Best budget Japanese

Best budget Japanese

Throw a stone in Shanghai and you can hit a RMB 150 all-you-can-eat Japanese food deal, but finding a good one is another story. Forget the buffet and work these venues into your budget

Recommended: AQ Shabu Shabu (aka A Jiu Shabu Shabu)

CNNGo Best Eats - Shanghai - AQ Shabu ShabuDip and go at AQ Shabu Shabu. But brace yourself for the wall of steam that hits you as you open the door. It's a doozy.

Shabu shabu, Japanese hot pot, requires good beef the way Beijing hot pot requires good mutton. AQ provides unlimited thinly-sliced red Australian beef and strips of milky beef for just RMB 90 per person, excluding drinks. These prices are why you need to make a reservation in advance. (Be warned -- they only take reservations for parties of three or more.)

On weekends, AQ is packed with people hovering over bubbling individual pots of beef, shiitake, cabbage and charred tofu. The milky beef has the perfect fat-to-lean-meat ratio.

Local foodie Zhang Hong says, “I love the Australian beef. And I appreciate how clean AQ is compared to other hot pot restaurants.”

For starters, food critic Peipei Yang recommends sheng kao niu. “These are slices of beef, thicker than carpaccio, that are seared on the outside. The quality of the meat is immediately apparent.”

Once you're well into dunking and eating your dinner, the next thing on your mind should be a cold beer. The delightfully dirt-cheap prices for suds (RMB 9 for draft Asahi, RMB 20 and up for sake) will ensure that you keep both orders of food and drink coming.

As you find yourself ordering more plates of beef, this time cook the meat sukiyaki-style, dipping the beef into a velvety raw egg to finish. Then order more beer. It all comes full circle.

AQ Shabu Shabu, Bldg D1, 351 Wuyi Lu, near Dingxi Lu 武夷路351号D1楼, 近定西路, +86 21 6233 3000, hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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Recommended: Koyama

CNNGo Best Eats - Shanghai - KoyamaJapanese food porn at its most graphic.

Koyama's menu is a veritable reference book of raw fish. It offers 400-plus traditional Japanese dishes and regional specialties, showcasing thick slabs of beautiful raw fish and many dishes in pornographic detail. Half-way through skimming it, you will be hungry.

“The fish here is very fresh,” says food critic Jiang Liyang. “Koyama is excellent for sashimi and sushi.”

The salmon in particular is melt-in-your-mouth fresh. To illustrate how good, one dianping.com user, ?x?x, claims that eating salmon 28 days in a row will improve your skin noticeably. Then she goes on to recommend that all women undertake this endeavor by eating the salmon sashimi at Koyama.

We can't substantiate her health claims, but we agree: if you're going to dedicate yourself to salmon, do it at Koyama.

Besides the salmon, the fresh sea urchin, grilled codfish and generous hand rolls are also popular orders.

For those who think Koyama is expensive for dinner (anywhere from RMB 200-700), try the set lunches, particularly the chirashi bowl set, which also comes with chawanmushi (steamed egg) and miso soup.

For RMB 88 the set includes the chirashi bowl, an appetizer, a steamed egg and soup. It's the best lunch deal in Xintiandi any day of the week. The sushi rice, swathed in thick cuts of fresh salmon, tuna, octopus and scallop, is almost too pretty to eat.

Koyama, 3/F, South Block Xintiandi, No. 6, Lane 123 Xingye Lu, near Madang Lu 兴业路123弄6号新天地南里3楼, 近马当路, +86 21 5382 1125, hours: 11:30 a.m to 2:30 a.m.

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Recommended: Toriyasu

CNNGo Best Eats - Shanghai - ToriyasuLook for the little door and you'll be down a rabbit hole to the best yakitori in town.

These days, good yakitori places seem to be popping up left and right, but no one should ever forget that it was Toriyasu that introduced Shanghai diners to the wonders of flawlessly grilled chicken skin.

Although many in the Japanese community tried to keep this hideaway in Zhongshan Park to themselves (it's difficult to find, so keeping it secret was an easier task), something this good just had to get out.

Try the grilled crispy skin, crunchy cartilage, flavorful wing, chicken meatball with sauce, chewy gizzard and creamy liver yakitori, all simply seasoned with salt and lemon, and tell us if it doesn't change your opinion of chicken. (You won't.)

Toriyasu never serves anything less than perfect yakitori. This place elevates skewers to a transformative experience.

Toriyasu, 890 Changning Lu, near Huichuan Lu, Metro Line 2,3 & 4 Zhongshan Park Station Exit 3, 长宁路890号, 近汇川路,地铁2, 3, 4号线中山公园三号口, +86 21 5241 1677, hours: 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., 6 p.m. to midnight

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Winner: Rong Riben Cuisine

CNNGo Best Eats - Shanghai - Rong Riben CuisinePossibly one of the only RMB 150 all-you-can-eat deals where you'll actually want to order the uni.

In our search for affordable, Japanese all-you-can-eat restaurants that can compete on quality with their all-you-can-spend counterparts, Rong emerged on top.

If your inner sashimi-vore is calling and shabu shabu won't slake it, this RMB 150 all-you-can-eat is the way to go, including unlimited beer (draft Asahi, draft Kirin, bottled Tsingdao) and a menu of fresh sashimi and sushi, plus a lot of other Japanese offerings that aren't doused in mayo.

In addition to oysters, salmon, tuna, octopus, yellowtail and the other standard cuts, Rong is well known for its fresh uni, a hard dish to find on many all-you-can-eat menus.

After you've finished your sashimi and sushi rounds, our Japanese-loving critics suggest the mozuku seaweed in vinegar, thinly sliced seared beef carpaccio with lemon, the unctuous tuna with grated mountain yam, grilled beef tongue, roasted gingko nuts, potato croquettes (nicely crispy and creamy), miso marinated cod and grilled rock shrimp.

Clearly there's no lack of choice, and you can rarely go wrong -- which is exactly why this locale takes the top spot.

For yakitori, the chicken stuffed with fish eggs, the pork meatballs in sauce and the crispy chicken wings are all solid bets.

Make sure you get at least a three-piece order of the leek and pork pot stickers. Okay, so they aren't the delicate gyoza of Japan -- just really good, crispy Chinese guo tie. Worth the stomach space.

On dianping.com, Rong scores admirably in the flavor category, but low on environment and wait service. There's a reason for that: given the food's quality and Rong’s cheap, all-you-can-eat price (including beer), this restaurant is perpetually crowded.

To avoid the chain-smoking gangs as much as possible, go on weekdays.

Rong Riben Liaoli, multiple locations, 2/F, 427 Huashan Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu 华山路427号2楼近乌鲁木齐中路, +86 21 6248 4998, hours: 5:30 p.m. to midnight


Meet the experts who helped us choose Shanghai's Best Eats.

Full Best Eats list and winners
Joanne Yao is a writer and editor based in Shanghai.
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