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  • Have you ever had Tex-Mex food before in the United States? The standard combos of 

    ...savory/spicy chicken/pork/beef meat + cheese + peppers + onions + beans + rice in a tortilla/burrito/over a salad? 

    Good, then you know exactly what Pistolera is. Will surprise absolutely no one with the dishes on the menu, and it doesn't need to. The food is solid, the portions are large, the atmosphere is fine, and there's salsa dancing on Thursday nights. The terrace is woefully underutilized, and that's really the biggest highlight of the location. A terrace of this size, in a location like this, with food at this price point, is really something to be appreciated. Go with a group and have after-work drinks on the terrace. Go for a date and enjoy almost total seclusion. Host a party and invite all your friends. Just do something to justify this huge terrace's existence. 

    ...oh yeah the food. I'm writing about the food. 

    Like I said, exactly what you would expect, nothing more, nothing less. The quesadillas are savory, cheese, a little oily and completely satisfying. The chicken fajitas are full of flavor and the peppers and onions are grilled to soft, satisfying perfect. The tortillas aren't made in the basement by a 60-year old grandfather hand cranking the maize grinder, and you know what, they're just fine. The nachos are huge and fully loaded, without skimping on the cheese...perhaps one of the best nachos in town. The drinks ok maybe the cocktails aren't that good. At least the mojito is not my favorite in town, but that's the only one I've tried. 

    If you're looking for this style of food, but with a upscale or creative twist, go to Maya. If you want this style of food while killing a few beers and watching sports and pushing no boundaries whatsoever, come to Pistolera. 

    Lunch sets are very reasonable, so you'll end up paying somewhat less than 100 CNY per person. Off-lunch hours are slightly pricier. There are good daily specials (BOGO quesadillas, cheap taco Tuesdays etc.) but you'll need make sure about the hours because many of them are time-limited. 

    Go enjoy the balcony and kill some cheesey beany meaty carbs friend. If that's what you were in the mood for, Pistolera will certainly make you happy. 

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  • I've tried a few times to get on the Beef & Liberty train when it comes to their burgers. My first time eating there was on a Monday, and it was BOGO night for burgers, but I was a little underwhelmed by my burger. It was fine...but not really memorable. 

    "Maybe it was an off-night", I thought to myself, so I tried again on a Monday a few months later, it was the same thing again. 

    "Well your problem is obviously that you're going on Monday nights, when they're slammed for those BOGO burgers" my friend said, in response to my griping about the underwhelming burger. 

    In an effort to address this possibility, I made a THIRD trip to Beef & Liberty on a recent weekday afternoon, when the restaurant was essentially empty and the kitchen would ostensibly be able to focus completely on my burger. 

    It was only then that I was able to conclude that my burger experience from the very first time had been thoroughly representative; Beef & Liberty burgers just don't taste very good. The main issue is that there's just no seasoning on the patty whatsoever. I don't care how high quality your meat is, or whether you've got the perfect blend of imported chuck, short rib and brisket or whatever...if you aren't putting adequate salt and pepper on your burger patty, then it's missing something. Sometimes a salty pickle or good bacon can replace the need for salt on the patty, but that wasn't happening here ether. 

    Aside from the lack of seasoning, there was also no sear on the outside of the burger, so no lovely maillard reaction savory goodness. It seemed like the burger hadn't been cooked on an adequately high-heat source to create a good sear, resulting in very little surface texture. It was just a poorly seasoned and poorly cooked burger patty - no way around it. Extremely disappointing for a 100 RMB burger. 

    The shoestring fries that accompanied the burger were completely unseasoned as well. What does Beef & Liberty have against salt? 

    So why the three stars, you may ask, and not lower? 

    Because after the second visit, I learned to hedge my bets, and so on this third trip we also ordered a pulled pork sandwich, and that was pretty delicious. Savory, juicy, slightly tangy with good crisp from the slaw on the side - exactly what a pulled pork sandwich should be. The side salad I ordered with it was also good. It seems the kitchen's disillusionment about appropriate seasoning levels only manifests itself in the burgers...

    Besides this, the banoffee milkshake was a delicious indulgence, the fancy ketchup is tasty, the drinks were fine, and the terrace environment is really nice - quite the highlight. I would go back to enjoy these things, but not those overhyped burgers. There are many better options around town if you feel like spending that much money on a hamburger. 

    Lunch sets were slightly over 100 each. 

