There’s no doubt about it. The Shanghai culinary scene is a crazy one, and hungry diners can find everything from cheap, delicious street food to high-end, glittering cuisine and the full white tablecloth service. Both options will knock your socks off. But there are some restaurants that seem to be always busy, no matter the day, time, or season. Here are a few that the locals flock to, and for which they are willing to queue for a table.
Little Sheep Hot Pot（Xiǎoféiyáng, 小肥羊）
Opened in 1999, this Inner Mongolian-style hot pot restaurant has more than 28 branches in Shanghai and a reach that extends around the world (now that it is partly owned by Yum! Brands). This has not at all diminished its popularity back home. The name of the game here is top-quality lamb (the name translates literally to ‘fat little sheep’) and broths made with a whole host of medicinal herbs and spices. A delicious winter warmer, and a buzzy, clean atmosphere.
This long-time stalwart serves up homey Shanghai classics and is beloved by old and young alike. They steam up satisfying soup dumplings, fry up pork chops, and whip up bowls of noodles as fast as they can. There’s always a line downstairs, so be ready to hover like the other hungry diners and grab a seat where you can – you’ll definitely share a table with a stranger.
For well priced, good quality dim sum, look no farther than this restaurant tucked up on the third floor of the IAPM Mall. There’s always a line waiting, but the huge interior and efficient service ensure that the turnover is quick. Grab a number and wait for it to be called. Be sure to get an order of the shaomai dumplings and delicious steamed black bean spareribs.
Bless them, the Shanghai locals do love their hot pot. This particular chain is a transplant from Sichuan and have made a killing not only for their spicy hot pot, but also for their service. During peak hours, there will generally be a wait for a table, but the staff will make it worth your while. In the lobby, you’ll find free fruit, manicures, shoe shines, and more, which will help make the time pass quickly. There are several locations around town. Here’s a popular one.
Literally named after the huge founder (surname Dong), this chain quickly made its name for Beijing roasted duck that’s less fatty and more flavorful. The crackling skin and juicy meat roasted over fruit road certainly live up to the hype. No reservations are taken, and people tend to linger over their meal, so be sure to arrive early to help cut down on the time you spend drinking glasses of plum juice in the front lobby.
Cha’s is a faithful recreation of Hong Kong’s old-style diners from the 1950s and serves up comforting fare of Hong Kong favorites – many of which draw influence from Western cuisine. Parties of two will more often than not be seated with strangers. Once you dig into an order of the pineapple buns, and XO sauce fried rice, it’ll feel like you’re all friends.
When locals want to get dressed up and go out for a night on the town, they often head to the Bund to spend the big bucks for the great views. Hakkasan in particular seems to always be busy. This upscale Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant (and import from London) offers creative takes on classic Cantonese dishes in super fancy surroundings. Make reservations early for weekend seatings.
For one of the best noodle dishes in Shanghai, head to A Niang Noodles for a bowl of specialty yellow croaker noodles (Huángyú miàn, 黄鱼面). Here, a second generation restaurateur can be found whipping up his mother’s specialty noodles to hungry hordes of appreciative patrons. Be ready to share a table (and elbow space) with a stranger, but trust us, you’ll be the all the happier once you eat this iconic dish.
Guang Ming Village (Guāngmíng cūn dà jiǔjiā, 光明邨大酒家)
This is another restaurant that has survived the test of time on one of Shanghai’s glitziest shopping streets. The nondescript building often has people queuing up around the corner buying Chinese meat pastries from the first floor. Upstairs, you’ll find a cheerful sit-down spot where you can dig into wonton noodle soup and braised duck to your heart’s content.