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.
I stumbled upon this gem close to Nanjing West Road and came in during dinner rush hour on a weekday night. Although the place was quite packed, I didn’t have to wait for a table. Steams filled the room from the pots of peppered pork stew, that the restaurant is known for, on every table. In fact, even the Chinese name of the restaurant reflects their stew specialty, 肥仔文澳门猪骨煲. The aroma is intoxicating, but be warned, you’ll probably leave the restaurant smelling like pork stew too.
Aside from their signature pork stew, we also ordered their eight-flavoured tofu (another signature dish), shrimp paste spinach, and sausage claypot rice. Their signature dishes taste absolutely amazing and truly lives up to its title. The pork stew comes in a large pot, and is filled with pork bones, corn, winter melon, and some chicken feet, all dosed in a rich creamy soup flavoured with peppered spices. The pot comes in at room temperature and is placed at the center of the table on top of an electronic cooker that heats up the pot, usually a wait of around 10 or 15 minutes before you can dig in. Although the stew is delicious, I can’t really pinpoint what other flavourings (curry perhaps) might have been added for it to have such a rich texture, because pure pork soup is not that heavy. The signature dish tofu was out of this world, with perfectly fried crusts and incredibly soft insides; it really needed no sauce to top its natural flavour. By the time I got through with the pork stew (I had at least 5 bowls), I really had no more stomach for the spinach and claypot rice. A taste test tells me that the claypot rice also deserves an honourable mention for the snack worthy rice crust on the sides, a delight and must-have for any claypot rice dish in my books.
Overall bill came out to be 220rmb, with the pork stew making up for more than half the bill.
Hungry, fatigued, and soaked, I came into Bistro Burgers on a raining day not only expecting to fill the void in my tummy, but also to escape the gloominess of the rain with a nice brighten-me-up meal. High expectation that Bistro Burger has both managed to fulfil.
Located on the intersection of Fumin Road and Changle Road, Bistro Burgers is at the center of it all, attracting both foreigners and locals alike at its doors. I’ve heard that they served mean burgers, but what really drew my eye was their proclaimed rating on dianping for having the best smoothie shakes in Shanghai. Critical at first, I knew that I had to try for myself to confirm.
The store front is welcoming enough with both outside patio seating and cosy inside seating surrounded by brick walls. The service here was great, as the servers were very friendly in greeting us and helpful towards answering our questions. I ordered the classic Bistro burger, that came with either sides of fries or salad, and the Monkey Business milkshake, which was made up of fresh bananas, peanut butter, and vanilla ice cream. The burger both looked and tasted pretty darn good, with its tender beef patty, fresh veggies, and glazed buns. The milkshake, in the end, lived up to its name, leaving me craving for more. At first, I wasn’t too sure if adding peanut butter to milkshakes were a good idea, but they’ve really made it work with the peanut butter adding to the richness of the shake and perfectly balancing the otherwise overly sugary taste of the vanilla ice cream. Got to really watch out for those carbs though when ordering this shake, but nothing a trip to the gym can’t fix.
Meal came out to be 130rmb/person.
Lanxin Restaurant is an old Shanghainese staple that’s been around for over 20 years. Having read about the restaurant in a food blog, I knew I had to check it out. Although there’s always a line outside the restaurant, I don’t think they have any plans of expansion. The first floor is quite crammed, barely fitting 5 tables, but the owner made the exception of opening up the second floor as well when the queue proved too long nearing closing time.
Speaking of operation hours, they close in the afternoon at 2pm, and usually stop taking orders at 1:30 pm so do make sure to arrive early. As with all really delicious hole-in-the wall restaurants, do not come expecting anything above a 2-star service. Usually the restaurant owner will usher you in and impatiently wait as you choose to make your order. We’ve made it just in time to wait out in line and make it in before the afternoon closing time.
As a party of three, we ordered the red braised fish, red braised pork, scrambled egg with crab powder, spinach, and a type of vegetable translated to be “toothed burclover .” The red braised fish and pork are pretty much staples of Shanghainese cuisine, and although delicious, I found them to be a bit too sweet for my liking. The scrambled egg gave me the greatest surprise. Although the name suggests the egg is made with crab powder, I tasted no traces of crab, but rather a mixture of sweet and vinegar sour flavor, which although sounds like the worst combination, tastes absolutely amazing. The top dish as listed on dianping however, was the “toothed burclover.” Having never tasted this vegetable before, I found it to quite the treat, leaving a refreshing and fragrant trace on your taste buds.
We stuffed ourselves full, with the overall meal coming out to be about 300 rmb.
Located on the second floor and third floor with a small and discreet doorway entrance on Shanxi South Road, Encounter is not the easiest place to locate, and I suspect that’s part of the appeal of this forest themed restaurant. Walking up the see-through glass steps peeking down at a layout of green grass and animal caricatures, the restaurant had a nice element of surprise. We choose to sit outside on the second-floor balcony, under a fake cherry blossom tree and overlooking a nice view of the streets below, but the real gem in this restaurant lies in the third floor, which sits a make shift tree house that reaches the ceilings. Surrounded by fairy lights, and wood decors, it’s as close as to feeling like you’re dining in a forest as you’ll get in the middle of downtown Shanghai.
