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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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  • Lotus is a sleek, spacious restaurant on Changning Lu serving up the oft-overlooked foods of China’s central Hubei province. It’s got some really nice design flourishes, friendly staff, and reps a little-known regional cuisine that you don’t see getting too much love around here. Some nice window seating too.

    Hubei doesn’t come up too often in discussions of Chinese food, maybe because geographically it butts up against the culinary heavyweights Hunan and Chongqing. But the province and particularly its capital city, Wuhan, are well-known for one thing – re gan mian, or “hot dry noodles”. Having spent my first year in China in Wuhan, I’m a little biased, but these noodles – served with a dry peanut butter sauce, a splash of vinegar, and a smattering of tangy Chinese pickles - deserve to be famous. (Sidenote; Wuhan is also known for being a key city when it comes to Chinese punk music, and has some great underground venues – it’s a better city than people say it is).

    At Lotus the re gan mian are authentic and insanely addictive, the flavorbomb that they’re supposed to be. They’re a perfect alternative to rice as your staple for the meal and, at RMB 8 a bowl, very cheap (albeit not as cheap as they are back in Wuhan). Order one bowl for each diner.

    Flavors in Hubei are generally rich, spicy, and fermented, not too different from those across the border in Hunan. The rest of the menu is rounded out by other Wuhan favorites. These include dou pi – tofu skin laid over sticky rice and chunks of marinated tofu, another snack that you should also order – and braised Wuchang fish, named for a Wuhan district and piled high with diced beansprouts and pork. There’s a ton of flavor on this one, but beware – it’s boney.

    In general, this is an expansive menu with a lot of unfamiliar elements on it, but also a good hit-to-miss ratio. In my experience staff have been happy to point you in the right direction, and the recommendation stickers on the menu itself are generally on point. In all, it’s a great spot if you’re looking for a Chinese restaurant that has some nice ambience without breaking the bank, all while serving up unique dishes that you won't find elsewhere.

     

    Price: RMB 150 for two

    Summary: A spacious two-floor restaurant in Changning slinging the rich, big-flavor cuisine of Hubei province. Go for the specialty re gan mian – “hot dry noodles” – and stay for the varied array of regional dishes and friendly service. Great for trying out a new cuisine in a nice environment.

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  • On Huaihai Lu, there’s a smart second-floor hotpot restaurant slinging coconut chicken hot pot. It’s apparently a specialty on the island province of Hainan and, perhaps surprisingly, it’s pretty much as good as it sounds.

    The vibe is hotpot with a modern makeover, vaguely tropical with lots of wood, tiles, and chains. It looks really nice actually, slicker than your average Hai Di Lao but less consciously fancy than somewhere like Elixir. Great service, too, which makes it good for casual groups or a date if you’re trying to show someone something a bit different.   

    You start by ordering your coconut water broth, choosing whether you’d like half a chicken or a full one, and build up from there, ordering your various slices of meat, veggie selections, tofu products, whatever. Everything is decent quality. The stars of the show, though, are that broth and that chicken – when they get to know each other over the heat, the result is a kind of savory coconut treat that tastes killer slurped up as a soup.

    Shout outs to the sauce / condiment selection as well. These are a bit lighter than your average hotpot joint, and everything fits the flavor really well. Some really nice pickles and chilies in there, as well as some tiny oranges to squeeze in.

    It’s a hook; it’s a gimmick. But it’s a fun twist, and the food manages to speak for itself. I went in entirely skeptical and came out convinced by what is essentially hotpot cleaned up and given a whole new flavor profile. It scratches a totally different itch to the spicy, oily stuff – rather than replacing those, it’s more likely to enter your rotation as the spot you go to when you want the warmth and the experience, but maybe not the heaviness. If that makes it sound more like a one-off curio to check out once for the novelty, you should still swing by – I can imagine some people going crazy for this place.

     

    Price: RMB 150 per person

    Summary: A smart hot pot restaurant in the iAPM neighborhood specializing in coconut hot pot, cooking a half or full chicken and various other ingredients in a coconut-infused broth. It’s a gimmick that works, and well worth trying if you’re looking for something different or a generally lighter and healthier way to get your hot pot fix. Good vibes and service.

