Heatwolves has spent the last ten years exploring Shanghai as a writer, editor and DJ and is now a consultant and strategist for F&B, music, and art projects. You can find him on Instagram at @lovebanguniverse and leaping forward at InkSight Agency.
Atmosphere: A friend and I always argue over which is the better Xiantiandi wonton, Qian Li Xiang Huntun or Er Guang Huntun. They say Qian Li Xiang have better xiao huntun and the shop has that inspiring morning vibe of bosses eating wontons in a cloud of steam (wontons are the boss breakfast because only bosses have time to really sit down and enjoy breakfast, instead of scarfing baozi on the run, says this friend).
I say Er Guang wins because it's cleaner and the meat tastes better, and they have pork chops, greens, and drinks. And because one morning one of the cooks from Qian Li Xiang was cooking his own breakfast in a wok on the sidewalk (they don't eat wontons everyday), and in a jet-lag haze I stepped outside of the restaurant and nearly walked right into the flame.
But even though I'm way off topic and Er Guang is definitely better, Qian Li Xiang is still a decent option for a cheap meal in the Madang Lu area. They charge 13rmb for a bowl of ten big jicai xian rou wontons or you can add 1rmb to get them dry with the peanut sauce. I've never seen anyone order the more expensive wontons with shrimp. Overall, their flavors rely too much on spices rather than high quality ingredients, but you could do much, much worse for in this area. They stay rolling up pork and cai in the middle of the shop all day every day and the place is never empty.
Atmosphere: According to Dianping, there are 44 "Baldhead's Lamb Soup" (光头羊肉汤店) Restaurants in Shanghai. The one on Ninghai Lu, a lamb-heavy street just north of Dashijie, is open 24/7 and you can order any part of a lamb you want, including the head or testicles a la carte. But you're probably coming here for the hearty, slow-cooked lamb soup, some bai qie yang rou, and the noodles. The shop proudly displays a sign that basically says, "We don't add anything to our soup. It's just lamb. That's why it's good." The soup is almost white and the rich taste hits you like the morning sun after clubbing all night.
Food: If you enjoy raw dining experiences this is probably your kind of place. When I rolled up at 6am, two young guys were chain-smoking Zhonghuas and on their third bottle of baijiu, having deep conversations about life. The lamb was so good I ordered another plate of bai qie yang rou (they only sell it by the 20rmb plate) to add to my ban mian, which has a taste I've been chasing for years, ever since a certain noodle shop on Changning Lu closed. Next time the weather is cold or you're just trying to eat after the club, try this spot.
Atmosphere: Out of all the wonton and noodle shops in your neighborhood, how many are actually good? If you eat at enough mediocre, oily sustenance spots, it's easy to forget just how incredible a bowl of wontons can be when they're made with the right soup, ingredients, and love. Luckily, this newer chain, Chicken Soup Wonton is here to remind us of their glory.
Food: "This reminds me of how food used to taste", said my dining partner, grabbing another of the malantou and tofu stuffed wontons coated with dry chili and cilantro. Those disappeared fast. So did the noodles underneath, cooked to just the right snap. The chicken soup tastes thick and chicken-ey like soup you get in the countryside. They don't salt the broth. And when you order a side of greens, they actually cook it in chicken soup. The place has already caught on. On a recent Wednesday, all the spring rolls and most of the side dishes were sold out by 9pm.
A shop in the mall with black truffle wontons and old Shanghai songs could really go either way. But this place more than pulls it off, and their design completes the whole experience. I mean, the logo is a headless chicken bathing itself in a bowl of chicken soup, and they have pink chopsticks. And for 50-100rmb per person, it's easy to keep coming back here for some classics done right.
This Malaysian dessert place is so good and there isn't anything else like it in Shanghai. They serve cendol, which is shaved ice with coconut milk, green rice flour jelly, and palm sugar, plus toppings like grass jelly or red bean. This spot uses actual palm sugar, which makes a huge difference. Their menu is one page, including pictures. The staff are super nice. They have a few table games and a large painting of a tropical bird on the wall. Very rare.
