My Shanghai Is Better Than Yours
Four years ago, Dan Washburn dropped everything, moving from suburban Georgia to China's most dynamic city. As the editor of Shanghaiist.com, he's since learned far more about Shanghai than we ever could hope to, so we've invited him to tell us the best places to eat, shop, and play.
Spice things up even more at Shu Di La Zi Yu Guan, a multistory Sichuan joint in northern Xuhui that specializes in la zi yu, a vat of tongue-numbing, flaky fish drowned in an oily broth and red chili peppers. (The huge bullfrogs you see in tanks just inside the entrance? They cook up quite nicely.) Slightly more sophisticated, Guyi, a Hunan restaurant in Jing'an, can make you breathe fire. I've enjoyed everything I've had there, especially the pork ribs with cumin.
Personally, I had always identified with that line from Lost in Translation: "What kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?" Oddly named Dolar Shop, however, recently converted me to hot pot. You sit before an individual pot bubbling with broth. Toss in meats and vegetables, wait a couple minutes, and enjoy. Nice view, too.
Speaking of fun, Afanti serves Xinjiang food, which is more Middle East than Far East, in a raucous atmosphere well worth the 25-minute cab ride to Hongkou District. Stuff yourself with roast mutton and Xinjiang Black Beer, and enjoy the belly dancers. I've been to Xinjiang, in the west, and Afanti rings true, down to the clientele.
After Afanti, a time-out from meat will be in order. My fiancee, a vegetarian, thinks Vegetarian Lifestyle is the best place in town. Drinks include a variety of juices and teas, but no alcohol, and it's one of the only nonsmoking establishments in China.
Dim sum is a breakfast and lunch tradition here, so get to Xintiandi's Crystal Jade early. I'm a big fan of the Sichuan dan dan noodles--so what if they're not technically dim sum--in peanut broth.
In Xuhui, Taiwanese restaurant Charmant (I don't understand the name, either) has an equally expansive menu, with creative desserts. Just don't try to drink the "smoothies"; you need a spoon.
The restaurant I go to most often is Xing Xing, in the old Jing'an lane area I call home. Everything is fresh, and I love the huntun soup (akin to wonton soup, but a whole lot better). Poke around the Hua Ye Xiao Qu neighborhood: If you see a tall white guy walking a cute dog, say hello.
Assuming you won't want Chinese food for every meal, let me suggest a hip new place, serving Western fare, that may not have found its way into your guidebook. A Future Perfect, in the beautifully renovated first floor of an old Shanghai lane house, is a cozy--verging on cramped--cafe, restaurant, and bar that serves up equal parts style and substance. Five of us ate there recently--appetizers, entrees, desserts, and drinks--and the bill was $120 (No. 16, Lane 351 Huashan Lu, near Changshu Lu, 011-86/21-6248-8020). A Future Perfect also boasts one of the nicest outdoor dining areas in Shanghai. The restaurant shares the 1930s brick house with the Old House Inn, one of the city's only boutique hotels. The 12 charmingly decorated rooms range in price from $65 to $130 (011-86/21-6248-6118, oldhouse.cn).