Beijing's HouHai Lake has been a favorite of picnickers and poets for decades. Recently, a fresh crop of inventive restaurants has sprouted beside the old Lotus Lane teahouses. Locals rave about the mango smoothies and soya-based coffees at Kosmo (No. 1; 8610/6611-8234; lunch for two $14), a mod java den. • Artist and restaurateur Fang Lijun's South Silk Road (No. 8; 8610/6615-5512; dinner for two $25) specializes in spicy dishes from Yunnan province, such as rice rolls, pickled pork, and chile sausage with vegetables folded into an omelette. • Next door, Fang's Yue Lu (No. 10; 8610/6617-2699; dinner for two $20) serves down-home cooking from Mao's own province, Hunan (try the stir-fried black goat with coriander and chile). Dark woods, red walls, and a library of revolutionary books keep with the Maoist theme. • At bi-level late-night lounge Sex and the City (No. 5; 8610/6612-5046), a Cosmopolitan is, of course, de rigueur. • For an unusual nautical escape, book an all-night dinner cruise aboard a traditional wooden junk with River Romance (8610/6618-5806; prices vary). Minstrels set the scene for a five-course Chinese feast.
—Ron Gluckman


River Romance

While the traditional boat that guests board may be called a “junk,” the experience is far from it on this staffed all-night cruise. During this private cruise, oarsmen lead the boat through Hou Hai Lake, which is located in the middle of the city and surrounded by waterside markets, businesses, and restaurants. Live musicians are available for rent, and the boat comes with attendants to look after guest needs. Snacks are available from Kao Rou Ji, a local restaurant, or a multiple-course Chinese meal can be booked in advance.

South Silk Road

Yue Lu

Chinese artist Fang Lijun dips his brush into both the culinary and visual arts, and this Lotus Lane restaurant is an example of his work as a restaurateur. While Fang’s visual art is harshly real, the Hunan food at this Lotus Lane restaurant is far from it. Located in the trendy Xicheng District, Yue Lu's covered outdoor dining area overlooks Hou Hai Lake. The Hunan-style cuisine tends to be pungent and flavorful, and includes such dishes as stir-fried mutton with spices like chili and coriander.