Beijing has been the capital of China for centuries and its food is reflective of the dynasties that reigned there. Mongolian rulers of the Yuan Dynasty were reportedly fond of mutton, and the Manchus of the Qing Dynasty loved roast pig and offal. Accordingly, Northern Chinese food as a whole leans toward rich and salty tones; the cuisine is strong on meat and dough. Dumplings, noodles, and meat pies are common items, as are once-imperial delicacies like Peking duck and bird's nest.
We've rounded up four great restaurants in the Los Angeles area with our favorite Beijing-style dishes.
Though the majority of their menu is Taiwanese-influenced, Duck House specializes in Peking duck. The preparation method for Peking duck is labor intensive. In China, where it's the national dish, ducklings are force-fed for weeks until they reach a weight of between 11 and 15 pounds. At Duck House, you must reserve your bird at least an hour in advance, but it's well-worth the planning. There are three different price levels; the cheapest ($35.95) will get you a soup, duck, thin flour pancakes, scallion and cucumber garnish, and a sweet and salty bean spread. There's an entire process to it: take the pancake, spread some sauce, add the duck, a single slice of its crispy maltose-glazed skin, and lastly, a handful of julienned cucumber and scallions. Fold in half (or burrito-style) and enjoy. 501 S Atlantic Blvd, Monterey Park, CA 91754; (626) 284-3227.
China Islamic Restaurant
China Islamic in Rosemead is a Beijing halal specialist. Pork is dutifully avoided, but that doesn't indicate a shortage of meat. China Islamic is heavy on mutton and beef, and they're also one of the few places in town with toothsome knife-shaved noodles. Noodle options are plentiful but if you're really torn, we suggest the lamb noodle soup ($8.95) -- a fantastic blend of lamb, cellophane noodles, seaweed, and Napa cabbage. It'll make for a delightful meal, best consumed on a cold Los Angeles evening. 7727 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead; 626-288-4246.
Beijing Pie House
If you're a fan of juicy soup dumplings and potstickers, this is the place for you. The pies in question are these wonderful discs called xianbing. They're massive meat pies, stuffed with marinated chunks of meat. Pan-fried and bursting at the seams with hot, fragrant oil, these discs are the crack pies of Los Angeles. Pair them with sambal sauce if needed, but they're perfectly fine by themselves. 846 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91755; (626) 288-3818.
Peking Tavern is a gastropub in downtown Los Angeles with food and drink concoctions inspired by the Forbidden City. They're the only bar (that we know of) that serves baijiu in their cocktails, a potent liquor at roughly 40 to 60 percent alcohol that's famous for its fuel-like odor and lingering aftertaste. Dishes are all no-frills traditional Northern Chinese bites. What that means in a nutshell: lots of dough, noodles, and dumplings. Noodles are handmade daily and the process can be seen through a glassed-in station near the door. 806 South Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90014; (213) 988-8308.