As befits Xining food’s deliciousness and diversity, this page is extensive and divided into categorical/geographic sections.
The food in Xining is diverse and fantastic. This miniguide is geared towards someone living at Shida (Qinghai Normal University, 师大) in the western part of the city, but it covers a good number of places elsewhere.
- Baozi restaurant: Baozi. Enough said. There’s also a “big baozi” newcomer here.
- Bakery: not very good compared to others in Xining.
- Muslim noodles: choose any restaurant at random and they probably are a Muslim noodle shop, serving 牛肉面 and all the fixings.
- Jianbing 煎饼 lady: always there, always delicious.
- Spicy turnovers filled with stuff (no name, really): a bit more than up the street, look for the little storefront with pans of fried turnover-bun-things filled with (a) spicy tofu (b) cabbage (c) potato (d) carrots or (e) any number of other delicious fillings. They also do a delicious fried bread with spicy stuff on top that could be (distantly, with a certain effort of the imagination) compared to pizza.
- Dairy Fairy: surprisingly delicious ice cream and shakes!
- Kitty Holocaust 一碗香: Don’t ask about the name; an incident involving small kittens in a box. But they turn out delicious noodle dishes and standards like Huiguo niurou 回锅牛肉 as well. The standout, though, is the 干拉面 gan lamian – an unbelievably delicious noodle salad-like concoction. Located on the north side of Wusi Xilu just west of the pedestrian bridge.
- Haiyan Lu 海晏路: near the back of the North campus, there’s a row of cheap noodle/Sichuan restaurants of surprisingly high quality. One in particular, with a red sign, is absolutely fantastic; I still have no idea how two people can turn out such delicious food from such a microscopic kitchen in such a short time. On the north side of the street immediately east from the Lenghu Lu 冷湖路 intersection is a little jiaozi (dumpling) place which has jiapi (big bottles of Huang He draft beer). Farther towards downtown, there’s a tiny branch of the deliciously spicy Fengkuang Jichi 疯狂鸡翅 (Crazy Chicken Wings, whose main outpost is at Minyuan across town.
- Lenghu Lu 冷湖路: Just above the Lenghu Lu and Haiyan Lu intersection is a classy but very good Sichuan restaurant; on the terrace 50-100 meters farther uphill, there’s a nice Sichuan place with outdoor seating under the trees come summer. Above Wusi Xilu, there’s a row of dumpling/noodle/shaokao places which are generally of high quality.
- Cafe Java: Owned by missionaries, and regularly infested by large numbers of the same; consequently, I really never go here unless I want to get angry. On Haiyan Lu across from Culture Park (文化公园).
- Bashan Shushui 巴山蜀水: Quite spectacular (though pricey) Sichuan food on the south (uphill) side of Wusi Xilu (a couple of blocks from Xinning square).
- Guotie 锅贴: I can never remember the name of this place, but it makes fantastic guotie (potstickers) as well as, unbelievably for Xining, pumpkin soup.
- Late-night noodles (Ersha Kaorou Mianshiguan) 尔烤肉面食馆: Open only around 4:30 or 5pm, but stays open late – and has possibly the best noodles in the area, if not the world. Try the 家常拉面 (home-style noodles) which comes with tofu. Now located on the south side of the street not far west of Hutai Yixiang 虎台一巷.
- Beer garden 重庆小炒， 啤酒园: Directly opposite Xinning square, this place – easily recognizable by its attached garden, covered over by an awning draped with a delightful mixture of fake vines – has delicious Sichuan dishes and snacks AND big pitchers of draft beer. The garden area is unique in Xining and an absolutely fantastic place to hang out and relax on a warm afternoon or evening.
3a. Koufu Jie 口福街
Located one block north of Xinning Square (enter off Xinning Lu or Jiaotong Xiang), this food street is hopping at lunch but gets awesomely crazy at night, with seemingly hundreds of seafood hotpot restaurants and other dishes available. To get here, walk downhill from Xinning square and look for a buzzing market-like semi-pedestrian alleyway. This street is liberally sprinkled with hotpot and fish-hotpot restaurants that range from great to mediocre. Aside from these, standout institutions are below:
- Xinjiang restaurant: immediately recognizable by the iron framework chuar (kebab) stand outside, which is constantly bustling with diners (worshippers?) of the delicious kebabs. Go inside for lagman (noodles), pilo (rice), and AMAZING nan (bread). A must. Currently (March 2012) under renovation.
- Malaxiangguo 麻辣香锅 restaurant: Like hotpot without the soup. WARNING: DO NOT ORDER THE ‘ESPECIALLY SPICY’ (tela, 特拉) VERSION! us in Xining are highly spice-resistant but this one ruined a few stomachs the following morning.
- Korean Barbeque: any number of places on this street do it. Order any number of hotpot-style dishes and, after a sizzling-oil-covered glass plate is brought to your table and heated to supernova temperatures, begin the grilling. Order the garlic – it’s deliciously non-pungent.
