Shanghai’s got thousands of Chinese restaurants serving up dozens of cuisines. And while everyone has their local favorite, if you're like us, you're tired of simply hitting Di Shui Dong, Four Seasons Dumpling King or Jesse every time you’re dining with local friends or visitors from out of town. Here are our 30 picks for under-the-radar spots that more than deserve a taste. Pick up a pair of chopsticks and dig in!
For a cheap eat, try Chun (春餐厅). This grandma’s kitchen only has four tables and is located in the front room of an old terraced block. There’s no time wasted on interior design here; it’s all about the food. Chun is a food blogger’s delight and its formula has even been aped by other restaurants on its block. Despite this fame, it’s mainly filled with local regulars. People who know a good thing keep coming back. There’s no menu here, just dishes based on what looked good in the market that day. Owner Qu Minglan, brusque but loving in a way only Shanghainese can be, likes to give newcomers a selection to try so that “people who aren’t familiar with Shanghainese cuisine don’t only order famous dishes, but eat the same as locals.” Go with her flow. Everything is good, but if you’re lucky she might let you try the Mandarin fish (RMB65)—the sweet soy sauce is freshened with ginger.
Find it: 124 Jinxian Lu 进贤路124号, Tel: 6256-0301
Also try: Paul’s (保罗酒楼) - 271 Fumin Lu 富民路271号, Tel: 6279-2827
If you’re looking for a real Shaoxing dining experience, Kong Yi Ji (孔乙己酒家) is perhaps the city’s best choice. Although the restaurant is a bit tricky to find, it’s worth the effort. The restaurant got its name from a main character in famous Chinese writer Lu Xun’s short story collection. With Chinese traditional family-style décor, Kong Yi Ji features homemade rice wine and drunken chicken (zuiji, 醉鸡). The rice wine is particularly popular among both locals and Japanese tourists. Marinated broad beans (huixiang dou, 茴香豆), a famed Shaoxing bar snack, are a fine accompaniment to the wine. Also not to be missed are the delicious cubed pork belly braised with pickled mustard greens (gancai menrou, 梅干菜焖肉) and the Shaoxing tofu (绍兴豆腐).
Find it: 36-40 Xuegong Lu 学宫路36-40号, Tel: 6376-7979
Also try: Xian Heng Jiudian (咸亨酒店) - Lane 900 Xinbei Lu 新北路900弄, Tel: 3770-2217
Although it’s one of most successful restaurant chains in Sichuan, the 1,000-seat Shun Xing (顺兴) remains a mystery to most expats. Situated in an ancient three-story building, it has an impressive “Chengdu tea house meets Baroque palace”-style interior and authentic Sichuan fare. The zhong shuijiao (钟水饺, RMB8), a famous Sichuan dumpling snack, is slightly spicy with a hint of sweetness, and is as good as any we’ve had in Chengdu. If you’re a fan of spicy ribs, try the maxiang paigu (嘛香排骨, RMB78) that features tender pork ribs wrapped in peppercorn-and-soy-sauce-marinated glutinous rice. The restaurant also offers Sichuan style hot pot during winter to warm you inside out, and there’s even a Sichuan folk and face-changing performance every evening and ear-pickers who will clean out your ears with Chinese Q-tips, as is customary in Chengdu.
Find it: 1088 Yan’an Xi Lu 延安西路1088号, Tel: 6213-8988
Also try: Kong Que (孔雀) - 75 Mengzi Lu 蒙自东路75号, Tel: 3307-0770
Guizhou is located in the mountainous area of the far south, where locals love to troll the forests and lakes for gamey meat and freshwater fish. Prepared to sate a hearty appetite, Guizhou folks love their dishes sour, just like Sichuanese love their food spicy. Qian Xiang Ge (黔香阁) may be out in Pudong, but it’s worth every kuai of your taxi fare if you’d like to taste authentic suantang wujiang yu (酸汤乌江鱼, RMB48), one of the province’s best known dishes. Using fresh fish from the Wu River, Qian Xiang Ge’s thick, delicious broth has a pungent aroma because it’s made with fermented tomatoes, pickled chilies and herbs; we also like to throw in tofu and other vegetables, hot pot style. The incredibly tender and flavorsome fish simply outshines any shuizhuyu (水煮鱼, Sichuan’s signature fish hot pot dish) we’ve ever had.