Next time you want ice cream or milk tea, consider Cendol instead. Get the Penang shaved ice, maybe add some ximi and the 10rmb Durian ice cream. This shop is doing something unique and that's tough in Shanghai so show some love and keep the cendol around.
I was worrying about AI and and the future so i wanted to eat some spicy wings and watch that sports channel with tree-chopping competitions and monster trucks and make my mind go blank so i went to hooters on huaihai lu not huaihai zhong lu they closed that one a while back now they went in where the carls jr was where people sing on the corner at night sometimes real loud over by mac doctor and anyway i like hooters because 1 if people tell you the food is bad they are a liar and 2 also the waitresses they will talk to you in that way americans ask you how you're doing but don't really mean it they just want a tip but it's still nice like the waitress asked about my anime shirt and said she saw the show on billi billi and i got the 911 wings which r the second spiciest and number one most delicious i will fully recommend this boneless wing
this hooters is maybe half the price as before but they don't have buffalo sauce now they have chuanr and some wraps with rice and chicken of your choice which is odd and i definitely did not try but fair enough maybe they got new owners or changed their strategy but your waitress still write their name down on yr napkin and the owls are still there obviously you can't replace that owl that's like if disney replaced mickey mouse and there is also a late happy hour on draft beer and anyway everything is very excellent and i will fully recommend this hooters
Truly good food returns to the mind days, weeks, or even years after eating it. Like, you're playing Switch at midnight and all the sudden you think, "I need a Beef & Liberty burger. Right now." The galettes at RAC are like that. I told people about them. I sent my mom a picture. I tried to go back the next evening and met despair – they had closed at 7pm. The next day I got the same round table in the corner looking out the giant window at the lanehouses next door. The galettes tasted even better this time.
The original RAC's reputation for painful wait times kept me from ever going there. Thankfully, their second shop a block north of IAPM on Shaanxi Nan Lu has no queue in the afternoon. The place feels like dining in your interior-designer friend's house, with tons of natural light, nice silverware, and friendly staff who let folks order right up until the edge of 7pm. Everything on the short menu – from the drinking vinegar to the veggie galettes to the avocado salad with green tomatoes – feels carefully considered and perfected. You might find yourself dreaming about them weeks later.
RAC is proof that you don't need neon signs or Pantone colors to be a wanghong. Hell, they don't even have wi-fi here.
On the first visit to this chill izakaya on Xianxia Lu, we had to wait twenty minutes for a seat by the bar, so the waitress apologised and offered the first round of drinks on the house. How often does that happen in Shanghai? The beef and onion skewers, chicken skin salad, and tofu were so good that I came back three weeks later on a Monday at 6pm and luckily got the last table.
Toriyasu in Zhongshan Park – the place with the little door – is my go-to for yakitori, and for good reason. Niao Jun isn't better than that classic spot, but it's on the same level and has some different options, like a giant tuna jaw that takes two people fifteen minutes to pick apart; a plate of gyoza buried in a sheet of paper-thin dumpling skin; a sausage "on the bone"; and a highball-machine with six flavors and giant ice balls (yes, cassis is there and it's perfect). All of those are must-orders, as are the chicken kebabs topped with shredded perilla, grilled squid, the chicken-skin salad (available crispy or not crispy), and absolutely the beef and onion kebabs.
The food is just one part of this spot's appeal – the servers are fun, the details like a Totoro in the booth and plants in the bathroom add life and color, and even the angles on the security camera feed look like an art film. Music? No. Wild Japanese TV shows? Yes.
If you're into Japanese food / highballs / BBQ / memorable restaurants away from the usual, check this out. It's about a 15-minute walk from the Shuicheng Lu metro station, slightly off Xianxia Lu near the gates to a xiaoqu. Call ahead, and look for the lanterns.
Basically: Excellent little izakaya / yakitori spot just off Xianxia Lu that stands out among all the other Japanese restaurants on that strip. Great food, drinks, and service plus colorful decor. Recommended dishes: beef and onion skewers, the bbq and rice bowl, chicken and perilla skewers, chicken skin salad, gyoza, tuna jaw, squid, and tofu. Avg. 150-200rmb per person. Reservations recommended.
