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Shanghai - China
Shanghai is home to some of the most varied and high quality cuisine in China. As a world destination, top-class restaurants are definitely one of the things people remember on a trip to Shanghai. If you have been traveling through China for some time, this may be your first chance to indulge in the international cuisine supported by Shanghai’s diverse population. Competition is fierce for French, Vietnamese, Japanese and Italian cuisine. Satisfying interpretations of Chinese regional cuisines, from the hearty roasts of the north to the spicy creations of Sichuan, and even difficult-to-find Yunnanese choices make a traveler wish there were more than three meals to be had in a day.
Shanghai’s native cuisine is known for delicate dim sum, including the incredible xiaolongbao, a soup-filled bite-size dumpling in a thin dough wrap. Try to figure out how there is such a thing as a soup-filled dumpling while you order more of them by the jin.
Shanghai’s drinking establishments are among the most developed in China and frequented by the widest range of people. Uber-chic world class lounges set in highrise towers welcome patrons to drink among the beautiful people. Hip neighborhood bars welcome travelers and give a relaxed chance to practice and expand your recently acquired Chinese phrases in directions most important, such as how to order another drink. Live music has an established following in Shanghai and night clubs support a wide, eclectic range of musicians, from Filipino rock cover bands to jazz quartets to Beijing punk to acoustic folk types.
Below is a partial list of just some of the great dining in Shanghai by neighborhood.
Nan Jing East Road
With so many things calling for your attention as you walk down Nan Jing Road, restaurants promising delicious dim sum or American style burgers are a tempting choice. There are some memorable places to dine here, but how to choose? If you crave the comfort of American ribs, Tony Roma’s will not disappoint. If you seek traditional Chinese food, head over to Gongdelin Vegetarian Restaurant for satisfying flavors and fresh dishes. A comfortable cafe with wine by the glass and a staple of pastas and salads is found at Kathleen’s 5 Rooftop Restaurant on People’s Square. For family style Italian, dip into Palladio for authentic cuisine. Further investigate the French influence in this Paris of the East at Allure. Any evening that includes a martini at 789 Nanjing Road is bound to be memorable. With the Shanghai skyline out the windows and a cocktail that cost as much as your entre, you might find yourself arguing that it is completely worth it.
Perhaps the priciest neighborhood to dine in, but with most restaurants and lounges sporting waterfront balconies and menus that justify the price tag, the Bund plays host to several of the Shanghai bars, lounges and restaurants that make world-wide dining guides. M on the Bund is home to a high quality family of restaurants, including the French Jean Georges, widely popular for weekend brunch. Another building that has made a culinary name for itself is Three On The Bund, which houses New Heights cocktail lounge, the home of Shanghai haute cuisine Whampoa Club, and French supper club Hamilton House. The collection is crowned with the top notch fusion restaurant Laris. Rich selection and world class views can leave one breathless, but the ambiance and pseudo-sexy intellectual atmosphere of Glamour Bar gives any evening a classic feel. Never a disappointment, Bar Rouge gives any Shanghainese establishment a run for its money when it comes to ambiance and the ability of its barkeeps. If hearty northern brew is what you seek along the Bund, head to the Dutch brewery Fest for a draught.
The French Concession holds the heart of Shanghai nightlife. Spanning Xuhui, Huangpu, Xintiandi and the Mao Ming Nan Lu bar street, it offers a variety of dining and drinking for a broad range of budgets. Many establishments take advantage of this area’s early 20th Century houses with decadent gardens to create an elegant dining experience suitable for brunch, business lunch, or romantic dinner.
Mao Ming Nan Lu
The garden, drinks specials and burgers are what keep customers coming to Blue Frog. It also has some of the friendliest servers in the district. The fusion cuisine and interesting setting of Mesa & Manifesto are memorable, as is the wine list, set in a former light bulb factory. Beer and barbecue are the order of the day at Henry’s, popular with the happy hour crowd. O'Malley's Irish Pub offers a thirst-quenching draught of stout and a friendly crowd. Another neighborhood stop with satisfying light snacks and a great garden is Abbey Road. Popular for its pho, Foreign Culture Club offers French and Vietnamese cuisine in a refined setting that beckons patrons to sit up a little straighter.
Regional Chinese cuisine is also a hot item along Mao Ming Nan Lu. The draw of spicy Sichuanese pulls people into the gardens of South Beauty, set in an old estate. Di Shui Dong serves up satisfying Hunanese food. The ambiance includes homage to Hunan’s favorite son, Chairman Mao Zidong.
