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Jul 24, 2005 05:29 PM

Shanghai eats

  • c

I'll be in Shanghai (downtown - Yan-an Rd West)for 3 weeks in October. I am making a list of places to eat close to where I am staying and also some in other parts of the city. I can't rely on guides or books - the restaurant scene changes too rapidly. Anyone have anything to recommend? I'm open to any and all cuisines, low end or high - although regional Chinese is what I'm most interested in.

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  1. If you want to keep up with the latest and greatest, pick up the English-language Shanghai Star or Shanghai Daily. They will have reviews and ads for whatever is hot these days. There's also a bunch of well developed expat-oriented websites. That said, I've always stuck with the old line places where you can get great food at much lower prices.

    You'll be fortunate to be in Shanghai during hairy crab season; be sure to take in a crab feast or two; there are a number of dining rooms which feature a tasting menu of Dazha crab prepared in many different ways, most of which having the advantage that the cooks do all the work of shelling the little creatures, which can be a pain in the butt. The most well-know crab feast is that prepared by Wang Baohe Restaurant, which has its original branch on Fuzhou Lu (?) and a new branch in a high-rise hotel, the one with Jughead's hat on top. You'll find the venues, offerings and prices listed in either of the two newspapers I mentioned.

    Good regional Chinese cuisine is not something Shanghai is particularly noted for; they are a bit parochial, and anything north of Yangzhou (excepting Shandong shui jiao), south of Hangzhou or west of Nanjing will not be well represented. But I'll hastily add that there's a lifetime's worth of good eating to try from within the Yangzi Delta.


    2 Replies
    1. re: Gary Soup

      Thanks for the tips. Can you be more specific about "old line places." I want to go to those. Also, I'm so happy to learn about It's great!

      1. re: Celeste

        Thanks, and join the party. Here's a link to a post from last year:


    2. Contrary to previous post, good and authentic regional cuisine is available in Shanghai. It was fairly well available when I lived there in the mid-90s (though mostly Hunan and Sichuan), more abundant when I visited in 2003 (good Cantonese) and now, according to friends, even more common. This is partly due to the ever-increasing number of Chinese from other parts of China settling in Shanghai. But also Shanghainese, like their Hong Kong compatriots, are becoming ever more sophisticated and curious when it comes to cuisines originating outside of their home city.

      I'd consult my notes, but unfortunately I'm in the middle of a relocation and they are in transit. If you repost (or if I remember) I should be able to provide specific info in about 3 wks.

      5 Replies
      1. re: foodfirst

        All the Sichuan and Hunan food I had in Shanghai in the period 1992-2002 was pretty much attenuated for Shanghainese tastes in terms of chili heat. Other Sichuan treatments, like "yu xiang" have been well accepted in Shanghai since the 1920's when Meilongzhen opened its doors, so much so that dishes like "yuxiang rousi" have become virtually adopted into Shanghai cuisine. Most Shanghainese wrinkle their noses at any mention of Beijing cuisine, and tend to be wary of anything lamb or beef oriented (except for beef tendon).

        What all the new hotels have to offer may be something else altogther, but when in Rome...


        1. re: Gary Stevens

          Then you must have been going to the wrong places, unfortunately. I lived in Chengdu for a year and didn't have any problem with the Sichuan specialties served at a Sichuanese restaurant (Rose Queen) out in Gubei, across from the Shanghai Municipal Archives building. While nothing special in terms of decor (stained tablecloths, overly bright room, lots of red "velvet"), this place, owned by Sichuanese and staffed entirely by migrants from Chengdu, certainly did not tone down the food for Shanghai tastes. "Beef cooked in water" arrived with a lump of raw garlic the size of a golf ball and 1/4-inch shower of huajiao on top and lazi jiding consisted of more chili peppers than chicken. In fact the majority of the clientele were Sichuanese; arrive after 7:30 on a wknd night and you couldn't get a table. I still dream of this place.

          There is (or was) also a place serving fine Xinjiang cuisine - again, geared to Xinjiang folk. Lots of lamb, lots of cumin, delicious flatbreads. Not to mention the layered flat breads and Xinjiang noodles sold in the part of Shanghai that housed these immigrants (bulldozed by now, of course). And then there was the Hunanese place by our house that served a very UN-Shanghai'd bacon stir-fried with cumin and a dish of searingly spicy whole fresh red peppers (purportedly Mao's favorite dish). In 2002 a hole-in-the-wall shop on Renmin Da Lu offered 10 varieties of jiaozi, and beifang dishes at night. The owner and jiaozi-master was from Shandong and enjoyed comparing northerners favorably to Shanghainese ("Unlike Shanghainese, we say what we think and we do what we say".). The other customers all spoke Mandarin with that characteristically northern accent.

          These days especially any first or second-tier Chinese city has restaurants geared to migrants from other parts of the country. Quite often they are owned -- or located in buildings owned by --municipal governments (for instance in 1994 a bldg in Guangzhou owned by the Chongqing govt housed an exceptional Sichuan restaurant ... and sold Sichuan-sourced ingredients on the first floor).

          I'll agree with you that many Shanghainese turn their noses up at cuisines from other regions -- they're among the snootiest when it comes to regional superiority complexes. That just means avoid regional restaurants favored by Shanghainese, and head to the ones patronized by migrants from those regions. They usually aren't fancy, and they're not located in new hotels. They may take some work to find, but they are most certainly out there.

          Yuxiang is not the best example of a regional food attenuated for Shanghai tastes ... as you point out, it's been around nearly forever and is considered as much a Shanghai dish as it is a Sichuanese dish. It's like comparing apples and oranges. Now if you're talking a Shanghai version of mapo dofu that includes peas and omits the huajiao............

          1. re: foodfirst

            Actually, most home cooks in Shanghai make mapo doufu (which, ironically, they always call "ma la doufu") with McCormick's Mapo Dofou seasoning mix. You may well be right about the hole-in-the-wall regional places. I'm led by my Shanghai-centric wife and inlaws, who have little interest in seeking out such places, and am barely competent myself to order the makings of a meal in Shanghainese, let alone Mandarin. But I feel I've barely scratched the surface of Jiangnan cuisines, and content to save Sichuan cuisine for when I get to Sichuan.


            1. re: Gary Soup

              Gary, there could certainly be worse things in life than to be "stuck" eating only Shanghai food in Shanghai for a week (wish I could be so lucky)! Nonetheless, the chili hound in me seeks out a bit of spice wherever I go, so.......

              1. re: foodfirst

                When we're in Shanghai, I can take care of such cravings first thing in the morning. The local gentry set up shop for breakfast in a vacant lot near our apartment complex in the middle of Pudong, and one lady whips up the most fiery dofu hua known to mankind. It's the next best thing to mainlining your capsicum.


      2. Two rests. we enjoyed were Shanghai Ren Jia (inexpensive) and Shao Nan Guo (high end, reservations required). Remember, taxis are cheap.

        1 Reply
        1. re: TCUJoe

          I agree with you on Shanghai Ren Jia. It's a newish chain, but doesn't feel like one, and does traditional Shanghainese dishes well at a very reasonable price. I think it has an English menu with pictures, but don't expect the servers to speak English.

          I haven't been to Xiao Nian Guo.



        2. m
          Mark Cavicchia

          We just launched a new restaurant portal for Shanghai. It is really a never-ending project as there are more than 30,000 (licensed) restaurants in the city.

          We will continue to add reviews as we personally visit each establishment.

          To view restaurants by cuisine, neighborhood, theme, best of, etc. check out:

          Constructive criticism is welcomed.