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  • Yao Ji Da specializes in “big iron pot” cooking, a Dongbei specality that basically means what it sounds like - meat and vegetables of your choice, cooked in a huge pot built into your table.

    The atmosphere is back-alley restaurant meets local cook-out. On a recent Sunday the crowd was families and groups of friends young and old, generally acting as if they were about one bottle of baijiu deep. The staff were brusque but friendly, and uniformly decked out in outfits modelled on the flowery patterns that you usually see on Dongbei restaurant tablecloths. This kind of kitcsch extends to the décor, from the sheaths of corn and chili strewn over wooden beams to the vintage metal mugs they use to serve water.  

    Here’s how it works. You choose your “stew” (really what’s going on here is more of a broil) based on the base, from options like goose to fish to pork to chicken and mushroom. They throw it into a huge smoking crater in the middle of your table to cook for a while. Then, you can optionally select extra veggies or tofu products to add in when you’re part way done with that, kind of like hot pot – the waiter will add some water to the remaining sauce and throw them in for you. The staff take care of the whole cooking process.

    We went with goose, the priciest base at just under RMB 300 and also the place’s specialty. The wait is long – the staff told us that next time we should call ahead to get the ball rolling in advance, and other tables seemed to know this – but we were rewarded with some of the best goose I’ve ever eaten. From neck to feet to huge chunks of breast, it’s all in there and it’s often chopstick-tender. Very rich. So flavorsome. Way, way too much for two of us - each “stew” could probably feed 3-4 people.

    Some won’t find much to love about this place. It’s unrepentantly raucous, they serve big bits of animal rather than pristine cuts of meat, and the food cooking at your table is going to smoke and steam and smell. But if you’re a carnivore that’s up for a bit of adventure, it might be the place for you.  

     

    Price: RMB 100 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: Rustic chain specializing in “big iron pots” of meat, a Dongbei favorite. Good for a loud atmosphere and stuffing yourself full of stewed meat and/or fish. Go with groups of four or more to make the most out of the huge portions.

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  • Fu Sheng Jiu Guan is a great little restaurant and bar serving up Sichuan food in the Mixpace mall in Changning. Found opposite Yuyintang, at first glance it looks like a Japanese izakaya. Enter, though, and you’ll see groups of young people clinking glasses of Asahi but washing down chili-laden Sichuan dishes. It’s a combination of styles I didn’t know I wanted until I wandered in. Could easily imagine this starting as a group dinner and progressing into something far boozier.

    The menu – all handwritten in Chinese – bounces from classics like mapo doufu and spicy, perfect-for-beer skewers to more off-kilter stuff like tofu with fermented chili dipping sauce and pink lotus root with pickled plums (kind of weird, but a pretty refreshing counterpoint to all the heat). The tofu is great if you love spicy, pungent stuff. As are the cold beef slices, mixing tough fat caps with tender morsels and more (different) chili sauce. Mostly everything that we tried was delicious and packed a respectable amount of heat. You should like it spicy if you come here.

    Shout-out to the decoration too; the walls are covered with vintage Chinese ads and other little pieces of cool kitsch. Lots of character. In general, it's a great addition to a neighborhood that already has plenty of stuff going for it. It’s not often that you find regional Chinese cuisine paired with an atmosphere that you’d like to hang out and drink in after. That’s something this place nails.

     

    Price: RMB 75 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: Atmospheric restaurant and bar in a Changning basement mall slinging nifty Sichuan food, draft beer and izakaya vibes. Friendly staff, eclectic playlist, lots of chili.

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  • Mokkos 2 in Jing'an is the second iteration of the original Mokkos nearby, a welcoming bar specializing in Japanese shochu run by some very nice owners from Yunnan. I prefer this one, just because it feels a bit more spacious while still keeping that cozy atmosphere and a couple semi-private rooms for groups. It’s laidback, good for a date or a chill drink if you’re looking for a bar with a bit of an offbeat flavor. Soundtrack is pretty much exclusively reggae, which ends up being actually pretty perfect.  

    Shochu is a kind of distilled Japanese spirit usually made from things like sweet potato and clocking in at around 25% ABV. It’s crisp and clean, with a kind of light, earthy flavor. The selection can be kind of intimidating, but if you’re curious and aren’t shy about talking to the bar staff they’ll recommend you something. I like to start with a straight glass of whatever they recommend and follow it up with this soda lemon cocktail thing that they do. They’ve got Japanese draft beer on deck too if you’re feeling a bit more conservative.  

