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Joe's Shanghai, Chinatown -- better than you think

Back in April, 1996, I first started going to a new place in Chinatown, Joe's Shanghai. Ruth Reichl of the New York Times had just given it a rave review, and even though I was expecting great things I was nonetheless amazed. I must have gone there at least fifty times in those early years. I never ordered xiao long bao, the worldfamous soup buns, but I tried just about everything else. It was my first introduction to Shanghai food and thinking back I don't think I have had better since. I loved the braised pork shoulder, the loin's head, the stewed bean curd with crab meat, the big prawns with the shell on, prepared three ways. But my favorite was the whole yellowfish. They prepared it in seven different ways. Steamed, braised, spicy, sweet and sour, in a casserole, in fish fingers, in filets with wine sauce. All excellent.

I'm not saying you can't get better in other cities. I'm sure from what I've read you can get much MUCH better in Shanghai, and maybe in L.A. too. But we're not in Shanghai.. And I should note that Jonathan Gold, who is no fan of New York, gave the restaurant glowing praise when he reviewed it in Gourmet Magazine.

Until tonight, I hadn't been there in five years, maybe more. I started going to Shanghai Cafe, Moon House, even New Green Bo. And there was a great place in Flushing... except that one went downhill after a few months. And everyone on Chowhound said the food at Joe's was just plain horrible. So I didn't go. Tonight I finally went back. Pouring rain, and I got there early, so I got a table in front. Usually you'd have to get there at 4 to get that table without a wait. The manager remembered me, and so did the waiter who used to serve me. They were excited to see me again. I ordered the braised (aka red-cooked) yellowfish. It was as good as always. Rich brown sauce, lots of sliced pork and mushrooms long simmered in that sauce. Yum.

Let me just stay, before I crawl out on a limb and saw it off, that this was my only visit. Maybe the place has gone way downhill since its glory days and I lucked out. But I don't think it has.

Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell Street
233-8888

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Joe's Shanghai
9 Pell St, New York, NY 10013

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  1. A few years back I took my 9 year old daughter for a weekend trip to NYC, and both mornings we roamed around Chinatown tasting dumplings. We ended up rating Joe's Shanghai tops, with New Green Bo a close second, and Fried Dumplings on Allen Street a solid third if for no other reason than value. Only regret was we ate so many dumplings we didn't get to try much else. So I'm taking the entire family for another weekend trip (NYC Marathon) and thanks to your post, decided it's time to revisit Joe's, and New Green Bo, on Sunday night to try something besides dumplings. Odds are I will have the appetite for it!

    1 Reply
    1. re: G Mo

      I hope you both enjoy it! The things both places do best is Shanghai food, like the things I listed in my post. It's not the place to order Kung Pao Chicken.

    2. I tend to agree with you that Joe's probably hasn't gone as downhill as people have made it out to be, however, I don't think I would stand in line to eat at a place that charges almost double what you can get comparably at the other Shanghai restaurants in Chinatown (my favorite these days is Moon House). Also, I'm wondering if you're basing your assessment of the restaurant as a whole on just that one dish. What else gave you the impression of it being "as good as always"?

      5 Replies
      1. re: E Eto

        Yes, my assessment was based on just this one visit (and my fifty visits years ago) That's why I put the warning at the end of my post.

        1. re: E Eto

          Care to elaborate on Moon House? Where is it, what to order?

            1. re: howboy

              Moon House is on Bayard, next to Yeah and across from New Green Bo. I like that place too! I ordered the braised yellowfish there. It wasn't on the menu but since they had braised fishtail and also had whole yellowfish prepared another way, I convinced them to make a whole braised yellowfish. It was $12.95 The fish at Joe's was $14.35, but the price is really the same at both places since at Joe's they usually dont charge for rice even if you get two bowls.

              1. re: howboy

                sheng jian bao, sheng jian bao, sheng jian bao (fried tiny buns)

            2. Thanks for the review. I stopped going there five years or so back after 3 bad meals in a row (everything oily and flavorless except the soup dumplings), but it sounds like it is time to try once more. I can't go to Yeah Shanghai every time.

              1. I was there a few weeks ago and had a ginger chicken special that was absolutely delicious. It made me think of trying Joe's Ginger down the street, but we uaually go to Joe's in Flushing.

                1. I went back to Joe's recently after not having been for a while. I had stopped going not because of any drop in quality, but because I used to go for lunch when I worked downtown and now that I am not there anymore it was less convenient. I finally was missing it so much I went for dinner. Everything was just like I remembered from several years ago. As always, it helps to know what the best dishes are. I had originally gone there with Chinese friends, so I learned right away about yellowfish and pork shoulder and pork belly(which I think they call fresh bacon on the menu). The soup dumplings are as good as ever as is the jellyfish. I hope to go there again soon.