Get out of your Chinese food rut
Knowing full-well that Shanghai has around 50,000 restaurants to choose from, many of us still keep going round and round to the same dozen Chinese venues, simply because they’re familiar and, well, everyone else is going there. Here are some suggestions for breaking out of your Chinese food rut and trying a few spots that aren’t necessarily out of the way, but perhaps are a bit off your habitual restaurant radar -- try these out once and we’re betting you’ll be back for more.
1. You keep going back to: Bao Luo
Why we love it: This continually packed and battered veteran churns
out the sweet, oily Shanghai classics we know and love in familiar surrounds and a great location.
271 Fumin Lu, near Changle Lu, 富民路271号, 近长乐路
You should try: Rui Fu Yuan
Why your taste buds will thank you: When you look out and see a sea of happy Shanghai families, you know you’ve come to an authentic spot. The shizitou (lion’s head meatballs) are divine here: melting-tender big pork balls in a rich chicken stock. The fried yellow croaker, battered little fish in a crispy tempura-like coating, are crunchy delights. And if you’re hankering for a big pork shoulder, Bao Luo style, you can also get your fatty pork here, glistening under a thick, sweetish fulu sauce.
Rui Fu Yuan, 132 Maoming Nan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu 瑞福园, 茂名南路132号乙, 近复兴中路, +86 21 6445 8999
2. You keep going back to: Guyi
Why we love it: Those cumin rubbed ribs, double chili fish head, white tablecloths and a gold mine location.
89 Fumin Lu, near Julu Lu 富民路89号, 近巨鹿路
You should try: South Memory
Why your taste buds will thank you: With 18 locations of this terrific Hunan empire to choose from, there’s no need to line up at Fumin Lu. Head instead to South Memory for double chili fish head that will give Guyi’s a run for the RMB, equally scrumptious chili coated ribs, and sautéed cabbage (shou si bao cai) that will surprise you with its deep smoky flavor. Plus, you’ll get posher surroundings and better service, all at two-thirds the price of Guyi.
South Memory, various locations, 5/F, Grand Gateway, 1 Hongqiao Lu, near Caoxi Bei Lu 望湘园, 虹桥路1号港汇广场5楼, 近漕溪北路, +86 21 6447 8077
3. You keep going back to: Charmant
Why we love it: San bei ji (three cup chicken), minced pork wraps, mango and peanut smoothies sent directly from heaven, and prompt service.
1414 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Fuxing Lu 淮海中路1414号, 近复兴西路
You should try: Jo Jo Restaurant
Why your taste buds will thank you: One taste of the san bei chicken here, and you realize that most other places in town offer only very poor imitations. This is a luscious, tender, fragrant recipe with big chunks of chicken infused with Thai basil. The beef curry here is so rich and velvety you can practically drink it from your bowl. Although this cozy, light-filled restaurant is located in Hongqiao, it’s absolutely worth the trip. And yes, they also have peanut smoothies.
Jo Jo Restaurant, 1480 Hongqiao Lu, near Yan’an Xi L, 祖祖餐厅, 虹桥路1480号, 近延安西路 +86 21 6295 7942
4. You keep going back to: Di Shui Dong
Why we love it: More ribs! This Hunan dive serves up plate after plate of their slide-off-the-bone ribs, ganbian string beans and cheap beer to loads of hungry foreigners.
2/F, 56 Maoming Nan Lu, near Changle L 茂名路56号2楼, 近长乐路
You should try: Shu Fu
Why your taste buds will thank you: If you like spicy lamb and a bustling atmosphere, trade in Di Shui Dong for an elevated experience at busy Sichuan chain Shu Fu, which boasts, among dozens of delectable dishes, ‘hand tear lamb’, a handsome stack of lamb ribs that is meatier and more tender than any at Di Shui Dong. Shu Fu’s terrific service and food have proved so popular, this brand went from one to six branches in around a year.
Shu Fu, 7/F, 299 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Henan Zhong Lu 蜀府, 南京东路299号宏伊广场7楼, 近河南中路,+86 21 3366 5333
5. You keep going back to: Pin Chuan
Why we love it: Owned by the Simply Thai Group, this place
does creative Sichuan with the spice turned down and service just
right, all in a lovely building in the French Concession.
47 Taojiang Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu 桃江路47号，近乌鲁木齐路
You should try: Spice Spirit
Why your taste buds will thank you: If you’ve already adjusted to the spice level at Pin Chuan, you’re probably ready to turn things up. Spice Spirit lives up to its name, with a bevy of ultra-numbing and fiery-hot dishes, all served in an ultra-snazzy dining room. The classic shuizhu nianyu (catfish in chili oil) is particularly tops here, with a nuanced chili sauce and melting-tender fish slices. Also delicious is the beef with Sichuan peppercorn, which will have you sweating, but unable to stop eating these velvety beef slices.
Spice Spirit, 627 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Sinan Lu 淮海中路627号, 近思南路, +86 21 5306 5777
6. You keep going back to: Din Tai Feng
Why we love it: Perfect xiaolongbao, professional service, and an upscale interior to match.
2/F, South Block Plaza, Lane 123 Xingye Lu, near Madang Lu 新天地南里广场5楼, 兴业路123 弄, 近马当路
You should try: Yuan Yuan
Why your taste buds will thank you: While some of the best xiaolongbao, which can complete with the likes of Din Tai Feng are at street stalls like Fu Chun, this Shanghai institution serves gorgeous soup dumplings in a white-tablecloth dining room with immaculate service. You can also get your clear, savory chicken soup and perfectly sautéed greens, popular items at DTF.
Yuan Yuan 201 Xingguo Lu, near Tai’an Lu 徐汇区兴国路201号, 近泰安路+86 21 6433 9123