The good, the bad and the ugly. The weird and the wacky. As is the That’s tradition, we’ve compiled our 2019 China Year in Review series. So sit back, relax and relive the highs and lows of the last 12 months.
The dreaded question every night: What’s for dinner? Luckily, Guangzhou isn’t short of restaurants. But which ones made an impression on our stomachs this year? Below, in no particular order, we share our favorite restaurants that debuted in 2019.
Image by Tristin Zhang/That’s
We start our dining experience at Le Banquet Bistro with the popular Antarctic scampi with caviar and sea urchin (RMB118), which is prepared raw and is an absolute delight – for our palates, anyway. Other highlights from the menu’s appetizer section include the French oyster platter (from RMB238 per half dozen) and Boston lobster with vegetables and black vinegar (RMB108).
For mains, house recommendations include the lamb chops, Boston lobster, Atlantic cod and steaks. We ignore our server’s recommendations, though, and throw caution to the wind, ordering the classic seafood spaghetti with pesto sauce (RMB88). The pasta comes topped with juicy prawns and mussels, and the pesto sauce and noodles are authentic – rekindling memories of our 2016 trip to Italy. To our surprise, Le Banquet offers diners a complimentary salad or soup when they order an entree (for the time being, anyway).
If you’re looking to play posh and dine on dainty European dishes, Le Banquet might as well be your first choice in Guangzhou.
Who’s going: CBD dwellers, in-the-know foodies
Good for: a romantic dinner, quality European fare
Nearest metro: Linhexi (Exit D), 5 minutes’ walk
2. Pig Out
Image provided by Pig Out
Pig Out serves up mini-burgers, fries and pizza, with fresh ingredients used in their pies and juicy angus beef and flavorful toppings combining for a pretty badass burger. We try the ‘Beer Me Burger’ (RMB31) and ‘Wasa-be Hot Burger’ (RMB33), as recommended by the cook.
Topped with old cheddar and mozzarella cheese and bacon, the Beer Me Burger is cooked with a unique beer sauce of your choosing (Pig Out’s sauces include lager, IPA and stout, as well as good ol’ BBQ.) It truly hits the spot, and is quite filling given its smaller stature. We next move on to the Wasa-be Hot Burger, which comes topped with mozzarella, a wasabi-infused mayo or ketchup and teriyaki-glazed bacon. It’s another winner, as the wasabi taste comes through while not overpowering the rest of the flavors.
Pig Out also does milkshakes and ice cream, and they do them right. Among their ice cream options, you’ll find Nutella chunk and a creative beer-flavored ice cream, which boasts a sweet and nutty aftertaste (and just enough of a malty flavor to tell that beer is in the mix).
Who’s going: cheat day eaters, beer drinkers
Good for: brew-cooked burgers, hanging out(side)
Nearest metro: Tiyu Xi Lu (Exit D), 5 minutes’ walk
3. Poke Wood
Image via Poke Wood
If you’ve ever eaten a poke bowl – you know, the popular Hawaiian dish that blew up in the mid-2010s – you’ll know why we’re excited about Poke Wood’s new shop in Guangzhou. Like most poke eateries, Poke Wood’s DIY poke bowl (RMB42) is broken down into four steps: You first select your base, followed by your desired protein, sauce and toppings.
We opt for white sushi rice and lettuce for the base, salmon and shrimp for protein, honey mustard for a rich dressing and broccoli, corn, mushrooms and avocado (extra RMB8). We find Poke Wood’s main menu item to be a perfect lunchtime meal, and more than enough for two people to enjoy. The salmon and shrimp are both fresh and tender, while the avocado, rice and other veggies blend perfectly with the light honey mustard sauce.
We cap the meal off with one of Poke Wood’s ice-cold beverages (September heatwaves are no joke). We settle on their honeydew soda (RMB22), which, despite its name, isn’t as sweet as expected.
Who’s going: hungry and healthy eaters, the poke posse
Good for: healthy eats, fresh seafood
Nearest metro: Zhujiang New Town (Exit A2), 15 minutes’ walk
Image by Tristin Zhang/That's
Since the establishment of the first Toritama in Tokyo in 1999, this skewered chicken restaurant and bar chain has opened branches across Asia and won numerous honors, including four Michelin Bib Gourmand awards.
