Three years ago, when this Shanghaiist first arrived in town, the downtown area was THE place to be for quality foreign food. It wasn’t exactly Manhattan (or even Omaha) but it was where you went when the craving struck — for Mexican at Taco Popo, Pizza at Melrose, burgers at Rendezvous Café, and that take-your-visiting-parents favorite, M on the Bund.
Imagine our disappointment when things began to change — newer restaurants, following their wealthy expat customers, started trekking west to Gubei/Hongqiao, and east to Pudong. The new upstarts had good food — the truly authentic American diner food at Moon River and spicy Cuban fare at El Cubano were personal favorites. But how to get there? Answer: a 30 kuai taxi trek, or a suffocating hour aboard the 911 bus. Yet away we went — the pull of Philly cheesesteaks, chili and Cuban beans and rice was too strong to resist. It was enough to seriously consider moving out to the suburbs!
Soon, however, the suburban attraction began to fade. Moon River Diner has started to seem TOO authentic: its heavy food and indifferent service reminds Shanghaiist of the highway rest stops we would visit on family road trips. The sweaty, cramped 911 left us wanting a bath, not a burger.
Yet recently, enough great new places have opened up to make us think that the best restaurants are once again opening downtown. We now love to wile away the afternoons at Citizen Café on Jinxian Lu using their free wi-fi while downing their excellent banana pancakes. Almost as much as eating the outrageously cheap (and yummy) 16 RMB sandwiches at Nangka, behind Xintiandi. And now, with the imminent “hard” opening (is that what happens after a “soft opening”?) of City Diner, our American favorites are also actually downtown. New York Style Pizza, A Future Perfect, and Vienna Café also deserve special mentions.
Frankly, we’re thrilled to be ending the long march to Gubei, if only to avoid the bitterness that seems to creep in when we notice how HUGE the expats’ houses are. Shanghaiist is also faced by a more pressing worry: an expanding waistline. Gym, anyone?
Photo from planetdan.net.