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  • Recommended by a Mexican friend as the best place in town for tacos, I knew I had to see for myself what it was all about. Located in the fun Found 158 complex, El Santo has a large indoor and outdoor seating area. We came here around brunch time on the weekends, and the place was not too packed as most places in Found 158 don’t open nor get busy till night-time.

    The concrete walls inside El Santo were adorned with artworks of wrestlers with luche libre masks, and the TV streamed wrestling matches as well, giving the place a vibrant feel.

    There was a wide array of brunch menu options to choose from, and it was a hard choice as everything seemed like a feast. In the end we opted for the Al Pastor taco (marinated pork tacos served with grilled pineapple), Arrachera taco (beef steak taco with guacamole), nachos, and the short ribs & egg benedict open faced burrito. We waited quite a bit to be served but the food did not disappoint.

    The taco toppings were plentiful, and it took quite a few mouthfuls to finish. The pineapple added a special taste of contrasting flavours to the Al Pastor taco, but I enjoyed the Arrachera taco more as beef with guac can never go wrong. The nachos were a delicious mix of beans, chilli, guac, cheese and salsa. Having never eaten an open-faced burrito before, I was pleasantly surprised by the photogenic displace of the food. With a combination of rib meat, bacon, avocados, and egg benedict, it seemed like the perfect brunch combination. By the end of the meal, my stomach was stuffed to the max, but extremely satisfied.

    The place didn’t do too much damage to the wallet as tacos were 3 for 100 rmb, nachos 68 rmb, and the open-faced burrito for 98rmb. Overall verdict, I’m still not sure if the place can be claimed as the best taco place in town, but it certainly wasn’t bad for the buck.

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  • Bites & Brews is one of those neighbourhood places where you can pop in for a quick healthy lunch on the weekdays or hang around on Friday night to catch up with friends over a good beer. The décor inside has a bit of a Bohemian vibe to it, with wooden table and desks, lanterns hanging down from the lights and corners where you can snuggle up against with some pillows and quilts. They also have a large panelled window on the upper floor that’s great for street-side watching. A large portion of their customer base are expats, although it’s also popular with the Chinese, so all the waiters have a pretty good command of English.

    I came in for food for the first time and found that their menu options were quite affordable with most items ranging from 40 to 50 rmb. I ordered a chicken quesadilla, a chocolate banana smoothie, and a salad bowl to share with a friend. The chicken quesadilla was great, and more than filling for a lunchtime meal, but the salad bowl was quite tasteless. With such limited dressing and the broccoli being so raw, the salad was a bit hard to swallow, but then again, maybe I just don’t have an appetite for ultra-healthy food. I did enjoy the food displays though, as all the bowls and platter were also made of wood, it made you feel like you were eating straight from nature. The chocolate banana smoothie also had a rather cute display and was rich in flavour and not too sweet.

    Overall I enjoyed my meal, though the atmosphere definitely gave it huge points. I also liked that the place was pet friendly, as that always adds to the lightness of the vibe. I’m glad to discover that this place has more to offer than just being a pub hang-out, which I guess is exactly what its name, "Bites&Brews" suggests it is. 

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  • I stumbled upon this cozy garden restaurant when strolling across Jianguo West Road and decided to give it a try. The space is not large, but there were enough seats around on an early weekday afternoon. There is also outside seating for when the weather is nice.

    We took a seat on the counter facing a great street-side view and began to order. There’s not a load of menu options available, but they do seem to have their specialty dishes. We ordered their speciality early bird salad, but it turned out to be a let-down. The display, I’ll give it credit, was enticing- a garden salad decorated with flower petals and an edible butterfly display on top, but the taste was not so great. The bacon sauce didn’t really go well with the salad, the leaves weren’t that fresh and were a bit soggy, and there wasn’t enough fruits in the salad. Oh and that edible butterfly display the waiter told us about? It tasted like plastic. This made me a bit weary to order their specialty desert set called “spilt pot of flowers,” so we opted for their ice cream which turned out to be an amazing choice- which I’ll go into later.

    One of their new menu specialty items was the Boston Lobster spaghetti. We saw the table besides us munching on it and couldn’t resist ordering it. The dish was incredibly tasty due to the sauce they used to top the lobster and blend the spaghetti. I made a heck of a mess when munching on the lobster but such is life when you are eating delicious seafood. The dish also made for amazing pictures. 