Find it: 171 Pucheng Lu 浦城路171号, Tel: 5887-7377
Also try: Gu Dao Cun Luo (古道村落) - 959 Gumei Lu 古美路959号, Tel: 3409-0177
Compared to Shanghai’s rich and heavily sauced cuisine, nongjia cai (country-style cuisine from our surrounding areas) uses more fresh ingredients like bamboo shoots and is made with simpler cooking methods. For many older Shanghainese, nongjia cai is what they think of as a real home cooked meal. In this realm, Xin Nongcun (新农村), a tea house-themed restaurant, is our pick. Their nongjia zizhi danjiao (农家自制蛋饺, RMB38) are especially irresistible—no meat lover can turn down these delicious minced pork-stuffed egg dumplings that are cooked in an incredibly light soy sauce-based broth. They’re also massive: each of them is the size of half a plate. Handmade tofu is also a specialty of nongjia cai, so make sure you try the maqiao doufugan dun paifu (马桥豆腐干炖排骨, RMB38). It’s a braised tofu and pork rib dish that’s hands-down the best tofu we’ve had in Shanghai.
Find it: Exit 2, Shanghai Indoor Stadium, 666 Tianyaoqiao Lu, 天钥桥路666号八万人体育场2号通道旁,Tel: 6426-5757
Also try: Tony's Farm - 7007 Chuan Nan Feng Gong Lu 川南奉公路7007号, Tel: 400-820-2162
Sexy, hip-shaking dancers who take the stage nightly, a friendly Uyghur staff who seem to run the place like a family would … there’s a definite feel to Sapar Uyghur Restaurant that just shouts Xinjiang restaurant. And of course, there’s the food. Xinjiang naan (RMB3 each) comes warm and toasted to your table, making for the perfect accompaniment to some of the other stars on the menu. Lamb kebabs (RMB5 each), for example, are among the very best we’ve tasted at any establishment around town. The dapanji (大盘鸡) is also a staple order (RMB48, RMB58 and RMB78 for small, medium and large portions respectively). We can almost guarantee you’ll be sopping up the sauce with a piece of naan or ordering an extra serving of flat noodles to soak up all the flavors. Feel like sampling something new? Try another crowd pleaser like the Xinjiang pizza (RMB68), stuffed with chunks of yummy lamb. If you’re looking for less of a meal, try the Muslim Market that takes place every Friday at the Huxi Mosque. You’ll get plenty of authentic snacks and a more immersive cultural experience.
Find it: 20 Yuyuan Lu 愚园支路20号, Tel: 136-1160-3279
Also try: Muslim Market - No. 4, Lane 1328 Changde Lu , 常德路1328弄4号
At Manling Hot Pot (满灵火锅), our favorite hole-in-the-wall hot pot joint, you don’t need much money to buy yourself a satisfying meal and homey service from the adorable owner. Tucked away in a busy lane full of small local grocery stores, this tiny restaurant offers dirt-cheap yet decent hot pot and beers. How cheap? RMB0.5 for servings of vegetables, RMB4 for meat and RMB5 for bottles of ice cold beer. The broth and dips are among the tastiest we’ve tried, and you can’t miss the tender and flavorful meatballs (laoban qiu, 肉丸, RMB5) and the egg dumplings (danjiao, 蛋饺, RMB5), handmade by the friendly owner who reminds us of our favorite aunt. Both go perfectly with the peanut butter and tofu sauce dip (花生腐乳, huasheng furu, RMB2).
