So I asked 20 chefs that I know love Chinese food, food writers who specialize in it and restaurant-type people who own the places for their suggestions on where we should be eating in 2020. Here’s their recommendations in two formats, first all flung together and categorized by cuisine, and then separated by individual. Consider it a reference book for 2020, something to flip back to whenever you're feeling uninspired about tonight's choices for dinner.
Fine, Fine, Fine Dining
Xin Rong Ji (新荣记) was the crowd favorite with nine people voting for this upscale Taizhou-style chain. Also popular with the car tire company, though the people I asked were split on which location (Nanjing Xi Lu, Nanyang Lu or BFC) was the best. Expect to pay 500rmb minimum at any of them and up to 1,300rmb per person at the Nanyang Lu two-star location.
The dining room of Imperial Treasure at RockbundCrystal and thick carpets at Singapore’s Imperial Treasure (御宝轩) in Rockbund, also another popular recommendation, especially for dim sum (about 300+ rmb per person). The imperial-looking Jing Cai Xuan (晶采轩) in Reel Mall is owned by an ultra-wealthy businessmen, who, when he couldn’t get the furniture, pigs or chickens done the way he wanted, bought a furniture company, a pig farm and a chicken farm. It is, like many of these fancy restaurants, Cantonese, and it will cost you about 500rmb each. Sui Tang Li (随堂里) is also fairly stylish, being in The Middle House and all. Cantonese too and about the same price as Jing Cai Xuan.
Jing Cai Xuan's pillars (from Jing Cai Xuan's photographer)Moose (鹿园) does an upscale take on Jiangnan cuisine, the region that includes Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai. The people I asked recommended the one in Lujiazui, where dinner is a little under 400rmb per person. Amazing Chinese Cuisine (菁禧荟) does rarefied Chaozhou cuisine, a regional type of Cantonese cuisine, at great expense — 1,000rmb and up. Seventh Son (家全七福) was another consensus pick, with one chef at a two-star place saying Seventh Son deserves the same rating for its Cantonese food and dim sum (about 300rmb each, double that for dinner).
Lei Garden's ultra crispy pork bellyJin Xuan (金轩) does more fancy Canto on the 53rd floor of the Ritz Carlton (1,000rmb each at dinner), Lei Garden (利苑), also Canto, is known among Chinese chefs for their exceedingly strict adherence to kitchen standards. And their Cantonese soups. At the Pudong location, expect to pay 500rmb or so. Finally, Yu Zhi Lan (玉芝兰), which is the finest of Sichuan fine dining in this city, at 1,500rmb per person. So fine, in fact, it could almost pass for Cantonese.
Jiangnan: Shanghainese and Huaiyang
Lu Bo Lang (绿波廊) in Yu Gardens does nostalgic Shanghainese food; their “eyebrow” pastries (meimao su, 眉毛酥) come especially recommended. Old stalwart Lao Fan Dian (上海老饭店), also in Yu Gardens, which some swear by. Hao Sheng (豪生酒家) is a humble little place doing Shanghainese home cooking, trying to fly under the radar (they asked to be taken off Dianping), and serving whatever they want for dinner — no menus here. Xindalu (新大陆) in the Hyatt on the Bund is well-known for its Peking duck but their Jiangnan cooking is arguably even better. Fu 1039 (福1039), the most affordable of the three Fu restaurants, does classic Shanghainese in a gorgeous old villa. Fu 1088 (福1088) for more flair. Fu He Hui (福和慧) for vegetarian fine-dining.
Shanghainese 123s: red-braised pork bellyNanling (南伶酒家) is famous for their Huaiyang-style lion’s head meatball (meaning cooked in a light broth, not covered in sweetened soy) even if they lost something after moving into a mall. Xiao Shi Hui (小实惠) does real benbang cooking in a no-frills storefront on Weihai Lu. Yi Jia Yi Yan (忆家一宴) does similar benbang stuff and some nicer takes, like red-braised abalone and pork trotters, in a more comfortable dining room. Xin Jia Yuan (新家园) for their signature fish head soup but also their 响油鳝丝 and 八宝辣酱. Ye Chun (冶春) is a new Huaiyang place — another regional Jiangnan style that many cite as the ancestor of Shanghainese cooking — from a big chain. The yellow croaker with niangao, the Yangzhou gansi, and the crab soup dumplings all come recommended.
