On the Menu
Shanghainese food is what you might think of as "typical Chinese," with dark, sweet, and oily dishes served in great abundance. The plates can be quite small—it's not unusual for two diners to polish off six different dishes. The drink of choice is huangjiu, or yellow wine. It's a mild-tasting sweetish rice wine that pairs well with the local cuisine.
Sometimes the finest dining experience in the city can be had with a steamer basket of xiaolongbao—Shanghai's signature dumplings, which are small steamed buns filled with pork (or crabmeat) in broth. They're best eaten by nibbling a hole in the wrapper—watch out, they're hot!—and sipping the soup before eating the whole thing. If you're not eating dumplings for breakfast, pair them with a cold beer. River fish is often the highlight (and most expensive part) of a meal, and hairy crab is a seasonal delicacy.
Locals tend to eat earlier than Westerners, so dinner hours in restaurants begin at around 5 pm. Many of the classic restaurants popular with the Shanghainese only close after the last diners have left, which sometimes keeps them open until the wee hours of the morning, though the kitchen will stop taking orders well before that. Generally, though, dinner is eaten between 6 and 10 pm.
Even in the most upscale restaurants, main courses are unlikely to cost more than US$60. However, famous restaurants charge as much as the international market will bear—prices that often don't reflect the quality of the dining experience. If you're looking for an excellent meal and you don't care about the restaurateur's name, then exceptional dining experiences can be had for half the price.
On the street, local food can be found for supremely cheap prices (starting at less than US$1 per dish). Tiny curb-side restaurants will charge slightly more. The experience of eating at a small, unknown restaurant is pure China.
Outside of hotel restaurants and upscale venues, service ranges from not great to very poor. This is not a tipping culture, so there is little incentive to perform. Keep this in mind when you’re on a tight schedule.