Where (and Where Not) to Eat Value Sushi in Shanghai

By Sophie Steiner, February 20, 2024

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This article began way back when as a journey to find the best value sushi in the city.

Now, we're not necessarily talking budget here; there’s some things we’d rather pay extra for to guarantee quality, and sushi is one of them.

We’re talking value – bang-for-your-buck when the craving for a taste of Tokyo hits.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Then, BAM! 

In the middle of scouring the city, our sushi consumption came to a screeching halt, as Japan announced that it would begin releasing Fukushima radioactive water into the ocean...

READ MORE: Japan to Release Fukushima Water Amidst Global Concern

And, in response, China imposed a ban food imports from 10 Japanese prefectures...

READ MORE: China Bans Food Imports from Japan Over Nuclear Water Release

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What this translates to on a micro level for Shanghai’s dining scene is a lot less (think zero) imported Japanese sea products for the foreseeable future.

Goodbye Hokkaido scallops, hello China-farmed replacements. 

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Yet, as we said sayonara to Japanese seafood, we welcomed a wide variety from other sources around the globe – and some equally standout seafood from within our own borders  allowing us to continue to get that sushi (and poke!) fix in, despite the ban. 

READ MORE: 5 of Our Favorite Shanghai Poke Bowls

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Now winter is upon us – the season that guarantees the freshest and highest quality seafood – we've once again hit the streets to continue our value sushi escapade, to seek out shrimply the best – because that's just how we roll.

Haiyu Sushi 海鱼寿司

A 15-seater, Haiyu Sushi is hidden away on a small off-street just north of People’s Square.

The vibe… leaves something to be desired: minimal décor, fluorescent lighting, and no music – just the sound of a humming TV displaying a looped video of a Japanese fish market.

There are three staff total, two of which are the owners. Yet, while their knowledge of creating an ambience might not be the most in depth, their fish familiarity is unmatched. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The regular menu offers the standard sushi fare, but the chalkboard posted above the bar features the day's freshest imports, like live scallops and horse mackerel. 

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If eating obscurer cuts of raw isn’t your goal, everyday nigiri (think salmon, tuna, scallop, and the like) range in price from RMB10-22 per piece, with a few splurge-worthy options like Goose Liver (RMB28) and Sea Urchin (RMB48).

There are no souped-up Cali-style rolls here, just small Hand Rolls (RMB10-15) filled with pickled daikon, avocado or crab salad, among others.

Ultimately, they are guiding you to the real deal – the freshest of Sashimi (RMB28-68)

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Our number one, do-not-miss bite is the Eel Nigiri (RMB58). A long wedge of more than 100 grams of eel is drizzled in sticky unagi sauce and torch-charred to order before being placed atop two quarter-size ovals of rice. 

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Another classic that delivers on all fronts, Three Kinds of Sashimi (RMB98) (tuna belly, salmon and scallops) is a trio that can be found on any sushi menu, but not of this quality.

Or ball so hard and dish out for the rarer cuts; either way, you won’t be disappointed.

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While Haiyu sushi is not ‘cheap’ per se, the value is in the superiority of the fish, where guests can piece together what would be an RMB1,000+ omakase quality meal for a fraction of the price.

That's because any and all 'experience' frills have been removed, leaving just the seafood to shine. 

Haiyu Sushi 海鱼寿司, 137 Guling Lu, by Baihe Lu, 牯岭路137号, 近白河路.

Jin Yan Shitang 金焰食堂

The Dianping wanghong spot Jin Yan Shitang started in the mall across from Tianzifang, a place that’s less about the sushi and more about the sushi tacos (known as temacos to those in the know).

Convinced that these were more hype than heft, we took on the challenge by ordering up not one, not two, not three, but four of the six temaco flavor options, each coming in roughly the weight of an actual Mexican taco. 

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Just one bite proved us wrong – all doubts diminished.

These may be a somewhat 'bastardized' approach to sushi, but culinary rules are meant to be broken in the name of scrumptiousness. 

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A fried outer seaweed shell is coated in a lace-like tempura to hold its contoured shape, thus ensuring the overall structural integrity of each temaco.

Next, a pressed layer of Japanese sticky rice is topped with matchsticks of fresh cucumber and a drizzle of spicy mayo.

