Shanghai is the 10th city that Ting has called home. She works at a Chinese social enterprise and loves immersing herself in new cultures and chasing new experiences, particularly food.
Wei Xiang Zhai is one of those places that you can’t live in Shanghai and not try at least once. A small mom and pop type of shop that’s famous for their 10 rmb masa noodles pair with the golden combo of their 10 rmb beef soup and spicy meat toppings, this place remains a gem in the glitzy xintiandi area. The first time I came here was on a crowded weekend afternoon, where sharing table space was pretty common, and we happened to be seated across a well-known foodie youtuber, who was filming a scene at the restaurant on his noodle run across China video.
To avoid the crowd, I came back on a weekday afternoon where most people were at work, and the only customers in the shop were a couple of elder folks, who seemed to live around the area. As usual, service doesn’t exist in places like this. I ordered at the counter and quickly found a seat. It didn’t take long for the food to arrive, and the portions were fairly large. The beef noodle soup had a rich flavor with a hint of curry, topped with scallions on top. The masa noodles had a rich sesame sauce on top, which on its own, wouldn’t make for much of a meal. That’s why most people order toppings on the side to blend with the noodles. The spicy meat toppings this afternoon was disappointing. It wasn’t even heated up properly and it was a bit too heavy for my taste.
While eating, I came across what seems to be a food tour that made the joint a stop on their list. This place is popular among locals and tourists alike, however, it seems a bit overrated to me. It has become a must try in Shanghai, but I don’t think I will be coming back.
Located 10 minutes away from main Nanjing West Road, Ding Zheng Yan is a solid place to eat fresh sea food at an amazing price. I have a feeling this place would get a lot more traffic if it was located on the Nanjing West main road or closer to a subway station, and not on the second floor of not too notable building as it can be a bit easy to look past. The entry way isn’t too easy to locate either, with a small elevator that takes you to the second floor.
Our group arrived on a weekday night and were promptly seated at a large round table when we walked in. Big tanks of seafood were located in the back of the restaurant and the waiters takes you to look at it, before you decide on what to order. A freshness guarantee. Sauces and side dishes are located on the side of the room, self-served with a numerous amount of choices to satisfy all your culinary needs.
We ordered a wide range of seafood including clams, oyster, scallop, pear fish, you name it, along with some side vegetable dishes and corn juice. There is a big pot at the centre of the round table that is used to steam the seafood. Once the seafood arrives, the waiter takes a large clipper to clip the item and place it in the centre of the pot, then closes the lid for it to steam for an appropriate amount of time before it’s ready. Eating the hot steamed seafood with my gloved hands and dipping it in my specialty sauce, I couldn’t remember the last time I’ve had such a grand seafood meal like this.
The best part of this meal is left at the end. The bottom of the pot is separated from the top side of the pot with a divider on which the seafood is placed upon. While the seafood steams, the steam that’s condensed into liquid drips to the bottom of the pot, where rice is placed for congee. At the end of the meal, a wholesome congee is also finished brewing at the bottom of the pot, filled with the culinary goodness of all the seafood that’s been steamed throughout the meal. I don’t think I can ask for more in a meal really, and who would have thought such a place existed right in the middle of Shanghai. The price is jaw-droppingly affordable with the bill coming out to be less than 100 rmb/person, and coupons on Dianping that further deducts from the bill. It’s an amazing place for a wholesome group meal that will leave you craving for more.
Hero Shu is a five star Chengdu hotpot brand that has several branches in Shanghai. Located on the second floor of Shimei Plaza, this place is jammed packed even on a weekday night. Decorated in a traditional imperial Chinese styled manner, there’s a lot of lanterns hanging down the ceiling along with beautiful wooden carved windows. The table and chairs of course, match the rest of the décor, and although it’s pleasing on the eyes, sitting on wooden stools around a crowded table in a crowded restaurant is not the most comfortable dining position to be in.
