TOP EATS - FROM STREET TO SEAT
Shanghai can be overwhelming when it comes to deciding what to eat with a limitless supply of places opening (and closing!) by the week. You can find nearly every cuisine in this town, though you must sample some proper Shanghainese and other regional Chinese fare - including street eats! - along with the other international offerings.
Assuming you’ve got limited time and the city is becoming increasingly choked with traffic, I’ve highlighted those places that can be visited while touring the interesting bits of town or are genuinely worth the time spent in a taxi. Either way, you should plan to have at least one dinner along the Bund, a lunch or dinner in Xintiandi, and then a couple lunches/dinner in the Former French Concession.
And I've included a few places to check out when you're feeling like a taste of home or want to hang with the expat crowd.
STREET / HOLE-IN-THE-WALL EATS
Huanghe Lu, nr Fenyang Lu
Kill two local birds with one stone (xiao long bao and shengjian bao): Jia Jia Tang Bao (#50) and Yang's Fry Dumpling (#97), respectively, which are across the street from each other. See more below
Wujiang Lu (nr People’s Square)
This used to be THE food street when I was living in Shanghai with dozens of outdoor stalls mobbed at lunchtime, but much of it has been cleaned up in time for the 2010 Expo. You can find real goodies like Yang’s fry Dumpling and Ippudo (Japanese ramen) in the food mall, and city favorite Lillians egg tarts (#169 Wujiang, Building 121) are here.
Wulumuqi Lu (French Concession)
The place to grab some breakfast, with everything from fried dough sticks (you tiao, served with dou jiang a bowl of hot sweet or salty soy milk) to the legendary “Chinese breakfast burrito” (jian bing) lady at #328, between Fuxing Zhong Lu and Wuyuan Lu. During your stroll, make sure to stop into "the Avocado Lady"’s stall at #274, the expat favorite for fresh fruit and veggies and imported ingredients. Try some cumin and paprika-spiced lamb kebabs near the corner of Wulumuqi Bei Lu and Yuyuan Lu.
Lujiabang Lu (around the South Bund Fabric Market)
After a busy morning of designing and ordering your next season’s wardrobe, there’s nothing better than sampling street food for lunch. Among my favorites on this stretch have been the fragrant Uighur lamb kebabs, metal drum-roasted sweet potatoes and homemade "butterfingers" (watch two guys hammer the layers of peanut, Mario Bros style).
Fangbang Xi Lu (and Sipailou Lu, near Yu Gardens)
This is the most crowded, comprehensive street food centre in town. A great place to try shao kao (BBQ bamboo skewers of meat, seafood, veggies), like the popular fragrant Uighur yang rou (lamb meat spiced with cumin, paprika), or the polarizing local speciality chou doufu (stinky tofu).
Destination street eats / hole-in-the-wall's
Loushi Tangbau Guan
601 Nanchang Lu, near Xiangyang Lu. This tiny stall does 8 soupy dumplings for less than a dollar. No English spoken here.
Henan Lamian Guan
607 Changle Lu, nr Donghu Lu. Each $1 bowl of wheat noodles are pulled to order and served with blackened scallion oil (a local favorite).
209 Pu’an Lu, near Taicang Lu. To sample the guotie (pork dumplings).
A Da Cong Yo Bing
Lane 159, back door of No. 2 Maoming Lu, near Nanchang Lu. The place to try scallion pancakes (cong you bing). Not open on Wednesdays.
If you're feeling indecisive...
Head to one of the following areas, which host a variety of restaurants and bars from which to choose:
-The Bund. Where all the world-class international restaurants can be found: Jean George's mini empire (Three on the Bund), Mrs and Mrs Bund and Ultraviolet (Bund 18), and the original trendsetter M on the Bund and Glamour Bar (across the street from Three on the Bund).
-Xintiandi. This was the original dining/bar center - sadly, it’s become a bit cheesy and overcommercialized, but it’s worth coming here regardless for a stroll and a bite. Top picks: Din Tai Feng, Crystal Jade, T8, DR Bar or TMSK (for drinks), and the new-for-Fall-2014 mozzarella bar called Bottega (from chef Austin Hu, ex-Gramercy Tavern NYC and owner of Shanghai's most popular brunch spot Madison and off-shoot Madi's).
