It just doesn’t get more Beijing than a plate of dumplings.
Xian Lao Man is in my estimation one of the better places to eat them, and drink up a uniquely Beijing atmosphere.* If you go at the right time, the restaurant is packed and noisy, bright lights, very chaotic, just the way it should be. Order a jug of sour-plum juice (酸梅汤) and appreciate where you are.
Their dumplings are really well-done, with taut, thin wrappers, fresh fillings, with the dumplings just the right size to eat in two bites. I like them made into guotie (i.e. fried), it makes for a crunchier, more interesting texture. They come with plenty of fillings – I especially liked the pork-and-corn (猪肉玉米) variety.
And that crispy-skinned fish-fragrant eggplant (鱼香脆皮茄子)! What a star! What an exciting dish! Fish-fragrant eggplant, with its sweet-sour-spicy sauce, is always delicious, but here the skins were crunchy, adding a fun textural element and making the dish new again.
We were clearly not the only ones who liked Xian Lao Man. “After eating there regularly,” said one Dianping reviewer, “if I go elsewhere, I feel the dumplings are oily or just too big. Xian Lao Man really is better.”
Xian Lao Man/馅老满
252 Andingmen Neidajie/安定门内大街252号
316 Dongsi Beidajie (at the intersection with Dongsi Liu Tiao) 东城区东四北大街316号(东四六条西口)
For full list of locations see the Dianping page.
*As it happened, I was reading City Weekend’s best restaurant guide while eating. Xian Lao Man was not mentioned. In fact, of their many categories only two Chinese restaurants were mentioned: Da Dong and Din Tai Fung. Do they know what City they are in?