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 Kelvin Ip
Name: Kelvin Ip
Hometown: Hong Kong
Occupation: General Manager at UnTour Food Tours
Where does your love for food stem from?
I grew up in a family that loves food and travel. My upbringing was heavily centered around food – even our vacations were always planned around where we’d eat on the trip.
When it came to eating at home, there was never a meal that was sub-par because everyone in my family knows how to cook.
When it came to eating out, a general house rule was that we would always try everything. Even if a dish sounded less than appealing, we would always order it, on the off chance that it would be amazing.
So food has always been a big part of my life and the combination of travelling and trying new things really helped solidify that love for food of all sorts of cuisines.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Shanghai that serves Cantonese food?
Cha’s would probably be my favorite Cantonese spot in town. I think it’s hard to find proper, authentic Cantonese food in Shanghai – mainly because the palette of your general demographic in Shanghai is so different than the palette of your average Cantonese person, and as a restaurant based here, you almost always have to adapt and adjust to the majority.
Cha’s, in my opinion, does a great job of keeping it real. Beyond just the authenticity of the taste of the dishes, they’ve really nailed the vibe of a proper Hong Kong diner. Nothing pairs better with Cantonese diner food than a 50s Hong Kong restaurant backdrop, loud chattering and yelling wait staff.
What’s your favorite local eats spot?
Growing up in Shanghai, I’ve seen many things change in this extremely transient city; restaurants closing, streets gentrifying, the list goes on. But the thing I can never seem to let go of is the dying scene of Old Shanghai hole-in-the-walls disappearing. This is why my favorite local spot is San Lin Tang 三林唐 Dumpling Shop.
In this day and age it’s truly one of a kind. This tiny hole-in-the-wall not only does some of the best dumplings and noodles in town, but also has the best throwback Shanghai vibe. It has fold-out tables that sprawl across three parking garages right next to the kitchen, not to mention the delicious noodles, phenomenal broth and their plethora of benbang toppings.
What’s your favorite high end restaurant and why?
HIYA. I’ve never walked away not impressed by everything I had.
What’s your go-to date night spot and why?
It would have to be SOiF. It’s a nice small intimate space, but also has great small plate food and an amazing selection of wine. Also, the owners there do an awesome job of accommodating their guests and providing excellent recommendations for their wine.
Image by Sophie Steiner/That's
If you had to pick one restaurant in Shanghai that you couldn’t live without, which would it be?
My pick would have to be Tacolicious. Those guys know how to keep you on your toes. Chef Thijs does such a phenomenal job with pumping out new specials every single Tuesday; I have yet to try a new taco there that I can’t get behind. They’re the perfect go-to restaurant that you can’t go wrong with.
Are there any restaurants that closed that you really miss?
I wouldn’t say I have one particular one in mind, but if there’s a type of food I miss, it would be street side shaokao and chaofan. Hands down.
What gaps do you see in the Shanghai dining scene that you would like to see filled?
Although I do love my fair share of fine dining, small and simple concepts that do good food that isn’t too fancy is seen less and less these days. Those are the kind of spots that spark innovation and that’s something that you can never have too much of in any city.
What is your favorite dish in Shanghai?
Youbaoxia 油爆虾, or oil-fried shrimp. It’s easy and as authentic as you can get when it comes to Shanghainese food. Also, as a Canto that grew up in Shanghai, I’m an absolute sucker for shrimp.
What advice would you give to budding foodies in Shanghai?
In an ever-changing city like Shanghai, try to take advantage of things popping up left and right, and never stop trying new things!