The menu has a wide variety of Southeast Asian cuisine, with the usual tom yum soup, papaya salad, and whatnot. Feeling a bit adventurous, we opted away from the tom yum soup and decided to get the coconut chicken soup. Having never tasted the dish elsewhere before, I found the coconut chicken soup to be a pleasant surprise- just as stimulating on the taste buds as the tom yum, but with a nice addition of coconutty richness. The Pineapple seafood fried rice and the water spinach, although nothing spectacular, proved to be great companions of the soup. Service was great and the food arrived rather quick. Overall price per person was 100rmb.
Hungry and tired, we stumbled upon this Japanese restaurant after failing to grab seats at another nearby popular restaurant. The inside of the place is decorated with streams of manga strips covering the walls, and a myriad of other Japanese decors.
Our group of 4 found a great deal on the Dianping App that included a wide variety of items- sashimi platter, salmon sushi, tuna sushi, California roll, salmon cheese roll, eel egg roll, mango salad, potato stewed beef, sardine, and iron plate beef. In addition, we ordered 2 plates of pan-fried dumplings, and 3 helpings of avocado cheese salmon rolls, along with the side dish of green bean sprouts. That might sound like a lotta food for 4 people but Japanese food isn’t the best at filling a person up so we had to dig in.
Starting with the sushi here, I’ll say that they aren’t bad but they are also not great either. What I don’t understand is why almost every sushi roll on the menu here has to have some sort of cheese inside or a drop of cream sauces on top. Perhaps to adapt to the Western appetite? The sashimi platter made for a great display as the smoke of the dry ice spewed about but I can’t really comment because I don’t really like to eat completely raw seafood. The beef here platters are not disagreeable but are served in really small portions. In the end, I’ll have to say that I liked pan fried dumplings the best out of all the dishes, because it is fried to just the right amount, with a nice vinegar sauce on the side to dip with.
On to service- for relatively small place that is not too crowded, getting the waitress’s attention proved to be more of a struggle than necessary. This was quite frustrating throughout the meal. Overall, price is around 120 rmb/ person, with the platter deal being 168rmb, a discount from its original price of 399 rmb.
Truth be told, the Spice has become my go-to place for when I crave some Indian comfort food. Strangely enough however, they’re listed as a Thai restaurant and the majority of their food options are Thai, with Indian food being on a separate menu, namely, one sheet of paper. Although I have no problems with the quality of their Thai food, their Indian food is what draws me back time and time again.
My old favorites are the butter chicken and the garlic naan, along with their freshly made rich mango lassis. The chicken in the butter chicken dish is great, but it’s the “butter” sauce that really gets me. A better duo than peanut butter and jelly, the creamy aromatic butter chicken sauce is the perfect match for a side of crispy naan. Even the Thai fried noodles went great with the sauce. My only complaint is that the serving size of the naan platters are too small, with only 3 pieces to munch on. The papaya salad was a nice side dish to offset the heavy flavor of the butter chicken and tom yum soup we ordered. As always, I walked away from this place with a bloated but satisfied stomach.
At The Spice, you can always expect service with a smile, and sometimes the lovely waiters don’t even hesitate to strike up a chat with you, rare in China if you ask me. Price about 100rmb/person.
Long and behold, liquid laundry is usually one of the first brewery restaurants you hear of when you first come to Shanghai, and I can’t believe I’ve put it off for so long before I made a visit. First off, the place is much larger than I expected, covering most of the second floor at Jiahuafang. Even so, it is impressively fully seated on a Saturday night, but don’t come here then if you’re expecting to catch up with an old friend because the music gets so loud that it is a struggle to talk over it. It was also really difficult to catch the waiter’s attention within such a large crowded space, and service at best was so-so.
Moving on to the better parts, I am a sucker for ingenious menu designs and I loved the one at Liquid Laundry, which is literally a menu attached to a wooden laundry board- brings back nostalgia for a time when those were still used. The food was also amazing! Everything was not only fresh, but also flavorful to the max. I wanted to order their renowned beef egg panini but was told it was only available for brunch time on weekends. We started out with their homemade fries, which came in a huge plater along with three sauces. Crisp and warm, the fries were splendid but we had to watch ourselves before we got to full from that. Then came the seared yellowtail and big bone (with marrow) with a side of toast. I never thought that bone marrow and toast would ever be good companions but here at Liquid Laundry, they’ve made it work. We couldn’t skip desert as the waffles on the menu looked absolutely amazing, as did the ice cream on top. We ordered the Belgium waffles with blue berry ice cream and it was taste bud heaven as the waffle and cream melts into a blended delight in your mouth.
