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  • Are wontons Shanghai’s most underrated dumpling? I’m going to put it out there and say yes. Classy xiaolongbao get all the respect and dirty shengjianbao are the guilty pleasure, but none feel quite like classic comfort food as a good bowl of wontons.  

    A good bowl of wontons is something that Er Guang Wonton has perfected. It’s a chain with numerous outlets across town – this one is in the new market-style development on Yuyuan Lu, and is thus fresh, clean, and just across the road from The Cannery and Stone Brewing if you want a drink to wash them down.

    The wonton soup is fresh and light and perfect for winter, while those served with vinegar and peanut sauce are on just the right side of indulgent. At less than RMB 20 a bowl, these are some of the most reliable cheap eats in the area. Décor is standard – you get what you pay for – but the seating area outback, in the corridor of the market building, can be kind of fun for people watching.

    Is eating these going to change your life like your first xiaolongbao did? Nah. But will they insert themselves into your monthly dinner rotation? If you’re anything like me, then for sure.

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  • Bar No. 3 is perhaps one of the most underrated cocktail bars in the city. While perennial favorites and award winners Union Trading Company, Speak Low and Sober Company get all the love, Bar No. 3 has been slinging great drinks for a few years now in a way that’s all its own.

    While the drinks here don’t quite reach the giddy heights of the best ones on the menu at those aforementioned acclaimed water holes, they’re served in an atmosphere that’s far cozier. The dim lights and comfortable seating – as well as the generally great design of the space – make Bar No. 3 uniquely inviting and intimate. Great date spot. Great for a small group of friends to talk over a couple of great drinks. It’s not cheap at between RMB 80 and RMB 110 per drink, but you don’t feel like you’re getting stiffed.

    A couple of special mentions. The menu here offers a unique amount of opportunity for exploration and experimentation. The core menu changes seasonally, but the favorites remain permanently in a longer menu of classics. It’s a great way to keep things fresh without needlessly jettisoning great creations. Also, the complimentary bar snacks. So much better than a bowl of peanuts. Try them for yourself.

    In all, Bar No. 3 is somewhere that anyone who likes to explore this city’s cocktail scene definitely has to check out. 

     

     

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  • Circo is the latest offering by the Popolo Group, the people behind Alimentari, Gemma and more, an Italian-flavored café and bar in the kind-of-weird-but-nice-for-a-walk-on-weekends-I-guess complex Columbia Circle. They offer It’s basically Poplolo-does-brunch, so if you like those other venues you’ll find a lot to like here too.

    They keep the menu short and tight, which I like. There are a few egg dishes, a couple of mains, some salads and some sweets (plus miscellaneous cheese boards and bruschetta). The highlights definitely hit. Among those the big winners are the Dianping-famous Truffle Eggs (deep fried and served in a rich sauce) and the beautiful bresaola salad. The burrata, served with fresh warm bread, is also worth checking out. Portions aren't huge, so if you have an appetite its worth getting one or two things to share as well as individual dishes per person. 

    The place itself has a welcoming atmosphere that reminds me of neighborhood Italian cafes in the U.K., with a nice terrace. It has atmosphere during brunch, when there’s soul music on the stereo and the tables both inside and out are full. It has much less during later hours, where they stop serving food and the place, like the rest of Columbia Circle, empties out.

    You have to wonder what kind of business they’ll do in winter, when weather renders the terrace less appealing. Still, for now this is one of the best brunch options in its area.

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  • Yao Ji Da specializes in “big iron pot” cooking, a Dongbei specality that basically means what it sounds like - meat and vegetables of your choice, cooked in a huge pot built into your table.

    The atmosphere is back-alley restaurant meets local cook-out. On a recent Sunday the crowd was families and groups of friends young and old, generally acting as if they were about one bottle of baijiu deep. The staff were brusque but friendly, and uniformly decked out in outfits modelled on the flowery patterns that you usually see on Dongbei restaurant tablecloths. This kind of kitcsch extends to the décor, from the sheaths of corn and chili strewn over wooden beams to the vintage metal mugs they use to serve water.  

    Here’s how it works. You choose your “stew” (really what’s going on here is more of a broil) based on the base, from options like goose to fish to pork to chicken and mushroom. They throw it into a huge smoking crater in the middle of your table to cook for a while. Then, you can optionally select extra veggies or tofu products to add in when you’re part way done with that, kind of like hot pot – the waiter will add some water to the remaining sauce and throw them in for you. The staff take care of the whole cooking process.

    We went with goose, the priciest base at just under RMB 300 and also the place’s specialty. The wait is long – the staff told us that next time we should call ahead to get the ball rolling in advance, and other tables seemed to know this – but we were rewarded with some of the best goose I’ve ever eaten. From neck to feet to huge chunks of breast, it’s all in there and it’s often chopstick-tender. Very rich. So flavorsome. Way, way too much for two of us - each “stew” could probably feed 3-4 people.

