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  • This Malaysian dessert place is so good and there isn't anything else like it in Shanghai. They serve cendol, which is shaved ice with coconut milk, green rice flour jelly, and palm sugar, plus toppings like grass jelly or red bean. This spot uses actual palm sugar, which makes a huge difference. Their menu is one page, including pictures. The staff are super nice. They have a few table games and a large painting of a tropical bird on the wall. Very rare.

    Next time you want ice cream or milk tea, consider Cendol instead. Get the Penang shaved ice, maybe add some ximi and the 10rmb Durian ice cream. This shop is doing something unique and that's tough in Shanghai so show some love and keep the cendol around.

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  • I was worrying about AI and and the future so i wanted to eat some spicy wings and watch that sports channel with tree-chopping competitions and monster trucks and make my mind go blank so i went to hooters on huaihai lu not huaihai zhong lu they closed that one a while back now they went in where the carls jr was where people sing on the corner at night sometimes real loud over by mac doctor and anyway i like hooters because 1 if people tell you the food is bad they are a liar and 2 also the waitresses they will talk to you in that way americans ask you how you're doing but don't really mean it they just want a tip but it's still nice like the waitress asked about my anime shirt and said she saw the show on billi billi and i got the 911 wings which r the second spiciest and number one most delicious i will fully recommend this boneless wing

    this hooters is maybe half the price as before but they don't have buffalo sauce now they have chuanr and some wraps with rice and chicken of your choice which is odd and i definitely did not try but fair enough maybe they got new owners or changed their strategy but your waitress still write their name down on yr napkin and the owls are still there obviously you can't replace that owl that's like if disney replaced mickey mouse and there is also a late happy hour on draft beer and anyway everything is very excellent and i will fully recommend this hooters

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  • Truly good food returns to the mind days, weeks, or even years after eating it. Like, you're playing Switch at midnight and all the sudden you think, "I need a Beef & Liberty burger. Right now." The galettes at RAC are like that. I told people about them. I sent my mom a picture. I tried to go back the next evening and met despair – they had closed at 7pm. The next day I got the same round table in the corner looking out the giant window at the lanehouses next door. The galettes tasted even better this time.

    The original RAC's reputation for painful wait times kept me from ever going there. Thankfully, their second shop a block north of IAPM on Shaanxi Nan Lu has no queue in the afternoon. The place feels like dining in your interior-designer friend's house, with tons of natural light, nice silverware, and friendly staff who let folks order right up until the edge of 7pm. Everything on the short menu – from the drinking vinegar to the veggie galettes to the avocado salad with green tomatoes – feels carefully considered and perfected. You might find yourself dreaming about them weeks later.

    RAC is proof that you don't need neon signs or Pantone colors to be a wanghong. Hell, they don't even have wi-fi here.

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  • On the first visit to this chill izakaya on Xianxia Lu, we had to wait twenty minutes for a seat by the bar, so the waitress apologised and offered the first round of drinks on the house. How often does that happen in Shanghai? The beef and onion skewers, chicken skin salad, and tofu were so good that I came back three weeks later on a Monday at 6pm and luckily got the last table.

    Toriyasu in Zhongshan Park – the place with the little door – is my go-to for yakitori, and for good reason. Niao Jun isn't better than that classic spot, but it's on the same level and has some different options, like a giant tuna jaw that takes two people fifteen minutes to pick apart; a plate of gyoza buried in a sheet of paper-thin dumpling skin; a sausage "on the bone"; and a highball-machine with six flavors and giant ice balls (yes, cassis is there and it's perfect). All of those are must-orders, as are the chicken kebabs topped with shredded perilla, grilled squid, the chicken-skin salad (available crispy or not crispy), and absolutely the beef and onion kebabs.

    The food is just one part of this spot's appeal – the servers are fun, the details like a Totoro in the booth and plants in the bathroom add life and color, and even the angles on the security camera feed look like an art film. Music? No. Wild Japanese TV shows? Yes.

    If you're into Japanese food / highballs / BBQ / memorable restaurants away from the usual, check this out. It's about a 15-minute walk from the Shuicheng Lu metro station, slightly off Xianxia Lu near the gates to a xiaoqu. Call ahead, and look for the lanterns.

     

    ***

     

    Basically: Excellent little izakaya / yakitori spot just off Xianxia Lu that stands out among all the other Japanese restaurants on that strip. Great food, drinks, and service plus colorful decor. Recommended dishes: beef and onion skewers, the bbq and rice bowl, chicken and perilla skewers, chicken skin salad, gyoza, tuna jaw, squid, and tofu. Avg. 150-200rmb per person. Reservations recommended.