That aside, you’ll forget about the uncomfortable seats once the pot and food arrives. Food is ordered the old fashioned way, via circling items you wish to have on a paper menu (which is a waste of paper if you ask me). The menu is all in Chinese so there might be a bit of a guesswork going on if you don’t understand Chinese. There are five flavours of the hot pot mix (68rmb-128rmb) to choose from and a range of light spice, medium spice, and super spice to temper with. Being a Sichuan chain, I’d say they’re definitely being nice with this option as all the hot pots in Sichuan itself just have one choice and that’s super spicy. There is a divider between the pot, so you’re able to choose two different hot pot mixes, perfect for the indecisive people out there. On top of the hot pot mix, which is slightly more expensive than other places, there is also an 8rmb charge/ person, and I suppose that goes towards the costs associated with self-served side dishes as well as sauces. If your stomach is up for it, there is also an ice cream from the dispenser that’s covered in the charge, and although I didn’t have enough space in me to try it out, I’ve heard great reviews about it.
For the main course, we ordered a variety of meat dishes, including their specialty beef platter, which is soaked in milk before it’s dipped inside the pot, which is certainly a strange way to serve beef but I’m not complaining because the meat was so tender. Other than that, I ordered some other “safe” choices from the menu such as lamb, mushrooms, tofu, veggies, crab sticks and what not, because I really don’t get too worked up from mystery intestine meat. As someone who cannot leave the after flavouring sauce when eating hotpot, the sauce makes or breaks the hot pot meal for me, and I absolutely loved their sesame sauce. It tasted like it was freshly made unlike some of the packaged ones served in fast-food hot pot joints. All in all, it was a solid meal for four, but beware if you’re not up for spicy food. We downed loads of plum and orange juice along with the meal to balance out the spicy flavour and could barely stand up right after drinking and stuffing ourselves full. In the end, there is always room for dessert and I highly recommend their fried banana cake- crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside- it was the cherry on top to an already great meal.
Located on the corner of Jiaozhou Road and Wuding Road, Alimentari & Degusteria is probably the go to stop for a lot of Westerners in Shanghai to get their imported pantry foods, and if time allows, have a seat to enjoy some fresh cold-cuts and cheese with some beer, or just dive into their all-day breakfasts choices. They are well-stocked in everything from your favourite wines, to your longed-after Italian pasta sauces. The large panel windows facing street-side views makes one reminiscent of the numerous street-side cafes you’d see in France or Italy, as it offers up a nice patio seating for chit-chat or simply people-watching.
In the area and looking for a place to get some work done, I decided to finally come check this place out. The place is fairly empty on a weekday afternoon, with a couple of people here and there on their laptops. Walking in, you are greeted with a large display of fresh cut gourmet meat, cheese displays, various olives, alongside rows of spirits, beers, or juice drinks. It is a feast on the eyes just as it is a feast it will be on the stomach. The staff are also super helpful and friendly here. They were happy to give me recommendations when I asked. Looking for some nibbles, I ordered some parmesan cheese, black peppered beef, salami, with some whole wheat bread and found a nice spot by the windows to sit. Other menu options such as paninis or sandwiches ends sales around 6pm.
The cold cuts and cheese were absolutely delish and super fresh. Definitely ranks among the top cold cut platters I’ve had in the past, plus the price here is surprisingly affordable as my platter only came out to be around 70rmb. 250kg is the minimum amount you’re allowed to get for each platter option. In addition, there are also set platter choices available that might be better to get in a group. Ciders and ales are always ready on the side as well if you need some pick-me-ups while working or chatting here. The place started to fill up as people got out of work.
Overall, I loved everything about this place, from the food to the vibe. It definitely lived up to its hype and I look forward to coming back or checking out its other branches around town.
I decided to pay a visit to Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice to see if the chicken rice truly lived up to its name. Located on Jiaozhou Road, the store has a very appealing traditional Chinese styled storefront, with a hint of Singaporean ceramic décor. The store is pretty tiny, luckily, there is also a second floor up a flight of wooden stairs that may be able to accompany slightly larger groups.
Arriving on a weekday evening, the place was not that packed, and we were able to get a good comfy spot for two upstairs. Colourful posters line up the red-painted walls of the restaurant, giving it an interesting Chinese vintage vibe. We were seated next to an incredibly loud group; the store for some reason, didn’t have any music on to help drown out the chatter either, so we ended up having to practically shout to be heard. That’s just Chinese-styled dining I guess. The unpleasant noise aside, the overall atmosphere was good.
