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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Kept it carb-friendly with pancakes! Plenty of protein on the menu as well naturally - eggs, bacon, burgers, etc.

    The first thing about the place is the vibe. Lots of buzz and energy with the weekend crowd. We had debated whether to go to this outpost or to the Xiangyang Lu location. Pros for Changle Lu: The décor is more fun/lively; outdoor seating is available; and the icing on top is that they have a full-on Gracie’s ice cream selection in the back. Pros for Xiangyang Lu: bigger space, more tables; apparently their bacon is better; also have Gracie’s but feels less “retro” without the ice cream parlor feel.

    I opted for sweet this time and gave the pancakes a try. These were dense and rich, more cake-y than fluffy (and extremely filling)! strawberry cheesecake pancakes had graham cracker crust bits which were delicious but could have had more sauce. By the second pancake (each “original” size order comes with three), the pancakes started to feel dry. I enjoyed them but had to order a soda to wash the rest of it down. The strawberry sauce was also a bit too “lemon citrus-y” for me.

    The Purgatory Eggs got a decent review. Seemed good but nothing mindblowing or “hellalicious”.

    The Gang: Cool kids (literally), there were lots of families as well as smaller groups of friends. A mix of Chinese and laowai although probably with a majority of the latter.

    The Motive: The brunch menu seems to be different than their usual menu with expanded offerings. But they do have all-day breakfast on the regular menu. Also, I would come by just for a scoop or two of Gracie’s.

    The Damage: 285RMB for three (coffee, no alcohol)

    The Down n’ Dirty: Single bathroom, although surprisingly no line despite the crowds. Spic n' span.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Admittedly we arrived a bit late for lunch (2pm), but there were at least 3 items we ordered that were no longer available. Not a great initial impression.

    Food was mediocre, but I found the flavor pairing to be very weird and not traditionally Cantonese as I know it. The Pan Fried Crystal Shrimp was pretty much flavorless (it’s supposed to be a mild dish but not like this). What was even more odd was the pairing of red bean (savory) next to it, which did not complement the shrimp at all. On the other side of the flavor spectrum, the Eggplant with Minced Pork in XO Sauce tasted more Sichuan, topped with red chili and fermented soybeans – and overly salted. Super thirsty afterwards.

    Since they ran out of roast duck and crispy pork, we went with char siu and goose. Decent, but nothing to write home (or here) about. Same for other dim sum dishes.

    Service was friendly and apologetic but unorderly and frazzled. Not a horrible experience. It did the job of filling our bellies after lots of walking and sightseeing, but would not go back.

    The Gang: A few tourists here and there on the weekend, mostly Chinese. Probably a bit more of the work crowd on weekdays.

    The Motive: Decent food and value for a quick (but fancier than food court) bite if you’re touristing around the area.

    The Damage: 300rmb for a 4-person lunch.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Within the “mall”, not too far from the restaurant.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: This place first caught my eye with its jewel-toned turquoise façade – amongst all the greys and beiges, it looked like a summer holiday vacation I wanted to dive into. The interior is also gorgeous, a stark contrast to the “90’s décor” of the neighboring Film Art Center, splashed with their signature bright blue and a bit of industrial lighting.

    Niceties aside, the million-dollar question here is…how is the pho (58RMB)? Short answer, not bad. The broth was decent, a bit on the salty side. The rice noodles were good. Side of raw sprouts and herbs, check (although on the puny side). But the long answer here – and the reason I would not come back for pho is that it’s served with beef balls and brisket. Where are my pink, tender, barely cooked pieces of raw beef?! To me, that’s a critical component of the pho experience, and cooking the meat in the soup adds some “bloody love” to the dish.

    The rest of the menu is moderately-sized, featuring Vietnamese spring rolls (fresh and fried), chicken wings, shrimp cakes, stir-fried dishes, etc. The cheery yellow Vietnamese pancake (58RMB) was a bit bland and rather difficult to eat as the bean sprouts and vegetables inside were not chopped so basically had to dissect the dish to eat it – also bc the filling was stir-fried it was rather steamy/soppy and rendered the pancake a bit soggy. The stir fry rib-eye steak and mushrooms (68RMB) surpassed my expectations, generous chunks of tender beef sautéed in a teriyaki-ish sauce and topped off with fried garlic bits.

    Still, overall service and experience was pleasant. Wouldn’t mind returning to try their other dishes another time.

    The Gang: Mostly Chinese, smaller groups of friends and families. Despite being open for 6 months, hasn’t seemed to snag many laowai diners from the Wagas across the street.

    The Motive: For a casual meal around the area. Or if you have a bit of time before catching a flick, it’s a slightly fancier spot to hang out and grab a bite.

    The Damage: Around 200RMB for 2, entrees around 58RMB/68RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Have to go into the Shanghai Film Center – not the cleanest but decent as far as Chinese bathrooms go.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Yes, there’s beef here. And chicken, maybe even fish (no pork obviously). But if you don’t try the lamb here, you’re missing out.

    Even from the outside of the restaurant, the energy is palpably lively – hard to ignore the bright lights mimicking Xinjiang style influences, as well as the bazaar-esque open air stall of meats and bread on offer (you can also grab some to go). Then when you enter the place, kitschy-ness factor is amped to the max - filled with colorful mosaics and stained glass, Persian rugs on the wall, and a gauche golden chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It’s truly fantastic, and although we missed it, there is a stage on the second floor that features belly dancing performances.

    The lamb skewers, lamb chops (a few different versions are on offer), lamb tendon, lamb innards (tripe, liver, kidney) – the dishes we had were all OMG good. You can also order a whole lamb if you reserve it ahead of time. For those who don’t like too much cumin (or love it), they serve it on the side so you can season accordingly. No matter which way, lamb was all extremely tender, and the right amount of meatiness/fattiness ratio.

    A surprising dish was the beef dumplings (bo pi bao zi), they look pretty boring but they are double the size of regular dumplings with thinner skin and fantastically juicy filling. You can order as many as you want (min of 4/order).

    Unfortunately, we did not get to try 2 of the other popular traditional dishes here. The “lamb rice pilaf” (shou zhua fan) wasn’t available, they recommend pre-ordering if you dine after 7pm. The “big plate chicken” (da pan ji) is also a standard dish – will have to come back for this!

    The Gang: Xinjiang-ers, Chinese, even a table of laowai – all filling their bellies to their heart’s content with meat, carbs, and beer. Service is rough, if not lacking and diners do tend to get a bit rowdy but all things that add to the “atmosphere”.

    The Motive: Big group dinners! They have banquet style roundtables for large parties, and portions are extremely generous. More friends = more dishes to try!

    The Damage: 380RMB for 4 – and we were stuffed. Prices are on par with Muslim markets actually, and you get your own table here without having to fight in line for food.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Pretty down n’ dirty for “Western” standards if you’re used to going expat places, but not the worst in the realm of “local Chinese” squatters.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Wow, where do I start…?

    The food. It was by far the worst “Yunnan food experience” I’ve had. Yunnan food is one of my favorite Chinese cuisines, and with the enthusiastic recommendations of a good gf (whose gourmet opinions I highly respect), expectations were set high. The décor was clean and modern, the second floor even had a nice outdoor terrace. The staff was friendly and patiently took our order. Then the food arrived…and everything went sour (almost literally).

    The goat cheese was typical, no harm no foul. But the fresh vegetable wraps were bland, skin was too thick, and the dipping sauce lacked some much-needed personality. The border steamed beef in bamboo tube was salty AF… an as”salt” (haha) on my taste buds! The yellow curry beef was half decent, sauce was a bit too thick and floury for my taste, although that one is on us – why we ordered yellow curry at a Yunnan place is beyond me.

    I really wanted to “make me love this place” (as my gf had promised she would do). I can never get enough of my fill of Yunnan food, and I am a fan of the “fancier” Chinese concept that serves a decent wine list and a cocktail menu (a la Sichuan Citizen, Lost Heaven). Especially fun to take out-of-town guests. But I don’t think I’ll be returning here anytime soon (sorry, MW!)