-Ferguson Lane at 376 Wukang Lu, nr Tai'an Lu
More of a local, expat feel, in the heart of the former French Concession - you can get everything from homemade granola and pastries for breakfast to pizza, pate or ceviche for dinner. Top picks include any of Franck's mini French empire (Franck fine dining, Franckito wine bar, Le Petit Franck bistro and Farine bakery), a Cote (pizza) and Azul (Peruvian).
-Anfu Lu, mostly between Wukang Lu and Wulumuqi Lu
This trendy little expat-friendly stretch of restaurants, cafes and food shops, between Wukang and Wulumui Lu, is home to the Wagas mini empire at #195 (Baker and Spice, Mr Willis, Sushi Raku, Mi Thai, La Strada pizzeria), as well as Sunflour Bakery, and Enoterra wine bar.
-Yongkang Lu, nr Jiashan and Xiangyang Lu
This is now what Maoming Lu was to my generation - packed with all sorts of casual and buzzing restos and bars catering to the expats and tourists. Ask around for current favorites.
Best of hotel dining
-Shangri-La Pudong. 33 Fu Cheng Road, +86 21 6882 8888
Destination restaurants aplenty here: Jade on 36 boasts Michelin-trained Fabrice Giraud’s modern French; Nadaman and Sushi by Nadaman offers top-class Japanese from a group that’s been famous for its kaiseki in Japan since 1830; and Yi Cafe is now the gold standard in all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch buffets (edging out the The Stage @ Westin buffet), with open-kitchen action stations cooking up just about every cuisine out there.
-Grand Hyatt. Jin Mao Tower, 53-87th Floors, 88 Century Avenue. +86 21 5049 1234
Lots of great restaurants here: steaks at The Grill, Italian at Cucina, fine Shanghainese at Club Jin Mao, and cocktail bar at Cloud 9. Hopefully smog won't obstruct the views.
-Westin Bund Hotel. 88 Henan Zhong Lu, by Guangdong Lu. +86 21 6335 1888
Prego offers one of the best refined Italian in the city while original Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch spot The Stage, has now upped the ante with live acrobatics and music to go with.
If you only have a few days...
Din Tai Feng
Xintiandi, 2nd Floor, South Block building, 123 Xingye Lu, by Madang Lu. +86 21 6385 8378.
Many swear this Taiwanese chain is the best place for "civilized" xiao long bao (soup dumplings); while my loyalty lies with Crystal Jade on the same floor, I have to agree after my 2013 visit to the city.
Main branch: Xintiandi, 2nd Floor, South Block, Lane 123 Xingye Lu, by Madang Lu. +86 21 6385 8752. Reservations recommended, request a booth if up to 4 people.
My absolute favorite for Cantonese dim sum and a variety of regional Chinese dishes, everything is good at this Singaporean export. A few must-haves: suckling pig (the priciest dish by far at RMB45), baked bbq pork buns, xiao long bao, chive shoot dumplings, and pork wontons in spicy chili sauce, the laciest deep fried taro dumplings with rich pork filling, pan-fried turnip cake, crystal shrimp dumplings, bright green pea shoots (dou miao) stir-fried in garlic. And you can't go wrong with any of the congees (sliced fresh fish is the best) or noodles, which you can see being handpulled on the way in.
41 Tianping Lu, by Huaihai Zhong Lu. +86 21 6282 9260.
Dishing up superb homestyle Shanghainese/Zhejiangese cuisine, this no-frills two-storey shack has a side annex to accommodate the throngs of lively locals. No oil, sugar (or MSG) is spared in the tasty dishes, and must-eats include jellyfish heads (hai ze) with vinegar, air-dried eel and horsebean paste (man qiang qing dou), sauteed bamboo shoots (gan kao dong sun) with deep fried veggie leaves, crab meat tofu (xie fen dou fu), wild herbs with dried beancurd (ma lan tou), and house speciality pork knuckle (ti pang/hongshao rou), which is braised for five hours in soy sauce, sugar and salt. For the real foodies out there, order ahead the fish head scallion (cong xiang yu tou).