Then you have Y's Kitchen (文餐厅), which manages to make modern Chinese food feel not contrived or fusiony; and Ningbo deep-cut Jiu Kuan (旧款宁波饭店), which looks like it was set up in a newly vacated DVD shop but is run by a colorful older couple who turn out great chicken soup, fried yellow croaker with seaweed (苔条黄鱼) and bamboo with duck and shrimp (煎笋蒲). Dong Dong Shaguo (东东砂锅美食), near Xintiandi, does a signature beef with clover (牛肉爬草头) and a salted pork belly and cabbage stew (咸肉砂锅). Zhang Jia (章家菜馆), a homestyle place, does snake, frog and drunken shrimp.
Rong Cuisine's little market set-upCong Caiguan (聪菜馆) does real home-style Shanghainese that one writer says is impossible to find outside his mom’s kitchen. Shi Lu (食庐) does Huaiyang-ish food. Signature is a stuffed “orange-fragrant” duck. Rong Cuisine (荣小馆), the little brother to Xin Rong Ji, we’ve written about before. Oriental House (醉東) does “creative” Jiangnan cooking. 懿·EAST is a bit more traditional, fancy Huaiyang in a fancy Pudong mall.
Noodles, Dumplings, Wontons and Snacks
A three-fer from Yi Gui HeSo many too many snacks! Just gonna run through this like a roll call. Dakuaitou Pai Dang (大块头排档) for no-frills late-night Shanghainese in the old town. Yi Gui He (逸桂禾) for outstanding noodles from The Cursing Noodle King. Yi Ji E Guan, (逸记鹅馆) from the same guy, for spring onion oil noodles made with goose fat. Shang Noodle House (上面坊) for duck noodles. Dafang Gaobing (大方糕饼) for hard-to-find Shanghainese cakes and pastries like 双酿团, 条头糕 and 金团. Yunhe Noodle (雲和面馆) for dry-tossed crab meat noodles, three-shrimp noodles, clam noodles and creamy yellow croaker noodles. Ancient Huizhou Wontons (古徽州馄饨店) for fat Anhui wontons and black sesame tangtuan.
Shu Cai Ji's pile of caifanShu Cai Ji (舒蔡记) for old-school shengjian bao and Shanghainese caifan, the fried rice with ham and chopped greens. The unassuming Fahua Tang Bao (法华汤包馆) near the original Beer Lady’s old spot for xiao long bao and laoya fensi tang. 鹅鹅鹅 in the Yangzhai Lu wet market for Cantonese marinated goose (be there at 3pm or you’ll miss out). The new Shufen Chuan Chuan Company (淑芬串串公司) on Dingxi Lu. Wei Xiang Zhai (味香斋) for its sesame noodles. Ding Te Le (顶特勒粥面馆) just down the road for 24-hour fish chowder noodles. Fen Jia Luosifen (粉家柳州螺蛳粉), which we’ve covered before. Dong Tai Xiang (东泰祥), also covered before, when we declared it King of Shanghai’s Shengjian Bao.
Black sesame sticky rice dumplings from Meixin Dian XinMeixin Dian Xin (美新点心店), a 100-year old shop, for their sweet (black sesame) or savory (pork and greens) sticky rice dumplings. Nanpu Bridge Ali Barbecue (南浦大桥阿力烧烤), also known as Xinjiang Ali, for what are the best lamb skewers in the city, served open-air. Lin Long Fang (麟笼坊特色小笼包), cousin to Jia Jia Tang Bao’s soup dumplings, without the line. This far-flung Nanjing Tangbao (南京汤包). Wang’s Scallion Pancakes (王记葱油饼), a tiny slice of a shop with an Anhui owner doing spring onion pancakes to rival the best. Tung Fat To (东发道), a super popular cha canting, for their takeaway chicken pies. Lu Yang Cun (绿杨邨酒家) for one thing and one thing only: vegetable baozi. Xian Wei Noodle's (鲜味面馆) Shanghainese-style beef tongue noodles.