    The Gang: Mixed crowd, more sophisticated business than casual.

    The Damage: Approx. 500RMB for three, including 1 cocktail. Price per dish avg around 78-88RMB. 

    The Down n’ Dirty: Unmemorable.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Burgers, chicken wings, flatbreads, and more. We’ll get back to the food.

    Having heard of the reverse beer pouring machines, I imagined this place would be too gimmicky. Not to mention they also have two full-on 桌游 machines that turn your tabletop into an interactive video game with your beer drinking mates.

    I wasn’t fully wrong. Our first attempt at the reverse pour machine was actually a disaster. The machine that was supposed to offer the “perfect pour and minimal head” wasn’t working properly and instead reverse engineered a glass of beer foam. So we had to pick another beer/machine which then did indeed deliver as promised. How it works: Self-service. They have a selection of 4 beers (2 ambers, 1 pilsner, 1 dark) on reverse tap, pick beer, scan QR code to pay, set glass onto dispenser, and watch your beer glass fill from the bottom up - in only 5 seconds.

    They also have a rotation of at least 6 other beers on tap behind the bar. The prevalent Contender (still a favorite but likely bc it’s the most familiar), TKO IPA (nice and strong), Helles Lager (too light and watery), and even a Breast Wishes Milk Stout with nitro gas (dark, smooth, chocolatey – sexy!).

    Back to the food. This is a big statement to make. But this place has the best fries I have had in recent memory. They were the perfect amount of thickness, crisp, and saltiness, dipped in ketchup and…what? Meiyo mayo?! My date and I agreed that we would bring our own tube of mayo next time.

    The rest of the food was also top notch – perfect for pairing with beers, naturally. Helles Fury Sichuan Flatbread was like eating those addictive bag of Wangfeihong spicy peanuts. The burger was juicy, and I would argue better than some of the actual burger joints. Korean style chicken wings were sweet, spicy, and oh-so-tender.   

    The Gang: Unfortunately it was extremely quiet on a weekday at lunch (we were the only patrons there). However, because of its location on Dingxi Lu, a late night food street for locals, I imagine less laowai, more Chinese millennials.

    The Motive: Fantastic neighborhood bar and super friendly service. I’ll definitely be back, and especially in summer weather for beers and food in their lovely backyard.

    The Damage: Two rounds of beer, tasting flight, and way too much food later, the total tally came down to around 300RMB for two. Reverse tap 35RMB for 400ml, beer taps 40RMB for 500ml. Flatbreads 45RMB, barley bowls 38RMB, chicken wings 28RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Red light bulbs made it really hard to see, but toilets seemed pretty clean.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Located in the Hongqiao Takashimaya department store – so you know this place is fancier than your usual department store Chinese restaurant. Literally translates as "Crab Tree".

    Specialty here is crab (curried, peppered, casserole, boiled, baked, drunken, in soybean milk…), a bit reminiscent of Singaporean crab outposts known throughout the city. There is a variety of crab served here- the red crab, as well as their hairy cousins famously from YanCheng Lake (which are seasonal, best eaten as the winter cold begins to set), and the monster Alaska King Crab.

    We opted for the Steamed Crab Covered Egg Custard in Scallion Oil. The crab was meaty and sweet, the egg custard was a bit too hard. Overall a decent dish but wasn’t blown away by it. There were definitely standout dishes here that didn’t involve crab.

    The other dishes here are a mix of Chinese – Sichuan peppercorn beef; Shanghaiese hongshaorou, and creative fusion dishes such as the Crab Meat Wheat Salad - more hor d’oeuvre than salad but was a fan favorite. Another exceptional dish felt like a Cantonese take, Braised Fugu. Yes, pufferfish! The kind that you could die from eating raw, so toxic it takes less than an hour to kill you. Ok, so the cooked version wasn’t living life on the edge, but it was definitely one of the most memorable dishes I have had in awhile. The fish meat was extremely tender, braised in Cantonese abalone sauce (“bao zhi”) and merited a separate order of an entire bowl of rice to eat with it – heaven. The only part of that dish I didn’t agree with was the skin – texture was chewy collagen but also very prickly, I felt like I was eating a baby cactus. Not pleasant and a bit hard to swallow.

    The Motive: Fancy local Chinese food with a focus on crab (don’t need to be much of a sleuth to figure that one out). Great for "older" out of town guests for a bit of a splurge. Although it’s still in a department store – there were more floor staff than customers here so a nice respite from other overcrowded malls in downtown Shanghai.

    The Damage: 350RMB/pax, approx. 1,500RMB for 4. Alcohol not included.

    The Down n’ Dirty: In the mall, but this is a fancy Japanese one so expect the same maniacal level of sterile when it comes to the facilities.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: We missed the daytime action here, apparently they do an awesome brunch til 4pm (note to self). But real fun starts after dark when the neon signs burn brighter and the cats come out to play. When we arrived, it was standing room only at a high table, but the vibe was so chill that nobody seemed to mind the cramped yet cozy space.  The service was so personable even at the start, where they apologized profusely and promised us a seat once a spot at the bar opened up (which they made good on). The attentive service lasted through the time we were there. Japanese barman Roger is the best host ever, and judging by the enthusiastic hellos from fellow patrons, we were not the only people to think so.

    In addition to the regular line-up, the highlights here are the “tea” or “coffee” cocktails. We tried one of each to start. I am a tea drinker by day, but usually shun tea cocktails because the milder flavors of tea bring out the harshness of the liquor they are made with– à la vodka or whisky (no whisky green tea here). I can’t say the tea drinks here changed my mind, but they were a refreshing surprise and if that’s your thing, you’d be in heaven here.

    But we ended up sticking to the coffee selection for the rest of the evening. All the drinks are made meticulously, and with scrupulous care – and the drink prices here are super reasonable! So we tried most of the menu. My favorite remains the coffee & tonic for its simple complexity (ha!)

    Food was also divine. The foie gras sn*ckers was completely unexpected but beyond words, and the bed of coffee beans paired perfectly with the foie in terms of flavor (rich yet light) and texture (more crunch!). Comparatively, the avocado fries were heavy since they were breadcrumb battered.

    The Gang: The cool “older” kids who want a low-key vibe that still serves sophistication…and willing to shell out a bit more for it - especially later on as they move up the “ladder”, or rather stairs to Sober Kitchen & Sober Society.

    The Damage: 3-4 rounds of cocktail plus late-night snacks for two on a date night, approx. 650RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Spankin’ clean.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Actually we stuck with seafood this time. But they have a range of top-knotch cuts that range from the 38RMB beef shank to the 298RMB M9 Waygu Sirloin. The quality of ingredients here is indisputably fresh, which is paramount when inexperienced chefs have to cook their own food at the table (yes, me!).

    Walking into Qimin is like walking into a spring garden, or rather a flourishing farm. Half-harvested produce is all the rage here, where you are served a bed of potted sprouts and cut it table-side for your pot. Same with certain mushroom. And live seafood.

    Here, each diner is served their own little hotpot, so you can take your pick from the vast broth selection without having to come to a consensus with your table mates (highly recommend the Thai Style Tom Yum w/Coconut Milk if you’re feeling frisky). The presentation and creativity of the offerings beats out the competition with dishes like tri-color dumplings (porcini with mozzarella cheese, truffle…you had me at truffle), squid paste waffle sandwich (served up in a mist of dry ice), and colorful shrimp paste with wild bamboo fungus.

    Oh, and we haven’t even talked about the sauce bar. Any hot pot place that does not offer a sauce bar is sin. That’s why Qimin is sauce bar heaven, with 15 types of sauces and condiments to satisfy purists and innovators alike who can create their own sauce concoctions.

    For those who want more than just hot pot, this Taiwanese owned established also serves up a variety of snacks that are perfectly accompaniments to the draft beer selection. And leave plenty of room for dessert – must eat shaved ice for refreshing way to finish the steamy meal.