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  • I heard good things about the original location of Slurp! from friends, so I went in with relatively high expectations. I had never managed to visit Slurp! in its original location over on Wulumuqi Road, but was glad to discover that it had recently re-opened fairly close to me on Maoming Road (close to Weihai Road) so I made the short trip over for lunch. 

    The location is...cramped. The kitchen itself is all alone on the first floor with the reception and all the seating is on the second floor. The seating area itself was fine, clean and well ventilated with 4-5 small tables, but it still felt a bit claustrophobic. 

    The service was infuriatingly clueless. We played that game that Chinese restaurants like to play on you sometimes, where they actually don't have 30-40% of the items on the menu, but they don't tell you anything in advance and let you randomly ask for things and then inform you that it's sold out. After I was informed for a second time that a chosen item was not in stock, I asked her to point out all the items on the menu that were unavailable. This is the second part of the game, where the server swears there are no other unavailable items; everything else is fine to order. This is inevitably turned on its head a minute later when you choose something else that's out of stock that she forgot to tell you about. 

    Silly service aside, this also meant that my top choices (and most recommended dishes online) could not be ordered, so we had to second choices all around, which is always a shaky note to start the meal on. We got the xiao guo mi xian (little pot of rice noodles), roasted tilapia, fried Yunnan cheese, Yunnan mashed potato and pork mince stir fried with herbs and flower buds. 

    Everything was...ok. The fish had a TON of tiny bones in it, super annoying to eat, but decent flavor. The mashed potato was very good, with some Yunnan herbs folded into the potato. A bit odd to have such a waxy texture to a mashed potato dish, but that's Chinese potatoes for you. The fried cheese was fine - not a ton of flavor on the cheese itself but I liked the rose petal jam for dipping quite a lot. The flagship product, the pot of rice noodles, was pretty boring. Rice noodles don't really pick up a lot of flavor when they're in a broth, so it was all about the broth, which was fine I guess, but didn't really pack any special punch of flavor. 

    I guess if you're craving a certain type of Yunnan flavor and you live nearby, it's worth a try, but I wouldn't seek it out from afar, and I didn't find myself very satisfied after the meal. Prices weren't too bad; we spent something like 180 CNY for our 4 dishes, so there's a positive. I'll give it a cautious three stars, cause it wasn't bad, but it wasn't really good either. It just...was. 

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  • Every since the Shouning Road crayfish street shuttered its stalls for good, I'm sure you've been wondering where your inebriated group can go to crush a few kilos of chili-coasted crustaceans. Wonder no longer friend, I have you covered.

    In the far reaches of western downtown Shanghai, in the wild wooly wilderness known as Dingxi Road (I mean seriously, it's almost to Zhongshan Park, which is basically the edge of the world for those of us who live downtown) is the Dingxi Road night food street. It's basically just a little section of street at the intersection of Dingxi Road and the Yan'an Expressway, not really much of a street as much as it is a single block of restaurants doing crayfish, hot pot, noodles and other nighttime classics. Hey this is the night food desert of Shanghai...this is the best we've got. 

    Long xia feng bao (龙虾风暴, or literally "crayfish storm") sits right in the middle of the street. It's popular, bustling, and filled with chili odors. It's exactly what you expect from a crayfish resturant on a food street. 

    Dazhong dianping had a coupon for 250 CNY which gets you an order of 13-spice crayfish, an order of xia qiu, (虾球, which literallly translates as "shrimp balls" but don't be fooled, it's crayfish tails) an order of smashed cucumber in vinegar (拍黄瓜), an order of pickled green soy beans (毛豆) and two servings of cold noodles (冷面). 

    If you aren't aready into Chinese spicy crayfish, this is probably not going to the experience to convince you (but maybe?), but if you are into crayfish, then this is going to hit the spot. The 13-spice crayfish was savory, spicy, oily, everything you want from your midnight snack. My girlfriend complained that some overlooked aspect of the crayfish preparation resulted in the shells being too difficult to remove, and she has more experience eating crayfish than I do, so she's probably right, but I won't take off points for that. 

    I regret ordering the crayfish tails as ma la (numbing and spicy), because the taste was a teensy bit samesy with the 13-spice (although obviously the 13-spice wasn't numbing), so if I went back, I would try the garlic option instead. 

    The side dishes were all great, and the two large servings of cold noodles meant we were stuffed at the end, (which is wise, because crayfish itself doesn't have much meat really). The green soybeans in vinegar and chilis were especially good - my spicy-and-sour loving girlfriend commented that they're just the way her grandmother used to prepare them. 