The must-order dishes here are the momo, or chicken thigh skewer (RMB18), and the chicken meatball (RMB15). The momo uses what is arguably the best poultry part and comes with a seven-ingredient dip known as shichimi, while the meatball is elevated by the addition of gristly chicken parts. Another hot order is the chicken intestine (RMB25), which comes with eggs attached and is apparently in limited supply.
While Toritama’s skewered offerings are undoubtedly tasty and extensive, you won’t sate your appetite on meat sticks alone. As such, we recommend sampling the establishment’s minced meat and chicken skewer on rice (RMB65), a hearty dish with flavors that are balanced by the addition of nori and a half-cooked egg.
Who’s going: Guangzhou’s Japanese community, culinary cosmonauts
Good for: testicle-lovin’ diners, Michelin-quality chicken skewers
Nearest metro: Shipaiqiao (Exit D), 10 minutes’ walk
Image by Tristin Zhang/That’s
Eggy’s menu is simple: seven egg-focused burgers, four eggy snacks and close to a dozen eggless drinks, all prepared on-site as orders are placed.
While all the burgers on offer here are undoubtedly appealing, we opted for the ‘beef eggsplosion’ (RMB46), which features a runny egg, Australian beef patty, cheddar cheese, lettuce, pickles, caramelized onions and tomato. The taste is dominated by the Australian beef and a secret, homemade spicy sauce, which together result in bold, delicious flavors that had us licking our fingers in no time at all.
From the snack selections, the ‘bad eggs’ (RMB26) are a real treat. This dish is comprised of two baguette slices, a jar of creamy mashed potatoes and sous vide onsen egg, a Japanese low-temperature-cooked egg. Mix the egg with the potatoes and apply to the bread for a palate-pleasing punch of culinary excellence that costs less than a pint of beer at your average Guangzhou pub.
Who’s going: eggheads, burger lovers
Good for: a break from Mickey D’s double cheese burger
Nearest metro: Tiyu Xi Lu (Exit B), 10 minutes’ walk
6. Naked Bowl
Image by Tristin Zhang/That's
Naked Bowl dishes out a decent array of hearty edibles, from grain-based bowls to bagel sandwiches. There are a wide variety of bagels to choose from, and if you don’t want a bagelwich you can simply get your doughy disc toasted with cream cheese. Some of their healthy offerings contain ingredients like baby spinach and brussel sprouts as well as imported whole grains.
The ‘Buddha Bowl’ (RMB58) is a colorful combination of rice, lettuce, spicy broccoli, brussel sprouts, beet hummus, zucchini, smashed pumpkin, parsley, mint, almonds and red cabbage slaw, and it’s flavorfully touched up by a fig vinaigrette. Another popular choice is the ‘Kale Caesar Bowl’ (RMB48), powered by superfood kale and flavored with homemade low-calorie Caesar dressing. Switching ingredients to make your bowl vegan is also possible.
For sandwich lovers, the smoked salmon bagel sandwich (RMB48) did not disappoint. Packed with thick and rich cream cheese, smoked salmon and fresh arugula on a chewy bagel, this delicious handheld meal was both satisfying and filling.
Who’s going: consulate workers, expats, weight watchers
Good for: making your healthy diet dream a reality
Nearest metro: Zhujiang New Town (Exit B1), 10 minutes’ walk
7. Benwo Cafe
Image by Ryan Gandolfo/That’s
Benwo Cafe is the definition of a hidden spot. Tucked away behind one of the many office slash retail buildings within Phoenix Creative Park, located roughly a kilometer southwest of Haizhu’s popular Taigucang Wharf F&B area, Benwo (the philosophical phrase meaning ‘one’s self’ in English) is a private place that likely wouldn’t show up on many people’s radars.
Sporting a pizza station on the left side, baked goods in the middle and a coffee and juice bar to the right, Benwo is bound to have something you’re craving. The cafe offers pizza, pasta, brunch-esque items and a range of hot and cold beverages. We settle on an iced latte (RMB22) and a burrata, parmesan and ham pizza (9-inch for RMB78, 12-inch for RMB108).
The latte is what we’ve come to expect at just about any decent cafe in town – your typical espresso and steamed milk beverage. But the pizza, to our surprise, has us bobbing our heads in approval. With a bulbous batch of burrata centrally located on the fresh ’za, which is also topped with prosciutto and arugula, we have to admit that our expectations are more than met.