Find it: Rm. 7, No. 44, Lane 222 Panyu Lu 番禺路222弄44号-7临
Also try: Linjiangmen Lao Huoguo (临江门老火锅) - 3166 Qixin Lu 七莘路3166号, Tel: 5485-6528
Real Shanghainese can’t live without their noodles—that’s why there are literally thousands of noodle joints in town. If you’re not fussy about atmosphere and service, you’ll love the soup noodles at Jingang Yinshi Dian (金刚饮食店). With 20 years of history behind it, this tiny noodle joint attracts local residents and foodies from out of town. Handmade from scratch, their signature noodles are soft to the bite but are still springy and chewy in your mouth. Try their spicy pork noodles (辣肉面, larou mian, RMB11), the restaurant’s best-sellers, or opt for the pork liver noodles (猪肝面, zhugan mian, RMB10). Topped with deliciously sweet and tender bits of liver, it’ll definitely have you coming back again and again.
Find it: 601 Changle Lu 长乐路601号
Also try: Ding Te Le (顶特勒) - No. 22, Lane 494 Huaihai Zhong Lu 淮海中路494弄22号, Tel: 6553-2288
Congyou bing (葱油饼, spring onion pancake) is a traditional Shanghainese snack that can be found at almost every corner breakfast stand. Old school congyou bing are first pan-fried then baked in an oven to achieve a golden crispiness without being overly greasy. Unfortunately, most of the bing you find now are all simply deep-fried to save time. A Da’s Congyou Bing (RMB2.5) are the last genuine bing that you’ll find in Shanghai. They have a touch of pork inside, strictly following a traditional recipe A Da’s been using for over 20 years. The bing master wakes up at 3am every morning to prepare everything, and seeing as this is a one-man operation, A Da makes only 300 a day. “I won’t trade quality for quantity. Nobody else is still willing to do it this way,” says A Da. And he’s right: the bing come out of the oven perfectly savory, with a crispy crust and a tender stuffing filled with the fragrance of scallions.
Find it: No. 2, Lane 159 Maoming Nan Lu 茂名南路159弄2号
Also try: Haoyong Baozi Ting (好用包子亭) - 174 Guizhou Lu 贵州路174号, Tel: 5150-8777 ext. 2138
For a special occasion try Fu 1088 (福1088). We’d love to be able to tell you it’s not worth it, but it so is. The setting is divine—19 private dining rooms in an elegant villa—and the food is even better. The menu is roughly two-thirds traditional Shanghainese and one-third Western fusion; it’s like Shanghainese nouveau cuisine. The attention to detail is impeccable. A perfectly sliced eggshell acts as a bowl for sautéed hairy crab and egg custard (RMB28), and a web of caramelized sugar surrounds a tender lotus shoot (RMB38). Our favorite: the minced duckling with baked sesame pie (RMB68). The duck pairs well with the sesame flavor, and the crunch of pine nuts with the minced meat makes for a satisfying texture.
Find it: 375 Zhenning Lu 镇宁路375号, Tel: 5239-7878
Also try: Y2C2 (滩外楼) - 5/F, Bldg. 2, 579 Waima Lu 外马路579号2号楼 5楼, Tel: 6339-1188. Opening Jan. 28.
Eason (熠盛粤味), a restaurant with one kitchen and three dining rooms set next to each other at different addresses, is our go-to place for authentic, down to earth cuisine from Guangdong. A simple plate of steamed chicken (清远走地鸡, qingyuan zhoudiji, RMB38), served with just a bit of flavored soy sauce, puts the meat in the spotlight, while their fried potato cakes (香煎土豆饼, xiangjian tudoubing, RMB18) is another outstanding dish that resembles something Grandma used to make. And their pot of braised rice with lap mei (腊味煲仔饭, lawei baozaifan, RMB28) is a dreamy concoction of flavorful and aromatic Chinese preserved meat infused into rice using old school cooking methods—it’s reminiscent of something served at the streetside food stalls of Hong Kong.