    With a cold beer, the total damage was just about 290, which is a touch more than you would have paid on Shouning Road in the past, but this is the reality of Shanghai street food as it stands now. With slightly better value, or a little more wow factor to the crayfish tails, I would have given it 5 stars, but as it is, I give Crayfish Storm a 4/5. 

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  • With the huge variety of restaurants we have available to us in Shanghai, I rarely find myself going back to the same place more than once or twice - there are just too many good options for every meal. Last month, I reviewed Currify, which is a restaurant that breaks the trend for me. This month, I must do the same thing again for Saigon Mama. 

    First let me say that I've never been to Vietnam, so I'm not qualified to comment on the flavor of Saigon Mama's pho or banh mi compared to authentic goods from the source. I can only compare to my experiences around town at other Vietnamese noodle places like Cyclo and Pho Store, and in this regard, Saigon Mama is far and away my favorite. 

    The broth for the pho is rich, beefy, and utterly comforting. The meat portion is generous, especially if you order the full Saigon combo or the oxtail (which I did on my most recent trip, as you can see from the pictures). The oxtail is a nice mixup (if a bit pricy) and I don't get it every time I go, but it's a distinguishing feature for Saigon Mama. 

    My girlfriend usually gets the pho classic and loads it up with some of the house sauces or the sriracha, which I personally think is a bit of a misstep. The sauces are delicious, make no mistake, but they easily mask the beefy wonderfulness of the broth, and I would prefer a beef overload when eating pho. Speaking of beef overload - if you want to add beef, I recommend adding a portion of the shank for 15 CNY. 

    Along with my pho, I always get a banh mi sandwich to share. I prefer the pork, but the chicken is good too, beacuse they both have Saigon Mama's excellent pork pate spread on there. The bread is crispy and chewy, the pickled carrots and radish are crunchy and refreshing, and the pork is savory and rich - a perfect combination. You can eat it directly or dip in the beef broth for bonus points of deliciousness. 

    We usually get the wings or the crispy spring rolls as a side. It's too much food, but I do it every time anyway. The wings are very tasty, but quite fatty (not the highest quality wings frankly) so if that's not your thing, go for the spring rolls. 

    Total damage is normal for pho in Shanghai: 60-80 CNY for pho, 50-60 for banh mis and 40-50 for sides. My recent review is for the location in Shanghai Centre, but I've also eaten at the SML Center location across from Tianzifang many times and enjoyed it as well. 

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  • Pure and Whole is vegan food for people who are vegan, but don't especially love food. 

    We dropped in for a late dinner on a weeknight, looking for something light and flavorful, and hoping to stay basically within my neighborhood. The restaurant was almost empty at 8:30pm (they close at 9). 

    The menu has a nice selection of choices, with appetizing names and descriptions. We ordered the pita appetizer with three spreads, (beet, mushroom, black bean) the Thai vegetable curry, and the most-recommended pistachio sauce pasta. 

    I don't like harping for a long time on bad food longer than I have to, so I'll jump right to the punch line: we did not enjoy our dinner at all. 

    The pita bread was so thin it was crackling after its roasting, basically no chewy bready texture whatsoever. The mushroom spread lacked seasoning, the black bean spread lacked seasoning, the beet spread guessed it...seasoning. The natural sweetness of the beets kind of saved that one; the other two were just squishly texture in your mouth to spread over thin, dry pita. The purple carrots that were served with the spreads were horrible - completely without fresh flavor. 

    The vegetable curry tasted like it was made by someone who only knew two things about Thai curry: coconut milk and chilis. Those were the the only flavors it had, and not even those very strongly either. It was watery and bland and didn't deserve to be called "Thai". It was also served with cold, hard brown rice - clearly it was the end of the night, but how hard would it have been to steam up a single fresh serving of brown rice for us? 

    The pasta was also incredibly bland - it just tasted like pasta with a whisper of green vegetable flavor and no seasoning. After glumly swirling my pasta around in circles for a few minutes, I realized that the liquid of the pistachio sauce had mostly gathered on the bottom of the bowl, hidden under the pile of pasta. By dredging each bite through the liquid before eating, I was able to get a little bit of pistachio flavor, and moisture to swallow the pasta, and the flavor was actually alright. The sauce should have been creamier, to coat the pasta instead of sitting in a pool on the bottom of the plate, and it still needed more seasoning. 