The Bund: 17 Yanan Dong Lu
French Concession: 38 Gaoyou Lu, by Fuxing Xi Lu. +86 21 6433 5126.
My longtime Shanghai resident friends swear by this place - Yunnan and ethnic Dai, Miao and Burmese cuisine in a chic, date-friendly space - order the chicken w/ scallions. The Bund location has a rooftop bar that is great for out-of-towners.
Jia Jia Tang Bao
50 Huanghe Lu, by Fenyang Lu.
Many consider this down-and-dirty spot to be the gold standard for no-frills xiao long bao. Get there by 11am as many of the varieties sell out by noon.
Xiao Yang’s Fry Dumpling
-97 Huanghe Lu, by Fenyang Lu
-54-60 Wujiang Lu, by Nanjing Xi Lu (nr People's Square)
The "other" must-eat dumpling while in Shanghai - the shengjian bao, the larger, doughier, pork-and-soup-filled, steamed-then-fried cousin of the xiao long bao - the Huanghe Lu branch is a great follow up to xlb's across the street at JJTB.
375 Zhenning Lu, nr Yuyuan Lu
This classic Shanghai restaurant is an interesting mix of authentic traditional villa setting (everyone dines in their own private room) and elegant, modern Shanghai cuisine. I came here in 2013 with my local foodie friend and the meal was just phenomenal from start to finish. It’s a very authentic dining experience which gives you a taste of the Old and New Shanghai in one go.
Xiao Nan Guo
At Ruijin Bingguan (Ruijin Guest House). 118 Ruijin Er Lu, by Fuxing Lu. +86 21 3208 9777.
The best branch of the citywide chain boasts a soaring dining room in the Ruijin Guest House compound, and a great spot to sample most of the Shanghai favorites. Top cold dishes include drunken chicken (zui ji) and chopped wild herbs with diced tofu (ma lan tou), while hot plates include scallion pancakes (cong you bing), roasted pigeon (shao kao ge zi), sautéed river shrimp dipped in vinegar (“qing chao” or “shui jing” xia ren), sweet lotus with glutinous rice, deep-fried yellow fish, claypot of crab meat and roe (xie fen dou fu), and dates with glutinous rice flour.
Any of Jean George’s restaurants at Three on the Bund
I say this because JG has done a fine job of bringing a number of excellent dining spots to the city - Jean Georges, Nougatine, Mercato and his newest Chi-Q - and their location at Three on the Bund means great food and great views.
M on the Bund
7th Floor, No 5 on the Bund, 20 Guangdong Lu, by Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu. +86 21 6350 9988.
The first Western-style fine dining establishment in Shanghai (open since 1999), you’ll find better food across the street at Three on the Bund (Jean George’s mini empire) or just south at Bund 18 (Mr and Mrs Bund, Ultraviolet), but it is an institution for a reason. A popular spot for dinners and weekend brunch, its Glamour Bar is still a top choice for cocktails with a view.
One of Paul Pairet’s uber-modern restaurants - RESERVATIONS A MUST!
Mr and Mrs Bund
6th Floor, Bund 18, Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, between Jiujiang Lu and Nanjing Dong Lu. +86 21 6323 9898.
Chef Paul Pairet’s modern and highly experimental (think Fat Duck, El Bulli) French fare has been winning accolades ever since opening in 2009, and made it onto Pellegrino’s 2014 Top 50 Restaurants in Asia ranking.
If you’re into some really experimental dining, come to this one-of-a-kind immersive dining experience from Paul Pairet. Only 12 seats, you turn up at Mr and Mrs Bund and then are shuttled to a secret location.
Shintori (formerly Shintori Null II)
803 Julu Lu, by Fumin Lu. +86 21 5404 5252.
Modern Japanese in (still) one of the cooler interiors in Shanghai - a converted movie theater space bathed in dark-grey concrete with an elevated open-air kitchen taking centerstage. Top tables are for two on the mezzanine.
When all you want is a salad or a smoothie...
Xintiandi: 185 Madang Lu, corner of Zizhong Lu)
My local friend's go-to for healthy eats (in her words: "reminiscent of Lemonade in California or the salad bar at Whole Foods). Another branch in Superbrand Mall in Pudong.