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  • A few months back, the Hunter Gather in Hubin Dao transformed from a grocery-store-with-a-restaurant to a restaurant-with-a-little-grocery-section-and-cooking-classes. Good call!

    Sadly, the DIY peanut butter machines disappeared (R.I.P.). Almost everything else is great news though. The Asian fusion dishes with organic ingredients have more flavor and color than ever, and between the curries, pickled vegetables, ma la, Bibimbap elements, noodles, salads, and grilled meats, there's probably something for everyone who is trying to eat better. That said, some dishes seem more inspired than others. A pumpkin pasta was just meh.

    Their lunch set is 98rmb and includes a starter like cauliflower soup, a main, and a drink like coffee or tea. Considering the quality, that's a solid deal and more than filling. Maybe order the dressing on the side if you're counting calories though. Overall, for around the same price or slightly more than Sproutworks down the street, the food is way more robust. It's the Lexus to their dependable Camry. Shout out to the farmers. Bonus: The frozen yogurt is worth a trip alone.

     

    ***

     

    Basically: Quick-serve organic restaurant serving bright Asian fusion dishes in the form of bowls, salads, and noodles. High-quality ingredients and lots of flavor. Avg: ~ 100rmb per person. Also has some groceries, cooking classes, and [sometimes] frozen yogurt.

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  • I first had Yolota back in 2008, when all I knew about beef noodle soup was dishwater Shanghai Lanzhou La Mian. Back then, Yolota was a revelation: thick beef cuts that tasted expensive, hearty soups – red wine soup! tomato soup! – and side dishes like braised tofu and braised vegetables with bits of pork. For someone who didn't grow up with this food and was eating gai jiao fan or Shaxian Xiaochi pretty much every day, it was incredible.

    In 2019, Yolota is more comforting than mind-blowing. They still charge around 30 to 40rmb for a bowl of their noodles, which you can order thick or thin. The menu is probably the same, the broths are still rich, and the ingredients remain high quality. Some noodle experts might fault their cooking skills, but it's consistently decent, the staff are nice, and they play some obscure jazz radio shows in the small dining room, which also has a bit of anime kitsch strewn about.

    In a word: reliable. And on a rainy day, it's way better than Shanghai Lanzhou La Mian. Some of their deeper cuts, like the curry noodles and cold noodles with shredded chicken and sesame are worth exploring too.


    ***

    In Short: Reliable beef noodle soup and snacks spot that's been around for over a decade. You can order your noodles thick or thin, and the rest of the menu is worth diving into as well. Clean with good ingredients plus nice jazz selections on the stereo sometimes. Less than 50rmb per person.

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  • You would never guess one of Shanghai's finest sushi spots is on this sketchy street a few blocks north of People's Square, just around the corner from Jiajia Tang Bao. And you wouldn't find the shop on Dianping, because it's not listed there. Haiyu Sushi was on Dianping, but too many random walk-ins made it hard for the boss's regulars to get a table.

    Regulars – like the chef at Mercato, who wrote about this place in Industry Nights – go here for good reason. Haiyu Sushi is an anomaly in Shanghai – spartan environment, high-end food. While clean, there is nothing fancy about this place. Just a counter, a few tables, a TV, and two friendly chefs who will gladly drop knowledge about fish and Shanghai if you ask. Basically the equation is this: if you remove the fancy decor, the dozens of staff, some frilly ornamental ingredients, and the prime location, your customers can enjoy high-grade sushi for mid-range prices. Indeed, on a recent Sunday night, a couple spent 390rmb and ate an extremely memorable meal of fresh fish and beer that would probably cost upwards of 1000rmb in many restaurants here.

    If you're into sushi, this place has choice cuts for much less than you'd expect. Make a reservation though, and be sure to follow the boss's Moments for all the fish photos.

    **

    Summary: No frills, minimal sushi spot with excellent fish and friendly staff, a few blocks north of People's Square. Not fancy, very good, and memorable. Reservations essential.

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  • Meet Fresh's logo is a smiling grandma and grandpa, which is perfect for what this chain serves: simple, modern-traditional Taiwanese-style desserts. Big bowls of taro, herbal jelly, boba, and other squishy objects, usually over crushed ice with syrup or milk poured on top. Sometimes with beans, peanuts, or tofu. Everything tastes light and healthy, and ever since HoF closed, this is my go-to dessert.

    You can find these grandma and grandpas all over Shanghai, and according to their website, also in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, among other places. Their goal? "Impressing the hearts of everyone worldwide." Noble. Meet Fresh is zero hype, all fresh. Grandma and grandpa statues stand outside some of their shops, though I've never seen any human grandmas or grandpas in the kitchens.