    The Motive: For the freshest hotpot around. And to splurge a bit on out-of-town guests, as it’s a gentle introduction to those foreign to the cuisine.

    The Damage: 566RMB for 2, including 5 draft beers at 38RMB each. Early bird deal: 10% if you dine from 5-7pm on weekdays, and 4-7pm on weekends.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Nice n’ Clean. Zero complaints.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: You won’t find any here, and that’s the point.

    The space is well-lit and painted in splashing hues of bright yellow. The staff chipperly greets you as you enter. The menu is even more colorful – veggies and fruits in vibrant intensity, cheerfully beckoning “eat me!”. The meat-eater that I am, it was encouraging to see a vegetarian menu filled with hearty dishes that were not limited to salads. Especially in wintertime when I just want something warm to fill my belly.

    The dishes here veer towards Southeast Asian flavors with laksas, curries, Vietnamese spring rolls, tom young goong, bah kuh teh. Along with some other random Western entries such as pastas, avocado toast, yogurt bowls.

    The green curry hot pot was the fan favorite. Rich and flavorful broth, accompanied by a basket of fresh greens and noodles. We even ordered an extra rice to go with the soup, it was so bowl-licking good.

    The pasta and laksa, however, were a different story. The pesto pasta was completely flavorless (no exaggeration), and we had to ask for salt, something I rarely ever do. Laksa was served only lukewarm, and the flavor was nothing to write about. Generally feels like a hit or miss here but will give them credit for the concept.

    The Motive: Would come back for a meat-free meal to warm my belly if I wanted a quickie nearby Nanjing West Road metro station.

    The Damage: 364RMB for 3. 68-88RMB for mains, 128RMB for small hot pot.

    The Down n’ Dirty: In the shopping center, but it’s not a short or easy trek. A massive pain in the ass actually. Up the escalators, through a series of passages, past various storefronts.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: In the form of goulash. Which was a rather disappointing “best of the worst dish”.

    As part of my zealous commitment to great foodie journalism, I brought along my Czech friend to evaluate the authenticity of these dishes – admittedly not much of an experienced Czech connoisseur myself. Bohemia proudly servers Pilsner Urquell, the world’s first pale lager and probably the most well-known beer to have come out of the Czech Republic. This is what really drew us to the place, in addition to the dearth of Czech restaurant options in town – my friend was over-the-top excited about scoping out this place. Well, we can sum up the experience in one quote, “Too many high hopes, too many disappointments.” – unknown

    The space itself is great, felt like a cool hangout and plastered with Pilsner Urquell paraphernalia - lending us to more false hopes. The manager/owner was even also Czech (an enthusiastic “Dobrý den!” on the way in).

    Seated and excitedly perusing the menu, we got us some beers to start. The pricing structure is a bit odd, 55RMB for 500ml but 125RMB for 1L because it comes in a specially imported bottle. The Pilsner Urquell was fantastic, a merited “grandfather” to all pilsners – we salute you!

    However, the food – ugh, pretty disastrous. The “potato pancakes” were oily, the “confit duck” was tough as rubber (a rubber duckie!), the “pork schnitzel” was dry. The only decent dish was the goulash but even the beef wasn’t tender – and only contained literally 4 bite-sized chunks of meat swimming in gravy.

    The Motive: Wouldn’t come back for the food but could be a nice hangout to grab a few beers in the outdoor patio when the weather/air are acceptable for al fresco drinking. No pets inside the Yongpingli complex though so leave the beer guzzling canines at home.

    The Damage: Approx. 600 for 4 people including beers and a few apps/mains to share. Appetizers averaging around 50RMB, mains around 100RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Located upstairs of the restaurant, clean and no complaints.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Steaks!

    This is actually a review of two separate visits. The first was on Valentine’s Day; we ordered a set menu (available anytime) on top of a few other dishes. The food was less than mediocre, as was the watered-down sangria. We even had to send back the paella, which was pretty unsavory, and just plain sour. All of which was extremely disappointing because I am a huge fan of the first outpost and wanted this one to be great as well (conveniently located in my neighborhood, which is sorely lacking a go-to steakhouse/bar). The only saving grace was the service – the staff was extremely gracious and accommodating. Oh, and the desserts were fantastic too.

    But I didn’t want to write this review without trying the steaks, which is what they are known for in the first place; and the ceviche, because it’s also an outstanding dish at the original (we ordered the ceviche the first time around but it never arrived, and by the near end of the meal we didn’t want it anymore). Long story short, we returned for a second visit for the Sunday steak deal, and it was a whole other ballgame…and a homerun (going with the sports theme here)! We tried the ribeye and the tenderloin which were both cooked to the desired degree of doneness, i.e. medium rare was a slightly pink bloody medium rare, and not medium. Go for the calamari ceviche, which was well prepared, generous chunky cubes of raw fish and calamari marinated in citrus –sour and a hint of spicy. We stuck with beers this time, and the pisco sour - a classic but like all good things, does take a bit of a longer wait.

    The Gang: Sprinkled mix of Chinese and laowai couples, groups, and families.

    The Damage: Set menu for 2 @ 218rmb (includes apps, choice of mains, dessert, drinks); Mon-Wed & Sunday night steak deals. Total: 1400rmb for 6 ppl.

    The Down n’ Dirty: One flight up, very clean. And ratio of two girly stalls to one men’s. Smart move!

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: OMG.

    First let me ‘splain…Japanese cuisine tends to stick to a specific dish and work it to perfection. When visiting Japan, you’ll have noticed that they are purists - ramen shops only serve noodle soup bowls, yakitori shops only do grilled meat skewers, sukiyaki places….you get the gist. So when you roll up to a restaurant doing don(g) ("don"= short for “donburi”, literally “bowl”. Don't know why they put the extra "g" in there. For the sake of dirty jokes?), expect a menu limited to oversized rice bowls.

    This is why, being someone who likes to order an array of dishes, i.e. massive fan of Chinese style dining, the menu felt too homogenous for my taste. However, eventually amongst the beef, chicken, and pork selection of don(g)s, I honed in on the Dafu combo bowl which offered a sampling of all three types of meat (as I said, I’m a stickler for variety).

    The lineup of master meat grillers started to prepare my food, and it only took about 8 min before my set tray arrived – includes kimchi, chicken soup, onsen egg, and meat bowl! Oh, and garlic butter dip for meat (yaassss!). The first bite was heavenly - the beef was grilled so good and perfectly pink on the inside (no dirty joke here either). Refer back to first sentence about working things to perfection.

    Every single bite was sinfully rich in buttered meatiness. And to top it all off, when I finally mixed in my gooey runny onsen egg with the rice…you know what I’m talking about.

    The Motive: Located in the B2 level of the XTD plaza, and 4 locations across the city inside higher end mall food courts (Reel, IFC, MetroCity). Which means I’d most probably make it here if I’m within close vicinity. And alone – this is perfect for a one-person meat-glutton type of meal. Still, wish they had a bit more variety on the menu, maybe a side salad to balance out the richness of the meats.

    The Damage: 206RMB for 2 bowls and 2 beers. Bowls range from 68-98RMB and come as a set meal.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Actually the B2 restroom is located pretty much right next to the restaurant. This is one of the fancy mall bathrooms that provide nicely scented soap and hand lotion. Do I smell like BBQ meat though?

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef:  We stumbled across this place on Dianping, as we were in the neighborhood and did not want to stick to the typical selection of restaurants within XTD central. Awarded a 4.5 star rating and an average of 150RMB/pax, Ethai is located in the collection of soho offices right next to the Xintiandi metro stop (Exit 5).

    The restaurant itself is certainly nicely laid out, and very evocative of Southeast Asia - darker wood tones and hanging bamboo panels. The dishes were generally well presented and decent, but lacked authenticity. There was just something off about the flavors that didn’t strike the right notes of flavors.