Original branch: Shanghai Center (underneath Portman Ritz Carlton), 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, by Xikang Lu. +86 21 6279 8682
This is where all the expats (and travel-weary tourists) go when they’re dying for a Western-style breakfast or a healthy green salad and a smoothie. There are also branches in Xintiandi and the Kerry Centre.
Original branch: Citic Square, lower ground floor via outdoor escalator, 1168 Nanjing Xilu, by Shaanxi Bei Lu. +86 21 5292 5228.
Another healthy-fare, American-style cafe great for soups, salads, sandwiches, smoothies and coffee. Non-smoking. Now there are over half a dozen branches throughout the city, and Craig Willis' empire is taking over the trendy Anfu Lu expat enclave.
For longer stays...
-Puxi: 881 Yan’an Zhong Lu, by Shaanxi Bei Lu. +86 21 6247 5878. The newest branch, that has cool decor and has a new bar in the guesthouse behind the house.
-Pudong: 10th Floor, Super Brand Mall, 168 Lujiazui Xi Lu, by Fucheng Lu. +86 21 5047 1817, 5047 1917. Open daily 10am-10pm. Smashing views of the Bund and a huge outdoor terrace.
Award-winning Sichuan/Hunan fare but also has other modern Chinese dishes.
Bao Luo (“Paul’s”)
271 Fumin Lu, by Changle Lu. +86 21 5403 7239.
Packed to the gills day and night (open from 10am-6am), this is bright, loud, smoky Shanghai dining at its best. The typical local fare includes ‘bean curd with odor’ (chou doufu), ‘pot-stewed crab meats and minced pork’ (shi zi tou), stir-fried river shrimp (shui jing xia ren), crab meat and roe tofu, deep fried chicken in chilis, and steamed mandarin fish (zhen gui yu). Other house favourites are the Swiss steak (rui shi niu pai) and the very oily ‘aubergine sandwiching patty’ with minced pork and rice pancakes (qie zi jia bing).
5F, Reel Shopping Mall, 1601 Nanxing Xi Lu, nr Changde Lu
This peking duck chain from Beijing is the best place in Shanghai to try this specialty, and the chain is known for their proprietary "super lean" duck technique, which is supposedly less fatty than its competitors.
Yu Gardens, 85 Yuyuan Xi Lu, on the West shore of teahouse lake near zig zag bridge. +86 21 6355 4206.
The 100+ yr old, three-storey shrine to ‘xiao long bao’ in the heart of Yu Gardens and Bazaar is the most famous place to sample Shanghai’s (though originating from Wuxi) famed steamed pork and crabmeat dumplings. Set in the middle of hectic Yu Gardens across from the crooked bridge and tea house, you can’t miss this place with its constant, never-ending queue at the take-out window downstairs. The higher the floor, the more expensive the offerings, from pork dumpling takeaways on the ground floor to the crab roe-filled versions on the third.
Strategy time: Don't be shy or you'll go hungry! I’d start by heading up one flight of stairs to the second floor, which has nice views of the crooked bridge and teahouse. Pay for your food first (pay by the basket, or long, add ¥1 each for egg drop soup, ginger and napkins), grab your ticket, and then stake out a stool by standing next to someone who looks like they’re finishing up their meal (hovering is not considered rude here). Once you’re seated, a woman will collect your ticket(s) and give you your ginger and soup, if ordered. Note: the teapot on your table is not full of tea, but rather vinegar to pour over the ginger. Eventually a cart of steaming stacks of baskets will reach your table, and the woman will offload the ordered baskets for the entire table. Now, how to properly eat xlb's? That’s a whole other story :). For the most "civilized" experience, head to the third floor.
Main branch: 87 Fumin Lu, by Julu Lu. +86 21 6249 5628.
This bustling Hunanese is a hit with everyone, serving authentic spicy classics such as sauteed garlic shoots with bacon (suan miao lao rou), cold bean curd with chili, large grilled green peppers (you meng qiao jiao), and the banana dessert (ba si xiang jiao).
