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New recommendations for Shanghai dining

I've been reading Chowhound's boards for a couple of years now and have to say am a little disappointed with the constant recycling of the same restaurants. Some of them are good, others great, but a lot are pretty average.

I've lived in China for four years now and have eaten my way across the country (and its cuisines!). For what it's worth, my favourite food cities are Beijing (bureaucrats and diplomats know how to eat well) and Qingdao (best produce in China certainly helps, as does the massive Japanese and Korean community plus a citizenry dedicated to having a good time).

I've eaten high, I've eaten low, and I've a lot in-between, so I feel qualified to make judgments about restaurants here in Shanghai.

Here are some of my favourites:

Asman - brilliant Xinjiang food on Fuxing Lu, near Xiangyang Lu. The staff only occasionally break into singing and dancing and only ever near closing time, giving you a chance to eat in relative peace. It's on the Southeast corner, up the stairs - look for a small reception area next to a giant BBQ. Aside from the fish (I can't see the wisdom in trusting a desert-people with fish), it's all delicious. English and photo menu.

Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King - hearty and cheap Dongbei food on Xikang Lu, near Wuding Lu. There are other locations too. Try the julienned-stomach salad, the di san xian, the gu lao rou, the xiang su ji, again, this is a place where it's hard to go wrong. The dumplings are also excellent. They've just re-written the menu with good translations and clear pictures.

Cha's - old-school Hong Kong cafe food on Sinan Lu, near Huaihai Lu. I'm sure it's probably been written up elsewhere on the website. The occasional hygiene issue doesn't distract from the absurdly tasty food. Be prepared to wait a LONG time. Go with the classic dishes - you'll recognise them as soon as you see the menu. Full English menu.

Legend Taste - Yunnan food on Kangding Lu, near Wuning Lu. I think I saw it referenced once here. Great Yunnan food (a couple of let-down dishes on the menu though!) with the best feature being that it's at least the half the price of most other Yunnan restaurants in town (such as Lost Heaven etc). English and Photo menu.

Lanzhou La Mian - part of a franchised-chain of Muslim noodle restaurants, the one on Wuyuan Lu, between Yongfu Lu and Wulumuqi Lu is the best. Ask them to set up a table for you outside and get the fried egg and coriander on top. Picture menu only.

Franck - French bistro on Wukang Lu, near Hunan Lu. The bad service reputation (which I think unfair) doesn't diminish from what is one of the best French bistros in Asia. Given a choice between this and any other restaurant in Shanghai I know few people who would go elsewhere. French-only menu.

Toriyasu - Yakitori restaurant on Huichuan Lu, near Changning Lu. Great food, atrocious service. Probably too expensive for what it is and out-of-the-way, but worth it for the occasional splurge. Sit at the bar area. No English or photo menu.

Masala Art - Indian restaurant on Dagu Lu, near Chengdu Lu. Excellent service and great food make this the restaurant of choice for us Shanghailanders. Full English menu.

Pasha - modern Istanbul bistro on Nanchang Lu, near Maoming Lu. Good food, cheap wine, nice service, and shishas make this a lovely place to spend an evening. It's a good middle-priced date restaurant. Full English menu.

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  1. Thanks. I'll keep your list for our next visit to Shanghai later this year. The only one we've been to is Cha's. They are trying to replicate the HK 50's cha chiang tang experience. It works at some level. But ultimately you can't have a HK experience when the waitresses don't speak Cantonese. And since we just came in from HK it's a novel place but we'd rather get Shanghainese food in Shanghai.

    5 Replies
    1. re: PeterL

      Hey Peter, I understand why you would prefer to eat Shanghainese here - but (like many!) I'm not such a fan of Shanghai cuisine. The chef at my office took me to a sensational little hole in the wall in Hongkou that I'll get the address for next week.