    For example, the grilled pork neck was a coated in a sweet sauce which isn’t typical. And still then, came with another sauce to dip. Same with the fish – we expected a whole grilled fish, but fish was filleted into pieces and seemed cooked in sauce. It was also served with a platter of shrimp chips, which you were supposed to “DIY” with a piece of fish, glass noodles, cashews, and a curry-ish sauce. It was different and interesting but the flavors and textures were completely random and didn’t go well together. The pad thai was served with a sprinkling of whole cashews, which could have been an upgrade as opposed to traditional peanuts, but the cashews were raw (roasted would have been better) and whole (smashed bits and pieces would have made it easier to integrate into the dish).

    They also serve hot pot “Thai style” with a few different soup bases – curry, lemongrass, coconut. As well as some other Southeast Asian dishes – Malaysian curry crab, Vietnamese chicken.

    The Gang: Groups of local Chinese on the weekend. I imagine that during the week the crowd is oriented towards the surrounding offices – slightly on the steep side (price-wise) for the typical lunch crowd, but a decent option for post-work dining.

    The Damage: 300RMB for 2 (we didn’t order drinks). Still, generally priced reasonably, our fish was 128RMB which significantly upped the total tally.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Clean and kept within the restaurant premises.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Grounded ofc! But the patties were on the dry side. Is it because the meat is leaner and healthier? I have no idea. Purely from a gastronomical view, the meat patty itself was not fitting for what I would call a “juicy burger”. That being said, the toppings, accoutrements, and nicely toasted buns were fresh and high quality. The sauces bar was a major plus…ketchup, mayo, mustard, sriracha sauce - a nice antidote for the drier patties. I cannot explain why, but the burger did not come together as the sum of its parts but rather felt like just the different components stacked up and secured with a toothpick.

    Don’t get me wrong, the burger was tasty and in no way bad. Perhaps I had higher expectations given the recent hype in burger joints. In fact, the sides here definitely outshined the burgers. Guac and cheese fries were inventive and finger-licking fantastic, as was the chili. Another must-try, just because, is the fireball hot chocolate, an unexpectedly fun combo. Unfortunately, we missed out on the milkshakes this time and will be coming back for a few of their thick straw-sticking shakes (try saying that fast a few times).

    The Motive: Casual get together for a quick bite when you’re in the mood for burgers and shakes, if there happens to be a nearby location. The Charlie’s empire has expanded to 6 stores throughout the city, which is impressive. There’s no denying it’s a fun concept…who can resist those hot pink neon lights (oh and this one has a house cat!)?

    The Damage: 300RMB for two including beverages

    The Down n’ Dirty: Have to go outside and into the main building, not ideal and a bit of a hassle.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: I vaguely remember the ‘old’ Pasha, but I recall eating there once many (5?) years ago and enjoyed it. For some reason it fell off the radar until they redid it last year so I was eager to try out the new rendition.

    First impressions first, the updated décor gives me the warm and fuzzies. As you walk up to the second level, the faux fireplace bar was blazing – even though it was obviously fake, it instantly added a warmth to the whole place, much needed on a cold winter night. Plus a touch of sophistication to the bigger, open space. 

    The menu boasts a vast selection of cold and warm appetizers, so we started off with a sampling to try. The Cacik (tzatziki) was a surprise standout. The flavors were well balanced and refreshing – and went perfectly with the warm pita. It even inspired me to go home and make my own. The eggplant and pide (Turkish version of pizza) were also tasty but not spectacular. For mains, highly recommend the mixed grill platter (pictured) which was perfectly seasoned and grilled.

    Service was friendly and attentive - actually rather fancy when they came with the metal scraper thing to clear the table of crumbs. Messy eater (raise hand).

    The Motive: Date night with your darling dervish. Potentially followed by some whirling, twirling action wherever else your night takes you.

    The Damage: Bit of a splurge at 1,100RMB for two. But that’s including a 3 glasses of wine & a bottle of raki (350ml for ~300RMB). You could easily have a nice meal here for 200RMB/pax. Starters from 48RMB. Mains from 98RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty:  Downstairs on the first floor. Nice, clean, and modernly upgraded.

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    The Beef: There are plenty of Western/Japanese/Thai/Indian/non-Chinese food options in this area, which is probably why I have never gone here thinking, let’s go for Shanghainese food! Xin Zhen Jiang was introduced to us by my dad’s Shanghainese friend, who has a knack for seeking out the best old-school eats. They are never fancy or expensive places (in fact they look pretty unappealing and have only a decent star rating on Dianping), but have been around for decades as family-run businesses and cater well to local palates. When you think about when you travel, and "want to go where the locals eat" that's not listed on Tripadvisor, this might be one of those hidden Shanghai treasures.

    You can come here alone for a bowl of noodles and a side dish or order a bunch of dishes as a group. The food here is indeed fantastic – loaded with flavor and if anything a bit oily. But the flavors are spot on, and even include a few spicy Sichuan dishes. My biggest complaint is that they had two cats in cages in the main dining area, and they seemed miserable, poor things meowing their faces off.

    The Gang: Chinese, mostly Shanghainese, a lot of whom known the laoban and don’t even need to bother with the menu. All hope is not lost for the laowai though as the menu has also English translations (can’t vouch for the Chinglish but you’ll get the gist of it).

    The Damage: 50-100RMB/person

    The Down n’ Dirty: Not a fan of the squatters, but just gotta do your thing. Get in and get out.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Cantina Agave has been serving up great Mexican food since I arrived in Shanghai almost 8 years ago. With the exception of its minor but fortunately short-lived identity crisis back in 2016 (?), when it tried to become more upscale and failed, then came back as a reincarnation of its original self. There are a few things I miss from their original menu. They had a lingua (beef tongue) filling which to this day I cannot forget about. So tender, succulent, and juicy…that tongue that is no longer.

    The food here is still consistently good. You can’t go wrong here with the food or drinks, whether its tacos, burritos, fajitas, or huevos rancheros. Then you have the pitchers of margaritas and sangria. But let’s be honest. The best part about this place is the salsa bar. It’s the reason I keep going back. Six different types of salsa – red, green, orange, chunky, saucy, spicy. It almost makes up for the lack of service on weekend brunch times. It’s not even that the servers are inattentive or aloof, it’s just that there’s not enough of them to go around when the place is packed. Stimes they see you, they just can’t get to you…

    The Motive: Brunch, dinner, whenever, I will never say no to guac.

    The Damage: Dishes around 65rmb and upwards. Cocktails around 60rmb. 100rmb Taco Tuesdays all you can eat soft tacos. 150rmb for 4hr free flow margaritas/sangria/prosecco/coronas at wknd brunch.

    The Down n’ Dirty:  Didn’t change with the upgrade. Still the same one bathroom shared by muchachas and muchachos.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action:

    The Beef: Your typical dimly lit Irish bar with dark wooden paneling. A personal favorite is the Beef & Guiness Stew served with veggies and potatoes, and as advertised “A great winter warmer.” Could have tricked my date into ordering the Haggis and Bashed Tattles, being perfectly aware of his aversion to innards, but I couldn’t go through with it. I do want to go back and try the “Scottish national dish” though, as I’m Asian (and eat all of that). Hope that admission doesn’t invalidate all my food reviews…

    The Gang: Bagsby! The resident bar cat is always around to hang out. He minds his own business, and is clearly very well fed so don’t expect he’ll be begging for your scraps. Otherwise, there are the regulars and hoodrats who stop in for some solid food and drinks.

    The Motive: Never managed to make it there when it’s been on but they have a live band playing Wed-Sun nights starting 9:30/10pm (no set schedule, seems a bit on the fly so call ahead to check). Sports are always playing on the TVs behind the bar.

    The Damage: Very reasonably priced and generous portions. Mains range from 60-80rmb. Salads, starters, sandwiches, wraps from 40-50rmb. Pizzas 45-65rmb. Beers on tap (small/large from 25/40rmb) and bottled (from 30rmb). They do have cocktails and mixed drinks. Happy hour from 3-8pm every day!

