Thai food in Shanghai often misses the mark. It’s either marked up and served in a stuffy, overly fancy environment or it’s in a mall and tweaked to within an inch of its life to satisfy local palates. Fortunately, there’s at least one place to go for reasonably priced Thai food that just about manages to pack the cuisine’s authentic, legendary punch.
Qing Mai Heaven gets points for being no-frills. That’s on both the atmosphere and food fronts; it’s a tiny, brightly lit, six-table hole-in-the-wall tucked away on charming little Jinxian Lu, with bare walls and a few pictures of Thai temples here and there for decoration. The lack of space lends the place a convivial atmosphere on a busy evening, helped along by the cheap pitchers of Tiger beer.
It’s a little rough around the edges for a first date but is a great spot for a couple’s dinner a little further down the line. It’s even better for a dinner of groups of four or so, so that you can squeeze around one of the small tables and really mix-and-match the dishes.
Food-wise there’s a big menu that comprises all of the Thai big hitters. The green and red curries are totally decent. They taste how you’d expect and do what you’d want them to do. The kitchen whips up a truly solid Pad Thai, a sweet, salty and lip-pursing Papaya Salad and a great plate of stir-fried morning glory, aromatic and funky with fish sauce. If you have even a passing familiarity with Thai food, you ought to find your favorites here, and you ought to find them done pretty well.
The standouts are probably the whole fish dishes, particularly the Lemon Fish, which is the one constant order every time I go. Look at the menu and you’ll notice that the price for this one has been raised at some point in the past, which tells me I’m probably not alone. The fish itself isn’t the greatest quality – it’s a little soft, has the slightest of unpleasant hint of ‘river’ on occasion - but served in the richly spiced, bubbling broth it hardly matters. It’s big and bold with earthy notes of lemongrass and just the right amount of citrus whack. Pair it with one or two more dishes in a small group and you’re fed. Yours for RMB 98.
This isn’t the best Thai food you’ll ever eat; it’s probably not even the best in Shanghai. But they serve homey, street-style Thai cooking at a great price point with an ambience that lacks any pretention. For that, I’ll keep going back.
SmartReviews is SmartShanghai’s crack squad of amateur reviewers, eating their way around the city and writing about it. They have been chosen from a large pool of applicants and given a set of strict guidelines to follow to make sure their reviews are honest, informed and fair to both potential customers and the restaurants themselves.