    In all, it’s a place anyone that considers themselves a Level 2 barfly or someone with an affinity for interesting drinks and good vibes should check out. For many that go, it ends up becoming a favorite.

     

    Price: RMB 40 – RMB 60 per drink

    Summary: Hidden gem of a Japanese shochu bar in Jing’an with friendly staff, reggae on the stereo and a huge selection of Japanese spirits. Great atmosphere, nice drinks, something a little bit different.

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  • Polux in Xintiandi serves up a menu of French bistro classics by Paul Pairet, a chef known for Michelin stars and some of Shanghai’s most well-known (and most high-end) restaurants. This one is more mid-range, simple and accessible but bang on point. Bistro stuff, but done really well. All thoroughly French and classic, plus an apparently killer burger.

    It’s not only already one of the best options for dining in these parts, but also one of the few places that maybe actually benefits from the crowded, vaguely touristy surroundings. Without getting too romantic about it, sitting out on the terrace watching throngs of people pass while being gently ribbed by a French waiter took me back to holidays in Paris. Cozy-yet-buzzing vibes.  

    Service in general is great, though we did end up waiting a long time for our mains. The food is exactly what you want from a place like this, simple French classics that are as rich as they are well-executed. Highlights are a precision-cooked duck confit, a fork-tender beef cheek steak served with buttery mashed potato and beef jus, and a charcuterie plate that comes with some epic paté and rustic bread.

    If you’re looking for a date spot, a place to take friends that want a bit of luxurious comfort or just want to hit somewhere trendy that actually lives up to the hype, you could do way worse.

     

    Prices: RMB 200 – RMB 300 per person (depending on drinks)

    Summary: Excellent mid-range French spot in the heart of Xintiandi. Deservedly well-liked thanks to its good service, atmospheric indoor and outdoor seating and hearty, excellent cooking. Great for dates and small groups.

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  • Grano is a small bar and restaurant serving up pizzas and other simple Italian comfort food in Changning. Run by locals with experience in a few Italian restaurants around town, it’s a chill spot with welcoming, friendly staff. The kind that might throw you a free glass of wine just for stopping by. It’s equally suited to a quick bite and a glass of wine outside on a sunny afternoon as it is to pizza and a bottle huddled away inside on a cold evening. It’s small, but you can usually find a seat.

    The pizzas are the things that keep me coming back. They’re Italian-style with great dough and good ingredients, cooked in a proper pizza oven. It’s not the only option for good pizza in this neighborhood – Just Cool is around the corner slinging a full menu of craft beer bottles and killer pizzas – but it’s the cutest and coziest. Cheap, too, with most of the pizzas coming in at less than RMB 100.

    The rest of the menu is a bit less of a bullseye, but is worth exploring. The salads in particular are generously seasoned and feel homey and unfussy. Lots of olive oil. Good for sharing.

    In general, it’s a great little neighborhood Italian with a lot of heart. You can tell it’s a labor of love, one that rewards dates or solo diners looking for a bite and somewhere to relax.

     

    Price: RMB 60 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: A homey neighborhood Italian with friendly owners, serving up great pizza and welcoming vibes. Small and cozy, good for a streetside or hunkering down for an intimate meal by the bar.

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  • Ding Te Le is a cozy little noodle shop that serves up a range of mostly local Shanghainese favorites. Simple dishes that you can get all over town, but elevated. You get a jump in quality but no jump in price. It’s also open 24 hours.  

    The shop itself is clean and cozy, tucked just inside the entrance of a residential compound on Huaihai. Nothing fancy, but nice enough that you could take someone that’s a bit squeamish about holes in the wall.

    Their cong you ban mian, dry noodles livened up with scallion oil, is the best version I’ve had. These noodles can be boring; here they’re a huge umami hit. Their majiang mian is crazy rich and decadent, basically just noodles in a peanut butter sauce that’s seasoned to perfection with just the right amount of salt. Each bowl comes with a small bowl of complimentary fish soup that has real depth, presumably the same ones that they serve their famous yellow croaker noodles in.

    Get the fried pork cutlet too. Again, one of the best of the form that I’ve tried. Great hongshao rou also.

