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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A 70rmb slice of cake should conjure up memories of classic birthdays and weddings. The cakes at Lady M taste like office parties and 85 Degrees.
Yet somehow, the #LadyM tag has 250,000 posts on Instagram. Maybe it's better in other cities? The NYC chain has four bright white shops in Shanghai selling overly-sweet crepe cakes with hundreds of thin layers. They stay busy, probably because of their aesthetic and social media presence.
The taste? Awfully Chocolate slays Lady M on every level, for less than half the price.
And if the cake is barely mediocre, the service is offensive. "You're eating here? Go outside and order." These bakeshop girls throw some serious attitude and they serve water in paper cups to dine-in customers. This is one time I would rather order from a QR code or robot. One Dianping reviewer commented, "the service is so bad you might think this is a shanzhai shop."
My SmartReview philosophy is to highlight good places so they stay in business, so here's three better dessert options near Lady M Xintiand:
1) If you want red velvet, just get a Strictly Cookies red velvet cookie from local chain Buzztime Coffee in Xintiandi Style. They make a really good house ice coffee and the staff are angels.
2) Grab a salted caramel brioche and a piece of cake for ~30rmb total on night discount from Rye & Co and take it to Taiping Hu.
3) Just go to HoF on Sinan Lu. It's still a standard, with consistent desserts, excellent service, and low-key vibes for over ten years. And they serve water in glassware.
Summary: Overpriced, overhyped dessert shop with a curated aesthetic and strong social media presence. Awfully Chocolate and several other places do better cake for about half the price.
Price: ~70rmb per slice.
E'Zhuang is a goose restaurant where almost everything is better than the goose.
This quick-and-cheap diner across from Linx club on Huaihai serves 10rmb bowls of lu rou fan (minced pork rice), 6rmb black coffee, passable oyster omlettes, sticky rice sausages, san bei ji (three cup chicken), several soups of the day, cheap draft Asahi, and lots more. I used to go to their old shop near Xintiandi two or three days in a row before it got torn down.
Thankfully their newer spot is exactly the same, down to the white pepper shakers on every table. They also stay open fairly late (1am-ish) and serve peanut smoothies – another reason this might remind some of a downmarket Charmant (小城故事). E'Zhuang isn't as tasty or comfortable as that long-gone classic, but it's less than half the price and this is as good as you're gonna get for that kinda food at 1am on Huaihai on 2019. Tastes just as good at 1pm too.
Summary: Quick, cheap, and decent diner across from Linx on Huaihai, serving low-priced coffee and beer, 10rmb lu rou fan, soups of the day, and dishes like oyster omelettes, cooked greens, three-cup chicken, and more classics. Actually it's a goose restaurant but everything else is better. And if you like white pepper this is your jam. Open late.
Price: Less than 50rmb per person.
The Middle House is maybe the darkest five-star hotel I've been to, which matches their identity of "A calm oasis amongst the dynamic backdrop of Asia's most sophisticated city." I like it. The 4th floor rooftop makes for good sunset watching and Café Grey seems like an ideal place to get over jet lag. Their flagship Italian restaurant is equally modern and relaxing, though some dishes need work.
A dark restaurant feels great in this world of neon Instagram-bait. And lounge music mixtapes sound surprisingly good in the era of playlists and algorithms. Great service too. One customer who some might call "severely underdressed" still got constant water pours, bread top-ups, and smiles.
Everything here tastes homemade. Sometimes that's a huge compliment and sometimes not. A wood-grilled chicken salad makes one wonder what kind of magic they can do with steaks. The truffle mashed potatoes are dreams. And though a pesto pasta tasted truly fresh, two diners agreed: just slightly undercooked. Finally, a bizarre disappointment: a broccoli leaf and sausage pizza. Oily with a taste of refrigerated leftovers, it tasted like Chinese New Year. Is that basic-American ignorance to think that an Italian restaurant should have good pizza?
Should have ended with a tiramisu, an espresso, and maybe a slice from Homeslice instead. Still, would go back to explore other parts of the menu and enjoy the vibe and service.
Summary: Sharp, relaxing Italian restaurant in The Middle House hotel with great service and vibe, some standout dishes and some misses. Go for the wood-grilled options and side dishes. Good value.
Price: ~ 240rmb per person with one glass of wine.
Changsha is a wild place. The first night I ate street food there, a man walked up and asked me, "Hey little brother, are you done with that beer bottle? Can I have it?". Then he walked across the street and smashed the bottle over another man's head and their crews fought for over an hour while my friends and I ate painfully spicy bowls of frog and noodles.
So how do you distill those intense flavors into a new Shanghai mall where Kohler charges 39rmb for an "exhibition" and Elle has a lifestyle shop and/or hair salon? Seems like Kairougi, an effort from the folks behind Haiku, is trying to do just that with their Hunan spot.
The place looks nice and the food isn't bad. In fact, the rice is delicious and they use really nice oil. It's just that a meal here is double the price of Di Shui Dong and the service isn't half as good.
Tried the signature fish (199rmb), signature duck (150rmb), fried stinky tofu and three bowls of rice and the bill came out to over 400rmb. For that price they need more staff, more flavor, and bigger portions. Feels aimed at locals who have some money to burn but prefer to eat something familiar, like Hunan. But without the Hunan wildness.
When the bill came, everyone felt the same: "Damn! Should have just gone to Di Shui Dong. Or that place on Wulumuqi."
Also, Shanghai is ready for the heat! They rate the signature duck 5/5 chilies but it's more like 3/5.
Summary: Decent-but-overpriced Hunan restaurant with good rice that might be worth visiting if it were half the price.
Price: 221rmb per person without alcohol
It's not like Fem's is the best Korean food in town. But it's comforting, the staff are friendly and quick, the cold dishes and cold water always come out right away, and you can drop 30-50rmb and have a nice bibimbap or kimchi fried rice while looking out the big windows at bus 71 floating by in the rain. It's just a few steps east of Donghua University's front gate on Yan'an, so you're just as likely to hear Thai or Spanish as Korean in there.
By night, this is the perfect dinner jump off if you're headed out on the west side, especially if you dip into their soju or makgeolli supply. Even with two or three friends digging into fried chicken, beers, tender BBQ pork neck, stew, and more pancakes, it's unlikely you'll drop over 100rmb per head.
FEMS has been here for like a decade, as thousands of students have graduated and dozens of neighbors have moved in and out (or gotten rid of their doors). That's probably because it's way better than student food needs to be. The only bummer? They close at 10pm.
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.