After living eight years in the bustling city of Shanghai, Popupla intern Xenia Fong narrows down her favorite go-to places for eating, drinking, and dancing.
SHANGHAI – Growing up in Shanghai, every weekend was an opportunity to eat, dance, drink, and be merry. My friends and I had our long list of go-to hot-spots which changed with our moods (big decision: classy or casual?) and our willingness to blow through cash. Some nights called for splurging and attempting to act older than we were; other nights called for a little less swank and a little more grit. Regardless of whether we were hitting up chic joints or reverting to our stingy selves at dive destinations, every venue had something to offer. Countless memories were made.
So let's get to it: A completely biased list of places to eat, drink, and let loose in the company of the young, fun, up-for-anything crowd.
WHERE TO EAT
Tasting note: Many of the restaurants mentioned on my list are chains within Shanghai. But these restaurants aren't chains merely because of convenience, speed, or cheapness (as is the case in many other countries), but because of their popularity due to good food, interesting concepts, and pleasing decor.
Xintiandi, South Block Plaza, 2/F, Lane 123 Xingye Lu, near Madang Lu; +86-21-6385-8378
This restaurant is most well-known for their xiao long bao — steamed pork dumplings filled with hot soup. Pea shoots with garlic, cucumber salad, fried rice, dan dan noodles, and beef noodle soup are also very popular. There are multiple locations in Shanghai, and all over the world, but I usually go to the one in XinTianDi since it's a great area to walk around.
28B Taojiang Lu, near Hengshan Lu; +86-21-6445-0021
Where do I even begin...This sleek Japanese restaurant and sushi bar was our ultimate go-to for a classy night out. The food is a little on the pricier side, but the extensive list of sushi rolls, sashimi, cocktails, and other Japanese fare justifies the splurge.
17 Yan'an Dong Lu, near Sichuan Nan Lu; +86-21-6330-0967
Yunnan cuisine is the specialty here — a mixture of flavors from ethnic minority groups found in the province. There are also a few Thai dishes on the menu as well. The food at Lost Heaven is flavorful, spicy, fresh, and clean. Try the Yunnan eggplant and tofu, the string beans with shrimp paste, and the chicken with green onions and chili. After dinner, venture onto the terrace for post-dinner drinks.
KWah Centre, 2/F, 1028 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Donghu Lu; +86-21-6445-9589
This contemporary gastropub is fully equipped with a brewery and a dozen beers on tap. There is also a great cocktail list and upscale bar food, including salads, pizzas, burgers, and fries with a sophisticated twist. Perfect for group dinners and Sunday brunches.
Jing'an Kerry Centre (South Wing), 4/F, 1238 Yan'an Zhong Lu, near Changde Lu; +86-21-5243-8088
If you're looking for high-end Cantonese food, this is the spot. Peking duck, dan dan noodles, dumplings, fried rice, fresh sauteed vegetables, turnip cake, seafood, egg tarts, the list goes on and on. Come prepared to drop quite a bit of cash (or take a cue from my book and bring the parents).
7 Donghu Lu, near Xinle Lu; +86-21-5466-1488
If you're in the mood for a lighter meal, this cute chain offers fresh salads, sandwiches, pastas, smoothies, juices, pastries, and even some Asian dishes (like curry) at reasonable prices. Many locations around Shanghai include Baker & Spice, a bakery under the Wagas company that serves delicious almond croissants, lemon tarts, pain au chocolat, cakes, and muffins.
Shanghai Centre, 1/F, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xikang Lu; +86-21-6279-8682
Healthy global cuisine — including popular dishes such as black pepper chicken, sesame ginger tofu, grilled salmon sandwiches, and cobb salad. There are also seasonal salad specials, fresh juices, smoothies, and breakfast. There are multiple locations in Shanghai, but I go to the one located at 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu whenever I'm in the area.
185 Madang Lu, near Zizhong Lu; +86-21-6339-0586
One of my all-time favorite restaurants in Shanghai! The portions are huge, the daily side salads are delicious, and best of all, everything is so reasonably priced. This is the only place where I can eat my body weight and not feel guilty about it: roasted cauliflower with mint and feta cheese; butternut squash with chili, lime, and coriander vinaigrette; beets with blue cheese, cranberries, and candied pecans; and the portobello mushroom sandwich. There are multiple locations around the city, but I usually go to the one in XinTianDi because of it's convenient location.
101 Shuicheng Lu, near Hongqiao Lu; +86-21-6270-6866
Number one late-night, post-clubbing spot. This is one of the only times I actually enjoy consuming copious amounts of grease and MSG, as nothing hits the spot after a long night out like a hot bowl of fried noodles, along with my favorite Taiwanese dessert — mango and sago (tiny tapioca pearls) in coconut milk sprinkled with bits of pomelo.