    Some won’t find much to love about this place. It’s unrepentantly raucous, they serve big bits of animal rather than pristine cuts of meat, and the food cooking at your table is going to smoke and steam and smell. But if you’re a carnivore that’s up for a bit of adventure, it might be the place for you.  

     

    Price: RMB 100 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: Rustic chain specializing in “big iron pots” of meat, a Dongbei favorite. Good for a loud atmosphere and stuffing yourself full of stewed meat and/or fish. Go with groups of four or more to make the most out of the huge portions.

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  • Fu Sheng Jiu Guan is a great little restaurant and bar serving up Sichuan food in the Mixpace mall in Changning. Found opposite Yuyintang, at first glance it looks like a Japanese izakaya. Enter, though, and you’ll see groups of young people clinking glasses of Asahi but washing down chili-laden Sichuan dishes. It’s a combination of styles I didn’t know I wanted until I wandered in. Could easily imagine this starting as a group dinner and progressing into something far boozier.

    The menu – all handwritten in Chinese – bounces from classics like mapo doufu and spicy, perfect-for-beer skewers to more off-kilter stuff like tofu with fermented chili dipping sauce and pink lotus root with pickled plums (kind of weird, but a pretty refreshing counterpoint to all the heat). The tofu is great if you love spicy, pungent stuff. As are the cold beef slices, mixing tough fat caps with tender morsels and more (different) chili sauce. Mostly everything that we tried was delicious and packed a respectable amount of heat. You should like it spicy if you come here.

    Shout-out to the decoration too; the walls are covered with vintage Chinese ads and other little pieces of cool kitsch. Lots of character. In general, it's a great addition to a neighborhood that already has plenty of stuff going for it. It’s not often that you find regional Chinese cuisine paired with an atmosphere that you’d like to hang out and drink in after. That’s something this place nails.

     

    Price: RMB 75 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: Atmospheric restaurant and bar in a Changning basement mall slinging nifty Sichuan food, draft beer and izakaya vibes. Friendly staff, eclectic playlist, lots of chili.

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  • Mokkos 2 in Jing'an is the second iteration of the original Mokkos nearby, a welcoming bar specializing in Japanese shochu run by some very nice owners from Yunnan. I prefer this one, just because it feels a bit more spacious while still keeping that cozy atmosphere and a couple semi-private rooms for groups. It’s laidback, good for a date or a chill drink if you’re looking for a bar with a bit of an offbeat flavor. Soundtrack is pretty much exclusively reggae, which ends up being actually pretty perfect.  

    Shochu is a kind of distilled Japanese spirit usually made from things like sweet potato and clocking in at around 25% ABV. It’s crisp and clean, with a kind of light, earthy flavor. The selection can be kind of intimidating, but if you’re curious and aren’t shy about talking to the bar staff they’ll recommend you something. I like to start with a straight glass of whatever they recommend and follow it up with this soda lemon cocktail thing that they do. They’ve got Japanese draft beer on deck too if you’re feeling a bit more conservative.  

    In all, it’s a place anyone that considers themselves a Level 2 barfly or someone with an affinity for interesting drinks and good vibes should check out. For many that go, it ends up becoming a favorite.

     

    Price: RMB 40 – RMB 60 per drink

    Summary: Hidden gem of a Japanese shochu bar in Jing’an with friendly staff, reggae on the stereo and a huge selection of Japanese spirits. Great atmosphere, nice drinks, something a little bit different.

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  • Polux in Xintiandi serves up a menu of French bistro classics by Paul Pairet, a chef known for Michelin stars and some of Shanghai’s most well-known (and most high-end) restaurants. This one is more mid-range, simple and accessible but bang on point. Bistro stuff, but done really well. All thoroughly French and classic, plus an apparently killer burger.

    It’s not only already one of the best options for dining in these parts, but also one of the few places that maybe actually benefits from the crowded, vaguely touristy surroundings. Without getting too romantic about it, sitting out on the terrace watching throngs of people pass while being gently ribbed by a French waiter took me back to holidays in Paris. Cozy-yet-buzzing vibes.  

    Service in general is great, though we did end up waiting a long time for our mains. The food is exactly what you want from a place like this, simple French classics that are as rich as they are well-executed. Highlights are a precision-cooked duck confit, a fork-tender beef cheek steak served with buttery mashed potato and beef jus, and a charcuterie plate that comes with some epic paté and rustic bread.

    If you’re looking for a date spot, a place to take friends that want a bit of luxurious comfort or just want to hit somewhere trendy that actually lives up to the hype, you could do way worse.

     

    Prices: RMB 200 – RMB 300 per person (depending on drinks)

    Summary: Excellent mid-range French spot in the heart of Xintiandi. Deservedly well-liked thanks to its good service, atmospheric indoor and outdoor seating and hearty, excellent cooking. Great for dates and small groups.