    Props to their staff training and supply chain – Meet Fresh is always on point. I usually go to the shop by Tianzifang or the one across from Joe's Pizza off Nanjing Xi Lu, and their delivery holds up really well for ice desserts too. Most treats are around 25-30rmb. Recommended.

    The Summary: Cheap-and-good Taiwanese dessert chain serving healthy, modern-traditional desserts. Happy grandma and grandpa logo, crushed ice, taro, herbal jelly, peanuts, and sweet tofu is the name of the game. Recommended. Also on waimai.

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  • A while back I wrote about Qianshen bathhouse, which is still the luxury bathhouse + hotpot restaurant of choice. But at 78 or 88rmb for entry, New Star is less than half the price, and still decent. Also they have a Korean restaurant! And after too many trips to the Tianshan Lu New Star by Yuyintang, I've realized that the Koreatown New Star aka Minhang New Star is the superior one. Here's why:

    1. Koreatown Newstar has a tiny arcade. Each machine has 1000 games. One of those games is Jackie Chan: The Kung-Fu Master. But don't play that. It's horrible. They have about 20 versions of Street Fighter II.

    2. There's a co-ed outdoor pool (closes kinda early though).

    3. The walking path with qi-correcting stones is twice is long at the Koreatown New Star. Also, four sweat huts instead of three (no cold room though…)

    4. Tianshan Lu New Star is full of college kids on phones and families with kids. Koreatown New Star has grown ups talking about business trips.

    5. Better vibes in the massage room. Much easier to move around in the dark and not worry about bumping into someone getting a deep ear cleaning.

    6. You can get a haircut. The hair salon at Tianshan New Star turned off the lights ages ago.

    7. Better stone and design in the wet steam room.

    8. You're within a ten minute walk of about 100 Korean restaurants, including some of the best in Shanghai, and several that stay open after 1am when foreigners have to leave the bathhouse.

    Bonus: The backscrubs at New Star are better than Qianshen.

    Only a few downsides. Like the Tianshan NewStar, they really shut down the bath area at midnight sharp (Qianshen keeps the baths running all night). And if you don't live in Minhang, you're looking at a 20-minute voyage back to downtown Puxi. Golden rule: get in before 10pm and always ask if there's a discount on Koubei or Dianping. It's usually 30rmb off.

    Summary: Minhang outpost of popular Korean-style bathhouse chain, NewStar. In addition to the usual wet and dry saunas, baths, sweat rooms (汗蒸), massages and massage chairs, and Korean restaurant, this one also has an outdoor pool, a tiny arcade, and a more grown-up vibe (as in, less kids and college students than the other NewStar in Puxi). Great place to relax, detox, or get over jet lag. Discounts are usually available on Dianping and Koubei so ask before paying.

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  • Tofu Village (豆腐村) is this friendly Yanbian restaurant in Koreatown that's worth the 30-minute trip from downtown. They make their own tofu, you get banchan and a jug of cold water when you sit down, and you can drink soju while eating Dongbei and Korean food at the same time. The style is a rarer one in Shanghai: cuisine from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in northeastern Jilin Province, along the border with North Korea.

    The spicy, garlicky vegetables and chicken wings are addictive, and the regional fish hotpots are solid if you're into that, but you're really coming here for the house tofu, which arrives in a marble cube covered with cloth. Scoop some into your bowl and drizz the sauce over that. Be warned, sometimes the tofu sells out and that's it for the day. On one visit, they showed us around the kitchen like, "Yep, we're making the tofu here!" Nice people.

    So if you're into Korean food and Dongbei food, check this out. And like Dongbei spots, you can have a full vegetarian meal here too. But the bings? Bummer. Both the seafood and potato versions are weak on flavor and heavy on everything else.

    The village is a ten minute walk from Longbai Xincun metro station on Line 10 and slightly hard to find. It's on the third floor of a mini mall on Yinting Lu. Look for D-Bar – it's across from that and upstairs. Lots of interesting places around here, including the LED fountains, an indoor golf range, and bottle-shop bars that play K-Pop videos. Tofu village closes at 11pm but much of this neighborhood goes late.

    Summary: Yanbian restaurant in K-Town serving a mix of Korean and Dongbei food. This being Tofu Village, the soft house tofu is a must. Eat it with or without the mildly spicy sauce. Also recommended are the chicken wings and the cold vegetables, though not the pancakes. Worth the trip for something different in an interesting area. Less than 100rmb per person including beers.

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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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  • Heatwolves has spent the last ten years exploring Shanghai as a writer, editor and DJ and is now a consultant and strategist for F&B, music, and art projects. You can find him on Instagram at @lovebanguniverse and leaping forward at InkSight Agency.
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    Jeffo is originally from Chicago, and is now expat dad in Shanghai. Even after 12 years, he still loves exploring Shanghai and finding something new to experience.
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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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