    The Down n’ Dirty: It’s like going to the bathroom in an older Chinese home. It’s clean, and there are no water pressure or plumbing issues. And if you peek into the kitchen across the doorway, you’ll see that it also looks exactly like a Chinese home kitchen too – which I like that bc you know the food is simply and lovingly prepared by the ayi in the back.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: All-you-can eat sukiyaki. They have two cuts of beef – one fattier and the other lean. No beef tongue even though it’s listed on the menu. Lamb, chicken, and pork. Of course, you can fill up on all the other veggies, bean curd, and ball (fish, beef) items.

    Here’s how it works – 1. Pick your meal plan (see “The Damage”); 2. Pick your soup base (sukiyaki, bone broth, miso, spicy tomato). Two to a pot, so bring a dining companion who can agree with your choice of soup. 3. The pot is pre-loaded with some veggies, and they bring you all the cuts of meat for your first round (you can reject a meat if you want). 4. Cook, dip your meat in raw egg, slurp. There is no sauce bar here, Japanese hotpot is eaten dipped in raw egg (also unlimited, but don’t try to stash any in your purse for tomorrow’s brunch). Crack away! 5. Refills on meat come in small plates. The servers come around with a cart loaded with veggies and tofu. Drink fountain is self-serve.

     The quality of the meats and veggies are pretty satisfactory for this price point. The sukiyaki base makes everything taste a bit sweet and gets progressively saltier but they give you a jug of water to top it off. It’s very flavorful, the only drawback being that you can’t drink the soup. Still, no complaints. Service is speedy and attentive, so you can still fill up to your heart’s (and belly’s) content within the 100-minute limit. They also have a few dessert options (ice cream, panna cotta, creme brule) to cleanse your palate.

    The Gang: Local Chinese diners in pairs and small groups.

    The Damage: 138/168rmb sans seafood for lunch/dinner, and 188rmb with seafood. 100 minutes. +38rmb for unlimited drinks including beer.

     The Down n’ Dirty: Kept pretty clean, and no squatters here! Unfortunately, no, the toilets were not Japanese so you can’t spray your butt after a few rounds of meat-eating.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Apparently this place used to be located in Xujiahui. I honestly don’t recall hearing of it until it became “the cool new square pizza joint on Donghu Lu”. Which goes to show that location does matter! And then ofc there’s the pizza (correction, they are rectangular). They cut it up into two squares so each order is split – which I love! Because that means I get to sample more flavors when I bring a date or two.

    The pizza dough here (or “pasta”, as the Italians call it) is thinner but still very soft and dough-ey, so if you like the crispy crust this might not be your best slice. But! The ingredients are so fresh you can taste the sunshine, dirt, salt, water, whatever. The Pumpkin Cream Pancetta was flawless, the perfect balance of savory with a hint of sweetness. However, the hands-down BEST pizza I have had lately was the Angel Pizza (Disclosure: It had the opposite effect of turning me into an angel as I started fighting my date for more than my fair portion). Truffle oil, Italian sausage, potato, rosemary, and mozzarella. The flavors here were so intense – truffle oil, f*ck yes but the unexpected surprise here was the rosemary which just gave this pizza whole new meaning.

    Sometimes you don’t want just pizza to go with your pizza. Well, this place also happens to have a selection of salads, pizza burgers (you’ll have to figure that one out yourself), and the best lasagna. Forget “al dente”. The lasagna bolognaise is so creamy and delicate it’s like eating a savory meat cheesecake (in a good way). You can cut it up with your fork and let it just melt on the tip of your tongue.

    Oh, and speaking of tips – here’s a final one. if you like super-spicy hotness, try their spicy oil – it’s seriously no joke. And if you can’t handle the heat…get the Nutella slice for dessert.

    The Gang: The cool kids on the block, lots of Italians and non-Italians alike. Giampaolo the owner is friendly with everyone, and the wait staff is attentive.

    The Motive: Love it for a casual date spot – grab a seat sit down for a few spritzes. The bar along the window is fun for people watching, and the windows completely open up to allow for seating on both sides (in and out) of the bar. You can also just grab a square or two and devour them on the spot if you’re not in the mood to loiter.

    The Damage: 25-39RMB/slice. 45RMB/lasagnas & pastas. 30-40RMB/Vedetts. 45RMB/spritzes.

    The Down n’ Dirty: In the office building out back, which is normally a nuisance but this one was easily accessible and clean.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action:

    The Beef: The steak tenderloin was meticulously executed, exactly the way we asked for it. Medium rare with a seared crust and slightly bloody in the center. I had almost-tears in my eyes…because this never happens in Shanghai, where chefs almost always overcook steaks.

    The chef here is from Puglia, so flavors are bolder and more intense than food from the North. The pastas are saucier, the risottos are richer, and the pizzas are more flavorful. The menu selection is extensive, and you can’t go wrong.

    The Gang: Italian regulars and friends seem to gather around, and everyone seems to be “famiglia” here – the real kind, not the “Godfather” kind. The décor and vibe here took me back to a home-owned restaurant in Southern Italy, or at the very least “Little Italy” back in NYC.

    The Damage: Approx. 250-300RMB/person for dinner. 68RMB & 98RMB set menu lunches.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Shared with the other 2 restaurants on the floor, it serves its purpose.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef:  Walking into the restaurant, you get the vibe that the food here is healthy and filled with “greens”. The walls are painted with Pantone 2017 Color of the Year “Greenery”, a bright fresh green, and abundant in actual greenery – green ferns sprouting from the ceilings and potted plants at every corner.

    Dishes here are very well-priced, and the food is indeed fresh. The “green” part was a bit questionable– the requisite morning glory was simply made if not a tad on the salty side. What was missing on the menu was papaya salad (or any salad, for that matter)- a mainstay dish for any Thai restaurant!

    Snack portions are small and perfect for sharing. Shrimp cakes, veggie rolls (the skin was a bit on the thicker side), mango sticky rice (recommend!) were all pretty good. However, the menu’s focus was more on single platter meals such as curries (green, ofc! and yellow), rices (pork knuckle, beef brisket, minced pork with basil), and noodle bowls (tom yum, pad thai).

    All in all, this place was just good enough to satisfy my Thai craving. Would come back for a quick bite if by happenstance I find myself in the area but wouldn't merit a special visit.

    The Gang: Small and big groups chattering away, after-work crowd.

    The Motive: Casual eatery with friends. Not the best date place but if you do, it would be easy on the WeChat wallet.

    The Damage: Snacks from 16rmb-32rmb. Platters/bowls around 50rmb (Tom Yum seafood noodle soup- 138rmb). Alcohol is limited to beers, but they do have Singha (35rmb).

    The Down n’ Dirty: Green & clean. Easy to access within the restaurant itself.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: This was probably my biggest gripe about the place – that it was located within an office building. I think a place like this could do even better if it opened late (past 10pm). Because it’s such an interesting place to eat, and it would want to come here for late night bites and flavored sochu. When we arrived by 8:30pm (on a Monday night, to be fair), the place was already felt desolate and empty. The décor was simple, modern, and clean but lacked a bit of warmth and light for a cold evening.

    We plopped right down and hit the menu – a veteran Japanese food-eater like most people, I still was rather intrigued by the menu as I had no idea what to expect from the selection. Grilled sardine with mentaiko, cream stew salmon udon, duck soup soba, fried horse mackerel fish sandwich…(wait, were there 2 or 3 animals in that last one?) And the daring use of natto in several dishes. A risky move considering natto is probably one of the most pungent “disgusting delicacies” (as featured on a Forbes list) – it’s soybean fermented with a specific type of bacteria. Natto and cheese combo in a crepe-like sandwich (pictured) was flavorful, salty, stinky, and savory with just the right amount of unami. The udon noodles here were the best (starch) I’ve had in Shanghai, perfectly chewy and with the right amount of “elasticity”.  Highly recommend the seared salmon sashimi (also pictured), so refreshing and citrusy…our favorite dish by far with its combo of sprouts, garlic chips, sweet onions. This is definitely the dish I would come back for. And yes, I even continued to fantasize about it the next day.