A few months back, the Hunter Gather in Hubin Dao transformed from a grocery-store-with-a-restaurant to a restaurant-with-a-little-grocery-section-and-cooking-classes. Good call!
Sadly, the DIY peanut butter machines disappeared (R.I.P.). Almost everything else is great news though. The Asian fusion dishes with organic ingredients have more flavor and color than ever, and between the curries, pickled vegetables, ma la, Bibimbap elements, noodles, salads, and grilled meats, there's probably something for everyone who is trying to eat better. That said, some dishes seem more inspired than others. A pumpkin pasta was just meh.
Their lunch set is 98rmb and includes a starter like cauliflower soup, a main, and a drink like coffee or tea. Considering the quality, that's a solid deal and more than filling. Maybe order the dressing on the side if you're counting calories though. Overall, for around the same price or slightly more than Sproutworks down the street, the food is way more robust. It's the Lexus to their dependable Camry. Shout out to the farmers. Bonus: The frozen yogurt is worth a trip alone.
Basically: Quick-serve organic restaurant serving bright Asian fusion dishes in the form of bowls, salads, and noodles. High-quality ingredients and lots of flavor. Avg: ~ 100rmb per person. Also has some groceries, cooking classes, and [sometimes] frozen yogurt.
I first had Yolota back in 2008, when all I knew about beef noodle soup was dishwater Shanghai Lanzhou La Mian. Back then, Yolota was a revelation: thick beef cuts that tasted expensive, hearty soups – red wine soup! tomato soup! – and side dishes like braised tofu and braised vegetables with bits of pork. For someone who didn't grow up with this food and was eating gai jiao fan or Shaxian Xiaochi pretty much every day, it was incredible.
In 2019, Yolota is more comforting than mind-blowing. They still charge around 30 to 40rmb for a bowl of their noodles, which you can order thick or thin. The menu is probably the same, the broths are still rich, and the ingredients remain high quality. Some noodle experts might fault their cooking skills, but it's consistently decent, the staff are nice, and they play some obscure jazz radio shows in the small dining room, which also has a bit of anime kitsch strewn about.
In a word: reliable. And on a rainy day, it's way better than Shanghai Lanzhou La Mian. Some of their deeper cuts, like the curry noodles and cold noodles with shredded chicken and sesame are worth exploring too.
In Short: Reliable beef noodle soup and snacks spot that's been around for over a decade. You can order your noodles thick or thin, and the rest of the menu is worth diving into as well. Clean with good ingredients plus nice jazz selections on the stereo sometimes. Less than 50rmb per person.
You would never guess one of Shanghai's finest sushi spots is on this sketchy street a few blocks north of People's Square, just around the corner from Jiajia Tang Bao. And you wouldn't find the shop on Dianping, because it's not listed there. Haiyu Sushi was on Dianping, but too many random walk-ins made it hard for the boss's regulars to get a table.
Regulars – like the chef at Mercato, who wrote about this place in Industry Nights – go here for good reason. Haiyu Sushi is an anomaly in Shanghai – spartan environment, high-end food. While clean, there is nothing fancy about this place. Just a counter, a few tables, a TV, and two friendly chefs who will gladly drop knowledge about fish and Shanghai if you ask. Basically the equation is this: if you remove the fancy decor, the dozens of staff, some frilly ornamental ingredients, and the prime location, your customers can enjoy high-grade sushi for mid-range prices. Indeed, on a recent Sunday night, a couple spent 390rmb and ate an extremely memorable meal of fresh fish and beer that would probably cost upwards of 1000rmb in many restaurants here.
If you're into sushi, this place has choice cuts for much less than you'd expect. Make a reservation though, and be sure to follow the boss's Moments for all the fish photos.
Summary: No frills, minimal sushi spot with excellent fish and friendly staff, a few blocks north of People's Square. Not fancy, very good, and memorable. Reservations essential.
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.