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  • Grano is a small bar and restaurant serving up pizzas and other simple Italian comfort food in Changning. Run by locals with experience in a few Italian restaurants around town, it’s a chill spot with welcoming, friendly staff. The kind that might throw you a free glass of wine just for stopping by. It’s equally suited to a quick bite and a glass of wine outside on a sunny afternoon as it is to pizza and a bottle huddled away inside on a cold evening. It’s small, but you can usually find a seat.

    The pizzas are the things that keep me coming back. They’re Italian-style with great dough and good ingredients, cooked in a proper pizza oven. It’s not the only option for good pizza in this neighborhood – Just Cool is around the corner slinging a full menu of craft beer bottles and killer pizzas – but it’s the cutest and coziest. Cheap, too, with most of the pizzas coming in at less than RMB 100.

    The rest of the menu is a bit less of a bullseye, but is worth exploring. The salads in particular are generously seasoned and feel homey and unfussy. Lots of olive oil. Good for sharing.

    In general, it’s a great little neighborhood Italian with a lot of heart. You can tell it’s a labor of love, one that rewards dates or solo diners looking for a bite and somewhere to relax.

     

    Price: RMB 60 – RMB 200 per person

    Summary: A homey neighborhood Italian with friendly owners, serving up great pizza and welcoming vibes. Small and cozy, good for a streetside or hunkering down for an intimate meal by the bar.

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  • Ding Te Le is a cozy little noodle shop that serves up a range of mostly local Shanghainese favorites. Simple dishes that you can get all over town, but elevated. You get a jump in quality but no jump in price. It’s also open 24 hours.  

    The shop itself is clean and cozy, tucked just inside the entrance of a residential compound on Huaihai. Nothing fancy, but nice enough that you could take someone that’s a bit squeamish about holes in the wall.

    Their cong you ban mian, dry noodles livened up with scallion oil, is the best version I’ve had. These noodles can be boring; here they’re a huge umami hit. Their majiang mian is crazy rich and decadent, basically just noodles in a peanut butter sauce that’s seasoned to perfection with just the right amount of salt. Each bowl comes with a small bowl of complimentary fish soup that has real depth, presumably the same ones that they serve their famous yellow croaker noodles in.

    Get the fried pork cutlet too. Again, one of the best of the form that I’ve tried. Great hongshao rou also.

    If you’re looking for a new favorite noodle house, this might be it. Anyone that's into exploring Shanghai's culinary nooks and crannies should swing by. 

    Price: RMB 15 – RMB 50 per person

    Summary: A neat little noodle house that slings some of the finest Shanghainese noodles around. Cozy, chill, and open 24 hours.

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  • The Deli Boys serves up a range of sandwiches, salads, and other deli fare in Changning. It’s not light eating, and it might not remind you of your favorite deli at home – local delis seem to be something people feel pretty strongly about – but they do what they do pretty well.

    The main draw of the place when they opened was their Montreal Smoked Meat, which is still a solid bet – brined, slow-cooked, fatty and tender, absolutely packed into a soft chala roll with a schmear of mustard. Lovely stuff. Heavy. Great alternative to a burger if you’re feeling like scratching a guilty pleasure itch but want something a little more unique. They've expanded their offerings recently to all day breakfasts, desserts, and a bunch of other stuff. 

    The fries are on point, as are the huge pickles that come on the side. Good side salads too if you feel like skipping the extra carbs; rather than just throwing together some lettuce and a couple tomatoes, they half their Chop Chop Salad (also available full size as a main) and give you cauliflower, nuts, raisins, and crunchy bits of fried wonton wrappers to tuck into. Actually makes it worthwhile skipping the fries. 

    Their other sandwiches and menu items are worth a look too, like the killer chicken parmesan that they do. The chicken can be a little dry but it's loaded with cheese, covered with salami, and it's definitely got the sauce. Steal at RMB 63 with a side, too. Prices aren't really bad in general; you’re looking at between RMB 60 to RMB 80 to fill yourself up here, but you will be full.

    In terms of atmosphere, the place light on it. It’s hidden down a side-street that runs between Dingxi Lu and Panyu Lu, tucked into the ground floor of some residential building. You often have to squeeze through a barely open locked gate. It’s an in-an-out, get-your-fix-and-go spot rather than one that you’ll want to linger in. 

    For a certain type of person, this kind of place in the neighrbhood is a godsend. To others, it will just be a decent sandwich and salad place churning out Western food that’s a little bit different. Either way, it’s worth checking out.

    Price: RMB 60 – RMB 150 per person

    Summary: Somewhat hidden sandwich spot in Changning serving up a menu of smoked meat sandwiches and other deli-style fare like salmon bagels, chicken parm sandwiches and the like. Definitely does the job and is a good way to get a comfort food fix while still switching it up. 

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SMARTREVIEWS

SmartReviews is SmartShanghai’s crack squad of amateur reviewers, eating their way around the city and writing about it. They have been chosen from a large pool of applicants and given a set of strict guidelines to follow to make sure their reviews are honest, informed and fair to both potential customers and the restaurants themselves.

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