    The Gang: Small groups coming in for a bite, nothing too (or even remotely) rowdy.

    The Motive: Definitely need to go back for the flavored sochu! They have 15+ homemade jars on display, infused with everything from fruits (pomelo, papaya, berries, pomegranate) to jujube, coffee, olives, cucumber, and more. And not bad at 50rmb/glass. How many flavors do I get to try before getting tipsy?

    The Damage: 50% off udon on Mondays. Udons priced from 55-70rmb, dishes range from 25-65rmb. Avg. 150rmb/pax ex-alcohol.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Glad I didn’t have to go into the deserted office building. Easily accessible, and like all Japanese toilets, very clean. No waterfall noises though.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Owned by the wagas group, Pelikan has made a bit of name of itself filling a niche in Nordic cuisine. You can’t miss the neon Pelikan outside, and once you enter the dimly lit restaurant lends itself a cool chic vibe with palm fronds wallpaper and splashes of hot pink. The first thing my mates got excited about was the gin cocktails menu – great start! We then went with a bunch of starters to share. The disappointment came in when the dishes arrived – portions were barely enough for one person, not to mention sharing? 88RMB for one scallop sliced to share and two chicken wings? I’ll admit the combo is intriguing, but it was a lot of hot smoke – literally (they uncovered the clay pot at the table for the smoky fume effect). Admittedly, the tidbits were all tasty - venison tartare, broccolini salad.

    We ventured hopefully onto the mains for some substance but alas, more disappointment. The grilled lamb dish came with one puny potato and 3 morsels of lamb (pictured). The seabass was equally lacking and flaky (in the sense that it never even showed up). I'm all for fine dining portions but this was a bit (not) much. No wonder Swedes are so svelte! While on compliments, the charred beets were fantastic – a standout side.

    The Motive: Group dinners. It’s a casual place but the dinner crowd draws a dressier bunch. Men in suits, ladies in dresses. There were only a few tables at dinner that evening, mostly laowai – perhaps a similar crowd to those you would see at mr. willis (also part of the wagas family).

    The Damage: 500+RMB/person including a few cocktails. Cocktails from 75+RMB, starters from 88RMB, mains 138RMB-548RMB for Angus beef ribeye. The problem, however, isn’t with the menu prices. It’s with the portion shock that comes when you receive your plate. Like, that’s…a "main"?! 

    The Down n’ Dirty:  Not awful but the level of décor and cleanliness is not on par with what I would expect from a restaurant within this price range. If I’m paying 500+RMB for a meal, I want to be going in style.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Grilled! Isn’t that why we came? You’ll have to work for your food here though, because unlike some of the other Korean BBQ joints, they don’t grill the meat for you in the kitchen out back. So get ready for some smokiness! Which adds to the fun of the experience. Eating your meat straight off the grill, dipping it in sauce, and wrapping it in fresh lettuce. Speaking of lettuce, it’s one of the best things about this place. LETTUCE?!, you say. Yes. They serve it a basket filled with the freshest and most extensive array of greens and herbs- shiso leaves, thinly sliced radish, and a few I can’t name (pictured).

    Ok, back to the meat. Sorry, didn’t have the time/and hands for a pic. There’s pork and beef in all cuts. I prefer the marinated ones (makes the meat taste sweeter, soy sauce and sesame oil) but for the purists, you can also have your meat unadulterated.

     Besides the grill, you can also get the typical Korean dishes here. Loads of stir-fries slathered in the signature red gochujang sauce, selection of pan-fried pancakes (seafood, kimchi, even a green veggie one which was a favorite), belly-warming soups and stews served up in hot stone bowls, etc. One particular dish I highly recommend is Tteokgalbi – it tastes so much better than it looks (you can’t miss it, it looks like slabs of meatloaf). Basically, that is what it is mixed with rice cake bits. Try it! If anything for novelty’s sake. I haven’t found any other Korean place that has this dish.

    Last, but not least. The banchan. Some of the best things in life (ahem, BenJia) are free! The tiny dishes and plates they bring out vary but the basics include, kimchi, radish, picked something, potato salad. Free refills too!

    The Gang: Mostly Chinese groups with the occasional scattered laowai. For bigger groups, they have private rooms but I prefer to be outside as the service inside is lacking, and we had to keep running outside to call for service. Seriously, no bell?! Gasp.

    The Motive: Meat. “Lettuce” reiterate. Lots of meat. Add a slosh of fun with some beer, soju, sake, and makgeolli (sweet Korean rice wine).

    The Damage: Around 150-200 per person including alcohol.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Easy, breezy, and clean. Thankfully no squatters, as in some more Chinese-catering restaurants.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: When I first starting writing SmartReviews, this was the first restaurant I wanted to write about. But I didn’t, because I knew I would be too biased. If I were to call myself a regular at any restaurant in Shanghai, this would be it (I don’t even live in the neighborhood. But I do know plenty of hoodrats who treat it like their own back kitchen).

    Why? This place feels like home. The staff is welcoming, food is authentic (in a good way), drinks are solid, prices are affordable, and most importantly, people here are fun. The food is reliable - you know what you’re going to get. Their pizza is made in the giant brick oven out back. It's thinner- still dough-y and chewy but you still get a crispy crust. You can taste the difference in the freshness of the ingredients. Aperol spritzes here are made with love. You seriously can’t go wrong here.

    The Gang: Plenty of good lookin’ people. You can come here in your workout gear or dressed up in your best LBD, you’ll still fit right in. I would come here for a date, I would come here with a group of friends. Oh, and of course, then there’s the Italians. That’s how you know this place is authentic…and “fair with the prices”. Eh! Baci a tutti!

    The Motive: So many! Aperitivo. Aperol Spritzes. Buy one get one Sunday pizza night. 50RMB all burratas on Thurs nights. 40RMB all pastas on Wed nights. 1kg Tomahawk steak deal on Mon nights. Just to stop in and say hi to Jerry, the friendliest bartender in town. Aperol Spritzes. (As the Chinese say, important things must be said three times!)

    The Damage: Beers and cocktails around 40RMB. Small bites starting from 38RMB, 12” Pizzas from 75RMB. Dinner and drinks for two around 200-250RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Decent, clean. No fuss, no muss.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: The beef short rib with mashed potatoes (pictured, the one with the big bone)! Melt in your mouth. Actually everything was oh-so decadent – and made with love. It’s a small space, but this is probably why this place was so packed on a Tuesday night. While not working behind the open kitchen, Anthony, the chef and owner is taking orders (giving recs on dishes) and chatting up tables of regulars (and noobs) like old friends.

    The food is creative and fusion-y, blending Asian influences and ingredients with Anthony’s Aussie home cooking. Portions are small…tapas styles (hence, bites), so we had to order a few rounds of dishes to fill up for dinner but it was a good excuse to explore the menu. Crab cakes topped with roe and Vietnamese pork ribs also topped our list of faves.

    The Motive: Great for an intimate date night and small group of friends to hang out and just shoot the sh*t over comfort food and wine. Casual yet sophisticated.

    The Damage: Around 700RMB for 2, including wine. House wines 45RMB/glass, bottles from 268RMB. Bites on avg 58RMB and up.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Adds a bit of danger and adventure to the experience. The loo is located on the 2nd floor, you’ll need to brave some very old narrow wooden stairs. Also watch your head in the doorway, or you might find this meal comes with a complimentary KO…and not from Joey the Kanga.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: In the Disneytown area, you don’t have to buy tickets into Disneyland to dine (ahem, spend money) and get the full American experience. The Cheesecake Factory, one of the thousands of reasons for expanding waistlines in the US, has made its arrival into Shanghai – and I was excited to try it!

    The restaurant décor and waiters were exact imports – down to the menu design and booth seating. The menu here is extremely extensive, as much as American food can be. Salad, pastas, pizza, burgers, sandwiches. We started with an Oreo milkshake, so rich and thick…a caloric bomb but who cares! We were here to splurge. Mac & cheese, chicken pasta, and a salad to even things out. The first thing you’ll notice here is that the portions are huge…almost Texas-sized! Or maybe I’ve been in Asia too long to recall what normal US portions look like. The Cobb Salad turned out to be the winner surprisingly. Next time, if there is one, I’ll stick to salad and a shake.