Luxury crab noodles at CejerdaryA Long Time Ago… Barbecue (很久以前羊肉串) for late night Chinese bbq. The 360rmb hairy crab noodles at Cejerdary (蟹家大院) — 12 crabs to a bowl. Cantonese noodles and wontons at Lao Cha (老查牛什粉麵). White-cut lamb and lamb noodles at Da Chang (大场羊肉面馆). Bei Wan Xin (北万新) on Huaihai Lu for Shanghainese noodles and bao. And Gushawu (谷沙屋面铺) for Shanghainese noodles, and especially the spring onion oil noodles.
Hot Pot Hot Pot Hot Pot Hot Pot Hot Pot
Shot with the hot pot droneNanmen Shua Rou (南门涮肉) for hand-cut lamb hot pot, but only their Expo store. Ba Dao Hot Pot (霸道火锅) if you can handle, or even worse, seek out, that Chongqing fire. Loushang Hot Pot (楼上火锅) if you’d rather have velvety yellow chicken broth instead of the usual fire pot. The even more upscale Loushang Hui Guan (楼上慧官) if regular Loushang is not rich enough. Gan Cao Chaozhou Restaurant (甘草潮菜馆) for even more regional hot pot, this one Cantonese style seafood cooked in a broth of mineral water and bitter melon. Or Baogong Hot Pot (煲宫) for that milder, creamier zhu di ji-style pot. Or over-the-top-decor and uncommon Yangtze river fish at The Way of the Dragon (小龙翻大江).
Zhejiang Seafood Places
Yongfu Mini's drunken crabYong Fu (甬府), the very upscale (900+ rmb per person) Ningbo seafood place but also Yongfu Mini (甬府小鲜), its more affordable spin-off. Taizhou Kajin Seafood House (台州卡金海鲜楼) for more Zhejiang seafood without the heavy price tags. Also affordable: Quanzi Seafood (圈子老菜海鲜蒸坊) on Panyu Lu for shrimp, clams, Japanese crabs and all that stuff, plus the option to add it all to a rice-based hotpot/congee thing.
Cantonese: Chaozhou, Shunde, Cha Canting and Dim Sum
Cheung fen filled with crunchy youtiao and shrimp from Seventh SonImperial Treasure (御宝轩) and Seventh Son (家全七福) for fancy tablecloth dim sum. Ji Bu (吉卜潮式套餐) for regional Chaozhou, characterized by a lot of steamed seafood and marinated meats, especially goose. Da Xi Lao (大细佬港式餐厅) for Shunde cuisine (双皮奶! and 鱼饼), Wisca (惠食佳), for the bao zai fan, the crispy-style oyster pancake and their “zhe zhe” bao, kind of like a claypot.
Sense 8 (誉八仙) for its incredible décor. Haiyun Chen Ji (海雲陳記) for the Hainan chicken. Fei Zai Wen Supreme Restaurant’s (肥仔文澳门猪骨煲) Nanjing Xi Lu store for the braised pepper pork in a creamy broth. Swatow Sisters Restaurant (潮人姐妹轩) for inexpensive Chaozhou food in downtown. Mei Yu (美誉餐室) for an old-school cha canting. And the crispy cha shao pork and other Shunde dishes at Ren Xingji Cantonese Cuisine (任兴记).
The Spicy Stuff
Benzhen's mapo doufuBenlai (本来精品川菜) and sister restaurant Benzhen Sichuan Cuisine (本甄精品川菜) for regional Sichuanese dishes from Zigong. Professional decapitators Xu Ye Fish Head (许爷剁椒鱼头) for spicy Hunan-style fish heads. Spice Up (川爱精品川菜), a kind of nouveau Sichuan in a comfy environment smack in the middle of downtown. The Sense 8’s group The Peacock Room (孔雀廳) which is glam Sichuan and offbeat dishes like beef scalp. Yi Zhang Hong (一丈红) on Wulumuqi Lu for great Sichuan cured meat and smoked duck.