      1. re: toomanydumplings

        It Assmann, not Asman, and the subject of many a joke (they'll never be able to take do the Assmann billboard off the roof). I live down the block, they serve excellent lamb kebabs on the grill outside and good bakery, but there are much much better Xinjiang restaurants in Shanghai. Try Xinjiang Fengwei Restaurant at Yishan lu near Nandan lu. Sorry Assmann, I hope we can still be friends.
        What was wrong with the service at Toriyasu? I find the service at Shanghai's Korean and Japanese restaurants to soar above any Chinese restaurant in the city (not like they provide much competition). I've had some of my better service experiences in China at Toriyasu. They didn't have to do much, but even a little attention puts you above the majority of servers in China.
        There are many excellent Shanghainese restaurants in the city. I think the problem is that it's a cuisine that when done poorly is an oily, overly sweet mess, and so many people quickly become turned off by it.
        There are the less accesible FUs and Jishis of the city, but my favorite is still the hole-in-the-wall Lan Ting on Song Shan lu.

        1. re: hafnerd

          Hey hafnerd, if you live down the road I guess we're neighbours... I know the Assman thing, but to be a pedant I'm pretty sure its actual name is Asman. Either way after sinking Sinkiangs for a few hours it doesn't matter either way! I've been to the Xinjiang Fengwei place once but was disappointed with their da pan ji. Also, it's in Xujiahui as opposed to two blocks from my house!

          I used to go to Toriyasu once a week as it was on my way home from work and would often meet friends there or just sit by myself at the bar. I've often found the staff to be abrasive and kind of useless when it comes to seating people. I like to sit at the bar as this way you can talk to the chefs directly - seems to be much faster!

          As for Shanghainese food, I'm not a big fan of sweet food - and it doesn't matter which course.

      2. re: PeterL

        peter .. u CAN get cantonese speaking waitresses at Cha !! u just dont get the HK-waited attitude .. =P

        1. re: cyberK13

          As far as I can tell there was only one who speaks Cantonese. Yes you don't get the attitude, which would've made it authentic.

      3. great list dude .. keen to try many of the above .. so many choices in Shanghai but its a pity not many establishments have pride in the quality of their food ..

        there is a small noodle shop on guangyuan lu (nr huashan lu) called WeiWei's (伟伟饮食店). if u have not been there before, give it a go. its a simple bowl of noodles cooked el dente and then you have a choice of topping (meat, veg, egg, tofu). their huang jiang mian (黄酱面) is most popular, noodles in soup with meatballs wrapped in tofu skin (its sweet so u might not like it). my fav is dry noodles with spicy pork, salted veg and fried egg.

        weiweis, cha and spicy joint (辛香汇) havent let me down yet ...

        3 Replies
        1. re: cyberK13

          I'm not a fan of Spicy Joint. The price is right, but it's such a massive chain, I feel like I'm eating at a SIchuan Applebee's. Even their magazine style menus give off a corporate stench.
          Another great noodle joint down the road from The Assmann is Lao DI Fang Mian (老地放面). It's nothing more than a single tiny room with three shared tables, but the Shanghainese style noodles are all excellent, as is the pork steak 猪排. 233 Xiangyang Lu

          1. re: hafnerd

            I've never been to Applebee's, but Spicy Joint just doesn't do it for me. The confusing ordering system, the weird menu, the looooonnnnnnnnnggggggggggg wait, and only-ok food are just not my style.

            1. re: toomanydumplings

              hahahaha .. yeah the wait is crap ... i usually go after 8pm on weekdays to avoid the crowds. once again , focus is on food ... spicy joint serves excellent 'shuizhuyu' (fish in hot oil) and fried bullfrog sichuan style.

              hafnerd: will hunt down the lao di fang mian place !

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Fu1088 is vastly overrated. One of the reasons I wrote the original post was because I was tired of hearing about Fu/Jesse etc...

            1. re: toomanydumplings

              how about Tenya at Huashan Rd? been wanting to eat some good tuna before it goes extinct ..

              1. re: toomanydumplings

                I also saw a Fu 1039. Any takes on that? I get really confused about restaurants/bars here sometimes because the names are so similar. Drives me nuts.

                Will have to check out Legend Taste. I know one of my friends didn't love it, but I was disappointed by Southern Barbarian, which I feel like everyone's always talking about. The food had good flavor when I went but the meat was all bones and I left really hungry and out over 100RMB after splitting the bill three ways.

                1. re: ChowLover132

                  Tenya (Tian Jia) has a good toro set menu for a good price considering the quality of the tuna.
                  FU1039 has the same owner as FU 1088, and is also set in an old mansion down the street. FU 1039 serves more traditional Shanghainese dishes with a few experiments with European cuisine. The dishes are cheaper than FU 1088 also, but that just makes it more difficult to fulfill the 200rmb per person requirement without over ordering. FU1039 is a very nice restaurant, but the cuisine is less unique (though still very delicious).