    …before moving onto the dessert portion, of course! Did I mention the menu was extensive? There are 23 different flavors of cheesecakes alone and 5 non-cheesecake cakes. For someone with decision-making disorder, this is torture. But omg, redemption came with the Red Velvet Cheesecake. It was just as towering, cream-cheesy, and delicious as I remember *tears* (don’t know if from joy or from knowing this meal was putting us back by 5,000+ calories).

    The Gang: Lots of families and kids (big surprise!). As with anywhere in this area, it’s fun to see the kids and even adults get all dressed up in their best Disney costumes or matching outfits.

    The Motive: Would I make the trek there solely for the sinful piece of cheesecake? Probably not. But if they did delivery I would splurge for a whole cake on special occasions.

    The Damage: Cheesecakes 70RMB/slice. Appetizers and Mains 99RMB and up.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Brought me back to the US – they even replicated the bathrooms. The elevated toilets, beige partitions, even the stainless steel toilet paper holders…this is where the final hit of nostalgia really kicked in.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: In an area just next to the Reel where there are plenty of mid-range food options, my date and I were looking for somewhere interesting to go that wasn’t located in a mall. This “undiscovered” gem (it’s 5-star endorsement from over 5K reviewers on Dianping told a different story) piqued my curiosity (and appetite). It’s “English” name “Ble d’Or” translates to “Wheat of Gold” so the “bar” was high (ha!)

    It felt like walking into an authentic Beerhaus…band playing, waiters in lederhosen shuttling beers in a cozy warmly lit open “cave”. There were plaques on the walls boasting wins in World Beer Cups and brewmaster competitions. The flagship beer, Honey lager "Gold Medal Winner of the 2014 World Beer Cup", was one of the best beers I’ve had in awhile. Light, refreshing, and sweetened with LOGAN HONEY, it could be more of a summer beer but without the watered-down flatness. There are 8 craft beers on the regular menu, and usually a seasonal one. The usual suspects include amber, dark, wheat, pale ale; the Cloudy Oolong IPA and Rose beer were intriguing and challenged my tastebuds but not top of my list.

    This place is a clear winner over Paulaner because the beers and food here are by far more interesting and well-executed. Besides traditionally German food, the menu includes a wide range of dishes (pizza, pastas, salads, etc) – and you would almost miss the fact that this is a Taiwanese establishment if not for the section dedicated to Taiwanese local dishes such as stinky tofu, “sanbeiji”, and fried squid balls. If you have decision-making disorder like us, go can't go wrong with the sample platter (pictured).

    The Gang: Chinese groups, mostly a “cooler” and slightly older crowd.

    The Motive: Great for big groups and parties. They even want to celebrate your bday with you – they’ll give you a free 6” cake if you call ahead to reserve. For more intimate dates or groups, they have alcove seating for privacy.

    The Damage: Beers 65RMB for 500mL or you can go big- 10L for 990RMB. Significant savings for a big group. Dinner & drinks for 2 around 400RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Top marks for cleanliness and modern décor.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Pork soup dumplings. A real Shanghai treat for locals, expats, and tourists alike. Yes, I always have fun eating my xiaolongbao. My method (which I’m pretty convinced is the correct one) consists of gingerly removing it from the bamboo basket and placing it on my spoon, then nipping a hole off the top and slurping out some the soup before placing a few strands of vinegar-soaked ginger on the xiaolongbao, and finally placing the entire contents of the spoon into my drooling mouth.

    If you are in for even more adventurous xiaolongbao fun, Paradise Dynasty is a must-try. Mostly located in higher-end malls like iapm, Reel, Raffles, Shanghai Tower, the chain has around 10 locations in Shanghai. We were at the one in the Shanghai Tower after going up to the JinMao and doing the outdoor Skywalk (a bit pricey, but you are literally walking outside the building…breathtaking bc the view is amazing and your legs are about to give out). The upside is after all that adrenaline, you’re starving.

    The main draw here was of course the skittles-funtastic basket which comprised of the signature (original), garlic, luffa gourd, foie gras, black truffle, cheese, crab roe, garlic, and Szechuan xiaolongbao. In that order. Follow the instructions. And contrary to most other places, they do not recommend the vinegar/ginger combo here as to fully savor the flavors. Each xiaolongbao was a fun surprise and were all bursting with the flavor they were supposed to taste like. We decided our favorite was the cheese and least favorite was the Szechuan but even then it was a tough call to make. Next time – an all-cheese flavored basket! Everything with cheese just tastes better. The rest of the menu here consists of typical Shanghaiese food – sheng jian, wontons, cold and hot dishes. Average.

    The Gang: Lots of tourists (probably also bc of the location we were at) and local Chinese.

    The Motive: For a quick casual meal when you get tired of all the shopping (or sightseeing).

    The Damage: 8-pc “flight” basket – 62RMB, also can order individual flavors by the basket ranging from 48-86RMB for 8 depending on the flavor.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Mostly located in the malls, so you have to venture out a bit. Caution: you might get distracted by stores along the way.


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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: The guy next to us at the bar ordered a beef sandwich that smelled and looked amazing – pastrami loaded with melted cheese. Which made us wish we had gotten that instead of the pizza (it was more like a pit-a than pizz-a) and our least favorite item on the menu. That being said, we were spoiled because all the other bar snacks were all exquisitely yummy - definitely get the risotto balls and the ribs. We also tried the fried fish and pork tacos (a steal at 25RMB each). I preferred the fish which was tangier and citrus-y while the pork was more savory.

    BUTTTT the standouts here are the drinks. After all, it’s a bar first and foremost (…that serves great food, oh did I already mention that?). First of all, when you walk in, the place is gorgeous. The bar is spans three sides and is dimly backlit with eclectic bottles from all over – mirrors everywhere. Immediately we feel 100x fancier-schmancier. The bar seating is fun because you can watch the bartenders craft your cocktails and of course, order drinks on a whim.  Am I the only one who gets “order envy” – everyone else’s drink/food looks better? You won’t have that problem here, though, because seriously they put so much love and attention into every drink (even when its only 45RMB). Must try – the chocolate and coffee negronis! Alcoholic-friendly and oh-so-flavorful. Or maybe start with the fruity stuff (spritzes) which are also surprisingly interesting.

    The Gang: A cool mix of pretty sophisticated-looking people. Small groups of Chinese, Taiwanese, and laowai. All well-heeled and smartly dressed. Think suspenders and black-rimmed specs. Classy joint.

    The Motive: Great for intimate gatherings and dates. The perfect first date place, but only for someone with real potential. Or if it’s too early to tell, save it for a 2nd or 3rd date. Vibe is romantic but casual, you can both make an effort to get dressed up without looking like you’re trying too hard.  One (or two, if you’re being cheap) can easily afford a few drinks before 9:30 here without breaking the bank. The food menu is small bites so you can nibble and share without making a commitment for a full-on dinner.  

    The Damage: If you go for aperitivo before 9:30, select drinks (spritzes, ladies cocktails, negronis) are only 45RMB. The regular drink menu can get pricey though, ranging from 80RMB-100+RMB. Food menu start at 25RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Not dirty at all. In fact, so fancy and pretty you might want to get down, down, down…

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: On a stick, obvi…ously. Is it just me or are people who actually say “obvi” in real life quite obnoxious? Doesn’t matter, I probably won’t be that popular after this review anyway– this place has indeed gotten rave reviews and I’m about to tip the scales. Disclaimer: this review pertains only to their Wednesday night service. I can’t speak for their regular menu/normal hours.

