Shanghai can be a gourmet delight or culinary disaster, depending on where you decide to eat. So we reached out to a few Shanghai F&B folks who really have a handle on the scene to Spill the Beans on their favorite spots, from hole-in-the-wall local eats to high-end venues, from late night drunk grub to date night treat yo’ self splurges.
Image courtesy of Clara Davis
Name: Clara Elizabeth Davis
Hometown: Fairfield, Connecticut
Occupation: Co-Founder of Taste Collective; Founder of Unravel
Where does your love for food stem from?
I think it must be genetic. Everyone in my family takes food seriously – the cooking and the eating. Both my parents are passionate and creative home cooks, and no matter whether we were at Mom’s or Dad’s house, family dinners were non-negotiable.
We were raised to be appreciative and adventurous eaters, as well as curious travelers. I am also a sucker for a story, and food is one of the best mediums for storytelling – across cultures, generations, kitchen tables and beyond.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Shanghai that serves your native food?
I’m not sure Connecticut is known for its native cuisine, and even if I extend to New England, I still don’t think I’ve found a lobster roll that my Bostonian grandmother would have approved of. I might have to work on that one…
Image by Sophie Steiner/That's
What’s your favorite local eats spot and why?
For local, easy Shanghainese we dip around the corner from our office to Jianguo 328. I have also always held a very soft spot for Sichuan Citizen and the many, many occasions and regular old evenings I have celebrated with friends and loved ones there. Sure, it’s adapted to appeal to a more mixed crowd, but their service is unrivalled and (back when people could actually visit us) I would never miss the chance to wow someone with a meal there.
What’s your favorite high-end restaurant and why?
I guess it would have to be Mercato. The food, atmosphere and view are the winning combo. It will always feel like a special place to me.
If you had to pick one restaurant in Shanghai that you couldn’t live without, which would it be and why?
La Vite on Wulumuqi Road. I have as much of an emotional attachment to this place as I do a culinary one. It’s been the backdrop to so many meaningful moments, birthdays, catch ups with friends, love stories and post work debriefs. I have always felt comfortable and taken care of there; it has a beautiful combination of atmosphere, excellent service backed by passionate ownership and consistency of product. So much you can rely on, and you always walk out feeling a little happier than when you walked in. The generous wine pours don’t hurt!
Are there any restaurants that closed that you really miss?
I’ll always miss District; it held a piece of my Shanghai heart, and I haven’t found somewhere I felt the same in ever since. There was an awesome pulled noodle restaurant called Noodle Bull that used to be on Changle Lu, and then Taixing Lu, that I really was a fan of; I still think about their shredded chicken sesame noodles. A million moons ago there was this little cozy French place called Pastis on the 'quiet side' of Yong Kang Lu. I loved that place – great vibe and value, delicious food.
What gaps do you see in the Shanghai dining scene that you would like to see filled?
Mediterranean fare in general. There are certainly a few contenders here, but I feel like in every other global city I have lived in my favorite restaurants have always been Lebanese, Turkish, Israeli, Greek, etc.
There is something very sexy about the freshness and the flavors, the affinity for social eating and sharing, the kind of beautiful but approachable place you could go just as easily for something casual as you could for a night out. I don’t get why it’s not done here in that way.
What is your favorite dish in Shanghai?
A plate of dumplings from the Shandong dumpling spot on Yanqing (山东手工水饺馆 -延庆路) – so simple, so cheap, so good. Anyone who knows me knows I can almost never say no to a night of Hai Di Lao, so that has to be up there. A bag of Strictly Cookies never hurts, and always comforts.
Image by Sophie Steiner/That's
What advice would you give to budding foodies in Shanghai?
Shanghai is synonymously a canvas for experimentation and one of the most dynamic, established food hubs in the world. There is so much to learn from, and still so much space to create. Say yes, follow your instincts, be collaborative and humble and stay hungry!
For more Clara Davis foodie adventures, follow her on Instagram @freshginger1