1221 Yan’an Xi Lu, by Panyu Lu. +86 21 6213 6585. Bookings recommended.
The accessible Shanghai and Cantonese menu, English-speaking waitstaff, starched tablecloths and a proper wine list make Michelle Liu's place an expat favourite. Top dishes include shredded chicken with peanut sauce (bang bang ji), crispy duck with taro (xiang su ya), sautéed beef with fried dough sticks (you tiao niu rou), cucumber salad, crispy eel, and complimentary fried sticky rice with red bean paste (xiang jin ba bao fan) for dessert. Even more than a decade after I’ve moved from Shanghai, I’m so happy to see it still gets rave reviews all around.
Xin Guang Jiu Jia (during Hairy Crab season, from October-November)
Original branch: 512 Tianjin Lu, by Guangxi Bei Lu. +86 21 6322 3978. Other branches in fancy Hongqiao-based hotels.
When it’s hairy crab season (Oct-Nov), this is the best place to come. It’s a pricey dining experience, but for good reason: these critters are fiddly little things and if you peek beyond the screens on the ground floor as you walk in, you’ll see legions of women hard at work poking, scraping and coaxing the sweet delicate meat out of the shells.
Each part of the crab is given its own dish to shine, from steamed claws beautifully arranged and eaten simply with brown vinegar, slender leg meat sauteed with greens, the creamy brown female roe eaten with sweetened vinegar, and the best part, though not for the faint at heart: the sticky spermatic “gao” of the males, which are at their peak towards the end of the season. The classic accompaniment during the meal is huangjiu (“yellow wine”, a sweet, oxidized wine), and then finish with a sweet, hot ginger tea, a warming counterpoint to the crab, which is considered a “cold” food.
Great link to break down the meal with pictures and prices:
Vegetarian Lifestyle (Zao Zi Shu or Jujube Tree)
258 Fengxian Lu, by Jiangning Lu.
77 Songshan Lu, by Huaihai Zhong Lu. +86 21 6384 8000.
If you’re looking for something healthy, head to the most popular vegetarian place in town where it’s all about nicely presented vegetable and mock meat dishes. While I can’t recall what I ate, I remember liking it (and I’m no vegetarian), and it’s a bonus that the place is also non-smoking (and no alcohol).
Xia Wei Guan (“Savoy”)
Oriental Gardens, 9 Zhenning Lu, by Zhaohua Dong Lu. +86 21 6212 0617/6797
A longtime favourite among Hong Kong celebrities and well-heeled locals for refined Shanghainese. Sister to popular noodle house Xia Mien Guan (on Wuxing Lu and Plaza 66), Savoy has some of the same popular dishes, like crabmeat tofu (xie fen dou fu), sauteed river shrimps, and arguably the city’s best lion’s head meatball with crabmeat (xie fen shi zi tou). Other standouts include fried bean curd skin with enoki mushrooms, sautéed spring bamboo shoot with chopped greens (when in season), stir-fried sticky rice cakes (nian gao), and their house specialty DoReMi, (crab meat and roe over spinach noodles). Apparently MSG-free.
House 10, Lane 706 Huaihai Zhong Lu, between Ruijin and Sinan Lu. +86 21 5306 5410. Open daily 4:30am-9:30pm
It’s a little hard to find, but the quaint, old-school setting and delicious noodle dishes are worth it. The menu features noodle soup with a couple dozen different choices for “toppings”. You can get anything from barbeque pork, to crab meat tofu (my personal favorite), to shi zi tou (lion’s head meatball, huge Shanghai specialty) and there are plenty of other side dishes – the local speciality fried baby eels in sweet brown sauce are light, crispy, and delicious! For dessert, this place does a fantastic glutinous rice stuffed with red date paste.
201 Xingguo Lu, by Tai’an Lu. +86 21 6433 9123. Bookings essential.
Known for its seafood dishes (try the drunken shrimp), this casual eatery is a favourite among well-to-do locals and the Hong Kong set. All the Shanghai classics are served here, from jellyfish with sesame oil to spongy bean thread (kao fu), and signature dishes include red-cooked pork (hong xiao rou/ti pang) and glutinous rice-stuffed red dates. ¥150-175/head.