    Lastly, what will make me remember this restaurant and long to come back for more is its ice cream. They had a variety of unique flavors such as dragon fruit, salted egg yolk, and black sesame. I took a leap of faith and ordered the salted egg yolk flavor and my friend ordered the black sesame. We were not disappointed. Each ice cream scope has such a rich flavor to it, somehow mastering the combination of unusual tastes injected into a dessert item most people just associate with chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. 10/10 would come back and try more flavors.

    Overall meal was 400 rmb. 

     

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  • Located on the 6th floor of the Crystal Galleria, this place doesn’t lack traffic during lunch time. Recommended by a Cantonese friend, our group of 3 came to this restaurant looking for a hearty meal, something along the lines of soul food. We were seated around a small round table, but they also had square tables as well as outside patio seating. They are known for their braised duck but we weren’t in the mood for much oily food so we ordered the white carp fish, pan-fried dark tofu, stewed chicken soup with Chinese herbs, some veggies, and deserts which consisted of kuei hua wine with small tang yuan and papaya stewed peach desert.

    The white carped fish were steamed to a work of perfection. I don’t think I’ve ever had fish with such gummy texture on the outsides, with the insides being soft as cotton candy. The pan fried dark tofu is one of their most popular dishes, second only to their braised duck. It is made with black bean sauce and is hardened on the outside and soft on the inside. The stewed chicken soup was perfect soul food and left my stomach feeling warm and content, not to mention that there’s Chinese herbs in there meant to replenish your body’s numerous nutritional needs. The kuei hua wine with small tang yuan had the same effect and was made with the right amount of sticky texture and sweet taste. The papaya stewed peach on the other hand, was way too sweet for my tastes, and felt like I was just downing jam.

    Overall price was 440 rmb, and you get an 8% off your tab if you pay via Dianping.

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  • This places, hands down, is a hidden gem on the basement floor of the glitzy Shanghai Centre, also home to the new high-rise bookstore that opened this month on the 52nd floor. On a visit to the new bookstore, I came down for a meal and was surprised to find the place fairly empty on a weekday night but the menu options looked enticing enough. This Singaporean restaurant has all the Singaporean delicacies, such as chili crab, bak kuh teh, and then some more.

    I was able to find a set meal coupon option on Dianping so I ordered off of that plus a desert of coconut sago. The set meal almost seemed too good to be true, we got their signature pork bun wrap, iron plate tofu with egg, Yangzhou fried rice, bak kuh teh soup, and curry chicken all for a mere 138 rmb. Let’s not forget that this is a restaurant located at the heart of the Pudong financial district.

    For starters, they offered us a small plate of mooncake samples for free, as they are promoting their mooncake sets at the store. I would hold off on eating those samples though, because mooncakes are super filling, and you probably won’t have enough stomach space left for the rest of the grand meal. The bak kuh teh arrived first in a large clay pot, and it is seriously the largest serving of bak kuh teh I ever had, not to mention very authentic. Next came the Yangzhou fried rice which is cooked with just the right amount of water, so that the rice are separated nicely. By the time the pork bun wraps came, I was already quite full but the pork buns simply screamed “eat me,” with their delicious texture and sauce. The iron plate tofu is also one of their signature dishes and comes highly recommended on Dianping, with good reason I would say. The tofu is placed on top of a flattened egg bottom, and is covered sauce. The outside has a bit of a crisp to it, but the insides are so soft that they almost melt in your mouth. When the last dish, curry chicken, came, my stomach completely shut down on me and I had to take it to-go.

    As they say though, there’s always room for desert, so I managed to fit the coconut sago in, and it was extremely creamy and just the right amount of sweet. All this amazing food for around 150 rmb, who could say no? (They had tea sets for 8rmb/ person and wet towels for 2rmb/each but you can also choose to opt out)

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  • Wei Xiang Zhai is one of those places that you can’t live in Shanghai and not try at least once. A small mom and pop type of shop that’s famous for their 10 rmb masa noodles pair with the golden combo of their 10 rmb beef soup and spicy meat toppings, this place remains a gem in the glitzy xintiandi area. The first time I came here was on a crowded weekend afternoon, where sharing table space was pretty common, and we happened to be seated across a well-known foodie youtuber, who was filming a scene at the restaurant on his noodle run across China video.

