Tucked behind the building that used to hold a Xiao Nan Guo, opposite the entrance to Laowai Jie (now held by the wonderfully named Starsnail Wines), Laowai Yokocho is a kind of forlorn attempt at recreating a festive Japanese alleyway of restaurants, like Piss Alley in Tokyo. It doesn’t quite live up to its promise, but on a visit last week, I found two extremely righteous things: MONSTER highballs, the classic Suntory and soda combination served in ONE LITER glasses...
...and Neapolitan pizza.
The ramen was so so, the gyoza a toss-up and oysters had motor oil aftertaste that screams Qingdao (so I’m told; I couldn’t screw up the courage).
But those mammoth whisky sodas, they crack like rams butting heads when they are cheers’ed, and the pizza – well, just chalk it up to things being weird out here.
The quick story is that a Chinese guy studied with a Japanese Neapolitan pizza master in Japan for several years, and now he’s come back to Shanghai to… I don’t know why he came back. I didn’t get in that deep with him. In fact, I didn’t get too far past “one margherita, pizza, thanks, and we’re sitting over there” and then a “thanks, thanks, you’re too kind” kind of thing when he brought over a little Nutella calzone, on the house. But he makes a lovely pizza with fresh mozzarella and nice burned spots on the crust and a sweet tomato sauce, for 49rmb.
There are other stalls doing weird attempts at Chinese-Spanish food, a yakiniku joint that cooks over portable gas canisters but more importantly is the source of those highballs, and four individual glassed-in karaoke boxes, which is sort of indicative of the entire place: if you want to enjoy it, you’ve got to bring the party spirit yourself. The default setting on atmosphere, at least the weeknight I went, was melancholy and a touch desperate, perhaps because a bunch of tried-and-true Japanese restaurants have moved in next door: Ajiya, Monbei, Bankura. Any of those would outclass the food at Laowai Yokocho, but if you’ve got a thirst for whiskey sodas and appreciate the quirkier side of this city, then you might enjoy Japanese Foreigner Avenue as much as me.
Laowai Yokocho Avenue is at 3337 Hongmei Lu. Open daily, 5pm to midnight, and until 2am on weekends.