    If you’re looking for a new favorite noodle house, this might be it. Anyone that's into exploring Shanghai's culinary nooks and crannies should swing by. 

    Price: RMB 15 – RMB 50 per person

    Summary: A neat little noodle house that slings some of the finest Shanghainese noodles around. Cozy, chill, and open 24 hours.

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  • The Deli Boys serves up a range of sandwiches, salads, and other deli fare in Changning. It’s not light eating, and it might not remind you of your favorite deli at home – local delis seem to be something people feel pretty strongly about – but they do what they do pretty well.

    The main draw of the place when they opened was their Montreal Smoked Meat, which is still a solid bet – brined, slow-cooked, fatty and tender, absolutely packed into a soft chala roll with a schmear of mustard. Lovely stuff. Heavy. Great alternative to a burger if you’re feeling like scratching a guilty pleasure itch but want something a little more unique. They've expanded their offerings recently to all day breakfasts, desserts, and a bunch of other stuff. 

    The fries are on point, as are the huge pickles that come on the side. Good side salads too if you feel like skipping the extra carbs; rather than just throwing together some lettuce and a couple tomatoes, they half their Chop Chop Salad (also available full size as a main) and give you cauliflower, nuts, raisins, and crunchy bits of fried wonton wrappers to tuck into. Actually makes it worthwhile skipping the fries. 

    Their other sandwiches and menu items are worth a look too, like the killer chicken parmesan that they do. The chicken can be a little dry but it's loaded with cheese, covered with salami, and it's definitely got the sauce. Steal at RMB 63 with a side, too. Prices aren't really bad in general; you’re looking at between RMB 60 to RMB 80 to fill yourself up here, but you will be full.

    In terms of atmosphere, the place light on it. It’s hidden down a side-street that runs between Dingxi Lu and Panyu Lu, tucked into the ground floor of some residential building. You often have to squeeze through a barely open locked gate. It’s an in-an-out, get-your-fix-and-go spot rather than one that you’ll want to linger in. 

    For a certain type of person, this kind of place in the neighrbhood is a godsend. To others, it will just be a decent sandwich and salad place churning out Western food that’s a little bit different. Either way, it’s worth checking out.

    Price: RMB 60 – RMB 150 per person

    Summary: Somewhat hidden sandwich spot in Changning serving up a menu of smoked meat sandwiches and other deli-style fare like salmon bagels, chicken parm sandwiches and the like. Definitely does the job and is a good way to get a comfort food fix while still switching it up. 

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  • Chu Chu Yuan is a relatively nondescript restaurant chain serving up some of the favorites of Taiwanese cuisine. If you want something pretty rich that has gotten acquainted with a little bit of oil and fat, in a slightly nicer environment than the street side, it’s a good option. This is their Hongkou branch, in the basement of a mall; there are others around town.

    Their beef noodles are OK, maybe a bit disapointing for a Taiwanese spot. They do a killer bowl of XO Beef Fried Rice though, one that somehow takes me back to the comfort of cheap Chinese places back in the U.K. There's a bit of fishy funkiness, and just enough smoke and spice to tickle the back of your throat.

    But what they really specialize in are heavy, bready, savory Taiwanese snacks that could function equally well as a hangover-smushing breakfast or a carb-loading dinner. Their pork and scallion gaotie, more akin to Japanese gyoza than the usual Shanghainese ones, are delicate and rich. They also come with a dipping sauce that reminds me, more than anything else, of the sweet and sour sauce that comes with Chinese McNuggets. If you think I mean that as anything other than a compliment, then you don’t know me well enough.

    They also do these great “red bean” wraps, that are actually a thick kind of scallion pancake wrapped around sliced beef, cucumber, and hoisin sauce. Man, these things are good. So good. Heavy too. Share them – this and a bowl of noodles to myself was way too much.

    Atmosphere is mall dining, service is good. A perfect candidate for regular work lunches if you’re based near the neighborhood; just as good for a quick feast if you find yourself in the area. It’s in a part of town not far from the impressive-looking 1933 complex, in a northern part of the city that is getting pretty built up. Worth a look.

