Here is one place to visit and three to skip next time you're in Yanji.
Yanji, most travelers' gateway to Rason, in North Korea's far Northeast, is strange city. What other fourth tier Chinese city of less than 1 million people (equivalent to a 'city' of 50,000, if scaled to US relative importance) has its own international airport, world-class coffeeshops and at least 3 craft beer bars?
Answer: none, probably.
Many Chinese cities are internationalizing, but this is one that is absorbing a uniquely Korean internationalism, where North Koreans and Chinese-Koreans interact and where a South Korean cultural aesthetic blankets the city. "Westernization", for whatever that means, is barely taking place.
There is one western outpost, however, which you'll find on Danjin Hutong. The BRB Bistro is an unlikely addition to the city's foodie scene. It is in some ways the successor to Gina's Place, where expats gathered before its closure in 2014.
Its run by an American couple and and features dancing performances by or verbal banter sessions with their kids if you come for lunch. This vegetarian was unable/unwilling to determine if the steak and hamburger-heavy menu was good, but his omnivorous friends seemed pleased with their meals. The baked goods were very satisfying and the mocha bread and and banana bread were well done indeed.
It isn't in the most intuitive location, but if you call 0433-4370370, they'll help you out.
And now to the places to skip.
The first is Key West Coffee. In a city with the excellent Hands Coffee, Gabeeyang Coffee and Vintage, there is no need for this place to exist. The inside is about as thoughtfully maintained as the sign. We didn't try the coffee.
Also, this place: across from the University, look for the Naengmyun sign that has a watermelon and strawberry floating in the impossibly-angled bowl and then go somewhere else.
Finally, street vendors selling Bungeo-bbang - a delicious fish-shaped South Korean treat that should taste like a waffle hugging bubbly hot sweet read beans in a loving embrace.
This version tasted of silt from the bottom of the Tumen river mixed with tree sap and wrapped in pastry shell made of cork and human hair. Don't do it.