Shanghai, a foodie beacon, has classic Chinese restaurants, western gastropubs, health-consciousness dining, and all-senses experience eating. The population's openness to diverse tastes—both in local cuisine and imported flavors from the rest of the country and abroad—has allowed chefs to create unique dishes and dining experiences.
Ambitious French chef Paul Pairet opened Ultraviolet in 2012 with the intention of creating a brand new kind of restaurant: a 22-course, full sensory gastronomic journey. Michelin-starred and notoriously hard to get a reservation for, there is only one table with 10 chairs. Surrounded by bare walls which transform through 360-degree projections into forests, seascapes, and more, each course is a scene with the food being the undoubted star. Expect meat dishes like rack of lamb or avant-garde creations like a crunchy salad with turnip, cheese, potato, and arugula arranged artfully.
Qimin Organic Hotpot
Farm-to-table Qimin Organic Hotpot serves super fresh produce. So fresh that you can cut your mushrooms off a log and the hairy crabs are live. Diners choose from a variety of meat, produce, and seafood, then drop each ingredient into their own individual hotpots. Qimin sources from its own organic farm in Kunshan to its three locations, ensuring the quality of each ingredient. Choose your base from one of their eight different kinds of broth (beef bone, tomato, chicken, and vegetable are a few). Add your meats and veg, and top it off with your own creation from the DIY sauce bar.
As soon as you step into FU 1088, set in a 1920’s Spanish-style mansion, a sense of peacefulness descends upon you. From the care of the waitstaff to the live piano music drifting through the corridors, the whole ambiance of the restaurant allows patrons to relax and savor each of their Shanghainese dishes, and appreciate the liberties they take with classic dishes. The hong shao rou (red braised pork belly) and xiefen (crab roe paste) are must-orders, as is the steamed fish.
M on the Bund
Founder Michelle Garnaut ushered in a new era in Shanghai when she opened this restaurant, the first ever on the Bund, over 20 years ago. Sit in the art deco dining room and watch the barges chug along in the water below as you tuck into crispy suckling pig with melt-in-your-mouth peaches. Finish your meal with a pavlova, stacked full of fresh fruit and crispy meringue. With amazing service and a history of bringing together the city’s intellectuals (M hosts the Shanghai International Literary Festival), you’re sure to find some aspect of this restaurant special and timeless.
Planet-consciousness meets style in this chic Bund vegetarian restaurant. Based on the five elements of traditional Chinese medicine and sourcing organic seasonal ingredients from all over China, the menu blends east and west with presentation inspired by Jiangnan Gardens. Set menus are the norm here. You can expect dishes like baked chestnut mushrooms with Thai sweet chili sauce, mushroom tonkatsu covered in panko flakes, or chestnut wintertime soup. Bring cash as foreign credit cards are hard to use here.
A good wine list, “farm chic” decor, and a Michelin plate to its name, Mercato is the place to go in Shanghai for sassy Italian fare. Start with their house-made ricotta strawberry appetizer and by the time the sumptuous sourdough and berry compote land in your mouth, you’ll be a forever fan of this Jean-Georges restaurant in Three on the Bund. Pizzas get baked in a wood-fired oven and come out thin, chewy, charred, and delectable. Order the black truffle, raw farm egg, and three-cheese pizza for a menu showstopper.
Mr & Mrs Bund
Shanghai’s first late night fine dining restaurant is another one of Paul Pairet’s creations. Expect creatively prepared modern French cuisine with a few tweaks. Polyglot staff, oversized red velvet chairs, and sweeping views of the Huangpu River add to the charm of the restaurant’s ambience, housed in a neoclassical building from the 1920s. The wine menu includes 32 offerings by the glass, while the food menu showcases unique creations alongside classics, like the chicken picnic aioli and the foie gras mouse with a light hazelnut crumble. Open until 4 a.m., take advantage of their late-night menu starting at 11 p.m.
