Beijing is home to China’s greatest historical treasures, and while those aren’t going anywhere, its historic housing stock may be. The 600-year-old hutongs are narrow alleyways lined by stone courtyard houses. At their peak, there were thousands upon thousands but today, estimates put the number at just 600.
Of those, a handful have been spared demolition and instead been gentrified. The one-time family homes are now boutique hotels, fixed gear bike shops, and even microbreweries. We sat down with some local experts—architects, historians, and others who lead Context Travel's Hip Hutongs walking seminar—and came up with a great list of where to eat, drink, shop, and sleep in Beijing’s hutongs.
Mr. Shi’s Dumplings
Plump dumplings are as iconically Northern China as fortune cookies are American. Mr. Shi’s is the most foreigner and family friendly place in the hutongs to sink your teeth into dumplings steamed and fried. With good service, clean surroundings, and an English-language menu Mr. Shi’s is with good reason popular with expats and visitors, but with locals as well. Dumplings are available steamed or fried and with myriad fillings—pork and chives, chicken and shiitake, beef and fennel, and even cheese, that all too rare commodity. Dumplings come 15 to an order which sounds like a lot until you’re putting away your 12th. (74 Baochao Hutong)
When you need a break from Chinese food but don’t want to eat Western, this light-filled little Thai restaurant nicely fits the bill. The sunny window table is the best, giving you a front row seat to the pedestrians and bikes rolling along Wudaoying Hutong. Lan Ting serves the requisite Singha beer, which you’ll need to wash down the spicy green mango and crab salad and the green chicken curry. There are enough vegetarian options here to satisfy, and those traveling with picky eaters in tow can order the simple chicken satay or the fried tiger shrimp, which come wrapped in a golden brown crust. (78 Wudaoying Hutong)
DrinkGreat Leap Brewing
After you’ve had enough of China’s national beer, Tsingstao, take respite at Great Leap. The menu offers a handful of high-quality beers from American brewmaster Carl Setzer, made at their brewing site out near the Great Wall. The Honey Ma Gold is Great Leap’s first and best beer, a gold ale that utilizes peppercorns from Sichuan province and date honey from Shandong province to produce its unique flavor. The Cinnamon Rock Candy, 6.2% ABV, is an Amber ale that gets its kick from Chinese rock candy, brown and white sugars, honey, and a little Vietnamese cinnamon. Great Leap has two branches; its original hutong outpost is beloved for its sweet little courtyard while its second branch, closer to Sanlitun, has a more welcoming indoor space.(6 Doujiao Hutong)
Mao Mao Chong
Beijing has shinier, new cocktail bars, but they lack the hidden charm of Mao Mao Chong, not to mention the excellent thin-crust pizzas churned out by the wife-and-husband owners. The cocktail list is expansive but hardly expensive; expect to pay ¥40-¥50 for drinks like the Bloody Mao—vodka infused with chili and basil, tomato and lemon juices, Tabasco, black pepper, and Worcestershire or something less piquant, like the Feng Shui, a mix of sake, oolong Vodka, and lychee liqueur.(12 Banchang Hutong)
Stationary aficionados will find themselves immediately seduced at this twee little shop, where all manner of paper products deck the shelves. The goods, which include colorful notebooks, handmade gift bags, postcards, and bookmarks, come from China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, and Thailand. The shop is popular with the city’s Etsy-types, who come to gab with crafty owner Haiyi.(12 Fangjia Hutong)
The pair of creative types behind this petite shop must keep later hours; the shop doesn’t open until 1:30pm. Inside, you’ll find mod leather shoes, hand-stitched leather crossbody bags and totes, as well as a small selection of vintage tote bags and wallets. Jewelry is from Brooklyn-based K/LLER. Pieces run ¥100-1,500, with the hand-made totes hovering around ¥950.(27 Wudaoying Hutong)
There are just 10 rooms at this enormously charming courtyard-home-cum-boutique-hotel, all of which have sumptuous goose-down beds, floor heating, and Panasonic air purifiers, as well as a media server with movies and music, WiFi, and magically-refilled fruit baskets. The three garden rooms have their own tiny green spaces while the yang room has a private roof terrace. The inner courtyard, the restaurant and bar space where guests enjoy breakfast, and the rooftop terrace are popular with locals and expats who come for wine tastings and stay to soak up the tranquility. (65 Baochao Hutong)
Traditional Chinese furniture fills the rooms and public spaces at 19-room hotel, rich in character and authenticity. While its setting is a 300-year-old courtyard, the rooms themselves provide modern comforts like Internet, rainforest showerheads, and underfloor heating. The quaint breakfast room, with its red curtains and curved-back wooden chairs, looks like a snapshot of a Chinese countryside in, but the buffet caters to Westerners. Though a stone’s throw from shops and restaurants, the cozy rooms at Courtyard 7 are blissfully quiet. (7 Qianguloyuan Hutong)
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