In case you missed it, here was my year-end “list” post on Shanghaiist. I struggled to write this between the hours of 1 and 3 AM the morning before I left for Taiwan. There are, of course, dozens more restaurants that I discovered and favored this past year, but here are the notable few:
2009 saw a few new truly great restaurants open up, dining trends hardening into the fabric of local eating culture, chefs making hops within and without Shanghai, and several welcome and unwelcome closings. But, list-wise, this is well-trodden territory, and I’d rather refer you to our esteemed media peers for great reporting and great writing of all the goings-on in the Shanghai food scene. Instead, check out the 5 restaurants that I frequented the most in the past year. None of them are western, none of them are fine dining, all of them I love.
1. Coco Ichibana. There was one stretch this year where I had the same dish at this fast food Japanese curry favorite for 11 straight days. If only there were a record for these things (or a cash prize). Talk to any one of Coco’s many devotees, and I’d wager they have their own favorite unique combination of ingredients to go with the saliva-inducing curry gravy on a bed of fluffy white rice. Yes, we’ve professed our love for this place before. but it’s MY top 5 list after all, not yours. Fried chicken, Level 4 spiciness, extra sauce on the side. And, if it’s to cure a hangover, then top it off with melted cheese please.
2. Yu Xin. There have been many Sichuan restaurants in town that have tried to wrest our love away from Yu Xin, the king of the hill for so many years, and all to no avail. Though some sloppiness has seeped into the cooking in recent trips, there are still surprises to be discovered. Take, for instance, the chopped chicken in green chili sauce we had. A cousin of the appetite-opening saliva chicken (口水鸡), this off-menu dish consists of so many little green peppers that you have to poke and prod to fish out the super tender chicken. Though the dish looks like it packs many a wallop, the peppers are not too spicy, and make for good eating when drizzled atop rice. Don’t miss out on the snacks on the back page of the menu: damn fine dumplings in chili oil. For one of the more authentic Sichuan experiences, this is still one of the safest bets in town.
Yu Xin – 3/F, No. 333 Chengdu Lu, near Weihai Lu (渝信川菜 – 成都北路333号, 近威海路) Tel: 5298-0438
3. Tentekomai. I owe one of my contemporaries a big one for recommending this wonderful little Japanese restaurant to us earlier this year. Come for the mini gyozas (salted cod roe is our favorite), stay for golden fried chicken, incredibly flavorful thin-cut beef tongue, and potato and cheese croquettes that are so delicious you’ll want to steal them off your neighbor’s plate. The draught beer is cold and cheap, the way it should be at a place as perfect as Tentekomai.
Tentekomai – No. 242 Julu Lu, near Ruijin No. 1 Lu (天手古舞 – 巨鹿路242号, 近瑞金一路) Tel: 5228-0650
4. Hunan Village. The one on Wulumuqi Lu gets my recommendation for the best out of this chain. It’s unpretentious and pretty good for how cheap the food is here. While it’s not Guyi, you can still get a decent spicy fish head here, mean spare ribs, and plateful after plateful of the most addicting tiny fried fish. Yes, little tiny fried fish…with peppers…for 10 RMB a plate. Recession dining at its funnest.
Hunan Village – No. 168 Wulumuqi Lu, near Anfu Lu (湖南乡村风味 – 乌鲁木齐中路168号, 近安福路) Tel: 6437-0952
5. Cha’s Restaurant. Though it might seem gimmicky, Cha’s charming decor – a recreation of a 50’s/60’s style Cantonese diner (茶餐厅) – is offset by the sublime greasy Hong Kong dishes that are the real star of the show. The soya chicken is tops, its braised pork belly and runny egg and shrimp rice the perfect antidotes for a multitude of poisons at 3 AM in the morning. The milk tea is superlative too. Since Cha’s opened, I’ve been in a sort of honeymoon daze over the place, one that will surely carry over into 2010. Sorry, Tsui Wah.
Cha’s Restaurant – 1/F, 30 Sinan Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu (查餐厅 – 思南路30号, 近淮海中路) Tel: 6093-2062