The best little Shanghai restaurants

Cosy up in the city's best small restaurants and holes-in-the wall

Grab a dining partner and cosy up in Shanghai's best small and secretive restaurants, tiny holes-in-the-wall and hidden cafes with atmosphere.

Click through our album above for the full list. 

Did we miss any? Tell us about your favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurants in the comments below.
Le Petit Jardin

Le Petit Jardin

The vintage-themed café pioneer that spawned a city-wide trend

If you’ve visited a dozen local cafés, you might be wondering where the kitschy grandmother’s living room theme came from – what’s with all the floral wallpaper, vintage lamps and random knick knacks? Come see one of the originators of the craze and still the queen of them all: this place does antique living room with more grace and style than any of its hundred copycats. 

Of course Petit has its advantages. The owners of this space and the small group of Petit-themed cafés that have followed in locations around town have deep pockets and sharp eyes for collecting vintage objects from around the world, and now have so many that they can fill warehouses and cafés for years to come. Hidden behind an unassuming door on an entirely residential block, Petit Jardin offers average coffees and desserts (from 35RMB) surrounded by gorgeous old furniture and lighting, time-worn prints and paintings and lush flowering plants.

Le Petit Jardin, 220 Kangping Lu, near Tianping Lu, Xuhui district (5258 2058). Open 11am-11pm daily.



Gorgeous secret retro-themed cafe

The very definition of a hidden gem, this vintage object-packed café is tucked behind a black metal door in an old residential lane on Taian Lu. Those who do find it extol the furnishings and atmosphere in this 1920s building. Shelves and tables are crowded with vintage cameras, toys, industrial lamps, old handbags and even garden tools. 

The two couples who co-own Aroom personally collected all the knick knacks during their overseas trips. The café menu is short, featuring just coffees (from 30RMB), a lime soda (30RMB) and cakes (from 30RMB), but you could easily spend an afternoon here.

Aroom, Lane 120, 15 Taian Lu, near Huashan Lu, Xuhui district. Open midday-8.30pm Tue-Sun. 

Jian Guo 328

Jian Guo 328

Comfortable little Shanghainese dining den

A hole-in-the-wall which defies the term, this Shanghainese restaurant may be tiny and cramped but it’s got style and substance. The Taiwanese founder has lived in Shanghai for over a decade and wanted to eat her favourite local foods with the guarantee of a few things: no cigarette smoke, no MSG and only filtered water and safe oil. 

Many people have affirmed they feel the same way – it’s now hard to get a seat in this narrow two-level space serving terrific sweet dates stuffed with glutinous rice flour in osmanthus syrup (18RMB), crispy fried yellow fish with scallions (58RMB) and, of course, the hometown classic hongshao rou (58RMB) served with delicate quail eggs rather than the typical chicken egg.

Jian Guo 328, 328 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Xiangyang Nan Lu, Xuhui district (6471 3819). Open 11am-2pm, 5-9.30pm Mon-Fri; 11am-9.30pm Sat-Sun.



Excellent Spanish sandwich spot

This pleasant one-room space with a single central table and narrow terrace serves delicious and affordable coffees with perfect foam (from 15RMB), waitstaff speak excellent English and there’s a miniature menu of Spanish-themed snacks including sandwiches and cold cut plates (from 58RMB). They’ve also got a nice selection of well-priced wines, with many around 200RMB. The main table is a comfortable place for coffee meetings or laptop sessions while the narrow bar seating faces out onto Jianguo Lu for leisurely people-watching.

Cafelito, 406 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Yueyang Lu, Xuhui district. Open 8.30am-7pm Mon-Tue, 8.30am-10.30pm Wed-Sat, 9.30am-3pm Sun.

Spicy Moment

Spicy Moment

Stylish small-scale Hunan hang out

This chic miniature restaurant comes from the Hunanese designer who owns Moment Décor across the street, a modern furniture shop which has exhibited at the Milan furniture fair. It’s easy to walk right past the unassuming entrance, but once inside the low-lit space, you can see the designer’s hand in the unique decor: there’s a wall made of abacuses and a central table hewn from a massive tree. The menu of Hunan homestyle dishes includes the classic fish head with chillies (48RMB), noodle soups, and oily but delicious stir fried cabbage and smoky bacon (36RMB).

Spicy Moment, 71 Wuyuan Lu, near Changshu Lu, Xuhui district (5403 0775). Open 11.30am-2pm, 5.30-10.30pm daily.



Miniature vegetarian restaurant

This tiny outpost of the revered Buddhist vegetarian restaurant chain is the ideal getaway from the scrum on Anfu Lu. Sit on a carved mahogany stool by the window, chat with the friendly Shanghainese manager, and order the wontons in broth (24RMB) – fat packages of dark greens and mushrooms in a flavourful vegetable soup. 

Godly is also famous for its su ya (vegetarian duck, 27RMB), made with chewy thin sheets of tofu skin. Another great hideout right next door is Cozy Wine Bar and Bistro which lives up to its name and offers a simple German-influenced food menu and affordable drinks: cocktails are 40-65RMB and wine starts at 45RMB/glass.

Godly, 303 Wuyuan Lu, near Wukang Lu, Xuhui district (6471 8909). Open 7am-8.30pm daily. 

The Cove

The Cove

Cosy setting with tasty burgers

Step down one metre from street level into this cool, smooth little room with a raw cement floor and wood grain tables. Though it’s located just a block from commercial Nanjing Xi Lu, this little nook is charmingly cosy. It’s run by a Shanghainese pair who previously worked in five-star hotels. We raved about their juicy sous vide burger (78RMB) in our list of Shanghai's best burgers, but we’re also devotees of their sweat-inducingly spicy laksa (62RMB) served in a terracotta bowl featuring elastic rice noodles and fresh seafood. For dessert, try the modestly sized but sumptuous tiramisu (25RMB).

The Cove, 118 Xikang Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu, Jingan district (6215 5534). Open 11am-midnight.



Relaxed mini izakaya in Gubei

Located at the end of the long SOHO 3911 alleyway in Gubei, this elegant izakaya took over the space of Ohana, Willy Moreno’s ill-fated Japanese venture. The menu focuses on Kansai regional dishes quite different from the sushi or noodles you find elsewhere. Everything from the charming decor, including Japanese-scrawled chalkboards and shelves crowded with huge bottles of sake, to the entirely Japanese-speaking crowd marks it out as an authentic hideaway. Top orders include the tofu burger (38RMB) and housemade tofu (28RMB) which is made in limited quantities each day and boasts a panna cotta-like creamy texture.

Oboo, Second floor, Bldg 4, SOHO 3911, 3911 Hongmei Lu, near Yanan Xi Lu, Minhang district (3428 0669). Open 5.30-11pm daily.