                2. re: toomanydumplings

                  I'm in no position to say whether or not Fu 1088 is over rated or if I'm simply not a fan of super-sweet Shanghai style food. I really didn't care for a couple of our dishes because they were on the sweet side even if they had been dessert. Specifically, the simmered lotus root stuffed with rice was nauseatingly sweet. On the other hand, the tofu with crab was one of the best dishes I've ever eaten in my entire life. The xlb dumplings were also quite good. We first ate xlb dumplings at the Beijing branch of Din Tai Fung, but the ones we ate at Fu 1088 were quite a bit better.

              2. Dumplings: Thanks for the recs. I am eager to try new places. I have been in SH a couple years, but have yet to visit Franck's, which seems like it's worth a try. I wasn't too impressed by Toriyasu, which aside from some a couple normal chicken skewers seemed to have a lot of organ meet and grisle (and how do you read the menu, which appears to be chicken scratch, if you're not native Japanese or Chinese?) or Dongbei, though it's not bad for what it is (food was decent and cheap, but service left a lot to be desired and the place is likely to be less appealing to the western palate than a din tai fung type experience--def. bang for the buck though). Not sure if it's just different tastes there. I'm eager to try Masala Art and Pasha as well, since those are at least food categories I like a lot.

                For Japanese food, I'll also gie Tenya a try one of these days. If you have the cash, Heshan in He Ping Guangchang has excellent quality fish shipped in from Japan regularly and no Omakase restriction (like sushi Oyama)... Hope all foreigners living in SH will consult with a tax advisor about the deductibility of meals here (this is huge if you're in China's 45% tax bracket).

                7 Replies
                1. re: ponymagic

                  Franck is great. Go to Ferguson Lane in late afternoon, get a bottle of wine from the Wine Way and ask to sit on their upstairs terrace to drink it. They'll give you glasses and some xiaochi to keep you going till Franck opens.

                  Toriyasu's menus are completely indecipherable, so we usually go with the old point and click or alternately just ask for recommendations.

                  By Dongbei do you mean Dongbeiren? That place was awful. I believe the service at the Dongbei I recommended - Four Seasons Dumpling King - to be decent. The two bosses are always on the floor and can be called over if any problems. Additionally, I think the food is very easy for Westerners to appreciate - hearty servings, not too spicy, less complex flavours than other Chinese cuisines. It's as close to comfort food as China has!

                  Now that the weather will soon be getting better (I hope, gosh I hope), I'm hoping to get a few more picnics. Yasmin's butcher shop in Jinqiao sells sensational organic chickens for 59 kuai. I'll roast them up, make some salads with ingredients sourced from Arugula/Avocado lady on Wulumuqi Lu, pick up bread from Baker & Spice or baguettes from Cafe Montmarte, plus some cheap bubbles, and find some grass to sit on!

                  1. re: toomanydumplings

                    Looking forward to Franck. Yes, the Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King was the one you recommended and the one I went to. It wasn't bad, and I would probably go there again. It was only about USD4 per person for the meal I had, which just puts it in a different category from most upscale Chinese eateries around here (and there really are quite a few). The hearty portions meant we only got to try a few dishes, unfortunately... and I admit I wasn't brave enough to try the julienned stomach salad.. Picnic does also sound nice, though not sure where to find decent grass in SH... and the weather is still pretty lousy going into April here...

                    Tried Tenya tonight. The fish is not bad. It's real fish, which is more than I can say for the vast assortment of 149-199 RMB all you can eat places, about which the best thing you can say is the fish is tolerable and the other stuff (e.g. tempura) is good (free flow sake can cover a multitude of sins, though it doesn't prevent food poisoning, unfortunately, unless taken in enough quantity to induce rapid vomiting). However, Tenya is not at all on par with a place like Sushi Oyama, though Heshan (my recommendation) definitely is at roughly half the cost of Sushi Oyama, if you order reasonably. Tenya (Huashan rd. branch) also doesn't win many points for ambience... If you would order mainly salmon and only a couple pieces of toro, you might get out of there for a few hundred RMB for a couple, with a better experience than an all you can eat place...