Finally, the seafood toppings are added, of which we suggest the Colorful Sushi Taco (RMB29.90) – a mix of cubed raw salmon and yellowtail, sprinkled with beads of fish roe. 

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A close second is the pure Salmon Sashimi Taco (RMB29.90) followed by a third-place tie for the Scallop and Shrimp Taco (RMB31.90) and the caramelized Eel Taco (RMB29.90).

That said, even the bronze deserves a medal – the curious amalgamation of tacos and sushi get the Frankenstein stamp of approval for being simultaneously absurd and divine.

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We never thought we’d say this, but skip the Nigiri (RMB6/piece) – a usually ideal vessel for fish and rice consumption – as this version is mostly rice, causing an earth-shattering shift of equilibrium.

Rule number one of nigiri: don’t mess with proportions. 

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Instead, the sashimi arrives in abundance, of which the Yellowtail (RMB45) is lush, while the Thick Cut Salmon (RMB39.90) is fresh, plump, and equally delicate.

Bonus: the Scallops (RMB15) melt like butter. 

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After visiting the Moho Mall shop on Jiangning Lu a few months later, we had contrasting experiences – the more positive being at the original Tianzifang storefront, the more sauce-smothered, not-so-fresh sushi tacos at Moho Mall.

So proceed with caution Jing’an-ers, and note that there is some inconsistency in quality across locations.

There are currently 11 locations of Jin Yan Shitang around Shanghai – you can find the nearest location to you on Dianping.

Kinaburi Sushi 金炙板前料理

Located on the 5th floor of one of Shanghai’s most awaited mall openings – Tian’an 1000 Trees on Moganshan Lu – Kinaburi Sushi, at first glance, looks like any other shopping mall sushi joint.

It ticks all the boxes of appearing unapologetically average – a plastic-laminated menu on a pedestal by the entrance, cookie cutter wave and scalloped-pattern décor, sushi chefs in those goofy, jokingly tall paper hats, and staff that greet each newcomer with an in-unison salutation. 

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Move past the triteness, scan the table QR code menu, and go straight to the Salmon Nigiri (RMB15.50/piece).

Do not pass go, and do not collect $200.

The thick slab is subtly painted with soy sauce, a dot of nose-tingling wasabi hidden below on a knuckle-size mound of sticky rice.

The fish is fresh. AF. Although it’s nearly double the price for the same portion at Shanghai institution Tokyo House (see below), the fish quality is at least double...

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

... and as the sayings go – quality over quantity, cream of the crop, crème de la crème, size matters… maybe we threw in that last one for good measure.

Interpret as you will, and order at least three per person.

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Sashimi offerings are basic – a mix of fatty and regular Salmon (RMB68.80), Tuna (RMB83.50), and Yellowtail (RMB48.50), among others. 

Besides some simple rolls – like Cucumber (RMB13), Eel (RMB15.90) and Tuna (RMB25) – fried and fresh chirashi-style rice bowls (RMB50-70), and a few grilled chicken or fish skewers (RMB10-19.50), the main option is nigiri.

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A top seller on Dianping, Eel Nigiri with Plum Sauce (RMB19.50) seems to be a big draw – a serving or two of each on every table in the restaurant.

But we suggest opting for a larger portion of the protein on a skewer for the same price sans carbs because… keto?

We don’t really get how that works, just bring us more eel. 

No need to be a rocket scientist to order here and keep it in the budget-friendly realm while still scoring on the value front.  

Kinaburi Sushi 金炙板前料理, 0513, 5/F, 1000 Trees, 600 Moganshan Lu by Changhua Lu, 莫干山路600号天安千树商场L5W-0513, 近昌化路.

Ling He Ding 令和町

Sometimes budget translates to value, other times not so much. Sadly, Ling He Ding belongs in the latter category, a place with potential that… falls on its face.

The décor is quaint, somewhat shabby but in a charming way, like a hidden gem hole-in-the-wall we all secretly wish to be the first to uncover.

Alas, the staff’s gruff attitude carries over to the food – entirely a miss across the board. 

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The menu is pan-Japanese, with everything from sashimi and nigiri to sukiyaki, ramen and rice sets.

To align with our article premise, we began with the Salmon Sashimi (RMB48), arriving on crushed ice, lightly pink, sliced thick.