Let's not forget about street food, which you can find almost anywhere and will make you feel like a local instantly. Street vendors typically sell meat sticks, fried rice, fried noodles, and more at ridiculously cheap prices. Although it's delicious, you get what you pay for. (Consider this your warning when your stomach feels a little funky the next day.)
WHERE TO DRINK
98 Wuyuan Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu; +86-21-5423-1330
A novel concept for Shanghai: experiencing what American nightlife was like during Prohibition. At this hidden (of course) 1920s-inspired bar and restaurant, you can experience NYC's speakeasy atmosphere in the heart of a city 20,000 miles away. Drinks of the traditional variety (Manhattans, whiskey sours, martinis) are served alongside creative outpourings, such as the Bee's Knees (gin, lemon juice, lemongrass, and infused honey) or the Stinky Pig (bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, mezcal rinse).
1333 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Baoqing Lu; +86-21-5436-5159
This is my high school experience distilled down. I don't know if it's the grungy environment, the writing all over the wall, the eclectic mix of music, or the hookahs that set the mood for the night. Maybe it's all of the above, who knows. But what I do know is that this dive bar is always packed, always cheap, and always a great time. Heads-up: Wednesday night is Ladies Night.
5 Hengshan Lu, near Dongping Lu; +86-21-6433-4104
Once again, ladies are in luck: Free margaritas every Wednesday dancing on elevated surfaces. There are two floors to this Mexican bar for the more lively crowd. The garden is better for those who prefer to sit back and relax with their drinks.
Inside People's Park, 231 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huangpi Nan Lu; +86-21-6318-0220
A bar with good drinks, good shisha, and a sophisticated Arabian-nights vibe. The dim lights, colorful Moroccan lanterns, and tiled floor transport to a whole other world. Guess what? Another Ladies Night happens on Wednesdays, which means free cocktails from 9 p.m. to midnight.
Bund 18, 7/F, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Nanjing Dong Lu; +86-21-6339-1199
One of the best views in Shanghai. Trendy twenty-somethings gather at intimate booths under red lights. Drinks are ordered from a bar in the middle of the room, and can be enjoyed on the terrace with the Bund as the backdrop. Perfect for that Shanghai photo opp. And yes, of course there's a Ladies Night (Thursdays) with free drinks and manicures from 9:30 to 11 p.m.
Yongkang Lu, between Xiangyang Lu and Jiashan Lu.
This entire pedestrian street is lined with bars and restaurants, so no wonder it's one of the most popular venues for expats. If you're looking to mingle with a more local crowd, this is probably not the best place for you, but it's the default destination for meeting other foreigners.
WHERE TO DANCE
24/F, 318 Fuzhou Lu, near Shandong Zhong Lu; +86-21-6391-2811
Any club with a massive shark tank at their entrance must be sweet. M1nt is one of the most well-known clubs in Shanghai, with a restaurant, lounge, terrace, and club that are fun for groups who want to make a full night of it. Drinks are pricey and you may need to make reservations in advance. The club is on the 24th floor, and you should definitely check out the view.
1123 Yan'an Zhong Lu, near Fumin Lu; +86-21-6437-9999
With a name like "Moving You Stunning Trip," you know you're in for a fun time. The (slightly obnoxious) brightly lit exterior makes sure you can't miss it, even from the highway. Myst has three floors, but most clubbers go to the second, where tables full of champagne fill the room. There is a small dance floor by the DJ booth that gets extremely crowded and sweaty (if you're into that), especially when big name DJ's come to town — like The Chainsmokers, Steve Aoki, Nicky Romero, and Deadmau5.
1 Wulumuqi Lu, near Hengshan Lu; +86-21-6258-0355
I still vividly remember my first time coming to this underground club for a concert. My heart pumped as I walked through the dark stairwell lit with black lights and splattered with neon paint, as the sound of the bass made the floor (and my eardrums) vibrate. I had no idea what to expect on the other side, but I was pleasantly surprised. Arkham has one of the most spacious dance floors, which is fitting since they host up-and-coming DJ's from around the world almost every week. Come ready to sweat 'cause it gets packed.
If you're ever in a rut regarding where to go next, just ask around. Meeting people out is incredibly easy and late at night there's a kind of camarederie between the young people in the crowd. Maybe it's the shared interests, slight intoxication, and sleep deprivation, but they're usually excited to recommend their favorite spots or bring people along to the next destination. The more the merrier!