Unlikely many other Hainanese chicken rice places, this place had no set chicken rice meal (with set portions of chicken, rice, and veggies), so you had to order everything separately, which is a bit annoying, and makes this place a bit pricier than other similar joints. You can order the chicken by the half (78rmb) or by the quarter (48 or 58 rmb), and rice made with chicken oil was 9 rmb (a rip-off for rice). They also had no plain rice available, so my vegetarian friend had to settle for something else to go with her meal. Up first, we had the cold dish appetizer, tofu with preserved eggs, which tasted amazing sprinkled with some soy and hot sauce flavouring. The kai-lan mixed seafood veggies and bean curd water spinach were also pleasant tasting though they were definitely made with a touch of Shanghainese flavours as there were a distinct sweetness to the taste. My favourite part of the meal was the kaya (coconut jam) toast dessert, which tasted just as good if not even better than the ones I’ve had in Singapore. Compared to everything else we’ve gotten, the chicken rice itself was a bit underwhelming to be frank. It was not bad, but it certainly wasn’t anything spectacular either, as its name suggests, and I certainly could have gotten the same thing elsewhere for half the price.
Overall price is 100rmb/person.
Located in the famous Columbia Circle, Dawn City Books is the perfect place to spend time catching up on some work or getting lost in a sea of books. Essentially a bookstore, café and restaurant combined, this place has got you covered for all of your needs. This place is also extremely aesthetically pleasing for the design-savy, both inside and outside. Filled with books from corner to corner, with some tables hidden behind the sea of books, it’s a great hide-out to release your inner introvert. The beautiful white staircase inside leads to the second floor which has some comfy couches next to a large window, along with some vintage décor on wooden backdrops that gives the place a 90’s feel to it.
I came in here one afternoon hoping to get some work done and ordered the ham and fried egg sandwich. The set came with a side of salads, your choice of bread (choice of ciabatta, panini or bagel), and was a great fill-me-up for a light lunch or an afternoon snack. The salad was super fresh, the eggs were fried to just the right amount, and the whole wheat panini was a great filler. Feeling healthy and light, I was ready to get on with work.
The plain grilled beef bagel is not a bad choice either, although they lacked a wide variety of bagel options and sauces. I would opt for going to places that specialize in bagels in you happen to have a specific bagel craving, but in any other times when you’re just looking to fill an empty stomach, Dawn City Books perfectly does the job.
This place has definitely became one of my favourite places to chat with friends or spend a quiet afternoon by myself in Shanghai, because no where else beats its great open atmosphere. Overall price for a quick meal is 60-80rmb. Coffee and drinks go for around 30-50 rmb.
Located on the 4th floor of the SML Plaza, Yan Yu Hua Xiang is a great place to host a gathering, where you eat the traditional Chinese way: around a large round table. As its name in Chinese suggests, you are made to feel as if you’ve walked into a secret garden upon entering the restaurant, although the low hanging flower-shaped lights and fake birds perched on fake branches can tend to look a bit tacky.
Our group ordered the lotus roots soup, scallion chicken, soy-sauce eggplants, spicy cabbage, and topped it with the deserts double-layered steamed milk custard with red beans. Our waiter strangely served our deserts before any of the main courses, but we were too hungry to care and dug in. Out of everything we’ve ordered, what’s especially mentionable is the lotus roots soup. The rich aroma of the lotus blended in pork and peanuts does wonders on the taste buds and soothes the tummy. It’s the kind of dish that’s not only healthy for your body, but also makes you feel great when consuming it. The scallion chicken was an alright cold dish, but lacked much taste, but then again, I haven’t ate enough scallion chicken to know what the authentic version is supposed to taste like. The eggplant & cabbage went great with rice. After the main course, we ordered another round of milk custard desserts because after a wholesome meal, you can’t say no to some sweets, and also because their custards were on made on point.
The best thing about this meal? It only costed around 70 rmb/ person. What a deal for a place like this.