    I get that Pure & Whole is upholding a healthy, vegan restaurant culture, but the food has to taste good too, and be prepared by a skilled chef with knowledge of how to coax great flavors out of mild ingredients. At no point in the meal did I feel I was eating food prepared with expertise and love for food.

    All of the dishes were around 70+ CNY each and the total bill was 228. If I had left full and moderately satisfied, I would have called it some decent value for the Shanghai Centre. As it was, I found myself hungry and ordering dumplings on Eleme two hours later. 

    Pictures came out pretty nice though. I think a lot more attention was being paid in the the kitchen to presentation than taste of the food. 

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  • To my knowledge, this is the only Macanese-style restaurant readily accessible in urban Shanghai. Macau Style (Chinese name Aomen Zhizao, or literally "Made in Macau") is a hidden gem of a restaurant, appropriated located on Aomen Rd. in Putuo District. While the restaurant carries a wide variety of Classic Cantonese dishes, as well as Hong Kong-style dim sum and roasted meats, I chose to focus on ordering specifically Macanese style dishes on my recent visit. I've ordered the dim sum and other Hong Kong-style dishes before, and they are good, but this review is exclusively focused on their Macau specialities. 

    We ordered steamed tripe, roasted meatball skewers, razor clams in garlic, a stir-fried green onion with squid and dried shrimp, curry fried rice, and braised chicken feet. Of these dishes, the only one that wasn't specifically listed as "Macau style" on the menu was the braised chicken feet (a.k.a. the classic dim sum dish "phoenix claw"). 

    Steamed tripe was overcooked and had lost its siganture chewy texture, but the sauce was nice. The razor clams were also underwhelming - large portion but lacked subtlety of flavor (they basically only tasted of garlic mince). They were also slightly over, causing the texture to go chewy.

    On the other hand, the roasted meatball skewers were meaty, chewy and delicious. The stir-fried green onion with shrimp and squid was the standout dish of the meal - a complex mixture of salty and savory that didn't overwhelm the fresh green vegetable flavor at the base of the dish. The curry fried rice was very tasty and satisfying - no surprising flavors but none needed. Finally, the braised chicken's feet were perfectly cooked, with savory soy-based juices running all over and perfect gooey/chewy texture like only chicken feet can. 

    We also had a pepper and pork bone broth soup, which was pretty good, but more for the vegetables than the actual pork pieces. 

    Altogether, damage was was 244 for two people to stuff themselves. Honestly I could have skipped the curry rice without missing it whatsoever, which would have brought the bill down closer to 200. Service was quick, the decor is pleasant, and the flavors were sufficiently different from Hong Kong or other Cantonese food to convince me that I was indeed sampling Macau flavors. Of course, I haven't been to Macau, so I can't comment on the authenticity at the end of the day, but if you're curious to try a new cuisine, Macau Style is a good choice. Just don't get the razor clams. 4/5. 

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  • For that sudden, special time of the year when you have a sudden craving for spicy bullfrog, Jin Xiao Guan on Anyuan Road has you covered. A Dazhong Dianping hero, the interior design aesthetic is simple, clean, and covered with stuffed frogs. It begs you to take pictures and plaster them all over your Wechat moments. 

    The specialities are crayfish and bullfrog, with enough variations of each to keep you trying new dishes for a long time. 

    We grabbed a lineup of classics from the recommendation section and found little to complain about. The 泡椒牛蛙 (bullfrog in spicy chili oil) was flavorful, fragrant and appropraitely spicy, with the meat ample and tender. The salty egg yolk corn 蛋黄咸玉米was crunchy, savory, salty and thoroughly satisfying. The cold noodles 冷面 were served with peanut sauce, chili oil, cucumber shards and bean sprouts. They were slightly spicy, savory, fresh-testing and excellent (and a huge portion to boot). Finally, the shreds of spicy seasoned beef stomach with cilantro were flavorful, delightfully chewy, and sufficiently different from the rest of the spicy flavors in the meal to add interest. 

    The only lowlight of the meal was the blue gelatin dessert - it was pretty but essentially flavorless. I think it was supposed to taste of blueberries but I only tasted the raisins on top. 

    Overall damage was about 160 RMB and we were stufffffed. The cold noodle portion was about 2x what we expected...definitely could have dropped a dish or two. A real winner in the value for money category. 

    I'm not always in the mood for Sichuan-style bullfrog, but the next time I am, I know where I'm going. You should too. 5/5

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  • After ordering Currify on Eleme approximiately once a week for the last 3 months, I finally managed to find the physical restauarant by total accident. It's not easy to find, hidden in a side courtyard on the Wuding Rd. food and drink street. Just look for the sign on the street just beyond the Goose Island bar and walk on in.

