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 Jamie Barys
Name: Jamie Barys
Hometown: Chattanooga, Tennessee
Occupation: Chief Eating Officer, UnTour Food Tours
Where does your love for food stem from?
I’m from Tennessee, so feeding people is in my blood. And my mother – who grew up in the South – is a fantastic cook. She bakes this cracked wheat bread that is truly amazing. People do her favors because they know they’ll get a loaf of 'Sarah Bread' afterwards. I think growing up around all that delicious food and Southern hospitality instilled a real love for gathering around a table with the people I love and using food as a way to communicate with them.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Shanghai that serves your native food?
Southern American food is definitely lacking in Shanghai. I have another friend here who grew up in Atlanta, and every time a 'Southern' restaurant opens up here, one of us goes to check it out and always sends the other a message, 'Still no collards.'
I have always loved Ken Walker’s barbecue – who else would be bold enough to ship a proper smoker all the way from America way back in the early days?! But he did it. When I first moved to Shanghai in 2007, I used to go watch SEC football with a group of friends at the OG Bubba’s Texas-Style Bar-B-Que and Saloon way out on Jianhe Lu and pig out on pulled pork.
Also, the country fried steak on the brunch menu at Heritage by Madison has been giving me LIFE recently. Chef Austin braises kale on the side so it basically the same as collards, bless him! And I love the Chongqing Hot Chicken, which is a nice little hat tip to Nashville’s famous fried chicken.
What’s your favorite local eats spot and why?
Oof, I should be better at answering this by now, but it’s so hard to choose one Chinese restaurant from all the delicious spots in this city. I also eat very much based on mood, so it depends on what I’m feeling at any given moment.
The nice thing about being in China during this no-international-travel period is that I’m rediscovering a lot of the places I used to eat at all the time, and finding new restaurants. Lately, I’ve been eating a lot of Jiangxi noodles from Qi Yue Fen and Taiwanese lunch sets from Red Braised Pork Rice (it’s right around the corner from my office). I always go to Ben Lai for the spicy poached fish and the kindling noodles.
I recently went with Nat Alexander (of Homeslice fame), who has also lived in Shanghai for years and years, to Old Jesse. I’ve been going there for over a decade, and I’m kind of set in my ordering ways, so his recommendation of 梅干菜焖鲑鱼 was a bit out of left field for me, and now it’s definitely on my pre-order list every time I go.
Seventh Son for Dim Sum, Cha’s for Canto diner. Dong Lai for Shandong food, Qian Xiang Ge for Guizhou. Last I checked, Jiukuan still wasn’t too keen on foreigners coming into their shop post-Covid, but you cannot beat it for Ningbo food.
And for Shanghainese snacking, I still love Lin Long Fang for xiaolongbao, Dong Tai Xiang for shengjianbao and Wei Xiang Zhai for the peanut-sesame noodles, but who doesn’t? And when I have the time, A Da Congyoubing.
Image by Sophie Steiner/That's
What’s your favorite high end restaurant and why?
Honestly, I’m just as happy in holes-in-the-wall that are family-owned and -operated as I am at fancy Michelin-starred restaurants. But I’m not going to turn you down if you invite me to any of the Fu restaurants.
What’s your go-to date night spot and why?
I’ve been forcing my husband to spend a lot of nights out in Koreatown in Minhang in the name of research for the new tour we’ve just launched at UnTour Food Tours, called Beyond Bulgogi. Honestly, it’s turned into one of our favorite places to spend time in the city. It feels like a holiday, and all we have to do is hop on the subway.
If you had to pick one restaurant in Shanghai that you couldn’t live without, which would it be and why?
Liu Tang Men. I order the 碗杂面 from there once a week minimum. Also, Strictly Cookies. I don’t have a sweet tooth – I could never eat cake or ice cream again, and I’d be fine – but I do have a weak spot for cookies, and Strictly just NAILS it.
Image by Sophie Steiner/That's
Are there any restaurants that closed that you really miss?
Oh good lord, so many. The night markets that we used to run tours on (Sipailou Lu, Fangbang Lu); I really miss the whole family who ran our crawfish stop for seven years on Shouning Lu. Charmant. The original Er Guang Hundun and Lao Shaoxing Doujiang on Zhaozhou Lu. Sushi Oyama. Chartres. Noodle Bull (or was it Bull Noodle?). Dengji Shiyuan. Harbin Dumpling House. Zhu Que Men. Goga.
What gaps do you see in the Shanghai dining scene that you would like to see filled?
See above about collards.
What is your favorite dish in Shanghai?
Noodles – in all their many varieties, whether they’re made of rice, wheat, sweet potato, mung bean or whatever. In soup or dry. Just give me the carbs. We actually used to run a noodle tour – I loved that tour – but people just got too full… We still run it for private requests from true noodle lovers though.
What advice would you give to budding foodies in Shanghai?
We all love Sichuan food, but try to learn about the lesser known regional varieties of Chinese food and dive deep. There’s so much history and culture buried in the cuisine, and you will learn so much about China in general, plus you’ll get to sample great food!