    To be fair, yes, I went hungry, having arrived later than planned. I went expecting to eat – and a lot it for my money’s worth. We started with a round of beers and the coleslaw. When we tried to order from the skewer selection, the owner/waiter graciously offered to bring a pair of everything – yes! However, after we had exhausted our date conversation, my attention turned to eagle-eyeing every dish that came out of the kitchen, only disappointingly to get served to other tables. Thirty minutes later, that initial hunger still had not dissipated and turned in unedited “hangry-ness”. I whined, whimpered, sulked, and threatened to leave my date. So we ordered the quinoa salad, and another round of beers.

    Then the first Styx magically arrived, and we were instantly appeased – and shut our mouths. The chicken satay was flawless, perfectly seasoned and oh-so tender. After a few bites, our moods were lifted and we were playful enough to start skewer-fighting, me ready to assume my innocent “oops-didn’t-mean-to-poke-your-eye-out” look at any moment. Alas, we were immediately distracted by the next barrage of skewers. They arrived in mini-batches and were all good, and just that. The teriyaki chicken was a bit too unctuously sweet, the beef was not as tender as I hoped, the tuna unmemorable, the sausage typical, the butternut squash slightly undercooked…the unexpected standout was the seitan (fake meat made from wheat gluten…so evil!). Overall, it was still a good experience and we left satisfied despite the initial bumps.

    The Gang: Big groups of friends and a few couples, a posh and cool crowd. The outside tables were shared by two other restaurants and some people were ordering from the other places as well so it’s like 3 menus in one.

    The Motive: Great for skewer fighting and testing your patience with your date. Also, I would absolutely go back for the chicken satay and salads (5-stars on both the coleslaw and quinoa).

    The Damage: 188RMB all-you-can-eat skewers Wednesday “deal” (limited to 10 types and does not include drinks, from 6-9pm). “Deal” is in “air quotes” here because in reality, we still spent around $800RMB for two (with additional orders of 2 beers each and the 2 salads to share).

    The Down n’ Dirty: Pretty clean. Honestly, this is important because a clean bathroom is a sign of a well-managed restaurant, despite seeming short-staffed.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Get the bourguignon if you feel like a hearty dish. Paired with mashed potatoes, it’s French comfort food at its best. But if you don’t eat anything else, don’t miss out on the cheese fondue. Probably the best in town. The cheese is flavorful - a mix of Emmental, raclette, cheddar, and heavy on the marsala wine. It was fun to eat through all its stages – on the stringy side at first before fully melting, then perfectly textured for dipping, and when it gets to the bottom, the cheese gets curdy and crusty and you just want to scrape the pot clean (still too hot for licking). The fondue comes with bread pieces (and refills), but I not-so-secretly wished they had an assortment such as vegetables, sausages, etc.

    The Gang: Small groups of friends, mostly French. Fortunately, service was anything but French. Our waitress Joanna (sp?) was extremely accommodating to our requests. We asked to switch out items on the set menu, demanded toasted bread pieces for the fondue (they serve them untoasted) …definitely rather obnoxious guests that were not easy to please.

    The Motive: Great for an intimate date night, where you can double dip all you want. The wine list is extensive, and the cocktails are strong. Get the corner table by the window for more privacy although the downside is that it’s harder to flag down service. End the evening on a sweet note with apple tartine a la mode, then see where the night takes you.

    The Damage: There is a set menu for 2 for 458RMB. Fondue comes in 2 sizes - 200g (168RMB) or 300g (228RMB), go big or go home in this case. Mains range from 118RMB-238RMB. Drinks include beer, wine, cocktails ranging from 30RMB-80RMB.

    The Down n’ Dirty: Slightly outside the restaurant out by the back, past the foosball table in the corner. Relatively well cleaned, separate for the mademoiselles and monsieurs. Genial!

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Best served on a sizzling hot platter. The fillet steak on teppanyaki is one of their stand-out dishes. And while we’re on the subject of cooked food, another must-order is the foie gras, which is nicely seared and served on square of buttered toast. The rest of the menu is extensive, covering most standard Japanese fare – grilled meat and skewers, rolls, tempura, teppanyaki, noodles, gyoza, stir fry, etc. BUT!!! The raw fish, this is where this place wins my heart. I like my sashimi, and lots of it. Which means it typically gets super expensive if you’re ordering a la carte, so I prefer getting my Maos worth at all-you-can-eat offers around town. For something within this price range (under 200RMB), this place has the best salmon (nice and fatty) and white tuna (their version tastes “smoky” which gives it a great flavor) sashimi of the bunch, where I can eat to my heart’s (and belly’s) content. My biggest gripe here is that the sake is not smooth and goes down strong like firewater, but that’s a matter of preference.

    The Gang: Tables were all filled with Chinese groups, a few couples and some after-work gatherings. Can probably get raucous with the free-flow at times, but nothing you can’t handle. The owner is a husband and wife couple who are extremely friendly. She came around to each table saying hi and helped us order, ensuring we had tried some of their popular dishes and were enjoying our meal. The speed of ordering and serving is also very fast and on-point – they won’t slow down the kitchen or “forget your orders” like some other places I’ve experienced.

    The Motive: Not a great hot date place, because you will not feel sexy after this meal. Food coma yes, drunken maybe, sexy no. Also, you will leave smelling like a mix of soy sauce, teppanyaki fumes, and something fishy. However, highly recommended if you’re a couple who’s after-dinner plan is to go home, shower, and crawl into bed stroking each other’s bellies. Also, for a big gathering or group of friends for a fun time. The smell won’t matter because you will probably end up in a club or somewhere sweaty and smelly afterwards anyway.

    The Damage: Dinner: 168RMB and 188RMB (includes uni/sea urchin, foie, raw oyster, crab), both include beverages (soda, beer, sake); or order a la carte (menu is also in English)

    The Down n’ Dirty: Men and women go separately here, and they keep it decently clean. The women’s has a Japanese toilet, plenty of buttons to push and play with. Not sure anyone’s ever used them – I was not so inclined. My philosophy on public toilets is get in and get out. Tinkle, but don’t tinker.

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  • Here’s the low-down on the latest action-

    The Beef: Holy cow, do not even THINK about eating any beef here! But still plenty of chicken, lamb, fish dishes to go around for the carnivores. Come here for their buffet – it’s a great spread for an unbeatable price. Come in, grab a table, order a beer, pretend to care and make a few lines of conversation with your dinner date…then it’s the free-for-all! Start at the salad bar for some ruffage because it will be heavy loaded from here on out. The buffet fare varies slightly from day to day, but the basics include some fish and chicken tikka (grilled with spices), chicken curry or masala, an assortment of vegetarian dish (fried in batter, marinated in spices). Everything is flavorful and a spice feast for your tastebuds. Saving the best for last, naan is made-to-order, coming at you fresh and hot with a choice of butter or garlic flavors. Should have mentioned this in the beginning - don’t forget to wash your hands! Look Ma, no utensils! Eating with your hands really does make food taste better.

    The Gang: Frequented by lots of neighborhood locals, mostly foreigners with the occasional Chinese table; the owner/staff are Indian and they are friendly and speedy on refills.

    The Motive: Casual and easy, when you just want to catch up with your best friend while pigging out over naan dipped in lots of curry sauce. Probably not a great first date place, can get a bit messy with all that saucy greatness. And seriously, some first date advice…don’t take a girl to an all-you-can-eat deal without prior indication of the size of her appetite. You could end up overspending if she ends up being a salad-prodder. Oh, and you’ll still look cheap.

    The Damage: 98RMB/person buffet (evenings only) includes salad bar, buffet, made-to-order naan, and beer/soda; or order a la carte

    The Down n’ Dirty: They keep it pretty clean here. Even though there is only one loo with a urinal and toilet, waiting times are minimal. Toilet paper included, thankfully.


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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.

  • Swedish

    I like noodles.
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  • American

    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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  • Argentinean

    Delfina joined the Argentinean Foreign Service in 2012, and was posted to the General Consulate in 2016. Her hobbies are taking photos, traveling and cooking all sort of dishes. She aims someday to open a small restaurant based in organic, regional and self farmed ingredients.
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