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Editor’s note: The year is coming to an end, which means it’s time for us to look back on all the great eating experiences we had in 2014 and name our favorites among them.

Elixir Health Pot
We used to ignore the steamy glass windows of Elixir Health Pot when we walked past. “Healthy is not how we take our hotpot,” we thought with our noses in the air, ignoring the sweet smell of ginseng and spicy aroma of chili peppers simmering in pork broth. Then a trusted foodie friend asked us if we’d tried their wulao meat. Another mentioned their collagen broth a week later…. So last winter, we gathered a crew of longtime hotpot fans and headed to the healthiest steamboat in town. Turns out it’s also the best all of us had ever had, and it’s now our warming go-to as soon as the temperature drops. Best not to think too hard about all the opportunities we missed over the years; we’re more than making up for it now.

 

Palace Duck, photo by UnTour ShanghaiPalace Duck
Pressure-cooked duck is so good that in the 1800s the emperor made it off-limits to everyone outside the imperial home, which is how this little hole-in-the-wall in the former French Concession got its name. Now, the deep-fried dish is available to all residents of Shanghai, via a takeout window. In early 2014, we celebrated one of the city’s first spring days by ordering a whole duck, bill and all, and eating it al fresco at Xiangyang Park, just a couple of blocks north. We can’t imagine not ringing in the warm weather the exact same way in 2015.

Zhu Que Men
We’ve loved this Shaanxi-style noodle joint for years now, but it’s always been a bit of a trek to get there – although well worth it for a bite of their 肉夹摸 (ròujiā mō) or 油泼面 (yóu pōmiàn). This year, Zhu Que Men opened their third location, and it’s central. Seeing Mr. Li chain-smoking in downtown Shanghai made our year!

Five Star Hainanese Chicken Rice, photo by UnTour ShanghaiFive Star Hainan Chicken Rice
Hainanese chicken rice is not an easy dish to do well. It requires three rounds of blanching and shocking, an arduous process that takes over an hour per chicken, but results in a velvety texture that can’t be beat. The cooking ordeal is made that much harder at Five Star, where the kitchen is barely big enough to fit a single chef, but the crowds that line up for a bite of the chicken rice prove that all that hard work is worth it. Just make sure you get there before the “Sold Out” sign goes up – it happens early!

Pirata
A chef’s chef, Ling Huang from Taiwan opened up our pick for favorite Western restaurant this year. Pirata serves up Mediterranean tapas with Spanish flair; try a seemingly simple dish, like her hummus, to see the magic she makes in the kitchen. Served pureed but chunky, with a few whole chickpeas, the dip is topped with frilly fennel and sliced octopus that’s tender as butter – it’s impossibly good. As are the smoked clams, served in the tin with the lid peeled back and paired with grilled Chinese leeks, and also the homemade chorizo, dripping with fat. We always make sure to save room for an order of her Ferrero toasts: slices of bread topped with Nutella, crushed chocolate and a sprinkle of sea salt. Need we say more?

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Published on December 16, 2014

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