A Closer Look reviews the winners from our 2015 Reader Restaurant Awards, which were announced March 16.

We split Restaurant of the Year into three distinct categories: Chinese Restaurants; Non-Chinese Fine Dining Restaurants; and Casual Non-Chinese Restaurants. This time around we take a closer look at the Casual Non-Chinese Restaurants. Stay tuned over the next few weeks here as we delve into all of the winning categories.

Beijing boasts a trio of informal western restaurants that appear to have nothing in common, and yet are surprisingly linked. Aside from winning Restaurant of the Year (in the Causal, Non-Chinese category) in the Beijinger's 2015 Reader Restaurant Awards, Annie’s, Element Fresh, and Home Plate Bar-B-Que couldn’t be more different.

After all, what does Element Fresh’s California style salad and sandwich menu have in common with Home Plate’s down-home fare? And where would Annie’s pasta and pizzas fit into that disparate Venn diagram? 

But, in fact, these three distinct eateries attract many of the same customers. Those patrons appear to be looking for one thing above all else: reliability. By ordering from this trio of restaurants, customers are ensured a menu of old favorites that will satisfy their cravings. So, without further adieu, we give you a rundown of why these eateries were such strong performers in our Reader Restaurant Awards.

Best: Annie’s
Casual. Reliable. Affordable. Italian. Those words sum up Annie’s biggest strengths. Patrons of this long-beloved pasta purveyor know what to expect whenever they make their order at one of the Beijing-based chain’s nine locations from Sanlitun to Wangjing and beyond. When they dine in they can look forward to a softly-lit decor that’s colorful without being ostentatious, and a staff that’s fully bilingual and very friendly. Those that opt for take out delight in Annie’s most famous specialties: an easy to use, comprehensive, bilingual online menu and prompt delivery service (which is also free within the Fifth Ring Road), which make it an ideal choice for families. Be it delivery or on site, those customers revel in the saucy Alfredo (RMB 28), the hearty Tortellini di Pollo (RMB 45), the pizzas (featuring 20 varieties ranging from RMB 38-88), and the slow cooked risottos (with seven varieties ranging from RMB 48-88). But their secret weapon may be their side salads, with a small Caesar costing only RMB 18, along with 14 more varieties like the Insalata dello Chef (with beef, chicken and ham, priced at RMB 45) and the Insalata di Frutti Mare (with fresh seafood, RMB 48). These straightforward, value-laden options have helped Annie’s take home the top spot time and time again, over not only the city’s vast array of Italian eateries, but also the city’s Western restaurants in general.

Outstanding: Element Fresh
Element Fresh is beloved for its salads, and one glance at the menu gives patrons several indications as to why. From the elaborate Lebanese King Prawn Salad (RMB 148), to the hearty Laffa Bread Salad (RMB 88), to the simply flavorful Grilled Salmon Salad (RMB 120), this popular Shanghai import is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to leafy greens. But the salads are rivaled by Element Fresh’s popular brunch menu, which draws droves to its Sanlitun location (along with a growing number of families to its quieter Lido and Solana locations). Other popular menu items include a wide range of starters, the best of which may be the Humus with a Side of Pita Bread and Veggies (RMB 68), and several sandwiches and wraps, one of the most popular being the Grilled Tandoori Chicken Wrap (RMB 88). The slick, minimalistic decor echoes the restaurant’s namesake, and the staff is bilingual and extremely helpful. The same can be said of the menu, making Element Fresh as dependable as it is healthy.

Outstanding: Home Plate Bar-B-Que
Home Plate may be the champion of the Beijinger’s Burger Cup for an astounding three years and counting, but the restaurant’s true strength lies in the barbecue meats smoked on site in the traditional American deep southern way. Among these tasty options are the Chopped Beef Sandwich (RMB 45), which is stacked with savory meaty slices and spiked with onion and pickles, and the juicy Pulled Pork Sandwich (also RMB 40). Upon opening a second location in Sanlitun after its cozy Sanyuanqiao locale proved to small to accommodate its swelling clientele Home Plate also worked to expand its menu, offering tasty Barbecue Nachos (RMB 50) and a host of deserts like the Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce (RMB 30) and the delectable Cheesecake (RMB 40). The staff and menu are bilingual, and the decor stays true to the items available for order from the piles of applewood in the far corner, to the alt-country being played in the background. It’s a homestyle, southern-fried take on American fare.

Hungry for more? Follow all of our 2015 Reader Restaurant Awards coverage here.

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