonably priced wine is also on the menu.

Local Expert tip: Sit outside for a more delightful, authentic Beijing experience.

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An open-kitchen restaurant specializing in Beijing cuisine, located inside one of the city's major hotels. All the local street food is served here, except that it's guaranteed fresh and elegantly presented. Try some of the small dishes as appetizers - oder dou zhi (fermented bean puree), ma doufu (mashed soybean), and zhajiang mian (wheat noodles with black bean mince). Peking duck and Beggar's chicken are the pick of the entrees.

Local Expert tip: An affordable local favorite, avoid the lunch rush as that's when the locals and expats swarm the place daily.

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Ready for some mouthwatering, spicy Malaysian cuisine? Located down a dark little "Hutong" (alley) and marked with a red lantern first impressions of Cafe Sambal might be that you are approaching an old opium den. This cozy Malaysian restaurant does serve up some intoxicating fare all the same the fresh chili crab curry, the mutton curry, and kang kong belacan are especially recommended. Kapitan chicken, a mildly spicy dish with a nutty aftertaste, is the Malaysian chef's signature dish.

Local Expert tip: A fantastic example of Malaysian cuisine in China.

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One of Beijing's best-known and most exquisite restaurants, The Courtyard is often described as specializing in fusion cuisine; however a more apt title would be "East meets West" cuisine. The menu features treats such as jumbo shrimp with lemongrass-caramel glace, foie gras brûlée, cashew crusted lamb chops, and sea bass with pickled bell peppers. There's also an excellent selection of wine available. The Courtyard is ideally located at the east gate of the Forbidden City and offers diners a precious view. As you would expect, the interior of the restaurant is elegant, the walls decked with contemporary Chinese art. There's also a cigar room and a small basement art gallery.

Local Expert tip: In summer, sit outside where the patio gives you full advantage of the venue's charm.

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Chef Too Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Chef Too

A modest diner gaining repute in Beijing for its steaks, which are some of the best in the capital. Try the filet mignon or the pork chops. Salads are fresh and the desserts are homemade. Chef Too does a great Sunday brunch too and is popular with expats.

Local Expert tip: Try the Sunday brunch or sit outside for a cafe feel.

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This exquisite and super-chic restaurant is not just a place to be seen, it's a very pleasant dining experience altogether. Imaginative fusion dishes are carefully crafted to suit both Chinese and Western tongues. Lightweight and healthy dishes are complemented by fine Chinese teas.

Local Expert tip: Chinese eat normal, non-egg based dishes for breakfast. Try an authentic breakfast or brunch here today!

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This Vietnamese restaurant is a bit overpriced, but nevertheless an excellent location for a full night on the town, with a dancehall-cum-jazz club downstairs. The rooftop offers beautiful views over Houhai Lake whereas the first floor can be quite raucous at times. The Vietnamese dishes themselves are exquisite, but portions are small. Try the grilled "la lop" leaf beef and the seafood salad.

Local Expert tip: Excellent outdoor seating and a view of the lake.

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Chaoyang East District
Le Cafe Igosso

After so many rice dishes in Beijing, you might find yourself with an aching for pasta. This cute little Italian is located at an ugly junction, but is lovely inside. You are invited to sip a cocktail or a martini in the second floor bar while browsing the menu. Both the chef and the owner are Japanese, so seafood dishes are delicious. Try the seafood pesto salad and either the seabream or beef carpaccio. The mustard roast duck is excellent as are the pasta specials. A modest selection of wine is available. On weekends, this small restaurant has live jazz music.

Local Expert tip: A great retreat for seafood or brunch on weekends.

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Meet Lauren Johnson

Lauren has been living in Asia for the past five years. She holds a master's degree in Asian history. Lauren spends her free time reading, writing and traveling and visiting zoos in every city possible.