                    1. re: ponymagic

                      Franck is definitely good. For straight up food quality it's hard to beat in SH. Looks like they do the menu specially everyday (either that or just insist on writing everything on a large board in French only to make it seem like they do), which is not great if you want predictability, but the stuff we ordered was very good. As for price, didn't look like there were many bottles of wine under 500, and wine could easy double or triple the price of a meal. Getting wine and an appetizer next door first is a fabulous, cost-saving idea (and there seem to be a couple places set up just for that purpose). Most of the mains in the RMB150-200 price range are very reasonable I think, for the quality.

                      It's definitely worth visiting from time to time. It's kind of an intense dining experience (especially if you don't really speak French). I can see why some could wind up with bad service nights (and they wind up disproportiately in the reviews). Apparently a reservation is necessary every night of the week (which is a bit of a downer for me), so they must be doing something right. There are more laid back French (and Italian) restaurants in SH with cheaper wine and decent food. I guess it really depends on what mood you're in.

                      That owner has got to be raking in the dough, though. Good for him--and thanks again for the rec, dumplings (is it cause you really love dumplings or you've eaten too many in China... or both?).

                      1. re: ponymagic

                        Am delighted you enjoyed Franck. I love the atmosphere, it all reminds me so much of Paris. The menu doesn't change much, but they buy fresh almost every day, so there is only a limited amount of food available (as such they can just rub it off the menu). What did you eat?

                        As for drinks, I usually get a aperitif, followed by two glasses of house white or red depending on my dish. It's not cheap, but it doesn't blow the budget that much.

                        Also, even with bookings, you often end up waiting in the lounge, by the too loud piano. End up ordering a drink while you wait, which further increases the bill! Not to worry though, it's still all good.

                        As for the handle, during the height of the GFC I lost my job and dumplings were the only way to get my carbs and protein in one delicious packaging! Now that I'm back to cote de boeuf, I sometimes miss making a meal of street food!

                        1. re: toomanydumplings

                          We had beef tartare and what I think was grouper, the latter of which was really excellent. Do you recommend shelling out 650 (around there I remember) for their australian beef. Thought about that.

                          Ah, the GFC, from cote de boeuf to dumplings and back. Who knows what the next couple years will bring... at least there will always be dumpings.

                          1. re: ponymagic

                            I do recommend the beef - it's such a fantastic experience. The taste is superb and it's also a superb theatrical experience watching the process.

                            As I see it you can pay 500 kuai at say Mesa or Longitude for an average meal that you won't remember, or 1000 kuai at Franck for say the beef and some wine and won't forget it in a LONG time. My university economics tell me that I'm better off with Franck.

                            Go with it - spend the money! Who knows when the China bubble will burst?!

                            1. re: toomanydumplings

                              My one major gripe with Franck's cote de boeuf is that they don't trim the meat well, they served me a lot of fat with my beef. I've only had the dish there once, but I've heard this complaint before. While I could get a better steak for less back in the U.S., it's unlikely I'd find a better steak in Shanghai (though I've never been to Roosevelt Steakhouse). It come's with fries and salad, and is more than enough for two.
                              I thought the service at Franck was excellent, though the laid back French-style service that the servers (mostly Chinese) imitate might make some people uncomfortable. Still, one can encounter such bad service in China, Franck is a big step above the norm. Atleast they pay attention to you.

                2. Unfortunately, I did not have a good experience at Masala Art. I was entertained there by a Shanghai-based Japanese friend who sang praises of the restaurant & how nice they were to him & his wife.

                  My husband tried talking to the owner when we were there but he seemed to eye me & my husband with suspicion. My Japanese hosts told him we were his old friends visiting from Singapore. We're not Indian but we have Portuguese-Eurasian features which probably made the owner/manager think we're Singapore-Indians. He wasn't interested in reciprocating our friendly overtures - we wanted to know more about his specialities or which part of India his chefs were from. We weren't sure why the quiet hostility, until during/after the meal when we realised that the food was not very authentic & very much over-priced - maybe he thought we'd criticize the authenticity of his food or the prices in front of our hosts. We'd do no such thing!
                  All in all, I thought the manager's attitude was disappointing. I left the place thinking about how much my Japanese friends would have enjoyed Masala Craft, that amazing restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai - that, in my opinion, is the best Indian restaurant I'd ever been to in the world!