Once my favorite market in Xining, Mojia Jie has largely been moved indoors; it is now located on the bottom two floors of a newish building one block south of Dong Dajie (enter off Mojia Jie itself). However, the indoor market and remaining outdoor places (as well as the neighborhood as a whole) remains a great place to eat and snack. Notable places include the multitude of 拜娘脾 (bainiangpi, a noodle dish) restaurants, the ever-popular place serving 福字饼 (which taste like waffles if you get them hot), the sesame balls (a must-have), and the two ‘burrito’ stalls: one of these serves spring-roll-like fried rolls, but the best serves non-fried roll-ups with noodles, peppers, veggies, and (optional) meat. Also, make sure you head over to Dong Dajie (just east of Mojia Jie) for excellent nangua bing 南瓜饼- delicious pumpkin cakes. Awesome. For another somewhat similar street-foody experience, try Shuijing Xiang 水井巷 or Xiao Qiao 小桥市场 markets.
Everyone’s favorite, especially in winter. Here are ours:
- YuShanYuan 御膳苑肥牛 The standard – and it sets the bar high! Yushanyuan has all the basics – individual pots in a wide array of flavors (tomato?), a vast assortment of dishes, and the best snacks of any hotpot restaurant in existence (get the fried veggie balls!). But where YuShanYuan really shines is in the sauce department. The branch at 140 Wusi Xilu (south side between Haihu Lu and Xuefu Xiang 五四西路， 海湖路和学府巷的中间) was the first place in Xining to have a sauce bar, revolutionizing the hotpot experience. This feature has proved so successful that it has spread to the other branches around town, including 29 Nanguan Dajie 南关大街 (cnr Nan Dajie), and 318 Qiyi Lu 七一路.
- Pinshang Doulao 品尚豆捞: Ladies and gentlemen, what you’ve all been waiting for: a high class hotpot experience in downtown Xining with 1) a massive and fantastic sauce bar; 2) a special ‘house recipe’ base sauce”; and, 3) the most diverse selection of pots around (including curry and satay!). The culprit? The Xining outpost of this Hong Kong chain, which opened in 2012 on the fourth floor of the BHG Mall on Changjiang Lu 长江路 at Ximen. No reservations; be prepared to wait a bit.
- Jinfuyuan 金福苑肥牛: This venerable chain has quite a few convenient branches around the city (Xiguan Dajie near Qixiang Xiang, Shengli Lu, Shipo Lu near Dong Dajie, Wusi Dajie). Not overly pricey and delicious; therefore always packed. Chandeliers in the private rooms are great impromptu meathooks. Individual pots.
- Senlinyu 森林雨鸭汤王火锅: Though strangely named “Forest Rain”, this hotpot is quite delicious despite its lack of individual pots. Two branches: one near the corner of Nan Dajie and Nanshan Lu, and one on Shengli Lu (main branch, better flavor) opposite the Jiaotong Xiang intersection (胜利路和交通巷的路口）.
- Lao Gui Xun Rou Da Bing (smoked-meat big pancake) 老贵熏肉大饼: At this his delicious and unpretentious restaurant, you get not only dishes but also crispy fried dabing (big fried breads) with dipping sauces and cold, not-overly-fatty slices of meat – which you proceed to eat pancake-style (like duck). Located on Nanxiaojie opposite the Nanmen Tiyuguan in Guojicun (南小街南门体育馆对面). NEWS FLASH: This restaurant was demolished in 2013; rumors of a successor (in a different location) have yet to be substantiated.
- Lucky Wings (Jichi) 吉翅: Be careful: this restaurant is perhaps the spiciest in the universe. I pride myself on being able to handle a lot of spice, but this place left me speechless (not to mention relatively catatonic). Their specialty is chicken wings, which come in three variations of spiciness: “Original flavor” 原味 which is actually quite delicious, “Middle-spicy” 中辣 which is quite fiery, and “BT” – an English transliteration of the Chinese “biti 鼻涕” or “snot.” As in “the snot will be running Usain-Bolt-like down your nose if you try to eat this. Not only snot, but tears: I was crying within seconds. The next morning, I awoke to find my eyes bright red and burning. The people who run the tiny hole-in-the-wall, located Kunlun Lu near Xishan Yixiang 西山一巷, say they don’t dare to eat anything spicier than “original flavor.” And other than the two spicy types of wings, everything they do is actually quite delicious. Nevertheless, you have been warned. The Qinghai University Hospital is right down the street – convenient if needed. Note: You can get a similar experience at any of the Crazy Wings (Fengkuang Jichi) 疯狂鸡翅 restaurants around town (notable branches at Minyuan and on Haiyan Lu).
- Quanjude Duck Restaurant 全聚德: If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard tell of this nationwide chain’s succulent duck. Get thyself hither as quickly as possible. Located on Wusi Xilu just to the west of Qixiang Xiang 气象巷.
- Surprisingly delicious baozi restaurants: If you want some really good baozi, wander towards the Huayuan Lu 花园路 – Nanxiaojie 南小街 area of town (downhill from Guojicun) and look for anyplace with “tangbao” 糖包 or especially “high-quality baozi” 优质包子 in its name. As the competition is apparently cutthroat (according to several briefly-interviewed restaurant owners) in this majority Hui Muslim area, the standard of quality around here is extremely high. Warning: despite the name, tangbao (“sugar-baozi”) often contains meat.