    To avoid the crowd, I came back on a weekday afternoon where most people were at work, and the only customers in the shop were a couple of elder folks, who seemed to live around the area. As usual, service doesn’t exist in places like this. I ordered at the counter and quickly found a seat. It didn’t take long for the food to arrive, and the portions were fairly large. The beef noodle soup had a rich flavor with a hint of curry, topped with scallions on top. The masa noodles had a rich sesame sauce on top, which on its own, wouldn’t make for much of a meal. That’s why most people order toppings on the side to blend with the noodles. The spicy meat toppings this afternoon was disappointing. It wasn’t even heated up properly and it was a bit too heavy for my taste.

    While eating, I came across what seems to be a food tour that made the joint a stop on their list. This place is popular among locals and tourists alike, however, it seems a bit overrated to me. It has become a must try in Shanghai, but I don’t think I will be coming back.

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  • Located 10 minutes away from main Nanjing West Road, Ding Zheng Yan is a solid place to eat fresh sea food at an amazing price. I have a feeling this place would get a lot more traffic if it was located on the Nanjing West main road or closer to a subway station, and not on the second floor of not too notable building as it can be a bit easy to look past. The entry way isn’t too easy to locate either, with a small elevator that takes you to the second floor.

    Our group arrived on a weekday night and were promptly seated at a large round table when we walked in. Big tanks of seafood were located in the back of the restaurant and the waiters takes you to look at it, before you decide on what to order. A freshness guarantee. Sauces and side dishes are located on the side of the room, self-served with a numerous amount of choices to satisfy all your culinary needs.

    We ordered a wide range of seafood including clams, oyster, scallop, pear fish, you name it, along with some side vegetable dishes and corn juice. There is a big pot at the centre of the round table that is used to steam the seafood. Once the seafood arrives, the waiter takes a large clipper to clip the item and place it in the centre of the pot, then closes the lid for it to steam for an appropriate amount of time before it’s ready. Eating the hot steamed seafood with my gloved hands and dipping it in my specialty sauce, I couldn’t remember the last time I’ve had such a grand seafood meal like this.

    The best part of this meal is left at the end. The bottom of the pot is separated from the top side of the pot with a divider on which the seafood is placed upon. While the seafood steams, the steam that’s condensed into liquid drips to the bottom of the pot, where rice is placed for congee. At the end of the meal, a wholesome congee is also finished brewing at the bottom of the pot, filled with the culinary goodness of all the seafood that’s been steamed throughout the meal. I don’t think I can ask for more in a meal really, and who would have thought such a place existed right in the middle of Shanghai. The price is jaw-droppingly affordable with the bill coming out to be less than 100 rmb/person, and coupons on Dianping that further deducts from the bill. It’s an amazing place for a wholesome group meal that will leave you craving for more.

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  • Hero Shu is a five star Chengdu hotpot brand that has several branches in Shanghai. Located on the second floor of Shimei Plaza, this place is jammed packed even on a weekday night. Decorated in a traditional imperial Chinese styled manner, there’s a lot of lanterns hanging down the ceiling along with beautiful wooden carved windows. The table and chairs of course, match the rest of the décor, and although it’s pleasing on the eyes, sitting on wooden stools around a crowded table in a crowded restaurant is not the most comfortable dining position to be in.

    That aside, you’ll forget about the uncomfortable seats once the pot and food arrives. Food is ordered the old fashioned way, via circling items you wish to have on a paper menu (which is a waste of paper if you ask me). The menu is all in Chinese so there might be a bit of a guesswork going on if you don’t understand Chinese. There are five flavours of the hot pot mix (68rmb-128rmb) to choose from and a range of light spice, medium spice, and super spice to temper with. Being a Sichuan chain, I’d say they’re definitely being nice with this option as all the hot pots in Sichuan itself just have one choice and that’s super spicy. There is a divider between the pot, so you’re able to choose two different hot pot mixes, perfect for the indecisive people out there. On top of the hot pot mix, which is slightly more expensive than other places, there is also an 8rmb charge/ person, and I suppose that goes towards the costs associated with self-served side dishes as well as sauces. If your stomach is up for it, there is also an ice cream from the dispenser that’s covered in the charge, and although I didn’t have enough space in me to try it out, I’ve heard great reviews about it.