Who’s going: millennial workers, pizza pengyou
Good for: snackin’ and chattin’
Nearest metro: Fenghuang Xincun (Exit A), 7 minutes’ walk
8. Da Francesco
Image by Ryan Gandolfo/That’s
Da Francesco serves both oil and tomato-based pizzas as well as a list of pastas and steaks. We decide on the truffle and ham oil-based pizza (RMB88-118), and also order the salmon with arugula (RMB108) and bruschetta (RMB32).
To our surprise, the pizza comes out faster than the other two dishes (a first from our experience). We tuck into the thin and crispy pie, which is topped with truffle sauce, ham and mushrooms. The mozzarella is oozing with flavor, and a touch of palate-pleasing truffle sauce make it a pizza worth ordering again.
By the time the bruschetta arrives, we’ve put a decent dent in the pie, and we’re happy to slow the pace. But unlike Da Francesco’s pizza, their bruschetta leaves us unimpressed, lacking any substantive flavor. The salmon, on the other hand, is a delight, with an abundance of fresh and tender fish chunks to conclude a satisfying meal.
Who’s going: Italian cuisine cravers, some guy named Tony
Good for: good food, date nights
Nearest metro: Liede (Exit D), 5 minutes’ walk
9. Hellas Deli
Image by Matt Bossons/That’s
Staff at Hellas Deli – led by proprietor and Greek transplant Dimitris Karagiovanis – specialize in tender meats, refreshing salads and zesty sauces. When we visit, shortly after the restaurant’s official opening in late November, we immediately order two pita wraps, along with pita bread, tzatziki and a Greek salad.
The pita bread with tzatziki (RMB8/18) is a strong starter: Slightly crispy slices of warm pita bread accompanied by a substantial plate of tangy, refreshing tzatziki dip – the renowned, yogurt-based sauce made with cucumbers, garlic, salt, olive oil and assorted herbs.
Three pita wraps are available at Hellas Deli: The pork souvlaki wrap, chicken souvlaki wrap and zucchini patties souvlaki wrap, all of which come packed with tomatoes, onions, French fries and tzatziki and cost a very reasonable RMB28. We sample the pork and zucchini pita wraps and both live up to our expectations – taste wise and portion wise. If we had to choose, we’d recommend the zucchini patties wrap, which will wow both vegetarians and meat eaters alike with its medley of textures and flavors.
End your meal with a bowl of sour Greek yogurt drizzled with sweet, floral honey. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, finish the feast with a shot of tsipouro imported from Greece (RMB18) and a black olive or two. (Beer and wine are available for casual tipplers.)
Who’s going: Spartans, in-the-know foodies, pita pals
Good for: authentic tastes of the Mediterranean, friendly service
Nearest metro: Shixi (Exit B), 2 minutes’ walk
10. Jiangnan Benjia
Image by Matthew Bossons/That’s
While Korean foodies and folks hailing from the southern half of the peninsula may disagree with us, we find Jiangnan Benjia’s range of edibles impressive, particularly for Guangzhou. There’s kimchi, tuna and beef kimbap, a wide range of bibimbap dishes and the legendary Korean-style barbecue. Japanese cuisine also makes an appearance on the menu in the form of California rolls and sashimi.
Shortly after sitting down, staff deliver banchan to our table. Banchan, for the uninitiated, is a selection of small pre-meal dishes to help kickstart your appetite. At Jiangnan Benjia, you can expect shellfish, kimchi, taro and salad, among other tasty snacks.
We recommend ordering a pile of meat to barbecue at your table, while also ordering some side dishes to snack on while you cook. Our choice dishes include the beef bibimbap (RMB40), the kimchi kimbap (RMB25) and the salmon sashimi platter (RMB118). The beef bibimbap is particularly praiseworthy, with expertly cooked meat, an egg, veggies and dried seaweed all soaked in a zesty sauce and set on a bed of fluffy rice. It’s delicious, and we’re confident this dish alone will keep you coming back for more.
Who’s going: people of the peninsula, carnivorous folks
Good for: cooking your own meal, big bowls of bibimbap
Nearest metro: Shayuan (Exit B), 10 minutes’ walk
For more 2019 Year in Review coverage, click here.
[Cover image via Tristin Zhang/That’s, Da Francesco, Poke Wood]