A quick chopstick poke reveals it’s soft – not lush – but nothing jarring yet. Until it goes down the hatch, and immediately wants to come back up.

This is the antithesis of fresh. 

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Miraculously, we push forward, hoping the blunder was standalone.

However, the Salmon Nigiri (RMB20/2 pieces) continues down the same plotline. Day old rice that slightly crusts around the edges is concealed below a cap of mystery “salmon belly,” the texture so off-putting we found ourselves removing the nob of rice entirely and just going for the fish.

But the fish itself was no better – stringy and spongy – adjectives never to be associated with food, especially raw fish. 

At this point we threw in the chopsticks and made an executive decision to pass on the rest of the meal. 

Ling He Ding 令和町, #302-5, 3/F 2000 Longyang Lu, by Baiyang Lu, 龙阳路2000号龙阳广场3楼302-5, 近白杨路.

Mona Sushi 末那寿司

Metro Town, or Meigui Fang (玫瑰坊), just down the block from Zhongshan Park, is a mecca for all things Japanese eats.

An homage to Shinjuku’s Piss Alley – a street with dozens of tiny, shotgun restaurants and bars (like the Yongkang of Shanghai’s not so recent past) – a handful of yakitori nooks, izakaya hideouts and sashimi stalls sit behind closed doors that are just asking to be opened.

Once inside the mall, venture up to the second level to find shops specializing in Japanese BBQ, okonomiyaki, cold soba noodles. and eel rice.  

While most flock to 親父的右腕 – a Black Pearl-awarded sushi spot – you have to book up to two weeks in advance. Not the most practical for those aiming for an impromptu sushi lunch. 

This is where Mona Sushi comes in, our go-to spot in the area for value sushi and sashimi. This no-frills place is cheap and cheerful; what’s lost in ambiance is made up for with friendly service and high-quality fish. 

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The menu isn’t large: half a dozen appetizers like Seaweed Salad (RMB16) or Wasabi Octopus (RMB18); a smattering of Sashimi (RMB48-70); about six Rolls (RMB48-68); a few Nigiri (RMB16-29/2 pieces); some basic Maki (RMB12-20); and a few mains like Grilled Fish (RMB48)

Yet, all that’s there is simple yet well executed. 

The sashimi portions are the best value – easily more than 100 grams of buttery Salmon Sashimi (RMB69) that melts rather than needing to be chewed, or eight thick slices of Australian-imported Scallops (RMB48) served up in a martini glass. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The nigiri selection is standard – salmon, shrimp, egg, fish roe – with the rice-to-protein ratio skewing a bit too far towards rice.

That said, the basic maki rolls are a standout value, with six large pieces of Eel Maki (RMB18) filled with fatty, marinated eel, or the same quantity of Salmon Maki (RMB18)

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The rolls are where they lose us, most of which are drizzled in mayo, aioli or overly sweet renditions of eel sauce.

The exception being the Amy Roll (RMB58), stuffed with salmon and topped with thin slices of avocado and shrimp.

(Still less fresh than other options, we suggest sticking to the sashimi, nigiri and maki.)

The meal ends with a complimentary Hokkaido milk pudding, velvety and sweet, a pleasant touch to an already pocket-friendly lunch.

Our only gripe is that the menu is curiously lacking in tuna, usually a staple at most sushi spots. 

Mona Sushi 末那寿司, #88, 2/F, 890 Changning Lu, by Huichuan Lu, 长宁路龙之梦2楼城市集市88号, 近汇川路.

Sushi Numazuko 寿司沼津港

With 30 locations (yup, THIRTY!) around Shanghai, we figured Sushi Numazuko has got to have something going on.

Why else would there be so many of them? 

Economies of scale?

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In reality, this place is proof incarnate of the saying, “You get what you pay for.” 

The menu is your standard Japanese izakaya and sushi fare at unnervingly low prices (which should have been the first red flag).

But, like a drunk girl at the neighborhood pub on a Saturday night, red flags didn't seem to deter us. 

There’s everything from grilled Meat Skewers (RMB9-20) to Nigiri (RMB17-23/2 pieces), from Sashimi (RMB50-90) to Sushi Rolls (RMB25-35/4 pieces).