Fu He Hui
Michelin-starred, one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and covered by every food blogger in Shanghai, Fu Hei Hui has as many accolades to its name as it has vegetables on offer. The rustic decor of stone, wood, and earthy hues throughout the space assist in creating a Zen environment. Patrons choose one of their vegetarian set menus and are then presented with plates like a giant xiaolongbao (soup dumpling), a hearty grilled porcini mushroom balanced atop a jar of grapevine smoke, or asparagus with rocket flower and pickled lemon. Opt for the tea pairing, which aids rather than overpowers the flavors.
For a cheap, classic Shanghai meal, head to one of the many locations of Yang's Dumplings, and order the sheng jian bao (pan-fried pork buns). This plump, fried Shanghainese dim sum dish has juicy pork broth inside and fresh sesame seeds and chives on top, perfect for chewing and slurping. The focus at Yang’s is clearly on the food and not frills (read: very simple decor). Lines can be long, but the service is quick. Plus, you can order your fill of dumplings for the equivalent of just a few dollars.
Din Tai Fung
Some say it’s the best xiaolongbao in the city (even though it’s technically a Taiwanese restaurant), while others scoff at the price. One thing is sure: quality is guaranteed at the West Nanjing Road location, where each xiaolongbao is made by hand. Everything is good here: the spicy shrimp and pork wonton soup, the scallion noodles, even the red bean paste dessert dumplings. As if all this wasn’t enough reason to go, they also have international street cred: a Michelin Bib Gourmand award.
Khan’s Mongolian Bistro
Where else can you eat with your hands in a rooftop yurt in Shanghai? Khan’s gives diners authentic Inner Mongolian flavors, good value for their money, generous portions, and quite possibly the best meat selection in town. All the lamb and beef are imported from Inner Mongolia and the quality is apparent in the juicy meat stew, succulent lamb ribs, and tender Mongolian beef potstickers. For a traditional drink, order the milk tea (with a Pu’er base). Wooden decorations, Mongolian art (some horse-inspired) and a very friendly atmosphere complete this gem of a restaurant.
Lost Heaven stylishly showcases both the flavors and art of indigenous tribes from Yunnan Province, Tibet, Laos, and Myanmar. Chefs incorporate indigenous cooking techniques and recipes into the menu to bring you Dali-style chicken, Burmese tea leaf salad, Yunnan wild vegetable cakes, and many more offerings. Order one of their creative cocktails to go with dinner, like the Thai Zeed, a vodka and rum base mixed with chili and lime. For low lighting and an intimate setting rife with Yunnanese folk art, go to their Former French Concession location.
The Commune Social
Eat tapas and desserts while you sip cocktails in a repurposed police station complete with lush courtyard seating. The Commune Social by chef Jason Atherton creates plates as delicious as they are beautiful, like the tomato and mascarpone scrambled egg with baby eel or the peanut ice cream with red fruit and salted peanut caramel. Expect dishes to range from Spain, England, and Asia, and for the bloody marys to be on point (a brunch must).
Started by a former Whole Foods employee, Element Fresh delivers inventive healthy, fresh western and eastern plates to Shanghai’s more nutritionally conscious diners. Smoothies, juices, giant salads, wraps, and noodle dishes comprise the menu, and comfortable booths with simple decor add to the ambiance of “clean eating.” The zesty Chilean beef salad will fill you without making you feel heavy and the pomegranate glazed chicken and apple sandwich tastes like a summer day with its tangy undertones and green flourishes.
This hip gastropub serves tasty American plates with tongue-in-cheek names in a large industrial space in the K Wah Centre. Each menu item is delectable but two real standouts are the Hannibal Lecter special—a killer pastrami sandwich—and the Fat Elvis, a banana chiffon cake with ice cream and candied bacon. For drinks, knock back one of the in-house brews, like the Miami Weiss, or go for an expertly mixed cocktail, such as the Paper Plane, with bourbon and citrus. Great for lunch, dinner, and drinks, Liquid Laundry also brings in DJs nightly who spin hip-hop and house music.