    For the main course, we ordered a variety of meat dishes, including their specialty beef platter, which is soaked in milk before it’s dipped inside the pot, which is certainly a strange way to serve beef but I’m not complaining because the meat was so tender. Other than that, I ordered some other “safe” choices from the menu such as lamb, mushrooms, tofu, veggies, crab sticks and what not, because I really don’t get too worked up from mystery intestine meat. As someone who cannot leave the after flavouring sauce when eating hotpot, the sauce makes or breaks the hot pot meal for me, and I absolutely loved their sesame sauce. It tasted like it was freshly made unlike some of the packaged ones served in fast-food hot pot joints. All in all, it was a solid meal for four, but beware if you’re not up for spicy food. We downed loads of plum and orange juice along with the meal to balance out the spicy flavour and could barely stand up right after drinking and stuffing ourselves full. In the end, there is always room for dessert and I highly recommend their fried banana cake- crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside- it was the cherry on top to an already great meal.

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  • Located on the corner of Jiaozhou Road and Wuding Road, Alimentari & Degusteria is probably the go to stop for a lot of Westerners in Shanghai to get their imported pantry foods, and if time allows, have a seat to enjoy some fresh cold-cuts and cheese with some beer, or just dive into their all-day breakfasts choices. They are well-stocked in everything from your favourite wines, to your longed-after Italian pasta sauces. The large panel windows facing street-side views makes one reminiscent of the numerous street-side cafes you’d see in France or Italy, as it offers up a nice patio seating for chit-chat or simply people-watching.  

    In the area and looking for a place to get some work done, I decided to finally come check this place out. The place is fairly empty on a weekday afternoon, with a couple of people here and there on their laptops. Walking in, you are greeted with a large display of fresh cut gourmet meat, cheese displays, various olives, alongside rows of spirits, beers, or juice drinks. It is a feast on the eyes just as it is a feast it will be on the stomach. The staff are also super helpful and friendly here. They were happy to give me recommendations when I asked. Looking for some nibbles, I ordered some parmesan cheese, black peppered beef, salami, with some whole wheat bread and found a nice spot by the windows to sit. Other menu options such as paninis or sandwiches ends sales around 6pm.

    The cold cuts and cheese were absolutely delish and super fresh. Definitely ranks among the top cold cut platters I’ve had in the past, plus the price here is surprisingly affordable as my platter only came out to be around 70rmb. 250kg is the minimum amount you’re allowed to get for each platter option. In addition, there are also set platter choices available that might be better to get in a group. Ciders and ales are always ready on the side as well if you need some pick-me-ups while working or chatting here. The place started to fill up as people got out of work.  

    Overall, I loved everything about this place, from the food to the vibe. It definitely lived up to its hype and I look forward to coming back or checking out its other branches around town.

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  • I decided to pay a visit to Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice to see if the chicken rice truly lived up to its name. Located on Jiaozhou Road, the store has a very appealing traditional Chinese styled storefront, with a hint of Singaporean ceramic décor. The store is pretty tiny, luckily, there is also a second floor up a flight of wooden stairs that may be able to accompany slightly larger groups.

    Arriving on a weekday evening, the place was not that packed, and we were able to get a good comfy spot for two upstairs. Colourful posters line up the red-painted walls of the restaurant, giving it an interesting Chinese vintage vibe. We were seated next to an incredibly loud group; the store for some reason, didn’t have any music on to help drown out the chatter either, so we ended up having to practically shout to be heard. That’s just Chinese-styled dining I guess. The unpleasant noise aside, the overall atmosphere was good.

    Unlikely many other Hainanese chicken rice places, this place had no set chicken rice meal (with set portions of chicken, rice, and veggies), so you had to order everything separately, which is a bit annoying, and makes this place a bit pricier than other similar joints. You can order the chicken by the half (78rmb) or by the quarter (48 or 58 rmb), and rice made with chicken oil was 9 rmb (a rip-off for rice). They also had no plain rice available, so my vegetarian friend had to settle for something else to go with her meal. Up first, we had the cold dish appetizer, tofu with preserved eggs, which tasted amazing sprinkled with some soy and hot sauce flavouring. The kai-lan mixed seafood veggies and bean curd water spinach were also pleasant tasting though they were definitely made with a touch of Shanghainese flavours as there were a distinct sweetness to the taste. My favourite part of the meal was the kaya (coconut jam) toast dessert, which tasted just as good if not even better than the ones I’ve had in Singapore. Compared to everything else we’ve gotten, the chicken rice itself was a bit underwhelming to be frank. It was not bad, but it certainly wasn’t anything spectacular either, as its name suggests, and I certainly could have gotten the same thing elsewhere for half the price.  

    Overall price is 100rmb/person.

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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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