They also have rice bowls with raw or cooked seafood or meats from RMB55-70, and all the conventional appetizers like seaweed salad, wasabi octopus, and the like. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

For the name alone, you can’t not get the Mountain Stack Tuna Belly Warship Nigiri (山堆枪鱼腩军舰) (RMB19/2 pieces).

We half expected it to roll up on a tank, six pack abs glistening with sweat, a machete slung across its shoulder.

Instead, it arrived resembling a cadet that pounded too much of the mystery meat rations and ended up with the squirts – one of poorest excuses for nigiri we’ve possibly ever choked down; watery mashed tuna belly tasting – well – just as described, pressed atop some mealy rice. 

The Salmon Nigiri (RMB17/2 pieces) was equally flavorless, a thin ribbon of some mediocre – disturbingly neon-colored – salmon over a golf ball of more of that bland excuse for rice. 

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We were noticing a trend at this point, as the Mango Eel Roll (RMB28/4 pieces) is 80% – you guessed it – rice.

And not the individual mirin-slick kernels of Japanese long-grain rice either, just like Uncle Ben’s microwave instance rice from the good ol’ discount store. 

The miniscule amount of filling inside the roll is composed of those fake crab sticks from Family Mart, a hunk of egg and a sliver of cucumber.

Atop the roll, the eel is slathered in a sugary molasses-esque sauce (eel sauce here is apparently syrup) and an overripe chunk of mango.

Real bottom of the barrel stuff. 

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We shamelessly ate the Tuna Belly Sashimi (RMB42/60 grams) in its entirety – more hunks of flavorless nonsense that we soaked in wasabi soy sauce to get down (protein bulking and hulking – gotta maintain that swole, y’all). 

One silver lining – there’s free flow pickled ginger on the table, so you know, value.  

While there are places in the city that deliver on the value front (and we’ve found them) – Sushi Numazuko ain't one of them.

We sacrificed our tummy for this meal so you don’t have to.

There are currently 30 locations of Sushi Numazuko around Shanghai – you can find the nearest location to you on Dianping.

Tokyo House 东京屋

Quite possibly Shanghai’s busiest value sushi spot, Tokyo House is the place to visit for all things everyday sushi.

Even when Tokyo House remained cash only – long after WeChat Pay and Alipay became the norm – lines still continued out the door every damn day. 


Because Tokyo House low key has that high-quality hookup for fresh seafood and pumps it out at an astonishing rate at beyond reasonable prices.

Plating could use some work, restaurant decór hasn't been updated in years, and service is on the gruffer side, yet all of that is quicky overlooked when the sushi arrives, each flavorful detail meticulously accounted for. 

WechatIMG89.jpegFoie Gras Nigiri (RMB18), Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

From the glossy mirin and sugar-slick individual long grain rice kernels, to the daub of wasabi exactingly placed on each knuckle of said nigiri-topped rice, to the compact sushi rolls that master the rice-to-fish ratio, diners make zero concessions for cost here. 

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The menu is large, with assorted sets of Sashimi (RMB79-259), both seared and fresh Nigiri (RMB15-30/2 pieces) plus varying sets of six mixed nigiri for RMB49-69.

There are Sushi Rolls (RMB49-69), cold dishes (like natto or spicy mini squid), grilled fish options, sizzling meat hotplates, hotpots and sukiyaki, and soba noodles dishes.

Do note that pickled ginger isn't complimentary, but a heaping portion can be ordered for an additional – and well worth it – RMB5.

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The must-order roll here is the Summer Roll (RMB49), the freshest of the lot with salmon, tuna, and white tuna belly, sheathed by creamy avocado slices and texturally contrasting popping roe beads.

This tight roll has only a thin covering of rice so the fresh fish shines, scoring patrons serious protein for their kuai outlay. 

Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

While you can't go wrong with just about any of the nigiri, the Unagi Nigiri (RMB16/2 pieces) is a no-brainer, each fleshy slice painted with a sticky eel sauce.

And, while the Scallop Nigiri (RMB23) is pricier than the rest, one look and you understand the justification – a fat wedge of unctuous scallop butterflied open across glistening rice, sweet with a supple chew – our favorite scallop nigiri in the city. 

Tokyo House 东京屋, 1106 Wuding Lu, by Yanping Lu, 武定路1106号, 近延平路.

READ MORE: Bargain, Balanced, Ballin': 20 Foie Gras Dishes For All Budgets

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