Compared to the likes of Hangzhou or Beijing, Shanghai’s historical and culinary legacies are not so significant. The power and buzz of the city didn’t really start until the First Opium War ended in 1842 and generally speaking, Shanghai’s cuisine is an amalgamation of farmers food and the different immigrant groups who flocked to the area. In addition, during the tumultuous 1960s and 70s, many restaurants closed, with only a few reopening. Nonetheless, the 10 restaurants listed below hold a time-honored reputation with loyal locals and visitors alike.
Wang Bao He (王宝和)
Originally a winery, Wang Bao He was founded in 1744 and started in Shaoxing. It later relocated, becoming one of the earliest wine shops to open in Shanghai, finally settling at its current location on Fuzhou Road in 1936. It claims to be one of Shanghai’s first hairy crab (Dàzháxiè, 大闸蟹) and Chinese brandy (huángjiǔ, 黄酒) stores – an ultimate pairing of two of Shanghai’s most famous consumables. Visit during hairy crab season when they throw their notorious Chrysanthemum Crab Feast, as they do, after all, call themselves the “King of Crabs, and Ancestor of Liquors.” Even if you miss crab season, their seafood is still top notch. Try the unctuous drunken crabs (zuì xiè, 醉蟹), marinated in Wang Bao He brandy.
Restaurant with Rooms, Tea Room, Chinese, Tea , $$$
Founded in 1773 and deemed as being one of the first teahouses in China, Hu Xin Ting claims an illustrious reputation for serving excellent tea to influential guests, including the Queen of England and many powerful Chinese government officials. Set in the midst of a small koi pond and built entirely of wood (apparently without a single nail), the two-story space is one of the few older style buildings you’ll find left standing in Shanghai. Inside, the cavernous interior is big enough to fit 200 people at a time, who all sit on antique furniture sipping from dainty cups. On the menu, there’s a wide selection of fine teas and small snacks. For something more unusual, try a delicate white tea (báichá, 白茶) or robust fermented Pu’er tea (pǔ’ěr chá, 普洱茶).
In the beginning, Xing Hua Lou was a Cantonese-style coffee shop offering desserts and sweet porridge, then it later expanded into savory and dim sum options. Today, it is a successful food empire, with products on supermarket shelves around the city. Their popularity largely revolves around their mooncakes (yuèbǐng, 月饼) which were first sold in 1929. Dining on the second floor of their original restaurant on Fuzhou Road is a treat – the menu features traditional Cantonese-style dim sum. Particularly famous is their poached scallion chicken version (xiānglù cōngyóujī, 香露葱油鸡).
This four-story restaurant was originally founded by two friends in 1862, growing popular for serving up various Shanghainese dishes with culinary influence from Suzhou and Wuxi. In 2016, the restaurant became one of only four Shanghainese restaurants to be awarded a Michelin star – although, oddly, the owners were not informed of the nomination, nor the awards ceremony. Today, the restaurant is busier than ever (and with a much younger clientele) but the restaurant still dishes up the same quality braised lion’s head meatballs (Hóngshāo shīzi tóu, 红烧狮子头) and crispy fried shrimp (yóu bào xiā, 油爆虾).
This classic Shanghainese restaurant holds a significantly nostalgic place in the hearts of many local residents, with customers following the restaurant as it moved from location to location across the city, since opening in 1875. The chefs serve up a very classic version of Shanghainese cuisine, think sweet and savory with a lot of dark sauce. They are particularly reputable for their eight treasure stuffed duck (bā bǎo yā, 八宝鸭) and crystal shrimp (shuǐjīng xiārén, 水晶虾仁).
Opening in 1875, Shen Dacheng has been sating Shanghai’s hunger for simple, filling fare for more than 140 years. Its most famous location is on Nanjing pedestrian street, and tends to fill up quickly during lunch hours, with locals tucking into bowls of shrimp wonton soup (xiāròu xiǎo húntún, 虾肉小馄饨), fried noodles with meat sauce (ròusī liǎngmiàn huáng, 肉丝两面黄) and soup dumplings (xiǎo lóng bāo, 小笼包). Their desserts and baked goods are also extremely popular, including glutinous rice cakes filled with salty egg yolk and pork floss (dànhuáng ròusōng qīng tuán, 蛋黄肉松青团), sweet rice rolls filled with sweet red bean (gāo tuán, 糕团) and flaky, warm cakes filled with pork meatball (xiān ròu yuèbǐng, 鲜肉月饼).
Going since 1878 and boasting several locations around the city, De Xing Guan’s two-story location on Guangdong Road is the finest. On the first floor, you’ll find 20 different noodle dishes, including their legendary braised pork leg and smoked fish soup noodles (mèn tí èr xiān miàn, 焖蹄二鲜面) and cold noodles with wheat gluten and julienned vegetables (kǎo fū sān sī liáng miàn, 烤麸三丝凉面). The upstairs restaurant menu features more dishes, such as their house specialty, deep fried fish (dé xìng bào yú, 德兴爆鱼) served in a fancier, more formal setting.
Founded in 1881 and specializing in Anhui specialties, Da Fugui is a riotous, cheerful restaurant serving up delicious snacks, fried buns (shēng jiān bāo, 生煎包) , noodles and roasted meats. Since World War II, the restaurant has moved locations quite a bit, but it has fortuitously ended up right back where it started on Zhonghua Road.
It’s impossible to miss the towering blue dome when driving on the Yan’an overpass, towards the Bund that marks Shanghai’s oldest halal restaurant, which opened in 1891. The century-old restaurant is a family-owned hot pot restaurant, where you’ll find tables huddled around a bubbling pots of clear broth, heated by a charcoal fire. Customers can add an array of thinly-sliced meats, vegetables and tofu to their broth for a deliciously heart-warming meal. While there are other locations, this is the one where you’ll find the most nostalgic atmosphere.
Opening in 1905, Lao Ban Zhai was originally a combination tea house and restaurant and was taken over by the government in 1949, when it then became a canteen for the masses. However, the cheap prices and quality noodles keep this restaurant close to the hearts of Shanghai residents. Locals pop in for a bowl of special noodles in a rich pork broth (dāoyú zhī miàn, 刀鱼汁面 ).