Ba Dao Hot Pot (霸道火锅), mentioned in the hot pot section, for Chongqing heat. Miss Fu in Chengdu (付小姐在成都), a really popular chain. Tan Jie Hunan Cuisine (谭姐湘菜馆) if you can make the pilgrimage to Pudong for no-frills Hunan country cooking. And two pickled veg and fish places: Tai Er (太二酸菜鱼) and Bai Su (百素我家酸菜鱼).
Other Regional Chinese
Part of the Dai feast at Pilipala, sister restaurant to Slurp!Donglai Haishang (东莱海上) does Shandong cuisine, with things like fish dumplings, whole sea urchins, and cucumber with clams. At Yu Waitan (遇外滩), it’s an expensive foray into the food of Fujian, like a 398rmb tureen of Buddha Jumps Over The Wall soup, plus taro, seafood, and their signature Minnan lu mian. Ying (莺) does Xinjiang in Jing’an. Folkjar (山间堂煨汤) specializes in Jiangxi-style soups. Slurp! does the bright, herbal food of Yunnan, and both Yi Mo Jia (一馍家.潼关肉夹馍) and Make It Simple (简单点食堂) trade on the flavors of Xi’an.
So Who Are These People Who Recommended All of These Places Anyway, Which Ones Did They Pick and What Do They Do!
Kelvin Chai, Executive Chef of Mercato
Xin Rong Ji (新荣记), Nanjing Xi Lu branch; Lu Bo Lang (绿波廊); 懿·EAST; Dakuaitou Pai Dang (大块头排档); Imperial Treasure (御宝轩).
William Zhang, Owner of Torishou, Le Verre a Vin, Miss Ali and Many More
Yi Jia Yi Yan (忆家一宴), Nandan Dong Lu branch; Yi Gui He (逸桂禾); Xin Rong Ji (新荣记), Nanyang Lu branch; Bei Wan Xin (北万新); Wisca (惠食佳).
木木, Owner of Elsewhere Studio Private Kitchen
Xiao Shi Hui (小实惠); Slurp!; Fei Zai Wen (肥仔文澳门猪骨煲); Quanzi Seafood (圈子老菜海鲜蒸坊); Nanmen Shua Rou (南门涮肉), Expo branch.
Alex Shen, Head Chef of Polux
Dong Dong Shaguo (东东砂锅美食); Xian Wei Noodles (鲜味面馆); Zhang Jia (章家菜馆); Wei Xiang Zhai (味香斋); Nanjing Tangbao (南京汤包); Jia Jia Tangbao (佳家汤包); Da Chang Lamb Noodles (大场羊肉面馆).
Florent Bonnefoy (傅奕诚), Concept Advisor
Fu 1088 (福1088); Yi Zhang Hong (一丈红); Yu Waitan (遇外滩); Jiu Kuan (旧款宁波饭店); Lei Garden (利苑).
眯眼, Food Writer on the Internets for 什锦饼干
Ye Chun (冶春); Dafang Gaobing (大方糕饼); Yongfu Mini (甬府小鲜); Make It Simple (简单点食堂); Cong Caiguan (聪菜馆); Ba Dao Hot Pot (霸道火锅); Yunhe Noodle (雲和面馆); Taizhou Kajin Seafood House (台州卡金海鲜楼); Ancient Huizhou Wontons (古徽州馄饨店); Mei Yu (美誉餐室); Swatow Sisters Restaurant (潮人姐妹轩); Shu Cai Ji (舒蔡记); Lu Yang Cun (绿杨邨酒家); Ji Bu (吉卜潮式套餐); Donglai Haishang (东莱海上); Gu Sha Wu (谷沙屋面铺).
Fahua Tang Bao (法华汤包馆); 鹅鹅鹅 in Yangzhai Lu wet market; Shufen Chuan Chuan Company (淑芬串串公司).
Wang Zhiwei, This Guy
Hao Sheng (豪生); Wisca (惠食佳); Gan Cao Chaozho Restaurant (甘草潮菜馆); Dong Tai Xiang (东泰祥); Meixin Dianxin (美新点心店); Nanpu Bridge Ali Barbecue (南浦大桥阿力烧烤); Tan Jie Hunan Cuisine (谭姐湘菜馆); Da Xi Lao (大细佬港式餐厅); Amazing Chinese Cuisine (菁喜会); Dong Ji Noodles (董记面馆); Shang Noodle House (上面坊).