    The funny thing about how much I love Currify these days is how unimpressed I was by Currify x Taoker, which I first reviewed half a year ago. In fact, it was my wholly average experience at Currify x Taoker that kept me from trying Currify for so long. Fortunately I mended my ways, and oh how thankful I am that I did. 

    I think what makes Currify so good is that they only have a few curry dishes on the menu, so they can focus on doing them all well. The curries are all bursting with flavor, generous with their portion sizes, and give me very little to complain about. On our most recent visit when I snapped the photos that accompany this review, we tried the set meal for 2 on Dazhong Dianping, which came with the butter chicken, coconut fish curry, fried onion, roasted wings, and choice of two mocktails. Of all the items mentioned, everything was delicious except the fried onion chunks, which were very heavy, greasy, and tasted mostly of fried dough. The fried onion is the only miss I've ever had ordering food at Currify - esentially everything else is excellent. My most-ordered are probably the palak paneer, which is rich, smooth, creamy and filled with generous portions of paneer, as well as the lamb marsala. 

    Even with the unpleasant fried onion in the set meal on our last visit, it was still good value. Still, I don't think I'd order the set meal again. If dining in, you're better off mixing and matching a few curries, a few naans and a side dish, with the total cost probably ending up just about the same (about 180 CNY).

    I'm also not sure if it's worth it to dine in, versus ordering online. If you're within Eleme distance, you can usually get a curry with a naan for about 35-40 CNY after the various Eleme discounts are applied. 

    In a city where Indian restaurants regularly get away with charging 60-80 RMB for curries and 25 CNY for plain naan, Currify is an absolute value-for-money champion, and it tastes great too. 5/5. 

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  • Ah poke bowls...Instragam's favorite lunch. Also probably the restauranteur's favorite lunch, since this uber trendy poke bowl allows restaurant owners to charge 70+ CNY for a few bucks of artfully assembled colorful vegetables. Surely the profit margins would be absurd, but thankfully Shanghai rents are here to keep things grounded in reality. 

    With that intro, I surely tip my hand a bit heavily as to how I feel about poke bowls. But when it comes to food, I am nothing if not fair. An overpriced and trendy but generally delicious plate of food is still going to get a good review from me. Not 5 stars necessarily, but certainly at least 4. 

    If Poke Poke wants to get to the 4 star level, they're going to have to give it just a little bit more. Here's the breakdown:

    My sesame-crusted tuna bowl. Was very pretty. The tuna was dry and the only flavor present was sesame, which overpowered the flavor of the tuna and made it even drier. The spinach rice rice. I didn't detect any flavor of spinach. It's almost like the primary reason the rice was green to make it more photogenic...The pickled radish was tasty, the sauteed caulflower was flavorful, and the roasted sweet potato was slightly sweet and delicious. The roasted lemon slice and the pickled radish made me salivate, which helped get the tuna down. A disappointing way to spend 80 CNY. 

    My girlfriend's marinated salmon tartare bowl. Was slightly less pretty, but way more tasty. The chunks of salmon were very well seasoned and the whole grain mustard and pickled radish were good complements to the rice base of the dish. We ended up fighting over the good bits of her bowl and leaving behind a few bits of my bowl, because this one was tasty.  The only nitpick I have here is that some of the flavors in the bowl didn't seem to be intended to be taken all together - whole grain mustard on sweet potato was an odd flavor contrast for example. In the end though, a fairly acceptable way to spend 80 CNY. 

    Our deep fried zucchini slice appetizer. Ok it was flaky and light and well-seasoned and delicious. The breading seasoning was good, but I could still tasty the zucchini indicating perfect thickness on the breading layer. Good job Poke Poke. Now can you serve me something more interesting than ketchup to dip it in? 

    The drinks. Were light and refreshing and summery. Mine tasted like a cucumber mojito (sans rum). My girlfriend thought her ginger and lemon concoction was too sour, so I drank it all and I thought it was yummy, so she's objectively wrong. 


    The final verdict: I'm still not convinced on value for money, but I'm sure the menu has a few more legitimately tasty gems hidden among the blatant Instragram bait. I doubt I'll find myself craving it, but I'd probably go there occasionally if I worked nearby. Lunch for two was around 260 CNY, which is eehhhhh. 

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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.

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