The tree-lined streets of Luwan offer up a rich velvet atmosphere on a summer night. Even if you come during winter, the ambiance in Lost Heaven Yunnan Cuisine will fill one with a warm glow as the unique flavors of this remote province gets the loving attention it deserves. If the line is out the door, Southern Barbarian is never disappointing. The long established Melting Pot offers up nightly live music of an eclectic variety with well poured drinks, friendly staff and an adequate dance floor. Turn a few more alley corners to drop into Yin Yang, a hip local bar great for practicing your Chinese.
Tucked in among the alleys lined with shikumen townhouses is a growing selection of some of the most memorable dining in Shanghai. Come wander the alleys as you seek out your dinner! Top points for innovation, ambiance and selection go to Xintiandi. Some people call the Enoteca wine bar their living room, preferring to meet friends in its casual and conversation-inducing lounge. Serving up Mediterranean tapas and a wide variety of wines by the glass and by the bottle, they also have a delicious selection of desserts and paired dessert wines. If you are craving the fresh tangy tastes of Mexico, slip into Maya for Yucatan cuisine and perhaps the most popular guacamole in town. Notoriously small, as well as notoriously crowded, Shanghainese cuisine reaches a peak at the small and nondescript Jesse. Within the realm of eclectic but satisfying lies A Future Perfect. Serving fusion flavors, a dinner here is something you will talk about long after wards. Raising the consumption of chocolate to something of a spiritual experience is the Whisk Choco Cafe. Order, enjoy, but do not linger, the waitstaff can be a bit of a joykill. Serving up a vast brunch is the Mediterranean inspired Azul. For a reasonably priced opportunity to sample dim sum suitable for both a novice or an old hand, a trip to Crystal Jade is highly recommended. Explore Shanghai’s Southeast Asian selection at Simply Thai. An ever popular spot is the Paulaner Brauhaus for hand crafted beer and a delicious German menu. As if homemade German beer in Shanghai wasn’t enough, there is a constant stream of events and live music to keep patrons coming back. Anyone who has spent a moment in China’s cold and robust north will appreciate the colorful and boisterous Dong Bei Ren, where the red and green decor is the setting for delicious cumin roasted lamb, hearty northern dumplings and singing waiters. Upbeat is one way to describe Zapatas Mexican restaurant, especially after one of their fishbowl margaritas and a turn on the dance floor. After dinner, head over to one of the longest established night spots in Shanghai. Cotton Club offers up nightly live jazz.
Jing’An has a more residential feel than Huang Pu and the French Concession. That does not necessarily mean it is sleepy, as this district is home to many Shanghai expats. If fresh salad is what you crave, head to Element Fresh for vegetable-packed sandwiches, wraps and salads. Their fruit smoothie menu alone has a loyal band of followers. A great choice for Thai is Coconut Paradise, while Jing’An also hosts one of Shanghai’s pre-eminent Japanese restaurants, Shintori. Food this good requires a special finish. We recommend the Long Bar for one of a kind cocktails of mind-bending but agreeable ingredients.
If you find yourself east of the Huangpu River, you are truly in for a dining treat. As the neighborhood is still relatively new, it first relied on satellite restaurants of good repute from Puxi to fill its wide boulevards and international hotel cafes. For example, popular Dublin Exchange is owned by the same team that opened O'Malley's Irish Pub. Dolar Shop is another satellite that serves refined hot pot with a high grade selection of meats, mushrooms, vegetables and more. Most Pudong dining and drinking establishments are aimed at business class clientele, however Jade on 36, the crown jewel of the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, is a romantic spot overlooking the Bund, especially spectacular in the evening at the moment the waterfront buildings light up. A similar effect can be viewed from 24 hour Grand Cafe on the 56th floor of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. Meanwhile, superb dim sum and Yue cuisine can be found at Canton and Gui Hua Lou. A comfortable place to take it easy after a long flight or long day of meetings is the Canadian-owned Malone's Cafe.
Hongqiao and Changning
While not as lively as its neighbors in the French Concession, this part of Shanghai has some wonderful restaurants and gathering spots. Ever-popular Mexico Lindo serves Tex-Mex style cuisine, perfecting classics such as empanadas. People travel from all parts of Shanghai to pay a visit to Dan Tai Feng for memorably delicious dumplings, including xiaolongbao. Champion’s Sports Bar offers a comfortable dining room and typically American food, including chicken wings and burgers. Long considered one of Shanghai’s finest, Da Marco serves authentic Italian cuisine with an emphasis on quality. You might have to get a little lost to find it, but a visit to Patiala Pearl for Indian tandoori is especially satisfying.