Let’s say your coworkers (and maybe a manager) want to go out with you for lunch and talk some combination of office gossip and actual work. You want to choose some place that’s got a nice atmosphere and decent food, but the paycheck doesn’t come for another week and you want to save as much cash as possible without seeming cheap. Never fear – despite what some would have you think, there are actual cheap-ish deals to be had in Shanghai… and not just at your local la mian shop!
Our criteria for deciding which lunch spots deserve mentioning are: 1) they must have something you can get for 50RMB or under, 2) that dish must be something that doesn’t look like it came out of a hole-in-the-wall (a.k.a. beef fried rice) and 3) the shop itself must be somewhat suitable for office workers chatting business. Here’s three places you can try!
1. Just Grapes
462 Dagu Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu (大沽路462号) or 162 Anfu Lu near Wulumuqi Lu (安福路162号) or 77B Xingeng Lu, near Tianyaoqiao Lu (辛耕路77B号)
With big, clear windows, Just Grapes is one of the most brightly lit venues we got to try out, with fun whimsical decor and nice little touches like color-coordinated table ornaments.
They also had the cheapest option we’d come by so far – 38RMB for a small starter salad, a vegetarian panini, a dessert (we had a piece of chocolate cake) and a soft drink! While each piece is admittedly small, combined they made for a light but substantial lunch. For an extra 10RMB, there’s a chicken caesar wrap. For an extra 20RMB, you could upgrade to a pretty delicious and hearty lasagna, but that’d put you out of our current budget.
2. Bella Napoli
140 Xikang Lu near Nanjing Xi Lu (西康路140号) or 946 Changle Lu near Wulumuqi Lu (长乐路946号)
Bella Napoli has about four or five options on its 50RMB lunch menu, letting you choose from a starter (soup or sandwich), a main (any number of pastas) and a drink (which could be soda or a cup of beer). While the portions aren’t the biggest, they’re enough for a decent light lunch. Plus, they were quite delicious!
It has another set of more expensive options too – so that co-workers with more cash on hand could splurge on slightly nicer stuff (raviolis, fish, etc.). We prefer the Changle Lu restaurant’s old lane house appeal, but the lunch deal works for both locations.
The only major gripe was with the service, which gets slow as soon as the restaurant reaches half full capacity. When you’ve only got an hour, you don’t want to spend 15 minutes waiting for the check to come back.
3. Belvedere by Exit
4/F of 98 Changshu Lu near Changle Lu (常熟路98号)
The new project by one of our favorite ex-Kanding Lu standbys, Belvedere has a much different Eastern European vibe that reaches into their 48RMB lunch menu. The decor is casual and slightly rustic. Black and white pictures of famous Serbians line one wall (we saw Tesla) and a dark polished wood bar takes up the entire stretch of another. The tables are wooden as well, with weaved cushions and picnic tablecloths.
For your money, you get a basket of crispy fresh bread, a starter (we recommend the mushroom soup), a main and a soda. The mains were hit or miss – some, like the goulash, were well portioned and delicious while others, like the zucchini, barely made a dent and tasted surprisingly bland. But there were more hits than misses, making this a good go to spot in the area.
Yes, we know, this is very downtown French Concession-centric right now – but not to worry! We’re looking for deals in other areas as well and will report back when we find them.