    Price: RMB 30 – RMB 80 per person

    Summary: Heavy, very tasty Taiwanese snacks up north in a mall in Hongkou. Their noodle and rice dishes are decent enough, but be sure to split a plate or two of dumplings and wraps – these are the winners. Going by the menu recommendations is a decent strategy.

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  • You hear mixed things about Bella Napoli. Some people swear by it as their go-to Italian spot, the place you can go to on a weeknight and get reliable staples on the reg. Others seem to think it’s bland, a rip-off, or both.

    After a recent visit, I’m pretty much right in the middle. The food itself is OK, some of it pretty good even. The rucola and prosciutto pizza, in particular, was a real winner – great crust, quality toppings. Our salad, with similar ingredients, was just fine, as was an under-seasoned sausage risotto. Fine, but not much better. Hard to be mad at, hard to get excited about.

    You can get better Italian than this, without going far – La Vite, which I’ve reviewed before, is a few blocks away, and offers more authentic-feeling and comforting food. You get the feeling they could do better if they wanted, but don't really need to anymore. 

    Where it gets extra points is the location, which is honestly great and a clue as to how the place still commands a lot of affection despite being one of the oldest Italians in town. Tucked away down an unassuming alley off Changle Lu that gives it just enough of a hidden vibe, it’s hard not to be won over the first time you hang right and wander into an open courtyard and restaurant that looks just like your favorite Italian spot back home. On a Thursday night at 8:30pm it was still busy with tables having a laidback meal and a bottle or two, the contented murmur of a lot of people having a low-stakes good time.

    It’s this space, not the food, that makes it worth stopping by. But that still means it’s worth a visit.

     

    Price: RMB 100 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: Italian stalwart that matches a cozy location with decent if uninspiring food. Not the place to be blown away by great cooking, but maybe the place to impress a date that hasn’t been before, or just get a couple pizzas and bottles in with friends when you’re in the neighborhood.

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  • If you’re looking for somewhere new to catch up over a coffee, get some work done, or just chill somewhere that feels like an oasis of calm, Slash Workshop is a place you should hit up. t’s hidden at the very back of a residential compound on Xinhua Lu, sharing a tranquil pocket of Shanghai with a cat café and a friendly local community center. It’s all leafy, hazy, butterflies-fluttering-by-your-head good vibes here. Tranquil. To get there, enter the compound – which at time of writing is being totally torn up by maintenance and construction work – go to the very back, then hang right. Follow that to the end. Get a table on the terrace out back.

    This is what you’re coming for – to go somewhere that feels undiscovered and truly relaxed. You’re probably not going for the food and drink. The coffee is fine, if a little on the bland side. The food menu itself is pretty average – the bacon and sausage set is OK, tasty enough but basically a salad with supermarket-quality meat. The standard roast vegetable salad is overdressed, a little wet, and doesn’t contain many roasted vegetables. Portions are a little small for the price, too (RMB 58 and up). They do a burger for RMB 38, which looks OK. Judging by Dianping there are a number of dishes that they only sell a certain amount of per day, which if they’re better than the regular menu could inject a bit of fun into ordering, I guess.

    But you’re best off getting lunch beforehand at one of the many great options in this neighborhood and strolling over here for some caffeine and chat after. It’s really hard not to be charmed by this place. That’s why you’re seeing those four green circles at the top of this review, despite the middling food – as purely a café and a space to rock up and let a couple of hours pass you by, it doesn't get much more mellow or atmospheric than this.

     

    Price: RMB 25 – RMB 100

    Summary: Leafy, tranquil vibes at this mellow café tucked away in the back of a residential compound. The food and drinks are just OK, but you’re going for the ambience. Perfect place for a lazy afternoon somewhere that feels truly hidden.

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SMARTREVIEWS

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.

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    Originally from the UK, first arrived in China in 1989, worked in Beijing for several years, returned to China in early 1997 to Shanghai, and back again in Shanghai since 2007 have worked on four continents and opened seven hotels in Asia for hotel groups in Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, the Maldives and Malaysia.
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    Emily has lived around the world in Ecuador, Chile, Indonesia and Tonga. She enjoys rooftop cocktails and showing up to events on time.
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    A China expat since 2011, David moved to Shanghai for work in 2014. So far, his quest for memorable food has taken him to 22 different Chinese provinces and territories. When not actively hunting for delicious morsels around town, he is a director at a clean energy strategy consulting firm in Shanghai.
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