饭饭, Food Writer on the Internets @Fanju000
Donglai Haishang (东莱海上); Jing Cai Xuan (晶采轩); 懿·EAST; Sui Tang Li (随堂里); Moose (鹿园), Lujiazui branch; Xin Rong Ji (新荣记), Nanjing Xi Lu branch; Amazing Chinese Cuisine (菁禧荟); Yu Waitan (遇外滩).
Marco Xodo, Chef de Cuisine of 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana
Seventh Son (家全七福); Wei Xiang Zhai (味香斋); Xin Rong Ji (新荣记), the BFC branch; Shi Lu (食庐); Gu Sha Wu (谷沙屋面铺); Yu Zhi Lan (玉芝兰); Cejerdary (蟹家大院).
Celeste Hei, Deputy Editorial Director & Integration Creative Director, Noblesse
The Way of the Dragon (小龙翻大江); Fu He Hui (福和慧); Xin Jia Yuan (新家园); Xin Rong Ji, Nanyang Lu branch; (新荣记（南阳店)); Imperial Treasure (御宝轩).
Michael Russam, Food Writer on the Internets
Benlai (本来精品川菜); Ding Te Le (顶特勒粥面馆); Fahua Tang Bao (法华汤包馆); Bai Su (百素我家酸菜鱼); Ying (莺); Folkjar (山间堂煨汤); Baogong Hot Pot (煲宫); The Peacock Room (孔雀廳); Fen Jia Luosifen (粉家柳州螺蛳粉); Miss Fu in Chengdu (付小姐在成都).
Fu Manpiu, Executive Chef of Bao Li Xuan
Moose (鹿园); Seventh Son (家全七福); Xin Rong Ji (新荣记), Nanjing Xi Lu; Jin Xuan (金轩); Lei Garden (利苑), Pudong branch.
高燕, Food Writer on the Internets @ 一片吃心
Fu 1039 (福1039); Yong Fu (甬府); Seventh Son (家全七福); Loushang Huiguan (楼上荟馆); Amazing Chinese Cuisine (菁禧荟); Lao Fan Dian (上海老饭店).
Brian Tan, Long-Time Chef and Event Organizer
Seventh Son (家全七福); Xin Rong Ji; Moose (鹿园); Oriental House (醉東); Shi Lu (食庐); Donglai Haishang (东莱海上); Benlai (本来精品川菜); Ren Xingji Cantonese Cuisine (任兴记); Xindalu (新大陆); Sense 8 (誉八仙).
Betty Richardson, Food Writer on the Internets
Lin Long Fang (麟笼坊特色小笼包); Hao Sheng (豪生酒家); Xu Ye Fish Head (许爷剁椒鱼头); Rong Cuisine (荣小馆); Benzhen (本甄精品川菜); Spice Up (川爱精品川菜); Yi Ji E Guan (逸记鹅馆); Y's Kitchen (文餐厅); Jiu Kuan (旧款宁波饭店).
Danyeu Cheng, F&B Investor
Loushang Hot Pot (楼上火锅); Wang Ji Spring Onion Oil Panckes (王记葱油饼); Benlai (本来精品川菜); Haiyun Chen Ji (海雲陳記); Tung Fat To (东发道); Nanling (南伶酒家); Sense 8 (誉八仙); Xin Rong Ji (新荣记).
Robin Wang, General Manager of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse
Moose (鹿园); Xin Rong Ji (新荣记); Imperial Treasure(御宝轩）
Xin Rong Ji (新荣记); Imperial Treasure (御宝轩); Yongfu (甬府); Loushang Hui Guan (楼上慧官), Seventh Son (家全七福).
Jonas Noël, Chef of Oxalis
Tai Er Suan Cai Yu (太二酸菜鱼); Yi Mo Jia (一馍家.潼关肉夹馍); A Long Time Ago... Barbecue (很久以前羊肉串); Cejerdary (蟹家大院); Yi Gui He (逸桂禾); Lin Long Fang (麟笼坊特色小笼包); Jia Jia Tang Bao; Imperial Treasure (御宝轩); Lao Cha (老查牛什粉麵).