In Beijing and Xi'an less of a problem especially if you go to ones that are in the guidebooks. As they have been getting foreign tourists for years, even the cheap ones might have one English menu now. If no English menu, you can order by pointing at other tables, or using a phrase book and ordering simple dishes - dumplings, rice and a meat dish.
China is not a bit like Thailand or Vietnam as far as tourism goes. Tourist are not a staple of the economy. Outside of major hotels, tourist areas and expat hangouts you will find few restaurants with English menus - however you will find quite a few with picture menus.
It is hard to find restaurants that do not have english menus and pictures in most restaurants except some holes in the wall. Especially in the areas that you are likely to visit.
I would say relax, take a phrasebook with a good menu section in case all else fails and enjoy the experience!
An example. We decided to seek a very simple place in Beijing that did not cater for tourists or upmarket locals but was patronised by local locals as it were.
Having chosen one we went in and asked if they had a menu in English. Not surprisingly it became obvious that English was not spoken. We were ushered to a table in the window (a shrewd move as later several tourists came in having seen us) and given a menu in Chinese with a pencilled English translation. The translation was a bit dubious in some respects but sufficed. We ended up with a great, well-cooked, very generous meal for two which cost RMB 100 including water.
As others have said if all else fails point to other tables' plates or indicate ingredients in your phrasebook. The Chinese are immensely courteous and good-humoured and those in the establishment described (and other places) were much tickled by our presence!
Where I live and travel 100 RMB for 2 would be considered top of the range, and yes I would expect some sort of English menu. The OP was asking about "reasonably-priced", which I take to mean under 30 RMB, including beer!
Street food is easy to order by pointing and you should try the muslim quarter of Xi'an.
If you eat chinese food in Beijing you can pay 100rmb for 2 including beer. In Yanshuo I paid 210rmb for dinner for 14 including a few beers. It really depends where you are and where you are in a city.
Thank you all for your replies. Hopefully we should be ok. I'm sure many before us have managed.
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