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  • As far as entrances go, Bo Duo Xin Ji’s is pretty great. It’s hidden down an alley off Nanchang Lu, right behind iAPM (you can also enter from Fuxing Lu). It doesn’t get much more downtown than that, but turning the alley and entering the quiet residence compound for dinner is definitely atmospheric. Would be fun for visiting out-of-towners. Once inside, you’ll go up to a spacious second-floor dining room that is usually busy and usually noisy. It feels lived in, like it would’ve been filled with cigarette smoke just a few years back. Clientele skews older and local.

    The food itself isn’t quite as impressive. It’s one of those old-school joints with a massive picture menu, hundreds of dishes that make it difficult to pick out the highlights. The roast meats – duck and pork - are a safe bet, as are the cold chicken dishes. Anything that looks like it has green leaves and was sautéed with shrimp sauce will be good. The stir-fried cauliflower that you’ll find at places across the spectrum of Chinese cuisine is here livened up with dried shrimp and tiny chunks of crispy pork fat, which is kind of genius.

    If you’re looking for refined and delicate Cantonese, though, this isn’t it. It’s oily, heavy, and the vast menu is a bit hit-and-miss. It’s not bad by any means – I’ve gone plenty of times, by choice – but you’re going more for the vibe and you want to make sure you order the right stuff. On my last visit we ordered an intriguing-sounding fish skin dish, and that… wasn’t cool. The ideal scenario would probably be with a fairly big group of adventurous eaters, so that there’s room for error. Couples that know their way around a menu will have a good time too.

    Still, walking down the alley, up into the bustling dining room upstairs, definitely has the potential to be a great start to an evening.

     

    Price: RMB 100 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: Popular old Cantonese restaurant hidden down an alley. The food isn’t as impressive as the journey there – it might be a bit oily for some – but you’ll find a large menu with a few highlights, and you could find worse spots for impressing an open-minded visitor. Good for groups.

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  • When I first came to Shanghai a few years back, the old Shanghai Brewery on Hengshan Lu was the spot, at least for me. Actual craft beer, some of the best burgers in town, OK prices, and a real Western chain-pub feel. It was heaven for a new transplant with an “entry-level” salary.

    Times have changed though. Craft beer and burgers are everywhere. There’s real competition out there now. It feels like Shanghai Brewery, despite the move to buzzing Donghu Lu, hasn’t quite managed to keep up.

    Weirdly, nowadays Shanghai Brewery is a brewery that doesn’t seem to actually brew much beer. They have their own Donghu White IPA on the menu, but other than that you’re looking at macro beers like Stella or locals like Mad Dragon IPA. That last one is pretty good. But it’s a pretty lackluster beer selection, and at a time when you can’t walk down the street in Shanghai without spilling someone’s Saison, that’s not a great look for a place with the word ‘brewery’ right there in the name. You get the sense that it’s busy all the time for its comfortingly generic vibes and central location more than anything else.

    As a beer bar, they play it straight down the middle. Lots of space, wooden tables, sports screens, a decent enough street-side terrace. In terms of food, they do the same. It’s bar food. Burgers with toppings like chili or feta cheese and pepperoni, Tex Mex, pizzas, you know the rest.

    It doesn’t do anything wrong, but it doesn’t really knock anything out of the park either – everything on the menu (food and drink) you can find better elsewhere. You don’t expect fine dining or inventiveness on a bar menu, but when you take that into account the fact that other comparable venues are really putting the effort in – Liquid Laundry is a 2-minute walk away - the pricing starts to feel a bit aggressive. RMB 98 for a just-OK burger doesn’t really cut it anymore.

    Still, those burgers taste pretty good. The nachos too. Inoffensive. When I come here for the trivia nights they host every Wednesday, I’m not mad when I have to grab a bite here. Basically, it’s not something you’d travel to for dinner, but it might be the kind of place that you find yourself three beers deep and in need of some quick grub. Given its location, it’s likely you’ll find yourself in there at some point, and if that’s your situation, I guess you could do worse.

     

    Price: RMB 150 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: Popular, inoffensive craft bar on the buzzing Donghu Lu strip. Slightly lackluster beer selection for somewhere with “Brewery” in the name, and the food is just-above average bar grub, but it’s fine for casual drinks.

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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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    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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  • Shanghai is the 10th city that Ting has called home. She works at a Chinese social enterprise and loves immersing herself in new cultures and chasing new experiences, particularly food.
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