Shanghai Restaurant Review: Meta American-Chinese Resto in China, Lucky You

By Sophie Steiner, November 4, 2020

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The Place

A Chinese-American restaurant, in China, where patrons eat an American take on what Cantonese food is – Lucky You Cafe is the ultimate Chinese food inception. There are (MSG-laden) layers, and as we dropped deeper into nostalgia-inducing dreams of Char Siu, Beef and Broccoli and General Tsao’s Chicken, we felt that the key message being planted into our subconscious was that this meta dining experience could only exist in a city like Shanghai. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Image by Sophie Steiner/That'sIMG_1985.jpg
Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Food 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The menu is divided into American favorites, soups, specialty items, mains, claypot dishes, vegetables, roasted meats, cold dishes, dim sum, small plates, noodles and rice. There’s also a Charlie’s Burger menu insert with crossover favorites like burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes and chicken wings (owner Charles Zeng is the Charles behind Charlie's), a wine fridge, coffee drinks, dessert soups and a separate menu for between 2-5pm – it’s a lot, but in keeping consistent with American-Chinese restaurants that hand you a small tome for a menu, it’s accurate.  

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The General Tsao’s Chicken (RMB56) is a must order, with a sticky sauce the consistency of super glue that just coats the twice fried nuggets of breaded chicken... exactly the way mock Chinese food should – and we mean that in the best possible way. 

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Derailing from the nostalgia train, the thicker gravy on the Beef & Broccoli (RMB55) is lacking in flavor. We want a little bit more of that MSG savory-ness to make us really feel like we’re in an authentic American-Chinese restaurant in a small suburb outside bumblefuck Middle America, where the answer is always more MSG. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

While the restaurant does tout American-Chinese classics, there are some more traditional Canto dishes that most suburban middle class American folk wouldn’t even begin to know how to eat. The 3 Combo BBQ (RMB128) is a platter filled with their signature meats, Black BBQ Roast Pork, Cantonese Roasted Goose and Super Awesome Soy Sauce Chicken. 

The roasted meats are more like actual Chinese food rather than American friendly twists – think bone in and heavy on the cartilage – so you can gnaw your way through to the meat. Flavor is on the lighter side for the goose and chicken, making neither particularly memorable.

And is the semi-soggy skin on the chicken comparable to Tak Lung Siu Mei? No. Although the char siu had the signature sweet and sticky sauce, the unrendered fat was overly gelatinous, diverging from its melty-fatty-goodness Hong Kong counterparts like our favorite char siu at Joy Hings

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Beef Chow Fun (RMB53) crushes the signature springy noodles, but again, we are looking for more MSG mystery sauciness, or just more flavor in general. Yes, one bite will leave your pucker covered in that signature slick, lip-glistening glow, but your taste buds will crave something more. 

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At this point a palate cleanser is necessary, found in the bright Tomato Brined in Plum (RMB26), a refreshingly sour bite crucial for cutting through the oily fat on every other plate. 

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On the dim sum menu, the Steamed Red Rice Roll with Fried Shrimp (RMB35) jumped to the top of our favorite bites list. Covering all the bases in both flavor and texture, the rolls are stuffed with meaty yet crispy shrimp that find a happy medium between zhaliang and the original shrimp rolls. 

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The BBQ Pork Pastry (RMB28/3) are not the steamed char siu baos we were expecting based on the ambiguous English translation on the menu (is this a cheeky, on-purpose mistake mimicking the Chinglishy mis-translations found in most American Chinese restaurants?), but rather thick, heavy spring rolls filled with sweet chopped char siu pork and a dense dose of gooey cheese – an unusual pairing that actually tastes better than it sounds. 

We didn’t try the Mapo Tofu with Beef (RMB78), but have heard from a reliable source that it wasn’t the best – which is fairly on brand for a Canto spot, so in that way, they hit the mark.

Food Verdict 2/3

The Vibe 

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The massive space that once was Tsui Wah hasn’t changed much. It’s girthy and fully equipped with lazy susan-topped banquet seating as well as booths. The iridescent, washed out lighting is bright enough to really see all the wrinkles, gray hairs and smudged eyeliner of your dining companions – nailing that truly genuine feel of a late night diner in New York’s Chinatown. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Yet, it’s not open late, and the vibe is definitely more daytime canteen. With a menu chock-full of ideal drunk food and a spot situated on one of the most happening weekend drinking corners in the city, closing at 9.30pm is a missed opportunity that we hope to see re-evaluated in the future. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

As we crunched our end of the meal fortune cookies – served in ostentatiously gold wrappers with red writing – we are left pondering one major conundrum about this whole Chinese-American resto inception scenario: Will the local market get the ultra-meta aspect of the venue? Or, if the key consumers are nostalgic Westerners, where are the cream cheese puffs and crab rangoons? 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Vibe Verdict: 1.25/2

Total Verdict: 3.25/5

Price: RMB60-150
Who’s Going: Nostalgic Westerners, Tsui Wah lunch crowd, those seeking drunk eats during the day 
Good For: Satisfying fake Chinese food cravings, Canto roasted meats consumption, group feasts

See a listing for Lucky You Cafe. Read more Shanghai Restaurant Reviews.

[Cover Image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]


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