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Non-descript is the best way to describe Xiaoping Fandian’s storefront. Its plain-Jane décor would never make you stop and take notice – the first floor looks more like a hotel check-in than a restaurant – but walk by around any meal time, and the scrum of waiting diners speaking in rapid-fire Shanghainese will turn your head. Where there are this many speakers of the local dialect, there’s bound to be delicious local food.

Upstairs, you’ll discover that Xiaoping Fandian is a multi-level home with former bedrooms and an attic space that have been converted into private dining rooms with lazy Susans. A few smaller tables are scattered in the hallway and living room for good measure. The vibe matches the food, which is benbang, or home-style Shanghainese cuisine, and feels like something that might come out of your waipo’s kitchen, if your grandmother was a skilled home chef.

Once you try excellent Shanghainese cuisine, you’ll understand what the fuss is all about.

Shanghainese food may be looked down upon when compared to other regional cuisines, often derided as too greasy, too sweet and too influenced by foreign flavors. While the average versions of it can be all of those things, once you try excellent Shanghainese cuisine, you’ll understand what the fuss is all about. Xiaoping Fandian is one place that can change your opinion.

Open for over 30 years, Xiaoping Fandian has seen something of a renaissance after recently being designated by Dianping (China’s version of Yelp) as a “必吃榜” or “must-eat” place. And the best place to start is with the platform’s most-recommended dish: yellow clams (黄贝). The bite-sized mollusks are extra sweet and meaty, and served swimming in a light scallion sauce that allows them to shine, showcasing how the Shanghainese do seafood best.

Don’t miss Grandma’s red-braised pork (外婆红烧肉) or the soy sauce duck (酱鸭) if you want to get acquainted with classic Shanghainese dishes, but this is also a fun place to delve deeper into the local cuisine. Sauce fried pork liver (酱爆猪肝) and eggplant battered with salted egg yolk and fried (咸蛋黄茄子) aren’t on every Shanghainese menu, but when done well, like at Xiaoping, they are excellent. And the traditional Shanghainese dish of shredded unagi (鳝丝) is a must-order, if only to try their version with wild rice shoots (茭白) for a textural surprise.

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Jamie Barys

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