Not feeling too hungry and trying to be healthy one day, my co-worker and I went into the Sproutworks located at Xintiandi’s commercial area for a quick lunch. Not too crowded during the lunch hour, we were able to waltz in, order at the counter, and find a table fairly easily. Most people dining there looked like they worked around the area, and there’s a great outside seating area for a sunny day. The place is set up like a salad bar, in which you can choose a variety of sides and salads to create a DIY meal. I decided to order the kale salad, baked cauliflowers, mashed potatoes, along with some marinated tofu.
Once I’ve put the food into my mouth, I can’t even begin to describe how bland each of them tasted. Maybe I ordered a bad combo, maybe healthy food isn’t for me, or maybe Sproutworks’ food isn’t made for those with heavy taste buds like mine. I don’t know, but either way, not wanting to waste food, I had to force myself to eat the rest of the meal. Around 2 hours later, I felt a surge of hunger as if I’ve never eaten lunch. I’m not sure how but the meal has actually managed to make me feel more hungry.
Needless to say, I probably won’t be giving Sproutworks another try. Although they had a wide variety of healthy options, it wasn’t a feel-good healthy option for me, unlike other light food joints like FitBee. Overall price was quite affordable at 60 rmb/person .
The Breakfast Company, as its name suggests, serves all-day breakfasts fulfilling your cravings of brunch, brinner, etc. because let’s be real, bacon and eggs tastes amazing no matter what time of the day it is.
The storefront isn’t too big, with around 9 tables (most of them two seaters) and a couple of bar stools. Opening at 10:30a.m., this place starts to fill up at 11 a.m. on a weekday, and by lunch, there’s a small group of people waiting to be seated. Because of how high demand this place is, I wouldn’t say this is the best place to sit down and chat, because you will feel pressured to eat fast and go by the presence the line.
When ordering, I went straight for their signature Full Arashiyama Breakfast Set which contains a healthy serving of bacon, beans, eggs, sausage, bash, and tomatoes. The Set can be bought by itself, or alongside a lunch set (ordered from 10:30-16:00), which gives you a starter of salad or soup, with an additional drink (free refills for coffee). Food came fairly swift, and everything was cooked to just the right amount- the bacon was not too hard, the fried egg had just the right amount of yolk, and the beans tasted amazing with toast. My avocado banana smoothie also tasted creamy and amazing, but left me feeling quite bloated after the meal.
Overall it was a very solid brunch, with the lunch sets (confusingly named I know) coming out to be 98rmb/ person.
Pierogi Ladies is basically a hipster haven. Hidden inside a small alleyway alongside some lane-houses, the walls are decorated with colorful paintings, the shelfs are lined with books (most are in Polish), and some of the chairs serve the multi-purpose function of a swing. The cherry on top is the cute in-house cat that roams around drinking water from the decorative flower glasses on the tables. Seclusive and quiet, Pierogi Ladies is the perfect place to catch up with friends.
The place was quite empty when we came on a Thursday night, and my friend and I were the only two around. The place started to fill up more as the night came around, and the crowd being all foreigners. As its name suggests, Pierogi Ladies specializes in polish dumplings with a variety to choose from, and they had a pretty extensive drink menu as well. I ordered the quesadilla pierogi and having never tired pierogies before, I was quite excited for the meal. An avid eater of Chinese dumplings, I was used to dipping my dumplings in vinegar. Who knew that fried dumplings could also taste so good when dipped in yogurt and cream. The cheddar cheese sprinkled on top of the chicken quesadilla dumplings gave it an extra boost and I loved how all the flavors melted in my mouth.
A good round of dumplings called for some desert, so we ordered their apple pie with ice cream. We were happy to find that they had a buy one get one free deal on the apple pie that day, but I think deals like that should have been mentioned at the start, when we were looking through the menu. In the end, the desert came out to be quite disappointing. The apple pie was too hard both on the crust and filling, and was a bit dull in flavor. Unfortunately, the scoop of ice cream on the side was too tiny in portion to balance the dull flavor of the entire pie, so I finished desert feeling not quite satisfied. It was very filling though so I’ll give it that.
Overall, would come back again for the pierogies and relaxing vibe, but will happily give deserts a miss. Overall tab was 160 rmb with the desert deal and without drinks.
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.