Find it: 132 Yongkang Lu 永康路132号, Tel: 6473-5602
Also try: Tang Gong (唐宫) - 555 Dalian Lu 大连路555号, Tel: 6541-0277
If you crave a hearty Shaanxi meal, Lao Shaan (老陕) remains the city’s most authentic option. Its menu was expanded after a renovation in 2010, but we suggest sticking to the basics. The hui ma shi (RMB15, 烩麻什) is definitely our favorite. Imagine gnocchi sautéed in a delicious minced pork and vegetable sauce, only better. Their most popular dish, suantang shuijiao (RMB9, 酸汤水饺), are big, hearty pork dumplings cooked in an extremely appetizing sour and spicy soup. If you fancy something naughty, try the fried pork ribs topped with chili, scallion and toasted white sesame (RMB42, xiang zhazhu leipa, 香炸猪肋排). Shaanxi people are known for their generosity, so order less than you think you want unless you want to dabao the rest to take home.
Find it: 15 Yunnan Nan Lu 云南南路15号, Tel: 6373-0274
Also try: Xiao Chang’an (小长安) - 1005 Zhangyang Lu 张杨路1005号, Tel: 5820-7779
Cotton Ding made her name with Cotton’s, but still flying under the radar is Hunan House. Set in a steeply vertical three-floor space politely hidden away from the nearby hordes on Yongfu Lu, the restaurant’s décor is charming–chic, with plush velvet chairs, drippy candle sticks atop silver holders and even a fireplace. If you’re looking for Hunan with a bit of cozy class, there’s no better choice in town. The restaurant has a small menu of Cotton’s picks from her home province; we especially like the smoked pork with Chinese purple yam (RMB58), a bullfrog hot pot (RMB68) that sizzles with a rich broth base and the cold mashed eggplant starter (RMB32), in which silky, garlicky eggplant mix with ribbons of vibrant red and green peppers.
Find it: No. 2, Lane 49 Fuxing Xi Lu 复兴西路49弄2号, Tel: 3461-1377
Also try: Xixiang Ji (西湘记) - 407 Zhaojiabang Lu 肇嘉浜路407号, Tel: 6403-0731
Joints like Lost Heaven and Southern Barbarian take up all the space most laowai have available in their brains for Yunnan cuisine. But everyone should do some mental reshuffling and give Lotus Eatery the credit it deserves. This spot was a Xinhua Lu community secret that grew so popular they recently opened a second, larger location on Dingxi Lu. Their delicious, authentic fare is a step down in price from Lost Heaven levels, but not a step down in quality. Some star dishes to try are their fried goat cheese with spicy salt (RMB40), the Grandma’s spicy mashed potatoes (RMB20) which make our Grandma’s mashed potatoes pale in comparison, and their king prawns with potato noodles (RMB98), which are expensive but worth the indulgence. Get your fill of the region’s flavors by exploring their lists of cold salads (we recommend the mint) and dishes that feature the wild mushrooms Yunnan is famous for.
Find it: 85 Yangzhai Lu 杨宅路85号, Tel: 136-4174-4333
Also try: Mia’s Yunnan Kitchen - 45 Anfu Lu 安福路45号, Tel: 5403-5266
Vegetarian Lifestyle has long been a favorite among vegetarians in town, but few know that the chain has an upscale brother named Wujie (大蔬无界, formerly known as Greenology). Built for anyone who loves food or animals, this six-level restaurant has a focus on local and sustainable organic ingredients, with an upscale ambience that gourmet-minded vegetarians crave but rarely encounter. The restaurant boldly serves no alcohol, but it more than makes up for it in the kitchen with a Chinese fusion-style menu that’s updated seasonally. Our current favorites are the Sichuan-style lawyer’s wig mushrooms with cashews and chili peppers (RMB68) and the nori-wrapped mountain yam, peppers and bamboo shoots (RMB52).
Find it: 392 Tianping Lu 天平路392号, Tel: 3469-2857
Also try: Jade Buddha Temple Vegetarian Restaurant (玉佛寺素菜馆) - 999 Jiangning Lu 江宁路999号, Tel: 6266-3668