Their beer is also freshly brewed. Arrive before 8pm for happy hour prices. Upon scanning a QR and registering for their membership, you also get a coupon for a free beer platter; the catch is you can only use it on your next visit, but all the more reason to come back. Price without drinks comes out to be 200 rmb/person.
I stumbled upon this little Hainan Chicken Rice restaurant when wondering around People’s Square and decided to step in and give it a try. The restaurant is the size of a shoebox, with lined seating that face the window panels of the kitchen area and is only able to fit 6-7 people at once. But fear not! Instead of a sense of claustrophobia, this place gives off a sense of Zen due to its mini coin fountain, wooden placards of historical photos that line the walls, and light bulbs that hang from the ceiling.
One of the placards claim that the restaurant holds a centennial brand and comes straight from Wenchang, Hainan, the origin place of the chicken rice. It also claims that all of the chicken served in this restaurant has lived for at least 180 days, meaning that it’s all naturally grown. The menu is simple with only a few choices as indicated by wooden placards hanging on the kitchen’s glass panel. You order across the window panel with the chef who will also be making your order. Language spoken here is probably only Chinese.
The 32 rmb chicken rice set menu is small in size and includes- chicken, chicken oiled rice, chicken soup, and side sauces of chili, garlic, and soy. The chicken rice was great, but what I really enjoyed was the chicken soup. Served in a porcelain colored tea pot paired with a matching tea cup with a design of a 3D fish at the bottom, the chicken soup was rich with flagrance and is displayed with a sense of ceremony. Little placards (I know, again with the placards) even indicated to you the exact order for which you should dip your chicken in each of the sauces, drink your soup, and eat your rice, to maximize the enjoyability of your meal.
There was a sense of ceremony to eating at this Hainan chicken rice joint, like you weren’t just enjoyed a slice of Hainan chicken, but enjoying the history and customs that has come along with it. Being that there is limited space however, come by only if you’re looking for a solo-meal or an intimate meal with one or two friends. Prices are super afforable but get the bigger portion of the chicken rice set if you're feeling hungry as portions are small.
I’ve walked by the RAC Bar many times, and even in a weekday afternoon, this place is packed. They serve delicious brunches and are known to serve amazing avocado toast, but you should definitely avoid going around noon on weekends as a bunch of other people will probably have the same idea as you, and the waitlist can be as long as 20+ tables with a wait time of over an hour.
Finally, on a late weekend afternoon, when the line was relatively short, I decided to pop in for some brunch snacks. They have an indoors seating area along with an enlarged outdoors seating area with patio desks and chairs, which gets amble sunlight, making it perfect for a sunny day meal out. As there are always loads of people, the servers are super busy rushing around, so it might be hard to grab their attention. We ended up ordering the avocado toast and egg, and a bacon, egg & cheese bun, and waited quite a bit for the order to arrive. Fortunately, the avocado toast has lived up to its name: rich with a bottom layering of guacamole and a top layer of fresh pieces of avocado, topped with a soft yolk egg; it tastes just as amazing as it looks! The bun sandwich was also superb as the buns carried a delicious buttery aroma and the bacon inside was fried to the perfect texture.
The RAC Bar is a spot-on brunch place if you’re willing to bear for the sometimes drudgingly long wait for the amazing food. It’s family-friendly, date-friendly, and even pet-friendly. The chic décor also draws a lot of people to capture the perfect Instagram moments. Coffee with a light meal rounds out to cost about 100 rmb per person.
A vegetarian buffet in the heart of Jing’an, Jen Dow is a great place for vegetarians to dig in, and for non-vegetarians who are just looking for a healthier meal. The buffet is located on the 3rd floor of the building, and they have a wide variety of options ranging from sushi bars, dim sums, veggie trays, DIY mini hotpots, and of course, desert (with the added bonuses of a chocolate fondue and an ice cream bar).
I came on a weekday night so it wasn’t that crowded, although it is suggested that you reserve a place ahead of time. The exterior of the place didn’t look too promising but the buffet area is large and full of hidden surprises. For starters, this place serves mushroom flavoured tea, which is something I’ve never tried before, and didn’t expect myself to like, but I was surprised by the pleasant aroma and aftertaste of this peculiar drink. The main courses tasted good but weren’t particularly notable as there’s only so many ways you can cook vegetables and dress up veggies into “make believe meat,” as they did with the sausage and what looked like chicken. The dim sum booth was great as they had a wide variety of treats, but the sushi bar was lacklustre to say the least, as there wasn’t much sushi displayed, and the ones displayed did not look the least bit appealing. I have nothing bad to say about desserts though as they both looked and tasted great, though the fondue was a bit underwhelming.
Overall, Jen Dow is great for a catching up with friends or a large gathering with family as it’s fairly quiet and has a nice vibe. The buffet dinner goes for 198/person which is reasonable. My vegetarian friend found the place delightful but as a non-vegetarian, I probably won’t be making another trip here as there are far more other options for me out in Shanghai.
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.