805 Julu Lu (right next to Shintori)
I was pleasantly surprised to see this 2004 hotspot is still going strong - blame it on the super slick decor and cool vibe, from the same folks behind People 6.
150 Yueyang Lu, by Yongjia Lu. +86 21 6468 0505.
Its funky bathrooms were the initial draw for this multi-level, hyper-modern Chinese restaurant and bar, but it’s also known for its tasty food and very pricey drinks, including the gimmicky, colourful testtube shots. It was a hotspot when I lived there in 2002-2004, and its apparently still a great night out.
Shanghai Art Museum, 5th Floor, 325 Nanjing Xi Lu, by Huangpi Bei (North) Lu, People’s Square. +86 21 6327 2221.
International, fusion cuisine on the roof of the Shanghai Art Museum from longtime resident expat /restaurateur Kathleen Lau. Great place for a drink with the bar looking out over People’s Square. Dishes might include seared scallops with cauliflower puree, goose liver mousse, celeriac/apple and truffle brioche cru or crispy tea-smoked duck leg with glazed pineapple. Sister spot Kathleen’s Waitan (near the Bund) gets mixed reviews.
Xintiandi, North Block building, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, by Huangpi Nan Lu. +86 21 6355 8999.
Perennial Conde Nast favorite serving fusion cuisine in a very chic space, it’s a big draw for celebrities and foreigners.
-5 Dongping Lu, between Hengshan Lu and Yueyang Lu. +86 21 6445 9551.
-Xintiandi, 159 Madang Lu, by Xingye Lu. +86 21 6326 2088.
It’s been around for ages, but this is classic Thai favourites on one of the most picturesque blocks in the French Concession. Nothing fancy, just fresh and nicely presented with decent-sized portions. Among the best are very zingy spicy beef and papaya salads and green chicken and red duck curries. The small outdoor seating area is a special treat when the weather's warm.
Kappo Yu / Sushi Oyama
If you're looking for kaiseki or sushi on par with what you can find in Japan, these sisters restaurants are THE places to come, according to my foodie friend who has lived in both Shanghai and Tokyo for extended periods of time.
Original branch: 103 Dongzhu’anbang Lu, between Zhenning Lu and Jiangsu Lu. +86 21 6210 4495.
Always reliable and delicious Italian fare, best dishes are the beef carpaccio, spinach ricotta ravioli, barley egg seafood soup and anchovy caper pizza.
Westin Bund Hotel, 2nd Floor, 88 Henan Zhong Lu, by Guangdong Lu. +86 21 6335 1888.
Refined Italian cuisine overlooking the colourful Westin atrium. Top dishes include prosciutto buffalo mozzarella antipasti, gorgonzola gnocchi, any of the thin-crust pizzas, the heavenly tiramisu and the homemade sorbets.
Where to Eat: Shanghai
Yang's Fry Dumpling, Wujiang Lu location
Yang's shengjian bao
Avocado lady's stall
Yang's: filling the shengjian bao
View of Pudong from Jean George's Mercato, at Three on the Bund
Street sweet potatoes, nr Ulumuqi Lu
Breakfast time on Wulumuqi Lu - these workers like the soft, steamed chao shao bao
Sweet and trendy Ferguson Lane
Everything looks great at Farine bakery, Ferguson Lane
The Wagas empire at 195 Anfu Lu (Baker and Spice, mr willis, sushi raku etc)
Sunflour Bakery on Anfu Lu
They're on it! At Din Tai Feng, Xintiandi
The dim sum scene at Crystal Jade, Xintiandi
Jishi: a local favorite and for those who want to get a real taste of Shanghai
Magnificent food at JIshi
Nouveau Shanghai cuisine meets traditional surrounds at Fu 1088. Lotus stuffed with glutinous rice
The fish head scallion dish (cong xiang yu tou) at Jishi, pre-reveal
Fu 1088 delivers the goods!
Tea-smoked soft-boiled egg, Fu 1088
Marinated jellyfish heads, Fu 1088
Sauteed river shrimps, Fu 1088
Civilized dining at Fu 1088
Fu 1088's Hong shou rou (red-cooked pork belly) is as good as it gets